Oh! Interview

For all of Heavy music’s supposed restrictive template, it is a certainty that every year we will get something just a little bit different and left of field from the norm. This, of course is a very good thing. I’m a fan of diversity in my music and am always looking for acts that want to push the boundaries and try something else. A little while back I came across a promotion for a Greek one-person act by the name of OH! A little research had me sharing a link on Twitter. Turns out OH! is Olivia Hadjiioannou – she being solely responsible for everything on her new 6 track mini CD called ‘Metallia’ – you can read my review here. Olivia personally sought me out and we exchanged some details for a chat about all things OH related. What you are about to read is long – above and beyond anything an artist has done for me in an interview – so settle in with your favorite beverage and enjoy!

– Hello there, Olivia! Great to finally catch up with you and chat about all things OH! and Metallia!
Hello K-MaN! Yes! It is great to be here and thank you again for the serendipitous connection on Twitter. You know, sometimes the promotional aspect – ‘getting the word out’ part of this music business is just so forced and intrusive. So, when someone just finds your music somewhere and posts – it is a such a rewarding experience. You found my music somewhere and posted it on Twitter. Can’t thank you enough.

– My pleasure Olivia – I’m always looking to share new music I come across! Where are you at the moment? What is on the calendar moving forward?
I’m in Greece and work out of a small studio there. For the ‘Metallia’ release there are a few more videos in production. ‘Metallia’ is a concept album, and though artists mostly use the label ‘concept album’ in an artistic sense; ‘Metallia’ is a bit different because I hope the tenacity and intensity of the songs will provoke some sort of mental shift and have a physical effect, not just be music for entertainment  or exploring a theme in an artistic sense. So, there are some web experiences and videos that will progressively come out to compliment the ‘Metallia’ journey.

– Great, some extra visual material still to come! Your new 6 track release ‘Metallia’ has been out for a few weeks now – how has the response been?
It’s been great. Even though, the previous album ‘Synemotion’ was released on a Limited-Edition vinyl, ‘Metallia’ is the first CD. I was wary of releasing on CD because many people believe the format is dead. But, honestly, this release is selling more than any other release. In less than a month, the CD has been shipped out to over 30 countries around the entire world. Fans posted their photos of the CD on social media. You can’t imagine how much that means to an artist. I made a page and map on my website for those photos from all over the world (Check here)

When you are reviewed in multiple languages you get a perspective of that culture as well, so it’s almost like travelling there. ‘Metallia’ has been reviewed in places like The Netherlands, France, UK, Germany, Italy, Russia, Poland, Sweden, Norway, United States, Canada and Australia and New Zealand. It also been aired on over 30 radio stations (Check here) and a few of them FM stations as well.

– That is fantastic! I want to get to the Social Media element later but firstly has the response come from Prog-rock circles only? Or more varied metal publications/sites?
Well, for one ‘Blessed Altar Zine’, which I feel very honored about. And yes, a few underground metal sites have embraced it which is very liberating. There really isn’t a half-note, like going from E to F when you try to reach other niches. The proggers were the first to accept and appreciate my music. Not all proggers though, because my music is a bit far out and some are very attached to the icons and original music produced in the 70s and 80s. My music embraces those beginnings but doesn’t follow that pattern. I honestly didn’t really know the term ‘prog’ before they found me, I thought it was just music.

– And what about locally, how’s the response been in Greece?
I’ll let you know when that happens (joking but not). The first video and song I released, “Trials: A Song for a Lost Generation” got a lot of press and was considered one of the 50 events that marked Greece then during the height of the crisis. But that was because of the socio-political aspect of the song and not the music per se. Greeks are just as hard to please as New Yorkers. Though one or two underground magazines have been very supportive. But the larger press outlets haven’t probably because they want to present more of what they know their readership wants and what is familiar. Once Huffington Post Greece did write when I released one of the first virtual reality videos. It’s funny how magazines in Germany, France and the Netherlands embrace the releases, but my own country doesn’t.

– Wow, that is a pity. Hopefully that changes soon! Tell me, Olivia…how does Metallia differ from your previous work?
‘Metallia’ is the second album in a sequence or what will be a trilogy. The first album, ‘Synemotion’ was more fluid – for the emotional aspect. Metallia is heavier and more condensed than the other albums because it is for the mind.

– That it most certainly is! Furthermore, Metallia is only 25 minutes long – but I made a statement in my review that it feels like 80 minutes’ worth of ideas. There is so much to discover on repeated listens…Was this intentional??…How long did the process take to put together?
Yes, this was intentional to be so compact and thank you for noticing.  It took me about 6 months of work over a year and a half.

