Omotai: Unite All Inhuman Monsters

I’m just going to come right out and say it, folks: Omotai isn’t really a “band.” What they are, rather, is some sort of massive sonic beast birthed beneath the crust of the planet, way down where it’s dark and hot and inhuman.

The group’s three members — vocalist/guitarist Sam Waters, bassist Melissa Lonchambon, and drummer Anthony Vallejo — are the friendliest, most unassuming people you’re likely to meet, at least separately, but when they get on a stage and strap on their instruments, they seem to join together, Voltron-like, to form this jaw-dropping monster that proceeds to blast out a sound that’s equal parts ISIS, Neurosis, Jesus Lizard, Mastodon, Pelican, and Sabbath, all with a crushing brutality.

In the relatively short time they’ve thundered across Houston’s music scene, the trio has carved out a strange, heavy-yet-epic niche that straddles the line between raw noise, instro-rock, and all-out metal, seemingly doing it without even breaking a sweat (well, mostly). After the well-received 2010 EP Peace Through Fear, Omotai’s headed for its debut full-length sometime within the next 12 months, and in between they’ll be demolishing stages far and wide.

After their recent “mini-tour” across the Western U.S., SCR was able to chat a bit with drummer Anthony Vallejo about the tour, the new album, and all things heavy.

SCR: So, you haven’t evacuated yet from the fires and all that stuff?
Anthony Vallejo: Nah. I’m a little farther out than that.

Oh, okay — I thought there was one over near Katy, too, but…
Oh, shit; really?

I think last night there was, but I think it might’ve been a smaller one they put out, something like that.
Man…I can see the fires from my place over here; the ones that’re out in Magnolia, I can see ’em.

Yeah. It’s pretty intense, man. Sometimes if you walk out in the morning, you can smell some of the smoke.
I took my daughter to school yesterday, and I could smell smoke out in front of her school. Woodsmoke — it was really weird. And we live way down on the southwest side, so… I guess it’s wherever the wind takes it to…

I wanted to tell you, actually — I was really excited about the Summerfest thing, about seeing you guys there, because that was the first time I’d gotten to see you all live.
Oh, really?

Yeah; I’d listened to the EP dozens of times by then, and I think Sam [Waters] sent me some new stuff a while back, too, but that was first time I’d actually seen you guys. It was cool.

It looked damn hot up there, though.
Oh, God. Dude…I didn’t feel right for a couple of days. We played Summerfest, and I stayed that entire day, and I caught some of Weezer’s set, and by the nighttime I was feeling kind of weird, almost like a little stoned. Kind of out of it, y’know?

Yeah, that’s heatstroke…
[laughs] Exactly, man. I felt out of it for two or three days afterwards — it was weird. It was almost kinda depressing. I don’t know… It wasn’t very fun. It was fun to play, but the heat aspect of it just knocked me on my ass.

Yeah, same here. I was glad when it rained that second day, for a little while.
Oh, yeah — that’s right. I think I was watching…oh, man. I was watching some band. Chromeo, I think? HEALTH. I think I might’ve been watching that band HEALTH.

Okay, yeah. They were around that time, I think.
They were pretty cool. Did you check ’em out?

Wait, were they the ones…?
They’re the ones with two drummers and a bunch of electronics going on and shit.

And it was really kind of tribal?

Yeah, I did see that — losing my mind…
Did you catch Kylesa’s set?

Yeah, I did; I’m a big fan of theirs.
That was cool, man.

I have to say, I’m not that big on the double-drummer thing, but it works for them, so…
I dig it, man. It’s a pretty cool idea.

Do you guys have that in your future? Find another drummer and have a double-drummer attack?
Um…y’know, we’ve kind of been talking about it a little bit?
No, seriously. We’re actually flirting with the idea of it.
Oh, wow. I was kidding.
That was a good one, man. [laughs] We’re really flirting with the idea of it; we’re thinking not so much of a second drummer that stays behind the kit but more of like a “static” member that moves around to different things. Y’know, play some second guitar here, maybe do some stuff like Steve Von Till does in Neurosis here. Make some noise here, play some synth here. Just kind of moving around — not exactly stuck on one instrument.

