Nowhere Nation just dropped a cool, new animated video for their single “Omicron.” We spoke to them about the forthcoming album and their new track.
How did you come up with the idea for the concept album? Can you tell us a little about it?
I’m obsessed with (among other things) two things: where the world is going in a geopolitical and ecological sense and making albums that are cohesive and intended to be listened to from start to finish.
I studied songwriting at Berklee College of Music, and for many years afterwards, I piled up demo songs in various genres on my hard drive. But, because I wanted to make albums, it took me a long time to find an organizing principle, something that says these songs should come together to make the first album while the others go off and wait somewhere.
Years later, I started noticing that out of my pile of songs, which were generally either about love and relationships or about politics, there was starting to emerge a sort of ‘desert adventures’ theme, with characters doing political things in romantic settings. (I later read that raï music, which connects to the album’s North African setting and inspired its track “Seven Veils,” can also blend elements of love and politics.)
Around then, I woke up on a plane flight and realized that if I came up with a story, that could be the rallying point for a number of recent songs I thought were promising. The result was Omicron.
Omicron is about two operatives in a more-secret-than-secret U.S. government agency, the love triangle they’re enmeshed in with their supervisor, and the fate of all three. It’s set against the backdrop of U.S. overreach in the global war on terror. The story itself came from a great deal of rumination about America’s global misadventures after 9/11. It’s likely also influenced by my other career, as I’ve worked for two of the great internet companies, which I know can seem from the outside like shadowy dens of conspiracy, even when nothing untoward is going on.
A producer I spoke to early on called Omicron a “light concept” album, which I think describes it well. It’s like American Idiot in that there are identifiable named characters and a clear sense of a story arc, but it’s not an opera; I don’t think you’re supposed to be able to “read the screenplay” of American Idiot, as it were, just from listening through. Later, when we went to Resonate Studios in Burbank to record the vocals, I was stunned to learn that American Idiot had been mixed in the control room we were using.
What is the meaning behind this song, and how does it fit into the larger saga of the album?
Omicron is the name of the secretive U.S. government agency, and this title track is from the point of view of one of its operatives (named Seven), three years after he’s been recruited into Omicron by the organization’s paternalistic and controlling leader (Peter).
Seven came to Omicron believing he could change the world more definitively than he could at his previous employer (CIA), but little by little, he found Peter manipulating him into more and more violent acts, ultimately crossing an invisible line between moral ambiguity and outright immorality. One day, Seven wakes up in a dark room and briefly can neither remember where or whom he is, in part because he doesn’t want to remember. In this, I was inspired by one of my favorite songs, “Twilight Zone” by Golden Earring: “Where am I to go now that I’ve gone too far?”
Shortly afterwards, Seven meets Nine, a fellow Omicron agent. They become involved with each other and enmeshed in a conflict with their mutual mentor Peter, and the rest of the album is about where that conflict takes the three of them.
What was the recording process like for this record?
I recorded 12 complete demos at home using a fairly minimal setup: GarageBand, RE20, Avalon 737sp, Yamaha MOXF8, Ibanez bass, Les Paul Standard. (I like keeping it simple and, except for guitars, having just one of everything.)
I was lucky to have a friend connect me with amazing producer Doug Rockwell. Fun fact: I did not research Doug at all throughout the entire recording of Omicron, because I was afraid I would be intimidated. When the album was done, I finally began typing his name into Google and was astounded to see AutoSuggest suggesting “doug rockwell loud house.” The Loud House is a TV show my whole family is addicted to. Doug co-wrote and sang the theme song, so it turns out I’d been listening to him for months.
I sent Doug the demo recording of the album opener, “Heaven and Earth.” Typical of Doug, he didn’t ask for a chord chart; he just went off and created a background track 100 times better than I could have imagined or created for myself. I had cited Muse (“Uprising”) and Lorde (much of Pure Heroine) as recent inspirations for that track. “Omicron” took sonic inspiration from U2’s “Do You Feel Loved.” I asked Doug to imbue it with a nonstop energy appropriate to a character who’s running for his life from sunrise to night. Most of the instrumentals are 100 percent Doug, but we did use a few elements from my demos (e.g., “Interlude”), in part because I’d learned so much from Doug that I went back and significantly improved a couple of the demos!
We recorded the vocals at Resonate in Burbank at the rate of about a track a day. We did lead vocal takes in the first half of the session, then circled back for vocal harmonies near the end. These were tremendously fun. Doug is a great singer, and I have an a cappella background, so the harmonies were a matter of listening through and having me sing whatever we thought would be cool at whatever moment. This resulted in some harmony moments I really love, such as the “evil that my hands have done” section in “Omicron.”
What do you think makes this album stand out from previous work?
This is my debut album. I’m incredibly excited to bring it out, as it represents the culmination of years of work and the fusion of incredible production from Doug Rockwell and art from Aidan Hughes of BRUTE! Propaganda. This project means a lot to me, because this is a challenging moment for America and the world; we’ve all been through a lot in the last 20 years, with more to come, and we find ourselves in conflict at exactly a moment when we ought to pull together. The way people come together and fall for each other even in the face of that challenge, and grapple even with those they love about how to respond to troubled times, that has fueled a story and characters I’m very passionate about, and thanks to Doug and Aidan, my vision of it is all out in the world now. And this is just the beginning; there’s a sequel in the works from the same team.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I loved making this album and I hope listeners enjoy it as well. If you listen through the whole thing, it should take you on a journey; especially if you follow the videos and visit nowherenation.net,and if you prefer to pick and choose, you should find a mix of styles with something for most everyone. Stay tuned for the rest of Omicron and its sequels!