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Interview: Bill Kielty (O Zorn!)

10 April 2024

Forget sophomore slumps – for O Zorn!’s Bill Kielty, the real struggle came with album number three. Their 2020 release, Your Killer, got blindsided by the pandemic, leaving promotion and touring dreams in the dust. Internal tensions added fuel to the fire, forcing Kielty to rebuild O Zorn! from the ground up.

The unexpected downtime became a creative crucible. Kielty channeled it into crafting Vermillion Haze, a beast of an album that’s undeniably heavy, yet surprisingly melodic with vocals that’ll hook you in. O Zorn! carves their own sonic niche, but hard rock fans will recognize kindred spirits in their sound.

In this conversation, Kielty spills the sludge on how the pandemic accelerated the inevitable lineup shift, the cross-country recording odyssey in the age of Covid, and the unexpected gems lurking in his personal record collection.

Your 2020 album came out at the same time the world shut down. The song “Casket” was both thrilling and scary, especially during a very uncertain time. Given your catalog, that song was a bit heavier and meatier than your other stuff.

BILL: I’m proud of that song. It’s a banger. It hits all the elements of where I come from musically. It’s got some hardcore elements, it’s got some post-metal. We’ve gotten a lot of comparisons. Comparisons are weird. We’ve gotten a lot of Alice in Chains. We get Mastodon a lot. I’ve had people say we sound like Rob Zombie. All of those are great, I’ll take all that. “Casket” is a crowd pleaser when we do it live.

Your Killer was released on March 20, 2020. Did you have a full game plan for what you were going to do once the album came out?

BILL: We were ready to go. I tracked the record with two guys who are no longer in the band. We were ready to start touring in support of the album. The week that we got shut down was literally the week of our record release show. The label was flying in from Cleveland. We had an invitee list, which was bananas. It was going to be a to-do. And then it just completely got shut down.

Did you think it was just a temporary setback and that you’d pick back up by late Spring or did you have a feeling it would be a while?

BILL: I knew it was over before it started. It didn’t help that the two other members in the band just completely came unglued and fell apart. One guy got back on drugs. The other guy, our drummer, just couldn’t get out of his own way and so the band fell apart. By summer, we were done. And then I had to regroup and find another drummer. It was like, “Shit. What do I do now?” I was like, “Well, let’s just start writing the next record.” Instead of throwing in the towel, I found another drummer and then posted up with him throughout the pandemic and put this new album together.

Was it just the two of you?

BILL: Yeah, just the two of us holed up in a room. We hashed it out over a good solid year. We ended up recording demos for it and hooking up with my guy Ryan in Tampa. Then we tracked the record there, just the two of us.

You live in California. How did you end up on the other side of the country in Tampa?

BILL: Ryan Boesch, who I’ve known for a long time, has done work with everyone from the Melvins to Andrew WK to Peaches. He’s worked with so many people. He had always wanted to work on one of our albums. We were trying to work on Your Killer with him but he ended up getting hooked up at another studio out here in Los Angeles. He works with the band Whores and I’ve always loved their recordings. We flew out to Tampa at the end of 2021 and started tracking the record.

And then it was almost two-and-a-half years from the time you started tracking to the time the album came out.

BILL: Exactly. I couldn’t wait to get this thing out. It was exhausting.

Was the release based on scheduling? Did you have some things that you wanted to finish up that took a while? Were you just waiting until the start of 2024 so it wouldn’t get lost at the end of 2023?

BILL: What ended up happening was the drummer and I tracked the record but I was flying back and forth between here and Tampa over the next year. We tracked rhythm guitars and drums on one weekend and then I went back to start doing vocals and guitar work and Ryan got Covid. Then my wife had flown out and she got Covid. It just shut us down. I had a whole week scheduled to get everything wrapped up and moving and then they both got deathly sick. Ryan was on his deathbed and my chick and I had to post up in a hotel while she mended. I had gotten my Covid shots two months before we were out there so I really didn’t get sick at all. But, I watched those two just completely fall apart. And, it being Florida, well, you know, you couldn’t get tests anywhere because everything was county run and had lines out the door. In California, you could just roll into a fricking Rite Aid or Walgreens and get what you needed.