That definitely sounds like it’d make you guys’ sound somewhat different.
Ah, I dunno. Maybe. I think it would definitely “thicken up” our sound a bit. I think it’d be a cool live aspect.
Yeah, definitely.
I hope we can get something going with that. It’s still kinda in the… We’re still thinking about it; we haven’t really done anything about it. But it’s definitely a possibility.

Haven’t y’all been recording, anyway?
Yeah — we finished all the basic tracks for the upcoming album.

Is it going to be a full-length album, or another EP, or…?
Yeah, full-length.
We finished all our basic tracks — drums, we did four tracks of guitars, and then bass tracks, and then we did some of the vocals. We’re not very good about writing vocal parts. We’re kind of lazy on that. The whole process for us is we’ll come up the riffs, and kinda string ’em together, and break ’em down; we’ll get the song going first, and then the vocals are really the last thing to get done.

They’re kind of added on at the end?
Yeah, exactly. So we’ve got some vocals that we need to do, and we’ve got I think a few guitar overdubs. Not very much. The reason for that is ’cause we only have one guitar player, and you can’t do so many things live that you can in a studio, obviously.

So we kinda try and keep the overdubs to a minimum. But, like I said, if we get that “other member” deal going on, maybe we can start getting a little more creative live.

That’d be cool. Let Sam do some different things while somebody else is playing one of the riffs, there?
Is he more of a rhythm guitarist?
Um. I think the most ideal thing would be to get somebody sort of in the same vein as Sam. ‘Cause I think Sam’s a — he’s a fucking solid guitar player.
Yeah, he is.
And I’m not saying that just because he’s our guitar player. Man… Actually, both of ’em, Melissa and Sam. Melissa’s got really cool ideas, and she’s definitely the one who’s good at coming up with melodies and stuff. And Sam, he’s just got such interesting fucking riffs.

I dunno, man. I remember when I jammed with him the first time — the first time ever. I’d found his ad on Craigslist, ’cause I’d just gotten out of that one thrash band and I was itching to jam with somebody else. I didn’t want to be out of a band. So I saw his ad, I listened to his Myspace when he had it with the drum machines. Do you remember that?

Did you ever hear any of his early stuff, just him solo?
I believe so. I think I remember running across it online at one point.
Well, if you haven’t, get him to send you some, because I really like the stuff he was doing with the drum machines. I mean, obviously, I thought it was fucking awesome, so I was like, “man, I’ve gotta jam with this dude.” It was really different from what I was used to, ’cause I’d been playing in a thrash band for a while, and I was really into thrash at the time. So hearing Sam’s riffs, it was just like, “holy shit — I’ve gotta be a part of this.”

There’s some thrash in what you guys do now, too, I think. Especially the faster parts, anyway.
Yeah, definitely. That might be sort of where I came from — y’know, the thrash coming in may’ve been my input on it or whatever. ‘Cause I was playing it for so long. I mean, I grew up on thrash; I remember listening to Megadeth and Anthrax with my dad, back when I was a kid.

You know Anthrax is coming to town, right?
Yeah, they are! They’re with Belladonna again. And they’re about to put out another album; I’m pretty sure it’s the tenth one or some shit.
Yeah, it must be, at this point.
Have you caught ’em with Belladonna before?
The one and only time I saw ’em was when they played with Public Enemy and Primus; they were touring with them, back in the early ’90s. I think Joey was with the band, still. The whole “Bring the Noise” tour, that thing.
Ah, okay — right on.

I was going to ask how you’d gotten together in the band, anyway. I’d seen Sam with Kvalla and I’d seen Melissa with, y’know, about a hundred different bands over the years, and I wasn’t sure how you guys all met up together.
Yeah, it was through Craigslist. Man, I probably jammed with — not even bullshitting — 20 people before I ran across Sam. And man, the first time I just felt like, y’know, this is it. So…

Has it made you stretch as a drummer? Because a lot of the stuff you do is almost like prog-rock — all the shifted-time stuff.
Yeah, that’s a lot of Sam and Melissa, their whole weird-time deal. I know Sam was really into Keelhaul, and Melissa’s into a bunch of really cool prog-rock and stuff. To be totally honest with you, I’m terrible. If you gave me a riff and said, “what time signature is this in?,” I probably wouldn’t be able to tell you.