What I did with each composition was to record parts of thoughts – memes, those opposing suggestions and presumptions that are being created by us in our minds – you can hear and the current state of the layers of our thought processes is revealed. – a reflection on where we stand as a community. To emphasize the noise of our daily lives to the point where it is so obvious that you can’t do anything else but try to find the center and heart of each composition. The spirit of the composition that is both personal and impersonal. Enough so, that the mental loops that we constantly engage in (love affairs, politics, dreams, crashing dreams, revenge, backlash instigations, nostalgia) become obvious. Hopefully to grab your attention by layering multiple frequencies so you don’t space out – as much as possible. So, we can hear past the noise and when we do – there is the door, to the ‘heart’ of understanding. We have this great ability and as musicians – as ‘muses’ (that’s where the word ‘music’ comes from) is “to show that” in them… not only to use the music language to empty your guts.

No matter how amazing the song or the composition is and innovative as to blow your brains out… the intention behind those notes and lyrics are what is most important to me, taking people out of this loop of hell that motivates them to create the same thing over and over in their lives.

– You are responsible for everything also? – Have you ever collaborated with others? Worked with a band?
Briefly before my first EP, ‘Sleeping World”, we formed a band with some other musicians in Greece, I was the lead singer and second guitar, but we never made it past rehearsals to a live show even though we were committed for a time. I have been a guest singer during a few band’s live shows. As for acoustic lives with one or two people there have been many appearances over the years.

I never tried to form a band after that, it just doesn’t interest me as much as composing. On side projects, I have worked with other musicians and producers – playing their drum sections or guitars – providing orchestrations or building melodies from their initial ideas. Of course, those collaborations are more mainstream and are more “ear friendly” than my releases.

Yes, I compose, record mix and master alone, except for one time where I had technical issues – and went to friend’s studio in Athens for the final master of ‘Synemotion”. For most of the music videos, I shoot the footage and do the initial cuts, after the song, “Love Will Heal” a very close family member does the post production, animation, VR, WebGL and 3D and helps with the promotion, logistics and cover designs.


– Having answered that, there is a massive trend towards ‘One-person’ musical projects…especially in heavy music – what are your thoughts on this? Is this a better way? An easier way to get music recorded?
Ha! I wouldn’t say it is easier. But there are the positive aspects like being able arrange exactly as you’ve imagined let’s say. When there are no other producers, musicians or engineers, you really get to hear your own sound – like an untouched photograph. Is it better for the audience? Maybe. Is it a better way for the musicality of the artist? Yes. Does it really matter for the industry? No, unless as you say, it is a trend. Most people are accustomed to listening to music produced in a certain way and that way is what the industry knows best. The fact that it’s becoming a trend now is a good sign for us for sure.

– ‘Metallia’ is a 6-part conceptual affair – a ‘Spiritual Journey’ as such. Can you give the readers a little more insight as to the meaning/message you are trying to convey?
Many believe our journey through life is a series of events. Each event leading to a totally new experience. There is a misconception that our progress is linear but in fact it is more a spiral. Events repeat themselves. We move back and forth over repeating archetypal events with various variations, until “we get it”. That’s why history repeats itself, why we find ourselves repeatedly in the same types of relationships and situations. We watch the same plots repeat in the movies we watch, the books we read, the songs we sing and the experiences we share with our friends and family in our lives. We never tire of being entertained by these themes, because we ourselves are also repeating them.

But, there is a misconception that on our present spiritual journey, we begin as mere material mortals and then finally are resurrected to an all-knowing spiritual being in some final boring blissful state of being. Some goal to be achieved and that’s it. The same misconception exists in our lives. We believe if we achieve some random goal, that we will reach an end of our journey and then we can rest. We are driven through our lives unconsciously to achieve something. It is misunderstanding caused by an unexamined life.

The album, Metallia explore this and reveals an overlooked detail, a missing step. There are six songs, Red Lion (prima materia), Bee (nigredo), Androgyny (albedo), Resurrection (rubedo) , Dragon’s Kiss (citrinitas) and Triumph (Lapis Philosophorum), that relate to some of the processes in alchemy which is part of the wisdom of the universe. Metallia focuses on alchemy but not in the sense of changing physical lead into physical gold but as an investigation into what is our true spiritual constitution through experiencing the mysteries of birth, mind, duality, death and resurrection.

