My introduction to the music of Omewenne through the forums of Rozz Williams. I had heard the name Omewenne mentioned in high regard by some dedicated Rozz fans.
Through my involvement in the forum, I painted a jacket for a man. I painted the cover of Christian Death’s Only Theatre of Pain album. This turned out to be my greatest jacket and turned out to give me a great reward which was most of Happiest Tapes on Earth’s cassette releases. I was initially only wanting to hear Rozz Williams’ Premature Ejaculation releases. I played two tapes in the collection by Omewenne, they were called Hallo’ween and Along the Shallow Shores. These tapes were addictive, once I pressed play, I never pressed stop.
Each tape is a unique experience you never forget. Each tape has Omewenne singing backed my minimal instrumentation. Further internet searching and collecting led me to Omewenne and this interview, which was conducted by e-mail.
Happiest Tapes on Earth
How did you become involved with Happiest Tapes on Earth?
I was recording song sketches on a Tascam Porta-5 Cassette recorder. Rozz Williams and Eva O listened to them and were very kind with their praises.
Rozz then gave me a collection of his Premature Ejaculation recordings which I had known he’d been working on since 1986 when I first met him. He told me that since he’d heard my work back in 86 (then recorded simply from a cheap mic and a tape recorder) he had wanted to introduce them to his friend Chuck Collison who was distributing sub-sub cultural works from various artists and whose tape label was called The Happiest Place on Earth.
This was very curious to me as when I knew Rozz in 86 I was living in a heroin shooting gallery where the flat’s front door was broken down by a roommate’s boyfriend in a state of hysteria. The door had been repaired by another roommate who used a wooden sign left by Rozz when he once used the flat for a storage space. The sign was large and white with a painting of a clown and the titles “The Happiest Place on Earth”. I always thought the irony of that quite amusing.
Chuck liked my work and included two of my tapes Hallo’ween and Along the Shallow Shores in his catalogue. There were also additions to compilation tapes of Bleeding Brides A’Washing (I remember this being Chuck’s favourite of my songs. It should have been included on Woes of a Jilted Bride but it was not about a jilted bride, so…), Sacred Earth, Dead Mother’s Tree…I think those are the pieces on the comps…
Did you have any involvement in other people’s projects on Happiest Tapes on Earth?
I should say that I introduced Daniel Maulson of Katharsis to the label with his side project, the Offerings to Bast tape (a departure for him from his more industrial work with Katharsis). Daniel had been so helpful to me in helping me mixdown with minimal noise, my songs from 4-track to chromium tape. Jano Sanguine, his bandmate in Katharsis, introduced me to using a bass chorus pedal effect on my voice. Chuck himself mixed and added the sea sounds to Along the Shallow Shores for me-no easy feat considering my less than apt recording quality.
It was a unique label?
Oh most definitely. We were a bunch of mad scientists in our own individual Frankenstein’s Laboratories of the mind and Chuck, not only an artist himself, but the great enabler.
Prior to hearing anything on the label, I thought it would be purely industrial, but very little of the labels releases could be categorized in that way. Everything just seemed different and cannot be safely placed in a category, was this Chuck’s intention?
I cannot answer for Chuck, but one must remember that back then nearly everything was classified as industrial or ambient if it wasn’t likely to be played on the radio. Rozz was listening to Martin Denny lounge music and YES when he created Premature Ejaculation with Chuck and Lee Wildes.
Was it true that Chuck, David of Plecid and other related musicians used to run an improvised noise night in a Chinese restaurant in LA? They would do this while people sat and ate their dinner?
I think I have heard of this but I don’t know.
Where was HTOE ran from? Was everything personally or commercially produced (tapes and artwork). Was it a business in an office or ran from home?
I always sent my work to Chuck’s North Bay address in the San Francisco area. He would come collect things from me in his hiking gear-he always looked like a naturalist to me - vegetarian, back-pack… like he should be wandering in the Alps. So it was run from his home. This was small time, remember, no money but what was made from the sales.
The back up to your music was always very atmospheric, in some cases you and the organ/keyboard were backed by noise. I can see how this fitted into the whole picture of HTOE’s musical aesthetic. What was your musical backup, did you do it all?
I did it all, yes. That was all created in the worst conditions of my mind. Occasionally I was lucky and had the pleasure of a guitar on Hallo’ween ( Haluk Kecclioglu), a violin on The Garden of Live Flowers (Kris Force), or a harp on Winter (Johanna Khayat).
Were other musicians involved?
Rarely but once in a long while.
Was your music ever performed in a live context or used in relation to your performances or plays?
At first I performed alone on stage with a back up tape, film loops (via Duncan MacLeod or Steven Dye later on), or with my small harmonium. My appearance was always a bit inhuman-a green dryad of a flower garden, the pink Nixie of the lily pond, a mummified bride, an old hag of Samhain, The Goddess Nut and Bast of Ancient Egypt painted all over blue and gold, The Snow Queen, iguana-like incarnation of a sea Goddess, a dried up brittle spinster, a rag doll keepsake, a dead little girl with her dead cat…each of these theatricalities was appropriate to the songs performed.
