The man behind the solo project Oats is a bit of an enigma. He told me not to use his name in the write-up about his new EP, Octavius, and I have to say, I like the air of mystery about that. In an age of selfies and social-media-induced narcissism, the idea of anonymity felt refreshing to me.
Oats is a London-based one-man band who has been making tunes under the moniker since 2018’s debut EP Candle Fingers. His music is not only psychedelic but also straight-up trippy and perfect for chilling/spacing out.
I love how he combines a kaleidoscope of different sounds, noises, and textures into weird dreamscapes. Octavius, his newest offering, has only 5 tracks and a run-time of just over 16 minutes, leaving you begging for more.
“Mad Hatter” is perhaps the coolest track on the new EP, clocking in at just under 3 minutes and reminding me a bit of the psychedelic Beatles. Given that Oats is from London, I’m guessing he’s listened to Sgt. Pepper’s and gotten stoned to “Strawberry Fields Forever” quite a few times. But who among us hasn’t, really?
I got a chance to talk with Oats recently and sent him some questions via email about his new EP and some of his biggest musical influences.
Interview with Oats
Third Eye: I saw from your Spotify profile that you’ve been making various EPs and releasing singles as your solo alter-ego since 2018. What inspired you to start the project?
Oats: Well, I’ve always been very much into making music, even at a young age. I grew up in a musical family, so I was exposed to all sorts of crazy music. My eldest brother used to have some old reel-to-reel tape recorders, so we would mess around with that a fair bit and play on any of the instruments we had lying around.
From then on, I would always be creating sound collages or improvisational segments on different bits of recording equipment. It wasn’t until I got my hands on a drum kit that I started taking the project more seriously and began structuring full songs. I still remember hearing back a finished piece of music I had made on an old digital 8-track for the first time and being proud that I had made it. I guess it’s still the same feeling I’m trying to chase!
Third Eye: You’re also part of a psych-rock band called Circus Cannon. Can you tell me a bit more about that project? The Spotify bio description is funny, and the music is a bit heavier than your stuff with Oats.
Oats: Yeah, so that is essentially me and my other older brother’s project. It originally started as a Psych Rock jam band. We used to have this shed in our garden at a place we were renting. We would go down there and mostly improvise until something good came out. Half of it would be a horrendous racket!
We were very much influenced by music performed at high volume levels at gigs, but also the more mellow droned guitar sounds that aren’t as prominent in heavy rock music. When you go to a gig, and everything is so loud you can feel it hitting you, it brings a primal feeling out and resonates with the whole venue, so I guess we were trying to create that in our own way.
Unfortunately, we haven’t recuperated since COVID came and destroyed everything for a while. But we are in the process of writing new material and hope to get back out there and play some more gigs!
Confusing the Listener
Third Eye: Oats, especially Octavius, has great psych, dreamy vibes, which is why I like it so much. Many bands use psychedelic in their description, which can be a bit of a catch-all term. How would you define psych music? And in what ways is your Oats’ catalog psych music?
Oats: Thank you so much! I do agree the term psychedelic is used a fair bit. Probably because it’s become so popular with the rise of some of the obvious mainstream bands.
I guess to me, psychedelic music has a lot to do with the overall sound production, but also the songwriting. I love to create songs that confuse the listener and make them wonder how on earth certain sounds are created, almost to make them forget they are sober when listening to them.
In all of my releases, I usually include something weird mid-way through the record, which is meant to catch the listener off guard. Whether that be a song melting into the next seamlessly or making it sound as if their computer speakers are malfunctioning.
There is a part of me that would like to not be labeled as just one genre, as I feel that it can sort of box you into only creating a certain type of music. But it’s hard when you are promoting your work on social media and trying to reach a specific audience. It’s difficult knowing how others hear my music. Some people have told me that it doesn’t sound psychedelic to them at all, but I guess everyone has different ears.
Incorporating Acoustic Sounds
Third Eye: Your Spotify profile talks about your obsession with music starting at an early age and mentions your love of horror film soundtracks. What bands and early influences have influenced Oats’ sound the most?
Oats: The old horror film soundtracks are the ones that always get stuck in my head. Something like The Shining’s soundtrack always terrified me, and I guess I’m curious how music could create a feeling of dread.
I love music that is very visual and makes you picture things as you listen. The list would go on forever, but I suppose some of my main influences for this project, especially in terms of production, will always be people like Kevin Shields, Brian Wilson, and Avery Tare. Those guys and their music really inspired me to try and craft my own sounds.
I guess for my more recent stuff, I have been very much influenced by Nick Drake. My father first showed me him at a young age, and as soon as I heard the song “Fly,” it immediately made me pick up an acoustic guitar and learn the fingerpicking style of playing. It’s only recently I’ve included acoustic guitars into my sound. I guess I felt I needed a change from distorted guitars and wanted to try something fresh.
The Meaning Behind ‘Mad Hatter’
Third Eye: What’s your favorite track on Octavius? And why?
Oats: It’s difficult to choose a favorite track, but I suppose the most memorable one for me is the first tune, “Bee Balcony.” I had a fun time recording that one; it has all of the elements of what I was going for on this EP.
I think the intro guitar section was the first thing I recorded for this release. It’s all improvised, so it felt good to just let loose on the guitar and see what happens. It bursts into a fully structured song after the intro, and the whole tune has a very wonky sound. There is a lot of wow and flutter effects throughout the song, mostly thanks to the 4-track tape machine used during the mixing.
Third Eye: “Mad Hatter” is a great track and, I’m guessing, an obvious nod to Alice in Wonderland. Are you a fan of the books and films?
Oats: Thank you! Yeah, I am a huge fan of the book, and it’s my favorite Disney cartoon. It was more of a nod to where the term “Mad Hatter” originated, though. Apparently, old English hat makers started to develop psychotic symptoms after exposure to mercury for long periods, which was used to make the hats.
When I was recording the vocals for the song, I didn’t have a full set of lyrics prepared, so I mostly improvised the words and phrases to the melody. When listening back to the recorded harmonized vocal takes, because I was mumbling a lot of words, it sounded like what a deranged person would be hearing or saying to himself in a locked-up room. Sort of chanting the same words over and over again.
Third Eye: The cover art for Octavius is gnarly! Who designed it, and what was the idea behind it?
Oats: Yeah, I was extremely happy with the result of the artwork! It’s created by a guy I found on Instagram called Christian Stenfeldt (@subira). I loved his work and asked if he wanted to collaborate.
He asked to hear one of the tracks and a backstory to the release. I told him the EP is named after a legendary 18th-century ghost ship and has a lot of field recording samples of watery sounds, and he came back with that monstrous artwork! I think it suits the music perfectly, so I was pleased with it. Please check out his other work online; it’s really original and amazing stuff.
Third Eye: Last question: What’s next for Oats? Are you working on new material now? And what’s been going on in London?
Oats: I’ve got some new songs in the works, which are in the early stages of recording. Thinking of putting them out as singles once they’re done before I leave it for too long and start to lose interest in them.
London is a very strange one at the moment. The cost of living just seems to be getting higher every day. On the plus side, the live music scene is thriving again, so I’ve been mostly rehearsing and working on a solo set for gigs. Looking forward to showing the world the new batch of songs and hope it resonates with people.