Oh, I couldn’t either, so…
That’s not good for me, because I’m a drum instructor, so I should be able to do that shit.
You teach drums for a living?
I do, yeah. I teach at a music store out here, Great Southern Music; I teach, and I kinda work in the shop a little bit. It’s cool, man. I dig it.

Don’t put yourself down, though, man. The reason I was talking about the Free Press Summerfest stuff at the beginning is because I was bowled over by what you were playing. You were just like a freaking machine up there. I mean, Sam and Melissa, they’re a lot more laid-back. They just kind of stand a play. But it was pretty mesmerizing watching you go to town on the kit.
Aw, thank you, man. Yeah, that show, that one was rough, man. That kit that I was playing, I couldn’t set it up right, and I just wasn’t really feeling it.

Those weren’t your drums?
No, it wasn’t my set. That was a backline set. But man, if you thought it was good, then right on, y’know? Thank you — I appreciate it.

Especially considering the weather, as were saying.
Oh, God, yeah. So hot.

So I’m curious now about the album — can you say any more about what it’s going to be like?
Well, the name of it is Terrestrial Grief.
That one either Sam or Melissa came up with; I’m not too sure. One of ’em said it, and we just went with it. We were just like, “that sounds cool!” So there’s that, and I think it’s a step in the right direction. I don’t think we’re radically changing, but we are changing. We’re maturing, I guess you could say.

I dunno, man. I dig it. It’s really cool. The songs have been written for a good while — we were actually wanting to record ’em in, I think, February or March of this year, but we didn’t actually get to to it until a few months ago. We’ve been playing ’em for a while.

Is it going to be as heavy as the EP, or is it going to go in a different direction?
I’d say it’s maybe heavier than the EP. When we recorded the EP, we had only been a full band for maybe a month. Sam and I had been jamming since November, and Melissa joined in January, so we recorded it in February. So we hadn’t been a complete unit for very long. Now, listening back to it, I kind of think we were still trying to find where we were at at that point. Maybe we weren’t totally comfortable with each other.

But the new album, I feel like it’s tighter. There’s definitely more noise influence on it. I feel like the riffs are more interesting. I feel like, personally, my playing on the album is better than what is on the EP. I just feel like we’re all progressing and maturing, and I think… I think it’s good, man. I don’t want to sound like a pretentious dick or anything trying to toot my own horn, but I think it’s a good album.

Cool — I’m hoping to hear it. When are you guys going to release it?
Well, originally we wanted to relase it this summer, but summer’s already over. And we still need to do the overdubs and we still have artwork that we need to get done. I mean, fuck, we even still need to write lyrics for some of the songs. In an ideal world, it would be released late this year, but I’m thinking it’ll probably be done in early 2012.

Yeah. Stuff takes time…
Yeah, for sure. And money. [laughs]
That too.
We’re definitely working at it, but y’know, it’s kind of slow going.

It’s funny what you were saying about the lyrics, because I was listening back to the EP today, and it occurred to me that I have no idea what Sam is yelling, at all.
Yeah. [laughs] I’ve heard that a lot, from a lot of different people.
I mean, it’s not a bad thing. I guess I can sort of imagine what it’s about and go that way, so…
I think it’s kind of cool — instead of focusing on the vocals, it’s like an added layer, y’know what I mean?
It’s kind of like an instrument itself.
Exactly. That’s exactly it.

Did you all go out of town, not too long ago?
We did; we just went on tour.
How did it go?
It was pretty cool. We played our first date in Dallas — that was with Big Fiction — that was a fun show. I mean, there wasn’t really anybody there, maybe 15 people, but it was fun. It was good to see the dudes in Big Fiction; those are really solid dudes, nice guys. And they put on a hell of a show. They were really good.

