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Interview: The Omega Experiment

mit Dan Wieten vom 4. Februar 2013
Der pointierte Wahnsinn hat seit heuer einen neuen Namen: "The Omega Experiment". Das Duo aus Michigan zeigt sich experimentierfreudig und kombiniert dabei 80's-Synthie-Rock - á la Boston oder Asia - mit vielen progressiven Ansätzen. Dabei verzetteln sie sich in einem Kunstprojekt, das in seiner Vielschichtigkeit und Rasanz - aber auch Abwechslungsreichtum - das ideale Futter für die heutige ADHS-Generation ist. Musikalisches Ritalin sozusagen. Es hat allerdings keine Nebenwirkungen, außer vielleicht Euphorie und die Lust, den Kopf im Takt der Musik, zu schütteln. Nachzuhören auf dem aktuellen, selbstbetitelten Debüt-Album, das in seiner manischen Machart relativ einzigartig dasteht. Das Review zu "The Omega Experiment" findet ihr hier. Eigentlich ist das Album nur ein Track - denn Pausen zwischen den Titel gibt es nicht - der mit jeder Nummer seine Stimmung ändert und dann im Irrsinn gipfelt. Also sollte man sich im Vorhinein schon klar sein, womit man es zu tun hat: Mit einer Gehirnwäsche der Extraklasse, dich sich vertrauensselig anschleicht, den Hörer hoffnungslos einlullt und nicht mehr loslässt.
Wie sich herausstellte, war die Arbeit am Album eine Art Therapie für Kopf und Gitarrist Dan Wieten. Im nachfolgenden Interview erzählt er, wie es ihm dabei erging. Weiters erklärt das Mastermind des Projekts, wie sein Partner Ryan Aldridge und er es schaffen, ihr bombastisches Werk "The Omega Experiment" auf die Bühne zu hieven, warum sie die Songs als Duo und nicht als Band einspielten oder woher sie die Inspiration für all die schrägen Exkurse ihres Albums nehmen. Außerdem klärt er das Mysterium um den überzeichneten Bandnamen auf und gibt seinen Kommentar zum langsamen Vinyl-Comeback ab.
Viel Spaß beim Lesen!

The interview:

Michael: Thanks for taking the time for this interview! How are you doing?
Dan Wieten: I’m extremely busy but grateful, healthy, and well. I can’t complain.
Michael: Can you please introduce yourself to our readers and roughly describe your role in the band?
Dan: My name is Dan and I am the main composer in the band as well as vocalist and guitarist. I also handle the production duties.
Michael: What's the story behind your band name?
Dan: Initially it was going to be called simply “Omega”, but after delving into the concept it became apparent that it was too simplistic. “Omega” means end, and the word is meant to signify the end of a very trying time in my life (addiction), and the start of a new beginning. The “experiment” part comes from what we do in the studio. The process for writing and recording our debut was entirely a learning experience, and everything we did was a result of experimentation, so it fit well.
Michael: Your first album will be released in March. What can you tell us about it?
Dan: Well, it’s a re-release. It was originally self-released digitally February 14, 2012, and then on CD June 26, 2012. We started talking to Listenable in September 2012, and it was decided that the first release with them would be the debut. It was composed and recorded over roughly a two year period from winter 2009 to spring 2011. The concept is roughly autobiographical, detailing my life from birth to the end of my active addiction, and the start of a brighter future. It was very difficult to make. After Ryan and I finished the initial writing and tracking, it was up to me to mix the entire thing and make it cohesive. My equipment was very subpar, but I did the best with what I had. He and I have been enrolled in school at least half-time since summer 2009, so finding the time to work on it was challenging. I think it worked out for the better though, because the trials we’ve faced during that period really added to the emotional complexity of the album.
Michael: You two played all the instruments on this album. What's the reason for that?
Dan: Convenience. Technology is amazing. It enabled us to not have to worry about delegating responsibility. It never would have been finished if we had to worry about seeking out other musicians, and then teaching them the parts. The entire thing was done in my tiny apartment bedroom. That being said, I think the emotional content inherent really benefited from it just being us two, because we both went through the addiction thing together. Ryan is my best friend. It just worked out.
