With an exciting new album ('InCaseOfStaresUseFire') under their belts, Oh No Not Stereo are continuing their assault on the music world. Frontman Skyler Nielsen, who recently became vegetarian after a health scare, tells us how they know the tricks of the music trade, how they're finding ways to make albums for less money, how the attention of the general public is on a steady decrease, and how he was scared to death of being gutted like a fish.
By Emily Clarkson
Emily Clarkson: Your bandmate Mykul once said about the band, “The boundaries of this industry need to be challenged and that's exactly what we're trying to do." How do you think the boundaries need to be pushed? What do you think is wrong with the music industry nowadays?
Skyler Nielsen: I can't necessarily speak for Mykul, but we all understand how much the industry is changing as we speak. Labels are closing their doors left and right and all of our friends who have had careers as managers, publicists, A&R reps etc. are losing their jobs and being forced to find something else to do. Such an unfortunate thing for people who have worked for other people for so long. However, bands like us are still around because we've always chosen to do things ourselves, the way we want things done. We are capable of offering the same services that a label offers to the bands on their roster, only we know the tricks of the trade ourselves, freeing us from having to hire out third-parties to do the work for us. We are working on our legacy around the clock, exercising 360 degrees of music development, production, publicity and management. Had we not been an independent 'D.I.Y.' band since 2003, we would never be able to say that. Needless to say, you can expect a lot more content from us (and everyone we have a hand in helping!) now that we're finding ways to make albums for less money (without cutting any corners on quality) and music videos as well. Not to mention how capable we are of marketing ourselves and records we believe in.
EC: Oh No Not Stereo are very independent, self-releasing a lot of material and doing things that would perhaps not be considered the norm when it comes to a band, such as filming a music video for every song on your album ‘InCaseOfStaresUseFire’. How important do you feel it is for you and bands generally, to be creative and able to do whatever you want with your music, and not be dictated by what a record label thinks you should do? Do you regard yourselves as unique in operating outside of the normal expectations of a band?
SN: I am constantly thinking about what's going to set our music aside from everyone else's music. That's where branding comes in, which I find very important these days. The attention span of the general public is on a steady decrease, so things have to be done differently in order to be given any attention whatsoever. Or so that's how I treat our content. When we were finished recording the record, we popped a bottle of champagne, thinking that we were 'finished'. It was such a great feeling. We were talking about touring, and how good it would be for all of us to get our personal lives back for a second... and then it hit us like a ton of bricks: What are we going to do with our record, now that it's done? It literally threw me in a state of panic for a few days, not for lack of strategy, but in realization that we had spent almost two years writing and recording our new record, and hadn't put hardly any thought into promotion, or a marketing plan, or music videos etc! We thoroughly believed in what we had just created, and now it was time to 'turn the page' and start conceptualizing how we can add other dimensions to this content that would make it more appealing, while adding meaning to the lyrical direction of the song. The goal of doing ten music videos was an option, but we never thought we would ever be able to do it 18 weeks. But we did. All on our own terms. We would never had been able to do that on a label's terms, without having our concepts twisted and turned, and limitations put on us. Plus, people always charge more when they know a label is paying for it, and we did this all on our own dime. We were the ones renting the gear and calling to secure locations etc. I know that our way of thinking isn't completely unique, but I encourage everyone to define entrepreneurialism for yourself!
EC: Speaking of recording a video for every song on ‘InCaseOfStaresUseFire’, was it a challenge to come up with so many different cool video ideas? How did you decide on them?
SN: We came up with the ten concepts one at a time. It was like shuffling all of our random ideas, and the meanings of the songs, into one visual direction. Looking back on that 4 month period, it was a lot of fun and ultimately a great learning experience! During that period though, it was hard not to get overwhelmed and stressed out about certain things, but we maintained our positive mentality and rolled with the punches, figured out how to deal with changes as they happened. Most of the ideas we came up with were drawings on bar napkins, and 99% of the locations that we used in the filming of all ten videos we free, with no filming permits. It was our chance to pack the songs full of as much meaning as we can, while we utilize our resources to the fullest extent. We pulled a whole lot of favor cards in the process of completing all ten videos by the release date, but we did it! View all ten of the new music videos here: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL89740A938C182F22&feature=mh_lolz
EC: Is your video for ‘Behind Closed Doors’ (where priests/vicars and nuns are perhaps not engaging in the most conventional behaviour you’d expect from them) intended to demonstrate a cynicism towards religion? Or did it have another message you wanted to convey? SN: The video concept for that song was meant to demonstrate extreme dynamic, inspired by the twisted child-molesting priests, closet-serial killers, and multi-personalities. It's terrifying to admit that you can never really know what someone else is thinking. We illustrated the lyrics of the song by displaying what's behind the curtain of the every-day routine of a crazy priest and a sex-fiend nun.
EC: On February 1st you did an interactive online gig, where your fans pick the set list and chat with you. How did this idea come about and why did you decide to do it? SN: Our live-streaming interactive performance was an experiment to see how many people we can engage while we aren't touring. It's a good way to interact and engage conversations with fans around the world, while meeting a handful of new people as well! We are definitely going to start doing this more often!
EC: ‘You’re all slaves, there’s nothing you can do about it’ is a lyric from your song ‘Thirty-Two’. What’s the meaning behind that? How did you want it to be interpreted? SN: That was a pun on miserable relationships. My parents and Mykul's parents were getting divorced at the same time, which was interesting. I had just broken up with a girl that cheated on me and felt the need to combine those feelings in to the mix. I felt pretty embarrassed for many years when we played that song because the lyrics were so brutal, in a way, but the song had a great following so whenever it was requested, I just made people sing it along with me and it was a totally different feeling!