So it was cool jamming with them. Then after that we drove to Denver… That was the thing about the tour — it was such a short tour, only a week and a half, and what it was was a buddy of ours up in Missoula, Montana, he said, “hey, there’s this thing put on by this record company called Wantage, and it’s called Total Fest. They get all these underground bands to play; you guys should try to get on it.” “Okay!”

So, I think he talked to somebody, and we ended up getting on the bill. And we were like, “cool, well, let’s try and build a tour around this show.” We were in Austin and we played with that band Eagle Claw, and I think that show was their welcome-home show, their homecoming show or whatever. And I asked ’em, “hey, how was tour?,” this and that, and how did they book it? And they said, “well, there’s this place called Giant Steps here in Austin that did it for us.”

So I got the info for it, contacted Giant Steps, Giant Steps booked some shows for us around that Montana festival. But the thing was that all the shows were really fucking far apart from each other. I think our shortest drive from show to show was eight or ten hours. So that was the only bummer part. And our van broke down, up in Montana.

In the middle of nowhere in Montana?
Almost in the middle of nowhere. We were about two hours away from Missoula; we were right near this little town called Dillon, Montana. And broke down on a Sunday, so we had to wait for the following Monday for it to get fixed. So that was a bummer, especially because at the time we were thinking, “oh, maybe we’ll break even for this tour!” And then the van broke down, and it was like, “fuck — we’re in the hole.”

But we played Dallas, and then we drove up to Denver — I think it’s like a 13-hour drive or whatever — and Denver was a bust. There were like three people there. But we got to see a buddy of ours who lives there, so that was cool. After Denver, we drove to Rapids City, South Dakota, and that was a cool show. We ended up playing with…Tombs? That one band that Joe Preson is in? Oh, wait, I’m sorry — not Tombs. It’s, ah… We have played with Tombs — we played with them here in Houston. Oh, shit — what’s the name of his band? It’s a one-man band; Joe Preston, one of the bass players for the Melvins?

Thrones. Maybe that’s it.
I think that’s his one-man deal.
That was a pleasant surprise. We got to Rapids City, and he was on the bill, and we’re like, “oh, shit, this is cool!” So we played there, and that was cool — they’ve got a small scene, but it’s really dedicated. From there we drove to Montana, got there, played that night — we played with Kowloon Walled City, and we played with Big Business. And both of those bands, they got flown out to Total Fest.

Ouch. That had to hurt, after all the driving.
Yeah, I mean, it was okay. But they ended up borrowing our gear, and we kinda hung out in Missoula for the next day, and then we were trying to get a show in Salt Lake. Salt Lake ended up not happening, so we had to go from Missoula to Albuquerque, which is like 20 hours?

That’s a long-ass drive. Damn.
Yeah. But then we broke down outside of Missoula, and we had to cancel the Albuquerque show, because there was no way we were gonna make it. We just ended up driving from Dillon, Montana, to Utah, staying in Utah for one night, and then driving from Utah to Austin for our last date.

Geez. That sounds kinda painful, honestly.
Yeah…I mean, it wasn’t too bad.
I’m guessing that means you guys aren’t planning on doing it again anytime soon?
Touring? Yeah, but not because of the driving. Just because of schedules and stuff — work schedules, y’know. We took off time, and we’ve got to wait ’til we can build some more up to go back again. The next tour that we’re doing, I think we’re going to do either East Coast or like a Gulf Coast tour. A couple of Texas dates, then Louisiana, ah, Mississippi, blah, blah, blah, all of that.
A little more Southern and then the East Coast?
We might actually split it up into two different tours — like do a Southern and then an East Coast one. We’re itching to get back out again, but time and money…
Yeah, no kidding. Makes it difficult.
[laughs] For sure.

I had something I wanted to ask… When y’all played at Summerfest, there was a guitar smashed at the front of the stage? In the gutter at the front of the stage?
[laughs] Oh, yeah.
Where the hell did that come from? Do you have any idea?
That was the band before us. The band before us was some kind of weird cybergrind-noise band — there were probably five people on stage, but only two people were making music. There was this dude who was screaming incoherently into a mic, and then a guy in the back who had everything programmed on laptops and shit, and there were like three or four people on stage with guitars that weren’t even plugged in. Just milling around, y’know, and being nuts.