I finally finished tracking and then the album was done. Our drummer, Derek Eglit, is also in a band called Painted Wives. They’re an Orange County band on Century Media, they’re highly respected and have been around for a long time. Their lead guitarist and vocalist, Justin Suitor, and their bassist, Justin Morales, joined up with us. What I ended up doing was having them track bass and lead guitar on the album. Then, there was more mixing involved. It was about a solid year-and-a-half of tracking and trying to make it the best it can be.

So, the songs have been done for a while but the actual final product has not been done for three years. It’s been a little bit shorter of a timeframe. The final product, we’ll say it’s been done for about a year. Then, the rest of the time has been setting the record up and hunting down record labels to release it. There was a lot of interest but nothing that looked worthy so we just ended up financing the whole thing ourselves, hiring PR, and outsourcing to do a lot of that legwork. It turned out to be a really good decision. We teamed up with the label that put out our last vinyl, Seeing Red Records in Cleveland. They’re doing vinyl again for this album so there was some waiting to get that done and pressed only to have it delayed, of course. We’re making sure we give this record the best shot at some sort of success.

Have you had a chance to do any touring in a post-pandemic world?

BILL: We played two or three shows. We don’t like to play locally too much. We try to keep those sparse. We played Long Beach, we played Costa Mesa. We’ll probably play locally maybe once or twice the rest of this year and then we’ve got some shows back East in June. We’re trying to book some shows right now on our way out there. Then, hopefully, we’ll get out to Europe and do some festival dates.

For so many bands, touring isn’t financially viable. It’s often a losing proposition. Does getting played on some specialty hard rock and metal satellite radio stations help?

BILL: We’re getting played on Liquid Metal. We did a radio campaign with this album for “Never Saw It Coming” and it has been getting played. We’re just trying to get it out there so that we can get those streaming numbers up. Booking agents, at the end of the day, want to see you get, say, 30,000 followers. Then they look at the Spotify numbers and weigh it all out. They’re like, “It looks like we could book 200 person venues across the states and we’ll probably be okay.” That’s what we’re trying to develop, get to that point. It’s doing well so far.

Is the “Never Saw It Coming” video completely AI generated?

BILL: I had a bunch of different ideas pieced together that were generated off of artwork that was created for us. We ran the artwork through AI generation. It was all based around the album cover artwork.

The album cover looks like it fits the music.

BILL: I love the artwork, it’s super cool. This guy, Chris, had done work for me in the past, not just the album work. He gave us 25 to 30 pieces of artwork that was in the theme of our album. I took all that artwork and got it to this guy that does AI generation stuff and he pieced it all together. I think it looks cool. The simplest way to tell that it’s AI is that the words aren’t spelled right but that’s kind of cool because it’ll start to morph into something else.

There’s been a few people that have tried to poo-poo the whole generated art stuff, which is fine. We don’t compare it to paintings or anything like that. Everything in my house is a painting, or an awesome piece of poster work. But what that generated artwork does is it really grabs you. I get a lot of people saying, “I’ve watched this video 20 times, and I see something new every time.”

As you mentioned earlier, you’re getting some comparisons. I have to imagine that’s not a bad thing as long as it’s not a bad comparison.

BILL: Throw whatever you want at me. Any comparisons have always been positive. We get a lot of Alice in Chains, which is a high compliment. Mastodon. Baroness. We get all that. We’re fine with it because our music has gotten more accessible over the years.

Our first record is super doomy and can be very gnarly at points. The last interview I did, the interviewer asked why we changed, why we’ve gotten more melodic. It’s because we want to keep developing and progressing our sound. Our music is a little more accessible these days so to get compared to these big commercial rock bands, I’m like, “Yeah, I love it. We’re doing something right.”

