Smile Politely

Cullen Omori looks for a second shot

After seven years with Smith Westerns, Chicago’s Cullen Omori is launching his solo career with a new album coming to us in the spring. Even with his whirlwind of a schedule, Cullen was able to give us a brief chat shedding some light on what’s been leading up to this album, as well as his personal take on what defines music, before gracing The Accord tonight.

Smile Politely: Hi there, Cullen! Thank you for doing this and thank you for your time.

Cullen Omori: [Out of breath] Hey man, no problem. Sorry this took me so long. I had a slow start to the day and I’ve got so many things on my plate and then I totally almost forgot about this. But then I was already ready for the gym so I thought I shouldn’t waste the opportunity but now we’re doing this.

SP: Not a big deal! So we’ll just get right into it, yeah? What has the transition been like going from Smith Westerns to going to solo?

Omori: Sounds good. It’s double-eged, for sure. I can make decisions quicker because they’re just my decisions, but that being said, the burden is all yours too. It’s on you; when you don’t have a band, everything is on you. At least with a band it’s nice to know you’re in it with someone else.

SP: Very understandable. But by being on your own, do you feel that you have more freedom behind the creative process?

Omori: Oh absolutely! Like I said, I get to make decisions quicker and experiment more. I think being on my own has helped my art improve immensely because I get to be myself completely in it.

SP: Speaking of your own art, your album is dropping soon and you recently just released “Cinnamon,” your first single. How has the response been to that?

Omori: You know, a lot of people have been saying that they liked it. Some didn’t like it and that’s okay. It’s radically different than SW stuff but it’s my own. It’s definitely a new vibe and some people say it’s overproduced, but overall I’m hearing good things about it.

Official Music Video for “Cinnamon”
SP: And talk to us about New Misery as a whole. What are some themes behind the album’s conception?
Omori: Honestly, every single song is so quirky and upbeat that almost every song could be a single. I wanted it to be really radio friendly.
SP: Speaking of the radio, you call this new style “hybrid-pop,” what exactly do you mean by that?
Omori: Well right now it’s a weird time for “pop.” I was scared to just call this a pop album because just calling something pop doesn’t mean it is. Indie, pop and rap are all kinda mixing on the radio right now, and before, these kinds of bands wouldn’t make it on the radio. It’s this in-between of what’s popular right now, I guess.
Album artwork for New Misery
SP: How about pop influences? Did any of those bands or artists help in shaping?
Omori: Oh yeah. The Beatles and John Lennon of course are obvious ones. But also Drake and Britney Spears. There’s a formula that all these artists use; I want to insert myself into that.

SP: We’re a month or so into the new year, I know, but what was your album of the year for 2015?

Omori: Fatal Jamz! He’s on soundcloud. Holy shit, that guy lives his art. It’s like sunset strip 80’s, glam metal. Dude, you have check him out, it’s amazing.

SP: Will do! So success hit you early on in the music sphere, how do you think that affects you as a person?

Omori: Honestly, it kinda fucked me up. I’m 25, 26 — but I feel like a 35 year-old in the music industry. I said stupid shit, came off cocky, but that’s how any 19 or 20 year-old would respond. I didn’t know better.

SP: And how about as a musician facing that level of success?

Omori: More or less the same. Smith Westerns was me, and if they didn’t do well, I didn’t do well. My failure was public. I didn’t know what failure was until the band fell apart. This was real. This album was my way of coping. I was very lost after the band was over. I was asking questions like ‘Do I still wanna do this?’ or even ‘Can I still do this?’ You can’t just find a band right away. I just hope people listen and still want to see me perform.

Photo by Alexa Lopez

SP: That makes a lot of sense. Very powerful sentiments. Alright, so these next few ones are lighter, fun ones. You ready?

Omori: [Laughs] Yeah, for sure.

SP: [Laughs] Alright, what’s your dream concert line-up of people to share the stage with?

Omori: They all gotta be alive right?

SP: Nah, dead is fine.

Omori: Oh cool! I’d say MGMT as one. James [Richardson, a touring member of the band] played guitar on my album; he’s such a cool guy. We toured them once and it was awesome. Uh, The Zombies. Oh, Fatal Jamz for sure. And Mozart!

SP: Mozart?

Omori: Yeah he’s killer.

SP: [Laughs] Can’t argue with that. If you could have two, not one, superpowers, what would they be?

Omori: I love Apocalypse, time travel? Immorality? Hell yeah. But oh, The Flash is dope too. He’s super underrated. People think he just runs fast but in the comics he can actually time travel cause of the speed he runs at. It’s wicked. Wait, hold on, Sandman from Spider-Man is cool, too. Shoot I can’t pick. [Laughs] Sorry.

SP: That’s fine you can just have them all. [Laughs] Last question: What do you look forward to most about the future of your music career?

Omori: I just hope it lasts and that I get a second chance. I really want people to connect to this album, to play bigger rooms, to have people sing back. I just want to keep doing this.

SP: I’m sure that’ll all happen. Well, that’s all I have for you. Thank you so much and good luck with the album release.

Omori: No problem, man! Thanks for the questions. I hope I see you at the show!

Cullen Omori will be performing tonight at The Accord in downtown Champaign with Tara Terra and Tigerbeat. Tickets are still available here.

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