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Interview: Onuinu

Musician (Portland)
Photography: The Windish Agency

Not to be confused in your approach or fucked up by calling him things like “Onion” or “On-ooh-in-ooh”, let’s get this pronunciation shit out of the way. His name is “On You, In You” (very much stylized like Detroit’s Eminem) but he’s no past-life trailer dweller. He is, in fact, the mastermind behind new album Mirror Gazer released on Bladen Country Records. He is also at the forefront of what seems to be a controversial fusion genre. Simply categorized as “disco pop” or “disco hop”, Onuinu delivers smooth dance tunes with relatable lyrics that are present in his lead single Always Awkward and so on. He’ll get into what inspired that song shortly, but I’d like for you to listen to it first before reading on. Otherwise, what’s the point?

In search of what’s hot in Portland, Oregon, his name was most irresistible. I wanted to know what it sounded like, what it looked like and when I could see it entertain me (live). Opening for high-energy dance acts like YACHT, STRFCKR and Tycho, I imagined he was well worth my investment. Other than his (at first) unusual name, he is a regular guy. When he’s not making music, he likes to hang out with this friends, conceptualize, read, watch a lot of movies and go out to eat. All of the mentioned activity is actually his source of inspiration.

[quote]People are really interesting to me. Just the way they act and interact. I think they are inspiring. Some people are crazy. Especially, when people get drunk too,” he explained.[/quote]

What is your live show like? Are you doing any dances? Are you still? What can people expect when they come out to see you?

It’s changed every single tour. First tour, I went with a drummer. The second tour was just a sync player and a guitar player. The next tour, a keyboard player and a guitar player. There’s always been a two-piece. I guess this tour… I’m trying to figure this shit out, so I think I might bring a drummer. Worst comes to worst, I’ll just be solo. I guess I kinda dance from time to time. There’s nothing choreographed. I want this shit to be dope to the point where it’s like visually alerting and sonically alerting. It’s just going to take some time and money and shit. All that stuff, but yeah, it’s cool. People seem to be stoked on it, so.

*Speaking of live, Onuinu’s tour starts 17 January in Minneapolis at 7th Street Entry and it will end in his hometown at Holocene (9 February). He will be in New York State at Bug Jar in Rochester, New York (20 January) and New York City at Cameo Gallery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (23 January). See full tour details here. Hopefully, we’ll see you there.

And now, the breakdown of “Always Awkward”

[quote]I remember when I made the song. I had a show later that night and I just got some samples and cut them up a little bit and then, and I just made the beat really fast. I made a beat in like ten minutes and I kind of just made lyrics over time. They were about someone in particular. I won’t say their name. It was kind of like a diss track. In the beginning, it was a diss track and then, I just came up with the chorus. Yeah, it’s a diss track. But I don’t wanna put it out there, who I’m dissing.[/quote]

I laughed for quite a bit, then he continued.

[quote]I guess I was just talking to overprivileged kids. They get all of this equipment and shit and don’t have to work for it. There’s a lot of kids out there that just get shit handed to ’em.[/quote]

I agreed and laughed some more.

[quote]And then, like, you see them and they’re hella awkward and shit, you know? But people interpret it differently. Some kids are like, ‘I’m always awkward!’ and it connects to them that way, so I guess it’s… pretty ambiguous.[/quote]

At that moment, I thought: Onuinu is like a graceful rapper in a street battle. I wanted to hug him.

Yes. Yes, it is. And it sounds warm. I was telling someone earlier that the song makes me feel like I’m still in the blankets — in the morning. Like, you don’t want to get out of bed!

Yeah, it’s a happy song.

It is. It’s a diss but it makes you feel good, so that’s great!

Did I ruin it for you? Did I ruin the song?

As far as I am concerned, I think there’s little that he can say or do to ruin anything for me. Being the grandson of Mr. and Mrs. Eighty-Eight Keys doesn’t hurt either.

On quitting his job

It was cool, because I was already like “Fuck this job”.

Recording v. Performing

I like recording more. I mean, I like playing live too, but recording is a little more easier because I wouldn’t quite say that I’m a performer. I mean, I’m getting better at it, but recording is cool just because it’s exciting developing songs and ideas and just watching them come to life. As with performing, it could be stressful sometime. It doesn’t sound the way you want it to, but it’s cool. When it goes right, it goes great, but when it’s like not right, it’s frustrating.

What does “Onuinu” mean to you?

I don’t know. It kind of changes over time. It was kind of a joke at first, you know? I kind of tagged a philosophy to it, but I wouldn’t say anything deep. People would automatically think of like some sexual shit. Which is fine, you know? Which is cool. I guess it could be spiritual, too. What you wear, how you are as a person. It could be… It is whatever you want it to be. I don’t give a shit. It’s not even literal. It’s kind of like a word in itself.

On “Mirror Gazer”

I was working at this bar and some dude saw me play live and told my boss. My boss owned this record label, so he hooked me up with this dude and we recorded the record. We did it pretty quick… the tracks… we did ‘em in like a day. And I was like, “This shit is retarded, man!” Cause I’ve never done anything that fast. So, we did that in a day. Then, we did the overdubs in the next two months, and the record was done. So, that was cool. My buddy Jeremy Sherrer. He’s cool. He’s a really great engineer, a great mixer. We went in there and hammered that shit out.

One of my homies was just like, one night was just like going on a rant about how he fucking hated people in Portland and how they were mirror gazers and shit. I thought it sounded cool and I was like alright “Mirror Gazer” and that was my first album so it’s kinda like I’m talking about myself and shit and other people. So, it just seemed appropriate to call it that.

On GrungeCake

GrungeCake. (He thinks) I immediately thought of grime music, you know? For some reason. I got an email about the UK, so… I guess “grunge” and then, I thought “grime”. I didn’t have like any negative thoughts. I was just like, “This is cool.” I checked out the website and I was like, “Alright, this looks cool.”

On what he’s listening to

I listen to a lot of synth music. I’ve been listening to this new label called “Public Information”. I think they might be based in Chicago. It’s just kinda like old experimental synth stuff and it’s kind of like F.C. Judd and The Raymond Scott Quintette and then, like Madlib. I just got hip to this faulty DBL track called “Straighten Arrow”. That shit’s dope. The EP is dope. Vortex did a remix and Gold Panda and Mike Q. Yeah, just random shit. I just go through my records and just listen to anything.

This year, Onuinu plans to release a new EP, record or video. He plans to take a step forward or in a different direction.

For more Onuinu, just click here.

Written by Richardine Bartee

Her unprejudiced love for people, the arts, and business have taken her this far. Join Richardine on her journey as she writes history into existence, one article at a time. Richardine is a member of the Recording Academy/GRAMMYs, and a GRAMMY U Mentor. She is the North American Press Agent and US Business Manager for Oxlade; Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

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