Opiuo, New Zealand's liaison to funk, has built quite a following in this country with his Down Under sound. Residing primarily in Australia nowadays, the DJ-turned-producer is healing up from a recent surgery on his ear canal and turning his attention to hitting the road before returning to the studio to continue churning out remixes and original scores. In advance of his show next week at Cervantes' Masterpiece Ballroom -- which is part of a run that includes six shows at this week's Burning Man festival -- we spoke with Opiuo about his recent ear surgery and why he thinks the desert rock gathering is so crucial to American Culture.
Westword: You're on tour right now in America. How many shows are you squeezing in?
Opiuo: I've got about ten stops on the tour, then six shows at Burning Man, and then it's back to Australia for a tour. After that, I have a week off and then come back over here again.
When do you sleep?
On the airplane. It's pretty crazy. When I get in the mode of touring, I sleep when I can. So, tomorrow, I play a show, and then I'll sleep during the day before getting my mind ready for a set; then I'll play again, and the cycle will continue.
What do you mean by "get your mind ready for a set?" Do you have any pre-show rituals, or any sort of meditation?
It's in times like these that I take a look at the music I've made and organize tracks and see what I've got. In terms of pre-show rituals, I guess the only thing is tequila. I never get nervous before I play -- maybe a day out before, but before a show it's a few shots of tequila.
For a tour like this where you have about sixteen stops, do you rework your music between stops according to what you think works and what didn't?
For sure. I write music when I'm home, and as soon as I go on tour, I rearrange everything. Even with songs I have, I rearrange where the drop is, so each stop is kind of an experiment. I never know which shows are gonna do what, so I just stay on my toes, and pay attention to what works.
And when you're done with tour, it's right back to the studio?
Exactly. That's the most stressful part of it is all the schedule changes.
What do you like most about producing and the music you create?
I've got the freedom to do what I want right now, because of that lack of genre classification, people like me remixing their tracks from all across the board. Whether it's drum-and-bass acts to classics, or whatever. I'm starting to get back into remixing. After that, it's back to the solo stuff and creation. For me, I just like making music that makes people feel something, and makes me feel something. Whether it's good or bad, I just want to sit down and chill.
There is a lot of music out there that is made for the dance floor to make people go crazy, but I just want people to feel some sort of emotion. I think a lot of time people take themselves too seriously, and then their music is a direct reflection of that. I think there is too much of that in this world. So people just take themselves less seriously.
Do you think your music represents your personality in the same way lyrics represent the vocalist?
I do. It comes and goes. I go through stages... recently I had surgery on my ear, which I've had trouble with my whole life, so I've been deaf for a majority of my life from mid-primary school to now, and it's starting to come back. I've been hearing things more, but that's another crazy story. I think my music reflects the stages of my life, and right now, it's really fun. I'll make something wonky and crazy, and sometimes I'm all about something more cruising and solid. So, yes, it really reflects who I am and where I'm at.
Are there songs that you create that have a somber tone to you, but when you play them, the crowd goes crazy?
Not so much. I mean, I really think there are times when I go into the studio something might be born out of frustration, or another emotion other than having fun, but by the time I'm done, I'm happy and rocking. So that moment in the studio is a healer in its own way. Maybe the music started out that way, but my music is never deep and somber. It's all about getting on the dance floor and having a good time.
Keep reading for more of our interview with Opiuo
Is the creation and production just as fun as performing?
Absolutely. I go through stages where making music is more fun, and others where performing is more fun. Right now, it's a fine balance, I suppose, because I like to write music in the studio, and when I'm on the road, it's all about performing live. I don't really write music when I'm on the road because I'm focused on the tour. My main focus is being in the studio for something like 24 hours and really getting it done. To be honest, I started out deejaying, so the performance was the best part. But now, I like making noises and that sound and that tone, and I can do it now! For years, I have been making my own stuff and getting it out there.
Has Burning Man been a big part of your tour for the past few years?
I missed last year, which I was bummed about, but Burning Man was one of my first shows in America...well, first, I played Denver, and then Burning Man was the week after. That place has so many memories for me. Some of them are weird, and there's so many shows, but what it means to me, and for America, is it's the crazy, out-there side of America. I want to play it as long as I can. It gives me the chance to not just play, but hang out and do the other things I like in life.
What is your take on the Burning Man culture?
People have always said it's out there and how it's this whole "expression" thing, and I've been to festivals my whole life, so I get the freedom of expression thing. I think that's why I love them so much. That place seems to expand on that exponentially. People invest everything they have inside them -- maybe it's the American way to go bigger and bigger every year. The sound systems are huge! I like the fact that it seems like this culture... this part of the world.. has this drive to succeed. At a place like Burning Man, it's wild. I've heard a million stories before I went, and they were blown out of the water. It is this sub-culture that exists that shows what they are into.
Are there any memories that really stand out for you?
I can't remember what campsite I was at, but I remember it was like the second day I was there, and there was this red button next to the console that when you pressed it this giant flame thrower shot fire out, and there were thousands of people out in front of you. It was this big giant playground, and I was like, playing before Bassnectar, and it just started like that, and I don't remember much after that. The sunrise was amazing. I like the idea of no VIP passes. It's just everyone out there being human.
What do you have in the works right now?
I've got a lot. Coming out of surgery and letting my ear recover, I've been producing a lot of stuff in the past year that hasn't been finished as a package. My plan is to finish an album in the next little bit. I just want to make good sets, and keep it fresh, and play all the tracks that people want to hear. It's the next evolution for me when I have an operation like this.
What were the complications with your ear?
I had a cyst behind my eardrum. It grew over the years and years because of certain tubes that run to your nose. So, you know when you unblock your ears from flying? Mine got blocked at some point. I developed a crazy situation. The surgery was to unblock those and hope that they don't come back. It's pretty ironic because I make music, and I've never had good hearing on that side of my head, anyway.
Does it change the way that you listen now that you can hear?
It does. It's quite full-on sometimes. I hear things totally different sometimes when it's healing, so sometimes, I can't listen to music because it will pop into place and it will get too loud. It's a bit of struggle to keep it solid, but once it gets into the rhythm, I'm fine. It's really only been in the past five years that I've had operations. But once it's healed, I just wait until the next operation. Realistically, it makes me appreciate making my music much more.