– Where did the ‘Spiritual’ side of your personality come from? Influences?
Most things start from influences in your environment. I was born under the eyes of two people who’d already had ‘spiritual’ experiences and were on that path for many years before and after they had me. They still do but approach it differently. Most of the people in their lives and mine while growing up were on some path – due to a minor or major spiritual experience, or a simply feeling of ‘it can’t be just this’. Discussions would take place at nights and all sought to find some answers. I was the listener and observer whether I was in the room with them or in the room right next to them. And the more I listened, the more questions I saw they had. Theoretical answers, rather then actual answers. Some of their friends sought to find answers in books, gurus, new agers, yoga, meditations, chakra cleanses, reiki, hypnotism, monasteries, spiritual teachers that they traveled to different parts of the world to meet. And would all come back with different viewpoints and ways of approach and some … with an unyielding ideology. Yet the ultimate answer was still in the question, why? Because the one thing I knew from my experience is that one who has the answer seeks not to find the answer but to be the answer and the only way to be the answer is to be what you really are because it all comes down to awareness — that is us and that is all.

This was not something that only was in my world — as the circle of friends kept growing and more and more people visited over the years, I understood that even the unbelievers – the ‘down to earth’ practical and rational, matter–of-fact people were not at ease themselves when those kind of questions happen to emerge — even though they were absolutely convinced that what you see is all it is — nothing more, nothing less and we should live it now the best we can.

Up to this point, I have had my share of spiritual experiences, and I knew that ‘feeling not at ease’ meant you’re resting in the status quo and that belief was a sign of doubt and not a sign of knowing. I am not going to give you a pen and say: “I believe this pen is going to write” … you know it’s going to write, there is no doubt about it. And even for the sarcastic minds out there that might think: well, it might be empty there’s some doubt about that – still you don’t go and say: :Oh well, pens don’t work after all:… to know is to know and to know you need to “know thyself” –  our identity not our personality, but let me not get into details cause this can go on and on… long story short, my environment was my first influence so to speak. 

– You are a multi-instrumentalist – tell me, Olivia – when did all of this happen? Are you self-taught? Lessons as a child?School opportunities? A great uncle or aunt put you on the path?
I grew up in a house where music was playing all the time, musicians rehearsing songs all night long for their next gig or tour. All genres of music from rock ballads to classical, Latin and Greek music. And during the day, there was music playing. Either to practice, to create or simply to relax. My parents were the radio.

So, up until the age of 7, I don’t remember ever listening to a recorded song. Music was what was coming out of the people that were gathering in the house.

I was always playing around with different instruments while growing up especially percussion instruments, like claves, bongo drums, congas, the cowbell, shakers, guiro, maracas, cabasa, tambourine, bar chimes, because my father was still very into Latin music and actually his band,  one of the first Latin bands in Greece – collaborated with well-known musicians, like Dalaras and even Al Di Meola before I was born.

My father’s main instrument is the guitar and charango. I would play some of the percussion for him during his live shows for many years and was called up to the stage to sing a few songs. Anything he knew about those instruments he taught me.

I learned to play the piano from listening to my mother playing and would try to play by ear songs from Bach or Beethoven which I loved, before I could read music. One day, she showed me the notes on the sheet, so I slowly note by note got the gist of it. My mother plays the piano and the flute.

At about 14, I got interested in learning the guitar with my first cousin – so while we were camping in the summer with my cousin and my father somewhere in the wild in middle of Greece he taught us a song from Gipsy Kings. We had two guitars with us, so my cousin and I would take turns playing the chords and focus on the right-hand technique and he would focus on the solo and vice versa.

I got into the only music high school in Athens at some point. I didn’t last long there because you had to wake up at 5 am to get to the school. For a while, I learned tabura, toumperleki and Byzantine music and was part of a Byzantine choir.

While living with my mother after my parents split, her social circle opened a bit and musicians with instruments like cellos, upright bass, djembe and Cretan lyra, canonaki and harps. My mother at the time was singing jazz in a group with the young guitar and violin player then who later became my guitar and violin teacher at the conservatory.

On the weekends with my father, we prepped for the live shows in different bars and boîtes with his band. I would help him set up microphones and mixing boards and cables, do sound check, and then after the show pack and go home.

Two years later, I stopped the conservatory because I started feeling bad. This idea of perfecting one instrument or many in this case, felt like a waste of time. It was taking away from what I knew which was to simply play what you have to say. I almost forgot the reason why I wanted to learn in the first place and ultimately felt as if I was slowly infiltrated into an invisible competition between my peers to become the next Malmsteen or Allan Holdsworth. I lost interest in becoming this kind of musician. And to this day I am not interested in musicians who think that way. So, I went off on my own.  If I had any questions my teacher was always there for answers. Any new musicians who would come into my life – absolutely great musicians – would give me tips and tricks and exercises – so I learned by osmosis.