I did use music from my side project A Play House for Psychotic Children with my long-time music partner and dear friend Michael Richard for a production of my plays The Grimm Guignol. I also performed a play about Nico (a great influence on me) and sang her songs with my harmonium. Shows were sparse but remembered.
How many cassettes did you release in total?
On my own there were the early tapes: Along the Shallow Shores, Hallo’ween, Woes of a Jilted Bride, Spinsterish, A Silent Plea from the Caged Bird Tree, Ring a Ring of Rosies, The Garden of Live Flowers, Offerings to Bast, Lullabyes for the Spectre Children, The Nixie Whisperings, Winter… that makes eleven. I nearly released twelve with Itsy Bitsy Spiders… but I stagnated.
Did you have any other label outlets apart from HTOE?
I sold stuff through Rough Trade but not officially - just as local interest in San Francisco. Later I was taped for MTV Brazil of all things, had a song on a tribute CD for The Harvey Milk Institute (gay audiences were very loving toward me and I am in their debt), the late but generous Erik Christides placed my two most well known songs, Nautilus and Waves on what I call the “Rozz Family” CD Merry Maladies, and NeueAesthetik Multimedia’s Blackout courtesy of my friend William Faith (whose Faith and the Muse cites me as an influence). I have also had a bit of a collaborative effort with Rozz on his benefit tribute CD The Tongue Achieves the Dialect. I covered Ashes for a pressing of that compilation as well released through Dark Vinyl.
On the Hallo’ween cassette there seems to be a churchlike/religious feel to the music, was this intentional?
Pipe organs and reed instruments on the whole I have a fondness for. The religion you could say, harkens back to an unhappy Catholic upbringing - but I prefer to think of the reverberating sounds like a great woodland - an old sacred grove, as many trees for as many notes played. My favourite memory is living in my grandfather’s cottage in the woods of Haycock, Pennsylvania. The music is the environment and the trigger for the emotion or psychological issue, the voice is the cry or the elemental.
Although I only have copies of the tapes and their artwork, the actual artwork by Catalina O is beautiful and compliments the music fully. Was it all made especially for each tape?
Catalina is an old friend who did beautiful calligraphy-she allowed me to make use of her for a few of my tapes. The drawings are from old Faerie Tale books which Catalina then washed over with coffee or watercolour. Each new group of songs got it’s own design. I must also thank Mordantia Bat for her computer help, Jeff Wood for his magnificent paintings for Offerings to Bast, and his grandmother Bertha Cro for her wonderfully fragile watercolour which she allowed me to use for the cover of The Garden of Live Flowers. Cosmos (AKA Arrow-El) took flattering shots of me for some of the covers.
What influenced the work lyrically?
Many psychotic breakdowns, mythology, Folklore, witchcraft, ghosts, an abusive childhood, crippling shyness, rape, the usual relationships phenomena, my cats and others cats.
Were each set of lyrics themed for a tape?
Not on purpose but I collected them in that way.
Were you the only vocalist involved?
As there are sometimes a variety of different voices or vastly differing vocal styles used in songs. This is apparent on the CDs we exchanged. Was this a way of expressing different narratives or characters in each song?
Perhaps not narratives but some characters, and levels of personality, selves, the many ages one finds within oneself.
Were you relating to any other contemporary music at the time of making your music? I can see how it’s not fitting into any recognizable genre and use of older/older sounding? instrumentation would link it to the far fringes of the early industrial scene before it became too stylised and even the neo folk scene (Death In June, Current 93, Non, Nurse With Wound) although your work seems to be more ’out there on the edges’ than any of those artists in that it seems to stand alone rather than being related to the Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV family tree. Also it’s very different in lyrical content and overall atmosphere.
My work is an extension of childhood songs I sang to myself or my toys as I did not like the company of other children or people.
I did not listen to much music other than classical. Of the classical type I can say that Wagner, Vivaldi, Bach, Satie, Saint Saens, Tschaikovsky, Weill, and Hildegarde Von Bingen, Maria Callas were present.
Also I must impress that nature and those elemental spirits were there. Of the alternative variety of rock was a bit of Swans, Women of the SS, Nico, Siouxsie, Lydia Lunch, Exene, Chris and Cosey, Cocteau Twins, The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath… heavens, even Frank Sinatra, Marlene Dietrich, Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Peggy Lee, The Carpenters, John Barry and Georges Delerue, Abba, The Fifth Dimension, Olivia Newton-John… eerie what comes up.
All the music you listen to throughout your life influences you as a musician - so there lies your answer. Later influences I won’t record. I have been compared to mostly classically oriented composers such as Phillip Glass, Michael Nyman, and Ligeti-the Wagnerian and madrigal-like qualities were also mentioned in reviews. Synthesizer pioneer Jean Jaques Perry even was so kind to compare me to Edith Piaf - but I think that’s stretching things a bit. I lived for a time in Japan and was very moved by the folk music there in it’s minimalism and complexity. The folk music of Russia and Germanic countries is there as well.
Do you ever plan to make music again?
I’ve never stopped. I am hoping to start a solo label soon and release the beasts into the world again from my little corner of obscurity.