Michael: But you play live with three extra musicians. How did this come to be? Are you still a duo?
Dan: As far as permanent members, we are now a trio. We hired three guys to do a small tour in August 2012, and managed to keep the bassist, haha. His name is Matt Ryan, and we are grateful to have him and can’t wait to see what he brings to the table. He is an amazing player and a super nice guy, which is probably more important than the actual playing ability. We will be going back out live with us three, our friend Cody McCoy from Michigan bands Mourning Wolf, Traitor, and Cerna, and an as yet undecided second guitarist.
Michael: What's the reason you started with music and what makes it so special for you?
Dan: I started because my Uncle Mark showed me KISS when I was about 5 years old, and from that moment forward I was possessed. I didn’t necessarily want to be the type of rock star they were, or even Motley Crue or whatever. It was always more about the music for me and how it made me feel. I can remember being captivated by the melodies I heard on the radio when I would ride in the car with my parents. That’s the main reason why classic rock is so important to me; because those were the most prominent bands on the radio back then. Styx, Rush, Boston, Kansas, etc., and then later it was hair metal and 80s pop, haha. Music is catharsis, plain and simple.
Michael: How did you come to this special style of music?
Dan: As stated previously, classic rock, 80s pop, and hair metal were important. That’s where the melodic foundation is I think, as well as the later more progressive stuff like Dream Theater and Devin Townsend. It’s just a melting pot. Another important aspect of it is soundtrack music ala John Williams and other fantasy movies. A lot of it really goes back to childhood, and trying to recreate that feeling. That’s why the melodic aspect is so strong and important. There are many other facets though. Some of our music is really heavy and spastic. It runs the gamut.
Michael: And how do you do the songwriting and what is the most difficult part of it? Do you come with finished songs or more like ideas and work it out in the studio?
Dan: The most difficult part is getting the time and drive to do it. I’m an extremely lazy person and my favorite thing to do is nothing, haha. But somehow I have this busy life and get tons of stuff done. It was much easier early on because Ryan and I were fresh out of rehab and didn’t have much else to do. Since then we have both become full time students who also work part time. Needless to say, we don’t have social lives really. Usually I write the skeletons of the songs (guitar, drums) and have a general picture in my head of what it will be like. Ryan and I get together and work on the keys and samples, and sometimes ideas for new songs or parts will come from us just jamming. I like to have song titles first in order to paint a clearer picture of the color and sound of the song. I’m always thinking about it, so a lot of times I jot down ideas and notes in my phone. The debut was a concept with titles and everything before any music was written. The second album so far is along the same lines. I have a bunch of titles and I’ve been filling in the blanks and making sense of it. The best way I can describe it is looking through a blurry lens that slowly comes to focus the more you turn it.
Michael: Can the listener see the album as one long track, or maybe as a cycle?
Dan: Yep. It’s meant to be a unified experience, but separable in song form if need be. All of my favorite concept albums are like that. I think it just provides continuity.
Michael: And what's the story behind the 10 minute monster "Stimulus"?
Dan: Stimulus was written very stream of conscious style. There was no traditional arrangement ideas to start with. All I knew is I wanted a song that started out with an epic Styx style feel; something uplifting. The journey it went on after that was really not planned out at all. The meaning behind it is a reflection of the teen years of life, when everything is stimulating and you are excited about things and forming ideals and opinions. My teen years were very confusing, but also very impressionable and I have many classic memories. I think this reflects the song. It runs the gamut of emotions.
Michael: How do you know when you are finished? Today, you have so many possibilities to put more and more into a song and rework it over and over again until it's literally “produced to death”. Is there a point where you lose objectivity?
Dan: This is a great question, and I think it should be addressed more often. With the advent of technology and bedroom studios, it is way too easy to overcomplicate things, making it difficult to know when you should draw the line. For us it was just a feeling. I could have sat there and tweaked the mix for a million years and shuffled the arrangements or whatever, but I had to cut it off somewhere. I did lose objectivity during the process, and that’s why i spent time away from it if I needed to, and I also ran a lot of things by friends and respected people in the scene.
