After his band broke up early this millennium, Minneapolis musician Mark Edwards started playing with toys. He found that these sonic gadgets--synthesizers, loopers, samplers--not only sounded cool, but allowed him to stretch his creative muscle without the time demands of a full-time band, a perk he appreciated as a new father. With the mind of a writer and the skill of a live performer, it wasn't long before Edwards, under the name (OME), took his bits, bytes, and buzz to the stage. The moody, melodic experiments he created for crowds eventually coalesced into 2004's Rewind Tomorrow and its acclaimed follow-up, The Doom Loop (2007).
[jump] (OME) is back with Tired Birds, his most melodic, cohesive album to date. In it, crisp beats and languid strings paint pictures of doves and prophets across eight excellent tracks. We recently caught up with (OME) to speak with him in anticipation of his release show this Friday.
How did you become involved with this live looping stuff?
I played in a band called the Domo Sound, which was around in late-'90s and early 2000s. Coming out of that band, and having just had a child, I was looking for a way to do something that wasn't so time intensive. I picked up a looper and started experimenting in my basement. I took it out pretty quickly to the stage. Prior to going out, I hadn't seen live looping done much, but everybody started telling me about artists like Joseph Arthur, Andrew Bird, and Dosh, who were around doing similar things. It was like a live science experiment. Sometimes it would be great and sometimes it would fail miserably.
As a solo artist, do you seek feedback from other artists?
I run my songs by several friends in the scene and other people I trust. Ed Ackerson has always been a good ear for me, and some other friends. I look for people who like similar music and who will be honest. This record was a little different in that I brought in my friend Luke Albertson, who played bass on the record and plays in my live shows. I used him as a sounding board. My first two solo records were all over the map stylistically. I listen to a broad range of influences, so a lot of them seep out in a song here and there. This time I tried to focus on song selection and making it about a unified vision, rather than music that sounds like eleven different versions of me.
Was Tired Birds always a concept album?
It kind of gelled along the way, as I was starting to write, those types of concepts continued to come back to me. It is a lot about relationships, autobiographical in a way, relationships between me and other people and me and God and the struggle that it is to be in a relationship as a human being. One of the things that fascinated me at the time, since I came up in a church, was the idea of prophets and being able to hear directly from God and how difficult it would be to be one of those people everyone thinks is crazy.
How much time did you spend on Tired Birds?
I did the record in about 70 hours, recording and everything. The only exception to that was some of the beats. The writing was done in about a one-month window.
How do loops and effects affect your writing?
Sounds inspire me. There are a few ways I write, sometimes with a guitar - "Off the Rails" was written very much with just me and a guitar. Then there are others where I'm inspired by the sound of software synths or real synths or whatever. I collect gear, and those kinds of sounds inspire me. It goes back to a bit of that self-editing. In the past, I would run with those various sounds, whereas this time I was more about keeping the vision musically, lyrically, and sonically unified. I forced myself to choose some instruments and stick with them. It helped me focus more than I think I've done in ten years. It's also the reason the album is only 30 minutes long. When I hit on "this is it," I just stopped. I didn't try to force a couple of more songs or force the concept further. Musically and lyrically I was where I wanted to be.
Why should people check out your live sets?
If people are fans of the recorded music, the live versions are considerably different. Production-wise, it's just me and my bass player. We both play keyboards; we loop vocals; it should be an interesting thing to watch and experience. The record is fairly polished, and the live experience is more of an experiment in the making. We don't play to prerecorded tracks. If I loop it, everything is tracked live. Otherwise, we play every note. It should be fun.
(OME) plays a CD-release show with Byzantine Beatbox on Friday, January 14, at the Bryant Lake Bowl. $10. 10 p.m.