OOFJ Bring Their Electro-Pop Noir to Amoeba July 23

Posted by Billy Gil, July 10, 2015 09:15am | Post a Comment

Listening to OOFJ feels like watching a film noir from the future. Melodramatic strings, bubbling electronic beats and Katherine Mills-Rymer’s desperately breathy vocals come together for a sound that wouldn’t feel out of place in a new David Lynch or Roman Polanski film. That’s not accidental—while you could draw comparisons to bands like Portishead and Goldfrapp, the band’s composer, Jenno Bjornkjaer, has worked on film scores like Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia, during which he met his musical and romantic partner in Mills-Rymer. The debut album from OOFJ (which stands for “orchestra of Jenno”) pulls heavily from filmic inspiration but manages to put that into four-minute electro-pop songs that are heady and addictively catchy in equal doses.

I took a minute to speak with the duo before their performances at Amoeba Hollywood July 23 at 6 p.m. and their slot playing Amoeba Music’s curated Red Bull Sound Select show July 30 at the Echoplex with Baths and Wrestlers (click here to RSVP).

Neither of you are from L.A. originally, yet your music certainly has an element of L.A. noir to it. Did you look to the city itself and/or films about the city for inspiration when making these songs?

Jenno: I don't think we consciously did any thinking about the environment. We just sat in our house with a big deck and plants and then went into a very small room and made the album. Maybe the heat played a part.

Katherine: We both have a thing for Polanski and you know, Chinatown ... I think we had a feeling of the L.A. that we only knew from films before we got here.

It’s easy to slip into calling music “cinematic,” but your sound definitely evokes visualization, which makes sense given your background. Was that part of the idea—take some of the things you’ve worked on for soundtracks and apply it to a pop setting?

J: I think a lot of the cinematic quality you refer to comes from the use of strings and orchestra and the grandness of some of the tracks.  My background in classical, jazz and electronic music allows me to bring these different things together. Our music actually doesn’t in my mind sound a lot like the different scores I have worked on. It's just another way of melting the genres together. In OOFJ it's more in a pop sense than in a filmic sense. But I understand why you can slip into calling it cinematic. 

Along the same lines, how important are visuals for your band? I’ve seen the video for “I Forgive You,” which is creepy as hell.

K: We like film a lot but didn’t initially have the plan or idea to do our videos ourselves. It just ended up like that and we found out we liked to have full control to be able to execute our ideas exactly right without interference. So I guess it is important but it just came kind of creeping. Now I make us sound like insane dictators,  but our next video is actually made by someone else, the New York-based artist Jonathan Turner, which is pretty exiting. 

J: When we do live shows we also have some pretty crazy visuals and we also didn't plan that until we started to play live. But we like them a lot now and they complement the music great, which goes to your point regarding visuals and music.

The songs on Acute Feast are dense with layers, is that a challenge to translate to a live setting?

J: Yes, it has taken a lot of thought to figure that out. And a lot of times we have actually stripped it down to the essentials to make it work the best in a live setting. A lot of places we have taken the strings out or toned them down. I think it's more interesting to see someone really playing live than hearing violins on a computer. It's more energetic and makes the audience feel that this is actually happening right now. That is in my mind the big challenge with electronic music. 

K: Playing live, we're trying to create that emotional thing you get when you're alone with music, that it's very close to you. The basslines throb more making it fill the space. But it’s still delicate and strange. 

You’ve already worked with one of the masters of cinema, Lars von Trier, and are working with the celebrated artist Ai Weiwei on an upcoming short film. Who else from the film and art worlds would it be a dream to work with?

J: There would be a lot of people we would love to work with but we always loved Polanski, so of course we would love to work with him. But also people like Spike Jonze, Paul Thomas Anderson, Leos Carax, Inaritu and others that push the boundaries of music and film. Think about that the soundtrack to Birdman is only free jazz drums and how well it works. I would love to have been a fly on the wall when they came up with that proposal to the money men.  

Katherine, I read something you said in Interview about how New York can feel depressingly lonely, but that loneliness can be glamorous as well. I’m wondering how you feel L.A. compares in that regard—I know plenty of transplants who’ve struggled with feeling unbearably lonely in the expanse of the city.

K: Yes I agree, half the point of L.A. is loneliness. It's almost a given here, it's so spread out and bright and saturated. New York is different in that the city is more like a weird hug all the time. L.A.'s glamour lies in it's long stretchy end-of-the-world-bar type thing. 

J: Luckily we are in a relationship and can stay put in our house and avoid the loneliness and the world in general. Here you can hide out very easily and not see people for days if you want to. Which, of course, also is sad and frightening. 

Jenno, I also read that you said you are interested in making an album that doesn’t yet exist. I feel that in the way the arrangements kind of explore and don’t go where you expect them to. Is that a sort of guiding principle in making the music?

J: I never thought it specifically as a guiding principle, but I guess you can say that anyway. I feel it's important to try to expand the music not only to make great music but also just to make something no one else makes. I also have a background as a jazz sax player and love jazz, but I would never try to make a jazz album. It's almost impossible to make something in that genre that you would rather hear than what happened in the sixtees and before. Now in indie pop it's a lot about the ’80s, which in my mind is the same dynamics. 

At the same time, experimentation can run counter to making the music catchy, which OOFJ’s music certainly is. How do you find the balance between those two things?

J: That balance is something you have to deal with all the time making this kind of music. I feel like for me it's quite easy to make something that's very complicated that five people in Iceland would like. To me it's much more interesting to see if you can keep the integrity and yet reach everybody who has ears. It's much more difficult but also, for me, much more exciting. I find it incredibly impressive when someone makes a hit song that I like and everybody in Montana and Korea also likes.  

When this band started, it was only me making instrumental electronic music with symphony orchestra and when I played it for people they were like, “wow, that's very interesting,” but no one actually put it on. When Katherine came into the band, all that changed. Suddenly everybody loved it and felt it in a different way. The emotions, not only as a singer but also a songwriter, she puts into it makes a huge difference. The music has to have both brains and heart to translate. 

I usually ask artists for a top five music list, but I’d rather ask you guys for a top five list of films. Perhaps Russian films, given that it’s one of your interests and people here aren’t as aware of them as they are, say, French or Spanish films?

K: Absolutely. On one of our first dates when we met in New York, Jens took me to a screening of a Russian film called Khrustalyov my car by Alexei German. He didn’t know it at the time, only knew I was into Russian stuff and tried to impress me. He succeeded, since the film was unbelievable and we became a couple after that. 

J: Another Russian film I really like is called Come and See by Elem Klimov from 1985. It's a surreal, nightmarish second World War film seen through a boy’s eyes in Belarus. You have never seen anything like it, and it was Russia’s entry to the Academy Awards but didn’t get the nomination. 

On an older note, a film I also love is called The Cranes Are Flying by Mikhail Kalatozov from 1957, and it is also about the second World War and won the Golden Palme in 1958. It’s incredibly beautifully shot by Sergey Urusevsky. And also by the same director and cinematographer comes the film I Am Cuba from 1964. It's a propaganda film about Cuba and capitalism and things like that, but the way it is shot makes up for all the crazy propaganda shit. Watch it! 

K: Ending in our backyard, we also have to mention Polanski and want to ask everybody to rewatch Chinatown. Of course it's amazing and everybody knows that, but what people may not know is that the score, which is regarded as one the best scores of all time, was done in only 10 days. The original composer was replaced, so Jerry Goldsmith had to do this in 10 days. It's only 28 minutes of music, but that is also the beauty of it, that you love it so much when it finally plays. 


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