Michael: I found a lot reminiscences on the album, like on one hand a lot of 80s bombast rock (Gift) and the metal part on the other hand (Furor). What are your very own personal influences?
Dan: Devin Townsend, Pain of Salvation, Dream Theater, Death, John Williams, Mahler, Stravinsky, Dillinger Escape Plan, Meshuggah, Fear Factory, Michael Jackson, Phil Collins, Soilwork, Textures, Emperor, Dimmu Borgir, Rush, Styx, REO, Queensryche, Def Leppard, Tears for Fears, Shai Hulud, Mastodon, Slipknot, Frost*, Madonna, techno, trance, Harold Budd, Deftones, Faith No More, Protest the Hero, Blind Guardian, Steve Vai, Paul Gilbert. I could go on and on. Sometimes I am influenced by a television commercial. It just depends.
Michael: The Album seems quite a bit overloaded. After listening to it once, I felt completely dizzy. Was this on purpose?
Dan: Good! That’s what we were going for, haha. We like color and depth in music. The point was to be able to take away something different on each listen. There are probably things in there that people may never pick up on, but if they were missing, you’d know. We wanted to have an emotionally taxing listen, so yes, feeling drained is appropriate. The depth reflects the content I think.
Michael: As I've read, this album was like a therapy from drug abuse? What's the story behind that and did it work out?
Dan: It’s more like therapy from a life of confusion and fear, using drugs as a way to deal with it, and coming out of that alive. When I got out of rehab and started getting my hands into the recovery process I learned that using drugs was just a symptom of a much larger issue. I don’t know if it was nurture, nature, or a combo of both. All I know is that I never had any clarity about myself and life in general until I started working on myself and got rid of the chemicals and shitty people in my life. Like I stated previously, the album roughly spans my whole life up until the end of my active addiction, and starting the recovery process. However, it was important to be metaphorical and vague in the lyrics so people can pick up a broader meaning and interpret it for themselves. We’ve already had so many people message us expressing gratitude for helping get them through a tough time, and that’s all we can really ask for. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do with music. But yeah, I am still very active in the recovery process. I go to meetings, sponsor people, and give back as much as I can.
Michael: What’s your opinion on vinyl and it's current comeback?
Dan: I think it’s amazing. I’m glad there are still people who appreciate the holistic album experience. There is nothing more detached feeling than staring at pixilated artwork through an I-Pod. I still buy CD’s, and on the rare occasion I buy vinyl. The last vinyl release I bought was that Converge/Napalm Death split 7”. I hope we get to the point where there is demand for vinyl. I know the label would be into it.
Michael: Did you have any remarkable, special or funny moments with 'The Omega Experiment' that you will never forget and want to share with your fans?
Dan: I would say the last date of our first tour last summer at The Intersection in Grand Rapids, MI was a huge night for us. We had tons of family and friends there, and everyone was so into it and loud as hell, haha. People singing lyrics, etc. It was just a great feeling to have finally toured and we did it with our best friends in Bury the Silence (Rogue Records America). Only a few years ago I couldn’t stay clean for one day, so to be able to finally do something I never thought I’d be able to do was out of this world. It was really fun and I was incredibly choked up when we played that last open B chord in Stimulus. Amazing.
Michael: What's your favourite The Omega Experience-song on stage and why?
Dan: Probably Furor, because the end explosion feels so powerful. The actual song is pretty driving and fun to play as well.
Michael: What do you think about the rock cliché of "sex, drugs & rock 'n' roll"? Is it still alive or just a romantic look on the touring job?
Dan: I’ve lived it for sure, but not on the grand scale. I personally don’t have a lot of touring experience, but locally yes I was promiscuous, drug addled, and in many different bands over the years. It led me here, to The Omega Experiment, and composing this album to tell the story of coming out of that whole mess.
