Moving aside from the aseptic coldwave leanings of their 2017 debut, Dunedin/ Melbourne duo Ov Pain’s sophomore album, “The Churning Blue of Noon”, experiences imaginative sights of profound and leaden obscurity on the edge of mystical and arcane, incorporating a primordial, hallucinogenic and free-form sense of sound, to build a trancey and obsessive heavy droning flow, devoid of space-time coordinates, in a continuous immersive intersect of fathomless thick gothic shadows and blistering free-jazz glows, haunted by esoteric vocal sorcery, to induce an all-encompassing visceral and cathartic listening experience.
I had a nice chat with Renee Barrance (Vocals, Synths) & Tim Player (Drums, Saxophone, Vocals).
Thanks so much for the interview. Starting from the beginning of your musical pathway, what were your early memories of music and early inspirations that triggered you to become a musician?
RB: There was a piano in my grandparents living room I would plonk away on as a small child. I was fascinated by all the sounds I could make and how immediate it was. I begged for lessons and eventually, my wish came true in the form of a few years of classical lessons. I loved playing piano, I’ve always been deeply moved by music and in lots of ways it probably stems from these initial encounters with the piano. It wasn’t until later as an adult that I started to play in bands in the Auckland underground music scene. I was inspired to do it by friends in the punk scene and started jamming with a friend and my boyfriend at the time. We formed a three-piece synth-punk band called The Hairdos. It was with The Hairdos that I started writing songs.
TP: I was a metal fan as a young kid. I had a small collection of cassettes and a little battery-powered tape player that I used to carry around. Constantly blasting this thing. Then as a teen, I got into grunge and punk, which is the classic trajectory. I used to read books about punk and the concepts surrounding punk as a cultural force, that’s where the education started, I guess. During my teens, I didn’t make any music, and I can’t recall really wanting to. I was more into drawing and painting, that was my big focus. I excelled at visual things and not much else. So, I pegged art as what I wanted to do. At some point, the visual stuff dropped away. Then I eventually discovered music, then that became the main focus.
Please, could you talk about your early musical experiences and output before your collaboration (Renee with gothronica band Élan Vital and Tim with post-punkers Opposite Sex, but maybe more)
RB: Élan Vital formed in 2015 when I shifted to Dunedin after living in Berlin. We recorded an album called ‘Shadow Self’ not long after forming which was released by the Dunedin label Fishrider Records in early 2017.
TP: I haven’t been in that many bands or had that many projects. Opposite Sex would be the longest standing of my other bands. Other than that, just quite random musical things, improv things that were fleeting. I’ve sort of resisted throwing myself into lots of projects. I prefer to dive into one thing at a time.
How did you both meet then and decide to work together? What was the underlying sound concept behind the project at the start and how did it evolve over the years from the darkwave and post-punk of the early days until now?
RB: We met at a bar in late 2015 where Tim was working and organising small gigs. Tim asked me on a date and I said yes. I moved in with him to his apartment above some shops almost immediately. Tim’s apartment was essentially just two massive rooms. One was a dance studio, the other we lived in. We weren’t supposed to be living there and the place didn’t have hot water or a shower or a kitchen, just the bare bones. The area was semi-industrial so you could play live music in the evening without any noise complaints.
It seemed natural to form a band with each other since we were seeing each other all the time and playing music is what we love to do. Our band started off very minimal with Tim on drums and myself on one synth which I played like a keyboard, both of us singing. I don’t recall us having a deliberate sound concept except that I was listening to a lot of post-punk at the time and was drawn to the colder sounds on my synthesizer. I’d run my synth through a guitar amp and Tim would write the drum parts and we would structure the songs together.
We recorded our first album three months after forming. We toured this album through Germany in 2016, then shifted to Melbourne. It’s in Melbourne where we began to experiment more with our instrumentation. The Churning Blue of Noon developed out of this shift in our approach toward experimentation. That’s where we started to develop a particular sound I suppose. We wanted a mixture of free unstructured sounds and songs in the traditional pop form.
TP: We met unceremoniously in a bar in Dunedin. Very ordinary in that respect. We quickly fell in love, which wasn’t ordinary at all. Then we started Ov Pain. I don’t think that initially, we had a ‘sound concept’ in mind. That came later.
In Opposite Sex Tim plays as a drummer, how did Tim’s relationship with the saxophone begin, which are the influences behind your free jazz style?