EC: You have a song called ‘Are You OK?’ on your album ‘001’. With that idea of helping others/being concerned for others in mind, how important do you think music can be to someone in being a source of comfort and understanding? Have you ever had fans tell you your music has helped them through a tough time?
SN: I have had a few people tell me that our music has helped them, and it's quite possibly the greatest pay-off of the whole production process! To know that other people can relate to something that we wrote, the way that we have always found refreshment in listening to our most influential inspirations. Growing up listening to other artists' pre-recorded work has consistently helped me deal with the many changes that life inevitably throws our way, and I grew up depending on that. There are so many different kinds of music, and lyrics too of course, that can fit any mood, and really optimize every vibe. You just have to find the song(s) that speaks your mind for you.
EC: Can you tell us why you became vegetarian? SN: I was diagnosed with cancer on November 1st, and had to get a pretty crazy surgery just four days after I found out. During my one-month recovery, I researched a lot about my situation in hopes to further understand exactly what was going on with me. I bounced around from Wikipedia pages to WebMD forums, watched several different kinds of documentaries in regards to several various health topics, and started seeking more info that would help me understand nutrition more. At my follow-up appointment with the doctor, they ran several tests on me and found no evidence that the cancer had spread. This, to me, meant that the surgery was successful, and I had truly been lucky with beating my cancer. However, the specialist suggested that I get another surgery to prevent the possible spread of cancer cells in the future, in the case that there were still microscopic cancer cells still remaining inside of me that they couldn't see. At this point, I was scared to death of them gutting me like a fish, especially when the surgery was just preventative. I took matters into my own hands, and changed my diet. I simply became more conscious of what I consume. Now the thought of eating something DEAD isn't appealing to me, and I finally understand the powerfully positive effects of a raw-food diet first-hand!
EC: How did you cope when you were first diagnosed? Who did you turn to for support? SN: My friends and family were all such an amazing support for me. My amazing girlfriend stuck by my side throughout the entire process, and took the best care of me when I was immobilized in bed for almost two weeks. She also made the switch to vegetarian with me. No surprise that we were watching all those documentaries together. I had quite a heavy load on my back, so to speak, and everything was happening so fast that we barely had time to react and absorb it all. The most challenging part of my recovery was realizing that 99% of the things that I ate/drank, used in the shower etc. were all toxic, and I needed to stick to a more organic and natural way of life.
EC: How did you find out about the benefits of being vegetarian in regards to helping keep cancer at bay? Was it through your doctor or was it through your own research? Have you seen the video documentaries about how eating a plant based diet can help? SN: When a close friend suggested I watch 'Forks Over Knives', I laughed at him because I instantly labelled it as 'propaganda' or 'hippie shit'. I thought all this natural stuff was a joke until I actually watched the film and followed up with a fair amount of research regarding things like The China Study. Once I started eating raw foods and eliminating animal proteins from my diet, I was instantly feeling (and looking!) so much better. It's not hard to find healthy (and tasty) sources of protein that aren't a dead animal that was miserably abused and full of negative energy, scared to death the moment before it was killed. The thought of that makes my stomach hurt. I don't think this stuff because someone told me; I feel that this is the right lifestyle for me.
EC: Were there any other life changes you made as a result of the diagnosis, other than turning veggie? SN: There are a lot of changes that occur when you make such a drastic lifestyle shift. I try my best to maintain the conscious effort of being healthy, in every way possible. I'm not perfect though, I'll still have a few beers and a shot of whiskey every now and again to warm the loins. No two people have the same diet/lifestyle habits, so for me the most important thing is to be happy and feel good... so whatever it takes to maintain that, to ensure a long and prosperous life!
EC: On 30th November, you tweeted asking ‘Anyone have any good vegan/vegetarian recipes for a newcomer?’. How hard have you found the transition from eating meat to vegetarianism? Did anyone reply with any great recipes you tried and loved?
SN: Yeah, I got some really good recipes from that. My personal favorite is vegetarian lasagne. I'm a sucker for any kind of vegetable now, who would've known?!
EC: Would you ever consider going the full way and turning vegan, like Larry Hagman from Dallas has recently?
SN: Cheese is the hardest thing to give up for me. It just makes everything taste better! I have never really liked milk or butter, so the only thing really keeping me from being vegan is that damn cheddar!
(Note from Shari - There are so many different soya cheeses out there, it's easy to convert from cheddar once you know where to buy them. I thought ten years ago that I couldn't give up cheese - but I did - and now eat at least 4 different types of soya cheese).
EC: What benefits have you felt in your body and in your life generally as a result of quitting meat? SN: I didn't need to lose a whole lot of weight to begin with, but I definitely lost some pounds within the first few weeks of making the shift. I felt more clear-headed and I definitely had more energy throughout the day. Now I don't get that 'super full and want to pass out' feeling after I eat a meal. It's a miracle, isn't it?
EC: You’ve got a song called ‘Get Over It’ on your album ‘003’. What actions/demonstrations of animal cruelty, e.g. battery chickens, animal testing, using animals in circus shows etc., do you wish the most people would ‘get over’ and stop promoting/accepting? SN: All that stuff literally makes me wanna vomit. I understand that we're all animals in the grand scheme of things, and the food chain exists etc, but if I can have anything to do with it, I'll be an advocate to stop animal cruelty and have all those assholes locked up who think it's a good idea to treat an animal any different that you would treat a human. How would you like to be locked up in a super small cage and genetically mutated?? Sorry for yellin'!