Michael: The last years it seemed to be trendy to play covers on stage.
Dan: Can’t say I’ve noticed that. Whatever the case, I don’t think it’s something we would be into.
Michael: How would you describe your current Crowds?
Dan: Non-existent? Haha. We haven’t been live since last summer, but the crowds we did have on that tour were hit or miss. The closer to home we were the better. Our final show in Grand Rapids was amazing. For the most part people either get it or they don’t. The ones that do are incredibly appreciative. I have a feeling Europe will be far more receptive when we get over there.
Michael: Do you have any strategies for catching the attention of the people? Or is it more like they’re coming to your music on their very own?
Dan: Before working with a label and PR our method was just constant internet promotion and networking. I’ve made many great friends in the industry simply through Facebook and going to shows when they came through town. It’s never about what you know. It’s ALWAYS about who you know. We released a free three song EP called Karma with tracks from the debut in 2011. That release was important because people love free stuff. Word got around and people caught on. So it’s a little bit of both. You have to do the work, but sometimes people just stumble upon it through itunes or bandcamp or whatever.
Michael: Is there a favourite movie you wanted to bring in a song or compose the whole score?
Dan: Not particularly.
Michael: What do you think, how has the music changed over the last 30 years and especially in the last years?
Dan: Sometimes I feel really old and jaded. I am immersed in a scene full of young people that are obsessed with technical skill. Don’t get me wrong, I am in a progressive band, and most of my influences are technically proficient. With YouTube and play-through videos being a big thing now, people mostly just want to watch players do their thing, regardless of the musical merit or depth. I understand. It’d be boring to watch Devin Townsend play an Infinity song or something. Things are much different than they were when I was developing my skill. I can only imagine how awesome it would have been to have YouTube back then and have access to so many educational tools. Players are getting better quicker, and at a younger age. It’s a good thing, but I just wish there wasn’t so much focus on the technical skill, both in the playing and production aspects. A lot of times it provides for shallow music. I have to express gratitude though. Technology is truly amazing, and has enabled us to create the sounds in our heads that we never dreamed of being able to see through. It’s truly a blessing.
Michael: Do you think that music will, in the future, become more significant for our everyday lives again? Like in the 70s, where it literally changed people’s lives?
Dan: I think it’s still changing people’s lives. I understand what you mean though. There isn’t a hell of a lot of unity or identity in a lot of what’s out there at the moment. To connect the last question with this, technology can also be a curse. We are a society of convenience these days. Everything is at a much faster pace with I-Phones and the internet and the like. People just don’t have time to connect to anything anymore.
Michael: Will the European fans ever have the chance to see you live on stage? Maybe at a Festival?
Dan: It’s in the works. There should be an announcement very soon.
Michael: What was the last concert you have visited?
Dan: My friends in the band Mourning Wolf in Muskegon, MI.
Michael: Do you have any tips for the new bands out there?
Dan: It sounds super cliche, but just don’t give up. A lot of bands get discouraged very easily, including ourselves. I wanted to throw in the towel so many times because it seemed like I had to beat it into people to notice us. If you are good at what you do, and work hard enough, your time will come. Make connections with the right people. I think one of the biggest things for the internet/facebook music community is how you go about promoting your band. There are do’s and don’ts. One of my biggest pet peeves is when people spam my Facebook wall or messages with some link without ever talking to me. Develop relationships! Say hi. Anything. People will not give you the time of day if you don’t bother to connect with them.
Michael: What's planned for the future of the band?
Dan: Right now we’re just hoping the debut re-release goes smoothly, and I’ve been demoing album two material and making steady progress. We’ll probably be looking at 2014 for our sophomore album. We’ll be out live by summer, and in the fall we are looking to be in Europe.
Michael: That's it! Thanks again for your effort. Is there anything left you would like to tell your fans out there?
Dan: Just that we are extremely grateful for where we are at, and look forward to bigger and better things. Thank you so much for the continued support, and look for us to be live late this year and hopefully a new album in 2014.
Moderation: Michael Voit
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