Ø ISLAND Anthems for broken minds

Local act Ø Island are set to launch their debut EP Anthems for the Broken Mind at Four5Nine this Sunday, August 26. It’s a new chapter marking the creative emergence of songwriter Jasper Miller who set out to create expansive and original songs by combining modern synth textures with the organic sounds of big bands. BRAYDEN EDWARDS caught up with Miller to talk about what the end of the world would sound like, capturing it on record and replicating it live onstage.

How did Ø Island come about? Was it a completely new project or had you and some of the others played music together a bit before?

Ø Island has been my personal project since the beginning of 2018. I’ve always enjoyed bands like Muse that write these huge, thematic songs about fictitious dystopian societies and other sci-fi concepts like that. So after thinking about these ideas for a while I wrote the bulk of Ø Island’s songs during that weird time between Christmas and New Year where everyone stumbles around and no one really knows what’s happening. After I had the songs, putting a band together was a no-brainer.

Ø Island is a collective of working musicians from multiple bands such as Hannah Mae & the Hoodwinks, The Newhouse Collective, Junkadelic, JOYS, WAYJO as well as cover bands and musical theatre productions. I’ve worked with everyone personally, but prior to forming Ø Island we’d not worked together in the same group before. They’re a good bunch of eggs.

Listening to these songs the word ‘expansive’ kept coming to mind…was that deliberate or did the songs keep growing with a power of their own?

I really enjoy the drama and theatrics of big productions like Muse, Sigur Ros and musical theatre, and that’s exactly how I designed Ø Island’s sound. I wanted the huge, epic sound of bands like Muse, Dragonforce, Dream Theatre and Blind Guardian, but without the heavy metal, guitar-driven aspect. So I made a conscious decision to replace guitars with as many different keyboards and synths as I could get my hands on. We’re up to four so far.

So the expansive aspect was deliberate. I set out specifically to write huge, dramatic songs that would pair well with massive stage shows, though that’s still a pipe dream for now. It’s big, theatrical and dramatic and I think it matches the fictional lyrics about the world exploding.

The first single Anthem of the Broken Mind has a really big sound like Of Monsters and Men vibe and reminded me a bit of acts like the Flaming Lips and Broken Social Scene as well, what music do you think inspired the track the most?

Anthem is a complete mashup of All Love by Drapht, and Lay It On Me Now by Vance Joy, with the intensity of Feel the Love by Rudimental. But I accidentally wrote the chorus in 7/4. Every one of Ø Island’s tracks are inspired by completely different songs and bands, let alone entire genres.

But yeah, Anthem is about 40% Drapht, 40% Vance Joy and the rest is just filled up by us going ham on synthesisers.

It’s quite a difference between the other song you’re releasing called Sonic Recreation of the End of the World. That seemed to be quite a bit darker, longer and reminiscent of more post rock bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Do those songs feel like they reach opposite ends of the musical spectrum for the group or is there more you are yet to uncover?

Ø Island’s songs weren’t designed to cross a musical spectrum per say, though it’s turned out that way. Though it’s inspired very heavily by a Sigur Ros song I Gaer, I wanted to write a piece that would answer the question “If the world was going to end, what would it sound like?” And that’s what it represents. It’s actually part four of a miniature suite I’ve written about the end of the world. Coupled with Anthem, they’re very much at different ends of a musical spectrum, but I believe both are equally as accessible to people.

In terms of Ø Island’s sound, there’s still more to uncover. It’s hard to know what genre of song I’ll write next, as Ø Island is just a personification of my own musical tastes. Equal parts pop bands, prog bands, ambience, big band jazz, power metal and musical theatre. Really it’s just a bunch of music that doesn’t fit together, but I sure am trying.

There seems to be a real coming together of some pretty old school instruments like horns with quite futuristic tones of the synthesisers. Was it ever difficult to get that balance right?

I’ve always been a sucker for horns. When written well, horn lines are great anywhere; pop music, big band, hip hop. Having them in Ø Island was an easy choice for me. The synthesisers were a very deliberate choice as I wanted heavy, intense sounds but driven by keyboards and synths instead of guitars.

I also needed patches for different songs live, such as glockenspiels, out-of-tune synths, pads, piano, Rhodes, organs, echoed piano, ethereal sounds as well as triggers and samples. So between Tim running his keyboard through various programs on his laptop and my integration of a sample pad, it’s very easy to create a large electronic soundscape which is what drives Ø Island’s sound.

I was never concerned about balance as an issue. It was more of “I like all these wacky sounds. Let’s put them together and see what happens”.

And how did you go about capturing these songs in the studio and what was that experience like?

Studio time was great. I’d written charts, and everyone has such incredible skill that recording took no time at all. Each take was very clean and didn’t require much editing. We recorded the drums and synths together, and then the guitar and vocals were overdubbed after. I’ve recorded studio work for other bands previously and this was easily the least stressful recording session I’ve done. After the parts were laid down I spent some time overlaying samples, but the band got both songs recorded in a very short amount of time.

We also had a lot of coffee. Maybe that’s why it was done so quickly.

And are there more tunes from Ø Island that we can hear at the launch at Four5Nine on August 26? What more can we look forward to on the night?

Absolutely. Some of our songs stretch into synth-pop Wombats territory, some are quite prog rock-like, similar to Muse’s later albums; one is a bizarre, odd-time fiasco reminiscent of King Gizzard, there’s some ska, jazzish, soundscape ambience and cover or two as well. Ø Island really is an eclectic mix of songs and genres which shouldn’t fit together, but I’m doing what I can to integrate so many wildly different genres under the roof of one band, and the launch show will stretching into as many of these as we possibly can.

Also contrary to what I’m posting on social media, we unfortunately don’t have dinosaurs, caged tigers and pyrotechnics prepared for the launch. Budget restrictions, you know?