On Wednesday, October 10th, I spoke on the phone with Chris Karloff of Black Onassis. Our conversation took place ahead of their concert at The Mercury Lounge in New York on October 15th, not long after they released “Iso.”
Black Onassis is an electronic rock band in which Karloff plays lead guitar, keyboard, and synthesizers. Karloff was once the lead guitarist, keyboard and synth player for Kasabian. That was a long time ago, but his mark on their debut album is powerful. “After I departed from Kasabian, I moved out to New York,” said Karloff of the inception of Black Onassis. Before Black Onassis, Chris Karloff made music within the context of what he described as “a normal band with a conventional lineup.” He said, “That basically wasn’t really working out.” So he started making different music.
“Two years ago,” according to Karloff, his music became heavily “electronic” and more “collaborative.” It was then that Black Onassis started taking hold. It was in this period and with this kind of music that Black Onassis was born. “It’s a good type of music to be so diverse in,” said Chris Karloff of electronic music. “It can take you absolutely anywhere I find.” He also added, “My heart is still driven by electronic music.”
Karloff also spoke about what he referred to as the “subliminal element” that influences the sound of his music with Black Onassis.
“The sounds around you have a massive effect on what we’re doing,” Karloff said. “In rehearsal rooms you always hear fucking drills everywhere,” he added. “Cars, sirens, and all that sort of stuff. I think it has a massive effect on you sometimes without you even realizing it.” For instance, Karloff used to “live in the country,” so the music he was making was “in tap with nature, sunsets, rivers, and all that kind of stuff.” Now that he lives in the city, his music has become more in tune with the urban sounds, or as Karloff put it, “ugly sounds that are kind of beautiful in a way.”
Karloff discussed the collaborative element to the sound of Black Onassis, which figures importantly to the group’s sound.
“You see things in a different way when you work with different people,” said Karloff on the topic of artistic collaborations. “You learn a lot.”
Black Onassis has no lead singer. Instead, the group works with different vocalists. The singing was pre-recorded for their performance at The Mercury Lounge on October 15th, whereas the instrumentals were performed live with the lineup Karloff was working with that night.
“Sometimes when you pin to one singer,” Karloff said, “even though with some bands it works out amazingly, I find sometimes you can be limited. I’ve never worked with female vocalists before,” Karloff added. “The tones and the voice and everything is completely different.” Some songs feature no singing at all. “Iso,” for example, is an instrumental track.
Karloff also discussed the influence of the other senses on his music, particularly the importance of music’s “visual element.” Karloff referred to the fusion of sight and sound as a “perfect marriage in terms of stimulation. “ Nowhere was this more apparent than at their concert.
When Black Onassis performed on the 15th of October, their music was accompanied by sights and moving images provided by Ghost+Cow Films. The two groups held a mirror up to each other. The “marriage” of sound and sight in this case was almost cyper-punk or science fiction in look and feel. I recall some images of a runner and another image of a brain. One could almost imagine visuals such as these in a film such as The Matrix or Blade Runner, perhaps even A Clockwork Orange.
As of October 15th, Black Onassis had no future plans for other shows. On that night, Deluka and We Run joined them. Chris Karloff listened to and watched We Run open for Black Onassis among the gathering crowd in the audience.
Black Onassis is currently working on their debut album. It’s still a work in progress for now, but it won’t be for very long. Some songs like as “Iso,” “Brain” and “Innocence Blitz” are available online now. The rest, some of which were played at The Mercury Lounge, will be released on their debut album.