Odd Outfit

By Max Hamilton

It would be easy to imagine that a band as tight as Odd Outfit is single-minded in their approach to their work.  But this is a group of strong players with strong opinions and varied backgrounds, and among the four core members there doesn’t seem to be a singular vision that dominates and directs their artistic sensibilities.  In talking about the roots of their music and musical experiences, perspectives were shared less frequently than a willingness to listen and to understand each other’s point of view.  That receptiveness is as integral to their sound as is the usual tug-o’-war of influences and skills; When asked how they might describe their music, the thing that was roundly agreed upon was its conversational quality.  Said Alex Chochinov, “It feels like we’re talking to each other.”As an instrumental band, this is an important part of what they do.  “Everyone can help build the story line of the song,” said Adrian Schroeder, “and you can go much further in depth with instrumental music.”

The sentiment was echoed by the group, who pointed out that when you remove the vocals you bring the band out of the background, and that without a mouthpiece for the music, it can be interpreted more freely.  “There’s programmatic music and there’s absolute music,” added Graeme Leaver, “in the old symphony world, some people would write for the program and it’s like, ‘okay, it’s about this,’ and you would get a pamphlet explaining it.”

In naming their songs, the band does something similar.  Wanting to evoke certain moods, they’ve given the songs on their upcoming album titles charged with powerful imagery.  But they remain broad, capable of being uniquely personal for each listener, as with the song “Intervention.”  Though it is as evocative as any single word can be, it will surely mean something different for everyone who hears it.  “But I honestly think we shouldn’t shove a certain opinion down someone’s throat, that’s the whole art of it,” said Karl Manchur, wanting to see the audience as a part of the process of creation, building their lives into the music, rather than seeing the music as something to descend upon and consume.  “We can nudge people in a certain direction, though” said Schroeder. “If we want to,” said Manchur.

To many who are involved in the same scene, Odd Outfit stands apart from the myriad of rockers as a jazz band.  But, as Schroeder put it, “jazz purists would probably be very angry if we called ourselves a jazz band.”  He talked about jazz, as with anything so deeply cultural, being hugely related to a certain place and time.  “It feels like all the people who were making it are dead and gone and today people are just rehashing stuff that they’re reading on paper.”

Manchur added that “it’s lost a lot of its meaning, too, because a lot of it was rooted in a cultural backlash.”  Leaver cut in then, half-laughingly saying “I’ve never played a triad in this band, so I think that means we’re a jazz band.”Between the four of them, the group has a healthy smattering of years spent in music school, many, many hours spent improvising in high school jazz ensemble, over a dozen previous bands to their names, and nearly a decade spent in devout isolation, slowly developing their craft.

“It is a language,” said Chochinov, “and that’s why I love playing in this band so much, because everybody is familiar with that language, so we communicate in a very direct way.”  At the same time, said Manchur, “we also come from different dialects, almost,” who has spent time as a jazz student at the U of M, and was referring to the punk, psych-rock, ambient, and classical backgrounds in the band.  It seems, too, that in learning to play with each other, they’ve had to develop a dialect of their own.  On this, Leaver said, “I came from the classical program, where a lot of people are bad at playing with other people…we just grew up relying on theory” which can be a burden at times, like having to look up words in a dictionary while reading a book.  “Playing with people who didn’t have that, they really rely on their ear more, so they listen more…generally the better way to go.”

This summer, Odd Outfit will be putting out their first full album.  I’ve had the chance to listen to a few spare minutes of it, and as a fan, I’m very pleased.  My hope is that it will be released before the nights start getting colder so that when it’s played for the first time it will sound just like it feels outside; dark and warm.