It’s awesome when someone who doesn’t normally listen to music this heavy, comes up and goes, “I don’t really listen to heavy music like this, but this is really catchy and it makes sense.” It’s cool to be able to educate people a little bit. It’s kind of like when Soundgarden came out. I was like, “Who’s this? I’ve never heard anything like this before.”

Bands like Soundgarden and Nirvana evolved. Their early albums don’t sound like the stuff that made them popular.

BILL: If you listen to Soundgarden’s Louder Than Love, or any earlier stuff, the recording techniques and technology was a little more lo-fi. If you listen to their later albums, they grew. Their last big, huge commercial record, those songs are absolutely amazing. Superunknown was incredible but yet they retained a lot of their roots in their sound. That’s all we’re trying to do. As long as it sounds like an O Zorn! song, that’s what we’re concerned with.

Was there a particular artist, album or song that, when you heard, you said, “I want to play music like this someday”?

BILL: Kyuss was a band that was from very close to where I grew up. I grew up in a city called Moreno Valley, which is in Southern California. They grew up in Indio, which is the desert about 30 miles away from where I grew up. We’d hear about these generator parties that they would have back in the day. That’s how I got turned on to Kyuss and Nebula. And then I remember hearing Electric Wizard for the first time and going, “Whoa, that’s crazy, man.” It sounded really heavy. I started messing around with those types of heavy tunings. And then I started a band called Who Rides a Tiger, but Who Rides a Tiger sounded more like Jesus Lizard.

In 2009, I started messing around with O Zorn! With another drummer and started putting songs together. The Melvins were always a big influence. It just eventually morphed into what it is today.

When you’re not listening to hard rock and metal, what type of music do you listen to?

BILL: I don’t listen to a whole lot of hard rock and metal, period. I mainly listen to, honestly, a lot of indie rock. I’m obsessed with this band Alvvays right now. I think they’re really good. I tend to fall towards a lot of female artists too.

I like Chet Baker. I was listening to Chet Baker today. I have a decent vinyl collection, a lot of old reggae and then I like artists like Chelsea Wolfe. I like a lot of atmospheric stuff. I love putting on Massive Attack and stuff like that.

Did you get into music because of your parents or a sibling?

BILL: I was given a crate of records when I was like 15 from a neighbor. It had Minor Threat and Rites of Spring. It had all this early Washington D.C. hardcore stuff. I cut my teeth on that stuff. Then there was stuff like GBH. It was a solid crate full of punk rock and metal. It had Venom and Possessed. I remember going through all the album covers, it was just a wild collection. That’s what got me started on music. Then I stopped for a long time. I think I gave my crate away to somebody. Somewhere in the mid 2000s, I started buying vinyl again and I started with the records that were in that crate.

If we talk a year from now, and you’ve had a successful year, what will you tell me?

BILL: We gave it our all and we did what we wanted to do. That’s all I can ask for because, with the last album, we weren’t able to do anything with it. So there is a bit of redemption in the air with this record. Hopefully this album turns people on to the last record and the record before that. I’d love for people to go, “I got this record and then I looked at your back catalog and was like, ‘Whoa, these guys have been going for a while.’”

We’re continuing to write. We’re already writing the next album so we’re hoping to get into the studio here pretty soon as well to follow up with a couple of singles after this one drops. I’m just really happy right now.

Interestingly enough, every album has had a different lineup. Our first album was a different lineup. Your Killer is a different one. And this new one is a different lineup too. I’m finally in a band with guys that are all like-minded, they’re all writers, they’re all super dialed in. It’s actually the first time I’ve been in a band in a very long time where I was playing with some really solid dudes and the new music is super rad too. It’s really great to be writing with other people. My favorite song on the album is probably “I Got Mine” or “New Suffer.” That’s the direction we’re heading in, a little more atmospheric, a little more lofty, a little more singing. I want to go that direction a little more, just ethereal. We’re not druggies, but a little more druggy and a little more lean. But we’ve got some bar burners too. It feels like a new band now. I can’t wait to track some more with these guys.


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