Okay, that makes more sense, then. I was just standing there, watching you guys play, and it was like, “holy crap, there’s a guitar destroyed right there on the ground in front of them — I wonder if that’s one of theirs?” Because when I came up, you guys had already been playing for a little while.
Ah, okay. Maybe I’ll have to talk to Sam about picking up some cheap guitars and, y’know, going all Hendrix and shit, lighting ’em on fire and shit. That’d be good.
That’d be entertaining. Maybe not at every show…that’d get a little gimmicky if you do it every time.
Yes. Yeah… I dunno; maybe we can pull the whole Who thing, and have the bass drum explode.
That gets expensive after a while.
Maybe. We’ll see — maybe if we can get some endorsements or something. “Give us some stuff so we can blow it up!” [laughs]

Hey, I wanted to ask: are you guys still playing on Saturday?
Yeah, we are. That whole Mink thing is like a clusterfuck of ridiculousness.
I don’t know what’s going to happen to most of those shows. I know some of ’em have already been cancelled, and some aren’t… It’s like show-by-show.
That’s what it seems like, like it’s on a show-by-show case. As of right now, everything is still confirmed; we’re still playing Saturday. But I do know that some of the shows are being moved over to Mango’s, I believe. And I think some of ’em aren’t even happening at all.

Oh, man — have you heard the new Today Is The Day album?
No. I didn’t know they were still putting out albums.
Yeah. I think this one’s their tenth album, too. It’s called Pain Is A Warning. It’s still… You know it’s Today Is The Day, but it’s got more of a rock & roll-type feel to it.
It’s weird. It’s good, though — it’s really good. I’ve listened it a few times on repeat, and I really dig it. I recommend checking that out, man; it’s really good.

I can see you guys being fans of them. Them and Neurosis are two of the biggest ones where it’s like, “yeah, I hear a lot of that in there.”
Y’know, what’s funny is, actually, I had never listened to Today Is The Day or Neurosis ’til I joined this band. I don’t even think I had heard of — I might’ve heard Today Is The Day, but I’d never heard of Neurosis ’til I joined this band. And I know Godflesh — who’s one of our “Recommended If You Like” — I’d never listened to Godflesh before I joined.

Really? They’ve been around a long time.
I’m not actually sure he’s putting out albums, either. I haven’t seen anything in a long time.
Justin Broadrick? Y’know, Godflesh is playing the Maryland Deathfest.
Really? I had no idea. I’m out of the loop in some ways, here.
That’s alright, man; there’s a lot to keep up with.
There is. It’s crazy…

Speaking of good albums, I want to say that I saw you reviewed this one band from Louisiana called Sun Hotel?
That album that they put out, it’s fucking good, man. I bought it on vinyl. I dig that album.
Their singer has a solo album, too.
Oh, really?

The day I saw you guys at Summerfest, they were playing right beforehand, so I saw them finish and then I ran over to catch you guys.
Yeah, man — I wanted to see ’em so bad. But y’know, duty calls.
I’m sure they’ll be back through; they’re not far away, really.
I had emailed ’em, asking when they were going to play Houston next, and I think they just played the House of Blues.
Yeah, they were here not too long ago.
Yeah, and I missed that one, too. I’ve gotta catch ’em one of these days, ’cause I really dig ’em, man.
They were really good live. They started haivng gear problems after a while, so their guitarist started going nuts — they were all just jumping around on the stage by the end of it, going crazy.
That’s cool, man. END

(Photos by J. Hart.)

[Omotai is playing 9/10/11 at The Mink, along with Cough, Project Armageddon, & Kai/Ros.]

Interview by . Interview posted Saturday, September 10th, 2011. Filed under Features, Interviews.

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One Response to “Omotai: Unite All Inhuman Monsters”

  1. SPACE CITY ROCK » Tonight: Fat Tony & B L A C K I E Tour Kickoff on September 11th, 2011 at 3:26 pm

    […] and crashing through the waves, and the wi-fi was less than reliable, sadly; I was able to get the new interview with Anthony Vallejo of Omotai up online, and that was about it. Apologies, […]

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