AKA Old Man River
In 2007 I discovered Old Man River, the stage name of Australian musician Ohad Rein. With the release of GOOD MORNING Rein achieved a near perfect debut album that has, over time, lost none of its beauty, heart and honesty. From the first track SUNSHINE to BETER PLACE, WEDDING SONG &LA REIN takes his listener on a journey that you never want to get off. Few albums have had the power that GOOD MORNING has and it is also one of only 3 albums I continue to listen to from start to finish.
The New Current had the opportunity to talk with Ohad about his music, passion and what he wanted audiences to take from his unique and heartfelt music.
Hi Ohad, thanks for speaking with The New Current, how are you doing in these strange times?
Thanks for having me! Yeah I'm doing pretty good considering the global turmoil. This time has been good for recluse artists, producers and sound engineers like myself in the sense that I've been stuck in the studio as usual but without the fomo. It's like the whole world has aligned with my values of seclusion.
Has this time offered you new creative inspiration?
Yes indeed. I've been producing and mixing a lot for other artists lately and each one is fairly different from the other. So I've been exploring a wide new palate of musical colours and combinations.
Where did your passion for music come from, was music always a part of your life growing up?
Music was all around me growing up. I grew up in Israel. Israel is wedged between Africa the Arabian peninsula and Europe and is a melting pot for immigrants from all over the world. So the music and culture is very diverse and exciting. In my household I absorbed classical music and Jazz through my dad and punk and classic rock from my older brother. In the streets I'd hear Mediterranean music and in the radio the latest American and Brit pop, so I was kinda set to be open to all music styles.
That's probably why my music is so eclectic and hard to pigeonhole.
As far as the passion for music I remember as a kid listening to my dad's Bach organ pieces and experience divinity. I could just feel music was a way to connect with the Divine. And I have vivid memories of the rock star dream forming as I would pause and rewind and study a VHS tape scene by scene lick by lick of Led Zeppelin's 'The Song Remains The Same movie'.
Back in 2007 your debut album Good Morning was released, an album we really loved, did you expect you would get such a fantastic reaction to your first album?
Thanks, that's a great question. Now in hindsight I can definitely appreciate how fucken lucky I was. You have to understand the first single I ever released became an instant hit. I was so ignorant back then about the ways of the music industry that I just went travelling for a year and did nothing about it. Luckily when I got back there was still some interest in me and I got signed to Sony and released 'Good Morning' which was very successful. But going back to your question, deep down inside I honestly did expect it to do well. I have been dreaming about that moment since I was a kid. In a way ignorance is a bliss because when I was making the album I poured into it only the purest intentions. And I had no expectations, I couldn't care less if it would've been successful or not. I was just stoked about releasing my first album and all these songs I gathered for years. I was detached to the result of my action. Doing it for the sake of doing it. Like the concept of Karma Yoga. So it must have resonated with other people or the stars simply aligned or it was all random who knows?!
How much would you say you approach to writing and creating your music has changed since Good Morning?
On the technical side it has changed heaps. When I was recording Good Morning I was using whatever tools were available to me back then. I didn't even have a computer and pro tools was only used in big recording studios. I was playing a lot with the Roland 1880 which was a bulky digital multi-track recorder which I loved the sound of and was also toying with loop pedals like the Line 6. I was and still am completely self taught so I was experimenting a lot and prob making a lot of silly mistakes. Today I can operate a big recording studio and am confident to mix any genre so have come some way on the technical side. In terms of the creative writing process not much has changed. I always try and stay loyal to the purity of the writing process. My best songs were often downloaded from the ether in two minutes. Verse chorus and hooks all there. And if I don't record them as a voice memo they often also disappear back into the ether they came from. So I've learned to recognise when one is about to be birthed. How to grab it in time and most importantly to finish it fast! Otherwise it piles up and gathers dust in the unfinished symphonies section.
Where do you draw inspiration from for your music?
Everything I encounter is inspiration. Books I read, films I see, people I meet. But most inspiring are other artists and other music. If I love a certain album you can be sure I'm gonna borrow whatever I can from that artist without being caught (hopefully)
Your music beautifully captures a type of raw honesty that is rare in contemporary music, with songs like Better Place & Wedding Song (Good Morning), Sailing (Trust) taking the listener on a unique journey. Is it hard to hand over songs like these and give up a little part of yourself?
It's interesting. I feel like I'm old school in a sense. I prescribe to the notion that art is a great medium that one can express and expose oneself through. It also allows the artist to remain ambiguous and abstract if he wishes to be. When you listen to Bob Dylan's 'Blood on the Tracks' you can feel the pain of the breakup he went through. It doesn't have to be spelled out. We live in another era now where artists and anyone in the public eye, are expected to expose themselves quite literally. The new paradigm is that anyone is able to peep into your most intimate spaces. Vulnerability (but not necessarily an authentic one) is worshipped. Stripping down is expected. It freaks me out because if people are exposing everything where are they finding refuge and solace? If you're naked and exposing everything it means you'll have to go deeper within to hide whilst only presenting a superficial shell to the world. That worries me as I reckon it's already leading and will lead to more mental health problems.
