Old Man River

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Old Man River


This seemingly perpetual mainstream success has been with Old Man River since…

The sophomore slump is truly a daunting prospect in its own right, providing the death knell for many a young act in their prime. If you also add to the equation an elongated gestation period, being jettisoned by your label and a full-scale bandmate exodus, you may just land square in the unenviable position of Ohad Rein, aka Old Man River, on the release eve of LP number two, Trust. If the man was suffering any pangs of anxiety, however, they’re buried miles deep underneath his sunbeam ’fro.

“Nah man I’m excited – overexcited if anything! It’s been in my system so long that I forget Friday is the first time people, actual humans, get to hear it.” This unbridled optimism may be the result of a newfound sense of introspection, a theme which permeates throughout Trust. “I called the album that because that’s what I was doing. With so much shit going on in between albumsit became almost like a mantra – ‘just trust, just trust.’ It kept pulling me out of these dark situations, you know? When you trust it leads to openness, openness leads to love – not necessarily to a woman, I mean there’s that too, but towards the world and towards life itself.”
Album cut Religion explicates the resounding spirituality threading the album, but the track didn’t come easy. “I guess I was trying to avoid writing that song, writing about religion. It’s such a sticky topic – confusing and complicated, and then it wouldn’t leave me. Then I thought ‘if I’m gonna write about religion, I’ll have to do it as honest as possible’. Just say how I feel, trying hard to talk about it without getting it wrong,” he nods.
“That’s what we’ve done throughout history – got it wrong. ‘Let’s fight, let’s kill each other,’ when everybody’s saying the same thing in a different way. I guess you could say music is what you would call my religion, in the sense it’s what I’m most devoted to. It creates this spirituality which everyone can connect with.”
While the album’s genesis is a by-product of self-reflection, its recording process was very much a product of globalisation in action. “Yeah the whole process was a bit of a journey. A big chunk was recorded in Sydney, and then more recording in Bombay, more in Israel, then it was all sent to LA for mixing.” This sense of broad worldliness is reflected in not only the album’s tracklist (India, Shanti Aaye, and new single Norway), but also in its lush instrumentation. “We had all these guests come in and play such great music, ranging from these great Indian musicians playing this amazing stuff, down to the little banjo cameo in Norway.
The use of Indian instruments (most notably the sitar) in Western music immediately draws comparisons with The Beatles, who at the height of their popularity famously expanded their sound in Sgt Pepper’s as an affront to their live performance prospects. After a session of similarly lofty studio ambitions, Old Man River can’t quite afford the same touring sensibility. “Things kept on getting bigger and bigger, to the point where I had to ask, ‘how the fuck are we gonna do this live?’” he laughs, “but we’ve got a great band together; we’re gonna make it happen. We won’t have all the elements, but that’s the beauty of it. We’ll get special guests in for the Hindi parts, violinists to fill the gaps. It’ll sound great.”
The upcoming album launch tour comes after an EP tour midway through the year, and a surreal stint as a backing band at the start of 2010. “Playing alongside Daniel Johnston (the cult American singer-songwriter), I guess I’d call it a unique experience. We were aware of his condition – you never know what was going to happen that night, whether he’d crack the shits and leave the stage after ten minutes. You’d never know what tempo, what key – it was all random, which was all a great experience as a band and so interesting to follow. He’s just an amazing, creative person.”
The intermittent frequency of tours and releases alleviates the risk of overexposure, but also raises questions of gains lost. “I guess it’s humbling to see nobody’s waiting for you, it gives you motivation to get back into it. With such a long break I guess we lost a bit of momentum, but I’ve never been any good with momentum anyway,” he chuckles.
This seemingly perpetual flirtation with mainstream success has been with Old Man River since the very beginning, “I put out my first EP Sunshine all those years ago and it was the most played song on Triple J over summer. I was so fuckin’ ignorant back then – I heard it on the radio and thought ‘Awesome! Well this is a great time to take off and go on a trip, leave Australia,’ while people are saying ‘You’re crazy! This is momentum, this is when you go on tour!’ Instead, I just left the country for a year while it all blew up.”
“I do see people who are on the road constantly and I’m not jealous,” states Rein, who obviously relishes the newfound role as a stay-at-home dad, “but you have to do it; you have to put in the hard work to get people to come to your shows.”
A rejuvenated line-up and an expanded, far more psychedelic sound throw up a greater set of variables for a showcase of new material, a fact which Old Man River is acutely aware, “When you put out a new album, you never know what’s going to happen. When we released the first album, Good Morning, I never expected it would take us to so many places, like Italy or Japan. It’s like taking a big dog, like a Great Dane, for a walk. You can try and hold it back as best you can, but you just have to go with it, wherever it wants to go. You’re at its mercy.”
Whether the extended break proves a wise career move is yet to be seen, but it has provided more than enough fuel for the creative fire, “It’s been great, right now I feel like a hungry bear coming out of hibernation.”
OLD MAN RIVER’s new album, Trust, is out now through Hub/EMI. He launches it with a show at The Northcote Social Club – with Princess One Point Five and The Tiger & Me – on October 22. Tickets from The Corner box office, 9486 1677 and northcotesocialclub.com