TP: My relationship with the saxophone started when I asked an old player “where should I start?”; they said, “go buy a saxophone and start playing”. As for my saxophone influences, I get a lot out of Evan Parker’s early solo albums, the Brotzmann FMP albums, the classic Ayler albums, A.E.C., the Coltrane’s ‘Cosmic Music’, lots of stuff basically. I really like the extended technique stuff and the wild small band.
Again Tim, what was your rhythmic and percussive approach for the album?
TP: I played a straightforward drum kit in a straightforward style. I have two approaches to drumming: straight forward rock stuff and completely free stuff. No one’s really seen my free stuff, but that’s what I like doing the most, and it’s what I’m best at.
Renee, how has your attitude with synths and keyboards, and your set-up differed and evolved through the years, how do you stand on the ceaselessly evolving technology of the internet era, do you still instead favour an analog sound using vintage gear?
RB: I prefer the immediacy and tactility of hardware to soft synths. Using my synths the way I do demands a lot of attention, often I’m trying to harness (in combination with Tim) small pockets of converging frequencies, it’s a very touch-sensitive practice and I like that. Recently I started using Ableton and have loved the versatility it provides; I can be all over the place at any one time. I’ve mostly made collage works so far, some of which I really like. I imagine I’ll continue using hardware in combination with software into the future. There’s a lot to be said for the limitations of a relatively small hardware set-up, I find it challenging and rewarding, even after all the time I’ve spent with my synths I’m still searching for those precious chance occurrences.
What kind of emotions lies beneath the dark blend of free jazz and ambient drone? How do they reflect your emotional world in everyday life? Or are they more detached worlds
RB: We didn’t overthink this. It just happened, I mean it happened in the studio then we took it to the stage. The blend of frequencies is intended to be unsettling like that was the whole free jazz thing. But obviously, it affects everyone differently. When playing/listening to it makes me feel very present in my body and in the moment, and I’m really drawn to this aspect of music. It evolved from the music we were listening to at the time – the jazz of Peter Brotzmann, Evan Parker, Pharoah Sanders, John and Alice Cdoltrane – the disquieting and hypnotic drone of Coil‘s album ‘Time Machines’ and Tony Conrad’s ‘Four Violins’ and ‘Outside The Dream Syndicate’. The music reflects less of a state of emotion in my everyday world and more of the shadowy aspects of life I wish to bring to the surface which I find beauty within.
How does the creative and recording process work and evolve? Is it the capturing of improvisation, the inspiration of the moment or is it more structured?
RB: It’s a combination of all the above. When we recorded The Churning Blue of Noon most of the songs were already structured and a few of them we had been playing live for a bit. Most of the songs incorporate improvisation. Tim’s saxophone is always free form, that’s just how he plays it. We try and combine frequencies, find little meeting points, sit there for a while, then leave. The song ‘Ever the Twain shall Chafe’ was improvised live in the studio and another song from that same session was also made up on the spot which we released in a split called ‘Delusions’ with our friend Quell. There are very few overdubs in the studio. Most of what’s on the album we’ve played live.
Was there an overall idea and concept behind the new LP starting with the album title? How did it take shape over time? Is there a particular narrative that links the various elements of the album together?
TP: The album title combines some of the horror of Georges Bataille with some of the horror of a Melbourne heatwave. There isn’t really one particular narrative, there’s many, and they all push and pull in different directions.
Through your music, you explore meditation, drone, and trance-like boundaries, the bringing of body and mind to these cathartic states of unconscious and emotional focus. Is it an organic slow path of self-discovery? Is there something in your past/present that inspires the smouldering enveloping darkness? Could you talk about it?
RB: I love deep listening music. I enjoy getting lost within subtle tone shifts and the non-linear abstract nature of it. Playing Drone focuses my mind and stills the chatter, I suppose it’s a mode of meditation for me.
TP: Our lives are filled with ‘smouldering enveloping darkness’ – just look around. We are the products of an exceedingly dark history and the near future is without doubt only going to be more of the same. In as much as ‘self-discovery’ might be synonymous with ‘self-consciousness’ it remains always the goal.
There is a deep sense of organic nature /earth vibrancy, spirituality and ancestral heritage in your music. Is it a pagan force or echoes of your land’s ancestors in some way?
