October 20, 2006

Prophet Omega

Underneath the dance rhythms and beats of Prophet Omega's debut album, The Natural World lies a rather fascinating, intriguing record. Though the band is the concoction of visionary Joe Magistro, it's a record that's much more ambitious than one man. Within the grooves of songs like "Downpour" and "Party Time People" is an appealing, mysterious intelligence that separates it from standard dance music fare. Perhaps it's because Magistro's first calling was to playing drums for rock bands, or perhaps, as you'll read below, it's because Prophet Omega's existence seems to be a bit more of a happy accident than a thought-out project. Regardless, The Natural World is a pleasant, enjoyable—and, most importantly, intelligent record.

I kind of get the feeling that Prophet Omega's been an accidental career for you.

Yeah! I definitely jumped in with both feet when the opportunity presented itself. I didn't choose to start a band for exposure or to get into that mentality of, (sleazily)"Yeah, man, I got a record deal, and I'm gonna do this..." I've been working with music for some time; it wasn't like I was waiting tables and building houses. I was working as a drummer, and an opportunity presented itself to make some tracks at my house. A friend who is a DJ passed it on, and, literally, in a span of three months from giving it to the DJ, I was getting word back from Capitol Records that Andy Slater, the President of the label, wanted to fly me out and wanted to do an album. So it was pretty drastic on that level. I was like, "Wow...okay!" (Laughs) So I sort of stumbled into it.

You've been making music for yourself. Did you not think it was something you wanted to release? Was it just more of a hobby that some people happened to like?

Well, actually, I did have it kind of in the back of my head that a record would be cool at some point. But I was so busy with other stuff, it wasn't really a priority. I really was doing it just for the enjoyment of creating music. I have a few good friends that I have a lot of respect for who suggested I get a deal. Cut to a few months later, then things with Capitol started to take place.

Wow. I think that's cool.

Yeah! It's definitely cool. But it started so fast, I thought, "wow, this is happening so fast, this is really amazing." Once you get into the specifics of it… (Laughing) You're thinking, "God, this is endless!"

Have you reached that point where the magic's worn off, and as you start to look at the realities, you think, "What am I going to do for a band?"

Yeah, definitely. Once the ball starts rolling, it takes a little of the luster off. You're more concerned with the business side, the daily activities to keep it running, timing, financing and scheduling for a show or whatever you might need to do. It can be very exhausting.

Honeymoon's over?

(Laughs) Exactly! Reality's sinking in a little.

One thing I noticed is that within your computer-generated beats, there's real instrumentation, too. But on a couple of tracks, you play around with field recordings and samples, and occasionally, I pick up on almost a world music vibe to what you're doing, even though the sound is more dance-oriented. Is this something you've wanted to explore further?

Um, I don't know if it's like a world music concept.

I'm just speaking in general.

Hmmm. Yeah, there is that kind of stuff on there; there's a field recording from Alan Lomax. Hmm, I guess some of the beats I programmed have a sound that's similar to that; not necessarily samples, but I like that cool sound on vinyl, it's kind of shocking to hear, but there's something really intriguing about capturing the atmosphere of an old field recording and blending it, like you said, with an electronic sound. You're hearing that voice recorded forty years ago on the other side of the planet. And I try not to over-program things. I try to keep it organic. I like doing electronic stuff, but it's nothing like having the feeling of real instruments in hand, like a Moroccan tambourine or old African percussion or things like that. A lot of those elements I try to integrate, because they're all around my home. When I set up, those instruments are on the other side of the room. I'll start shaking a tambourine or hitting my drums for inspiration on other things. I'll play around, develop a rhythm that way, and then develop it further.

And it all ties back into the title, The Natural World.

Yeah! And it also ties into the cover art in a tongue-in-cheek way, with busted-up cars, and it's like a comment on social entropy. That's our natural world.

I know you're a renowned drummer, and you were in the band Darlahood in the 1990s, but is this the first time you've stepped up to the lead, in terms of singing and songwriting?

Not so much in terms of songwriting, no. Fronting a band? Yeah. In Darlahood, I co-wrote about 95 percent of the music. I'd have to say that the person most likely to have written in Darlahood was me. Lyrics, about a third of them, I'd say. Plus, in Darlahood, we had a lot of harmonies, so I was singing and playing harmonies. But for fronting a band, yeah, it's new.

Was it scary, stepping up front?

Yeah! It's funny. I've done so many things over the years, I wouldn't say making music is second nature, but the first time I did so, I got butterflies. It was new for me.

But I'm sure it is invigorating, stepping outside of your comfort zone.

Definitely! That was the biggest feeling, when I started to do Prophet Omega, things really started to roll with Capitol, who are really into it, and all of a sudden, it started to feel really, really cool.

Prophet Omega's debut, The Natural World, is available now on Astralwerks/Capitol Records

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