Last year you released Mid Life Crisis, how did this new album come about?
Well continuing on the honest thread. I turned 40 last year which seemed like the end of days when I was younger. When I was 20 I told people: look at Leonard Cohen he only became successful when he turned 40. I was using that story as an example for things taking as long as they need to take and that there's no rush. Now I think Leonard was only 40 when he made it?! That's young...
Anyway I hit my mid life crisis pretty much like the textbook says around 40. My wife wisely got me one flight ticket to India to deal with my shit over there. I thought I'd go travelling on a bike and do all the things I did in India in my early 20's but I pretty quickly ended up in an ashram I always visit there. Hardly left my room, slept a lot and wrote most of the songs that ended up on the new album.
"One day I accidentally bounced the vocal takes only and when I heard it I loved the emptiness and simplicity so I stripped back loads of channels and stayed true to that accidental vibe I discovered."
Mid Life Crisis followed ILOVEYOUSORRYPLEASEFORGIVEMETHANKYOU (2018) will you continue to regularly release new music now?
ILOVEYOUSORRYPLEASEFORGIVEMETHANKYOU took 8 years from start to finish (!) and then it was only a year between the next album, so I think I'm doing better. I'm not sure what's the next step. I'm never sure. If I get excited I'll do a new Old Man River album or not. I'm always creating new music whether it's mine or others. And I love doing new projects. For example this year I released my first Mantra Music album 'In The Names Of Love' under a project called Omkar Kirtan. I was always drawn to devotional music and am stoked to create an album of chants that is produced in accordance to my sonic aesthetic. So it's quite psychedelic and interesting on the sound scope of things.
When you're writing songs for a new album does a theme develop in the writing process or does it come about once you're in the studio recording?
I'm pretty spontaneous with the creative process. It's rare these days that a song will be written on a guitar which is my main instrument. I'll always look for new tricks to get inspired. One of my favourites is using the studio as an instrument like Brian Eno suggests. I'll usually grab a sound or a loop and put down a quick bass line or chord progression. Do an impromptu vocal take and a song is born within a few minutes. Then I might spend weeks adding shit to it, refining the lyrics and mixing it! But the core is birthed really fast.
And from writing to recording how much will a song/music change before it's on the album?
Yes, so almost all my songs were developed in the studio. I bring in an idea and then stay really open to how the production process will unfold. For example there's a song on Mid Life Crisis called 'Good Times' that was originally heavily orchestrated with lots of instruments. One day I accidentally bounced the vocal takes only and when I heard it I loved the emptiness and simplicity so I stripped back loads of channels and stayed true to that accidental vibe I discovered.
Do you plan in advance how a track listing will appear on your albums, is that important?
Oh yeah. Like I said I'm old school. So I definitely think in album terms. Even when I'm still in the production phase I can tell which song will be the opener. Some songs just have that opening quality even if they aren't the strongest or best songs on the album they have to open the journey. Same goes for closing the album tracks. They have to leave you with something. And I spend a lot of time thinking about these two. The rest just unfolds pretty naturally between them.
Looking back at your previous studio albums are there any changes you would make to the track listings?
Oh no way I'm totally against going back on all fronts of life!! It is what it is. I've moved on. I love how Lennon said he never listens to the Beatles albums. It's crazy if I was him I would spend my whole life listening to Abbey Road or Revolver and thinking wow I'm such a f*&^ genius! btw I have a feeling McCartney probably does do that... haha But Lennon moved on he was thinking about new music he was gonna make!
Of all the songs you've written and recorded do you have one that you always love to perform?
Lately I keep coming back to one song from the 1st album called 'A Long Way From Home'. I wrote this song after I participated in a 10 day silent Buddhist meditation retreat. I had some profound experiences there and at the end of the retreat one of the teachers shared a Buddhist prayer for well-being and protection. It touched me deeply and I wrote my version of that prayer. And it's one I really love sharing with people.
It's always relevant and especially seems to be more relevant during these tumultuous times:
'May you be safe from all harm and danger a long way from home.
May you enjoy the angels protection when you're on the road.
May you know love is always your haven a long way from home.
May you be brave and always remember that you're not alone.
Life has this funny way to change. Don't you ever be afraid when the time has come to let go.
May you be a light in times of darkness a long way from home. May you be free and dance away sadness a long way from home... '
What do you hope people will take away from your music?
I've always set my intention to lift and elevate people's hearts and spirits through music. I am so grateful to the artists that make me feel that way. The artists that have changed the way I think and see the world and the ones that have reminded me that it's always better to choose love over fear.