RB: I want the listener to have a bodily experience when listening to our music, to feel connected to the earth and grounded by heavy bass frequencies. I don’t know if it’s a pagan force or not, however some snippets of melody in some of the songs have been music I’ve heard in dream states and some of the lyrical content on The Churning Blue of Noon has also come from imagery within dreams. ‘Ritual in the Dark Part 2’ is from a recurring dream I’ve had where I am descending into a crypt lined with my ancestor’s bones.
TP: I’m sure there’s some occult force at play within our music.
The lyrics/vocals have a very ritual vibe. Some are like incantations. Do these pour from the subconscious or are they intentional evocations?
TP: The lyrics are more worked-at than subconscious outpourings. I find it hard to give shape to the subconscious, it usually comes out with too many holes in it. If our lyrics/vocals qualify as ‘intentional evocations’ then they should be taken as theatrical gestures, like little performances. If the lyrics/vocals have a ‘ritual vibe’ that probably has something to do with the bigger musical picture we try and provide.
Considering the fact that you go often back and forth between Dunedin and Melbourne, what is your perception of both underground music scenes? Do you feel part of them or are you a bit a sort of outsiders?
RB: We haven’t been back to Dunedin since we shifted to Melbourne although we did move back to Aotearoa / New Zealand in 2020 for ten months when Covid-19 pandemic hit. The underground music scenes are strong in both cities. The main difference between the two cities, aside from population, is probably access to venues, there’re so many more places to play in Melbourne, also there’s more variety in band rooms and sound systems.
TP: I think the main difference between Melbourne and Dunedin has to do with the difference in population. Because of its much larger population, Melbourne has the infrastructure and audiences to support lots of different scenes, even lots of different underground scenes.
Do we feel like outsiders? Well yes.
How important is the live aspect of the band? Could you please talk about it? I saw a picture with a violinist… do you add visual projections to your shows? What are your beloved live experiences so far?
RB: The live aspect of the band is very important to us. I still find it exhilarating. The lockdown thing of recent times has been hard to deal with because it’s altered how and where we get our kicks. The photo of us with the violinist is from a Make It Up Club gig earlier this year. The violinist is Lily Tait, a totally amazing musician. We’re yet to properly explore visual projections. It is something we intend to include in our live sets.
TP: The live aspect is the most important thing.
Music is today (the present), but it is also the past, what was before (the tradition), and tomorrow, the intuition of what will come (the future)…how do the three of these temporal axes construct and dissect your music?
TP: Yes, music is all those things. It’s hard to comment on this with respect to our music. It’s probably the sort of question someone other than Renee or myself would have to answer.
Were there any crucial records or gig experiences that changed indelibly your perception of music?
RB: So many. Way too many to recount. A recent standout was seeing Group A play at The Tote in early 2019. They blew my mind. Their transferal of energy and beautiful fury as a real force. They shared a psychic musical bond and I found this really inspiring.
TP: Seeing Merzbow at The Substation was incredible. In terms of an immersive sonic environment, I couldn’t imagine a more complete experience.
As for crucial records, there’s many, but ‘Remote Viewer’ by Coil has left an indelible stain that won’t wash out.
Which of the contemporary artists, composers, or bands do you feel the most affinity with? TP:
I feel the most affinity with my friends who make great music.
What’s on your ‘stereo’ lately?
Golem Mecanique, Nona, Decima et Morta
Gate, A Republic of Sadness
Coil, Remote Viewer
Coil, Black Antlers
Girls Pissing On Girls Pissing, Scrying in Infirmary Architecture
Sarah Davachi, Gave in Rest
Kali Malone, Sacrificial Code
Drew Mcdowall, Algalma
Dead C, Armed Courage
Eartheater, Phoenix: Flames Are Dew Upon My Skin
Mika Vainio, Last Live
Space Lady, The Space Lady’s Greatest Hits
Kevin Drumm, Sheer Hellish Miasma
Michael Morley, Heavens Idleness Awaits
Evan Parker, Six of One
Eliane Radigue, Trilogie de la mort
Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement, Flying Fish Ambience
Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement, Red Ants Genesis
ELEH, Living Space
LP cover art is by Fraud Monet.
OV PAIN‘s sophomore full-length album “The Churning Blue of Noon” is out now, 12″ Vinyl & Digital, via Melbourne independent label it Records.
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