– Amazing response Olivia! What a magical upbringing for you! Metallia doesn’t include vocal lines as such, but rather more emotive chanting/wailing…. who are your vocal inspirations?
Mostly, singing together with people by a fire somewhere in the wild or in the house whether out of tune or in tune singers and when you see that the moment of coming together and their eyes brighten up. Well known artists that I listened too when I was younger were Queen, Maria Callas, Simon and Garfunkel, Jose Feliciano and Bob Dylan. As for the emotive chanting, I guess the Byzantine choir influenced me somehow. The wailing is purely Oh. I know there is a lot of wails in ancient Greek theatre, I haven’t gone to many performances though, so it must be the DNA.

– Yes, Greek blood no doubt! What was in your record/music collection growing up? What are you listening to now?
I had mix tapes mostly and a lot of jazz cassettes, like of Joe Pass, Patt Metheny, George Benson, John McLaughlin – also Led Zeppelin, Jaco Pastorious, later CDs and vinyl – Scorpions, Pink Floyd, Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Lee Hooker, Tom Waits, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Judas Priest, classical music like Samuel Barber, Erroll Garner, … and a few more. Right now, I am not listening to anything, I haven’t sat to listen to music since 2009. Anything I listen to now will be a fellow musician’s new albums or demos for some input. Also, anything the bar I go to occasionally plays which is mostly rock, punk and funk.

– Brilliant! Incredible diverse musical selections there! – Now, as mentioned earlier, I want to chat about the importance of Social Media in music promotion. We are chatting here now basically because I found your album online and shared a simple post on my twitter blog (as I do with many new releases I come across) – Most bands are very appreciative, some don’t have a clue that it even happened. But you Oliva – you saw it, personally messaged me, sent me a signed physical CD, I reviewed it, you also created a page for my review on your own website and now we have this interview – all without any record label involvement! That’s pretty cool? Care to comment on this?
This was more than cool. If you only print this one question in the entire interview this would be the most important experience to share with others. I want to add that your post on Twitter wasn’t just a simple reshare or mention. It was full of a vibrant excitement, words, emojis and your energy. You really felt there was someone awesome and genuine behind that post.  That fact that you are so open to new music and take the time to share your finds makes all this social media worth it.

That connection for me now is one of those experiences I refer to every day that inspires hope that – things like that do happen, that there is some underground network of soul brothers and sisters, and social media helps forge those connections. What made the difference with us, is that we didn’t overlook each other, or the message.

– Too kind Olivia! I love finding and sharing new music! It’s like modern day tape trading. Now how about OH and playing live?? – Being a one-person act, I imagine taking ‘Metallia’ material into a live setting is challenging? Or not? Are you doing any of that? Is this something you want to pursue further?
Yes, it would be a lot of work, but it is possible. I have a fellow producer that can connect me with the town’s orchestra – because some of the music would need a small orchestra. I don’t like the idea of standing on stage with a backing track like other multi-instrumentalists. The music I compose is epic/dramatic and it wouldn’t work with one person on stage.

Right now, the idea of touring/gigging doesn’t excite me, and it is exhausting to think about. Maybe, because I know how much work is involved already. I’m already overloaded with doing both the promo and recording. And as you mention, it’s not as if I am a band and other members can share the load of responsibilities and logistics.

But, if I find good collaborators who have the energy and enthusiasm for sure I would do it.

– Let’s hope that comes to fruition in the future, then! What are the musical recording plans for OH! moving forward, Olivia?
I am finishing up another album called ‘Prog Unshaven’ and the final and yet unnamed album of the metal trilogy of ‘Synemotion’ and ‘Metallia’.

– Prog Unshaven? Hairy Prog? I’ve got to hear that!….In wrapping up, on behalf of the crew at BAZ I want to thank you for taking the time to respond to these questions – the time and thought you have put into this is truly appreciated. All the best for the future. Care to add anything we may have missed?
I want to thank you and Blessed Altar Zine for this wonderful opportunity. The true meaning of the underground scene was to free creative expression, forge bonds and aspire toward authenticity and sincerity. Not to just be passive recipients and consumers of industry standards. I recently saw a movie and there was a line that said something like, “big business finds a need and what people already like and markets it. But art is a new creation and must work harder to convey its worth. It is people like you K-MaN and platforms like BAZ that make that possible.

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