When KYS finally gets I Exist alumni Aaron ‘Oblivious Maximus’ Osborne on the phone for a chat, it’s a Friday afternoon and the Mental Cavity guitarist/co-vocalist is in the car on his commute home. To the background of absent-minded lane shuffling, idle engine-revving, and some end-of-the-week road-rage shenanigans, we put the hard word on Osbourne to find out the secrets behind the band’s first full-length album, what makes a good riff, and his undying love/bromance with NOLA sludge merchants Eyehategod.
You’ve described the intent behind Mental Cavity as “basically an even mix of all the band shirts that [you] wear.” Compared to your work in I Exist, what were you guys trying to do differently with Mental Cavity?
Well, I guess a big factor in Mental Cavity is trying not to care anymore about what people think (laughs). I think something that I Exist got in to the habit of doing—which I think we’d all admit—was that we started worrying a lot about, after you’ve been a band for a while and people like you, what people like. What people like or don’t like about your music. Whereas Mental Cavity was easy; we were brand new and no one had heard us, so we could do whatever we wanted.
So, that was definitely a cool feeling, and I think it made the songs come out a lot easier too. We weren’t stressing and labouring over the music as such; just jamming the riffs, and if we liked them that was it—they were done. Since we announced this new record [‘Aneurysm’], a lot of people have been talking about how quickly we wrote it. But if I Exist didn’t care about what people thought about us a little more, then we probably would have written records as quick as this (laughs).
For the three of us that were in I Exist [Osbourne, Alex Young (bass/vocals) and Simon Murphy (drums)], we all just wanted to keep playing songs and I Exist can’t really do anything right now. So, we just kept going, and this is what came out of it. This is a result of necessity, and just not caring about what people thought of us.
Awesome. I think there’s definitely a lot of benefits to have a ‘clean state’ creatively—not just for music, but for any form of art really. If you don’t have the weight of expectations, and any kind of guiding track, then you end up with something very organic and free.
Yeah, that’s exactly how it felt for us.
You mentioned before how quickly the band has put out new material this year, and in my review for ‘Aneurysm,’ I talked about how there was (at least to me anyway) a noticeable progression from your debut EP to the songwriting on ‘Aneurysm’. What’s your take on that Aaron? Do you think there’s progression in the material on ‘Aneurysm’? And, if so, whereabouts in the process did that come about?
There’s definitely a lot of progression. With the EP that we put out at the start of the year, that was literally like the first six songs—actually, it’s eight songs with the intro and outro — but those six songs were the first six songs that I wrote for this band, and they’re pretty much unchanged from the demos that I did of them.
Whereas, on ‘Aneurysm,’ Rohan [Todd]—who plays guitar for us as well and has been in a bunch of bands [Loss Of Self, Dead Kings] from Canberra, but also filled in for I Exist on a number of occasions—wrote four of the new songs. So, there was the added bonus of having somebody else contributing, as opposed to last time where I basically wrote everything myself. And then with the benefit of Rohan helping us on this new one as well, and getting the first release out of our system, we could focus up a bit more and realise what we actually wanted the band to sound like, and how we wanted our singing to sound like as well.
I think, at least for me and Alex, who do most of the singing, that the singing makes up a lot of this band. Whereas, with I Exist, we didn’t think about the singing much. It was more about the music, and then the singing would just go on top. But with Mental Cavity, we’d try to plan it out. Alex does most of his singing with melody, so we wrote a lot of those melodies, and I do most of the yelling. So, I wanted to try and make my yelling be some ‘high’ yelling and some ‘low’ yelling—not just doing the same thing the whole time. Neither he [Alex] or I had really sung much before, so we just wanted to try and make sure that it was as good as possible. We spent a lot more time recording the album than we did with the EP, so I think that helped a lot too.
I’d definitely agree that the progression on ‘Aneurysm’ really comes down to the vocals, and the ‘tag-team’ effort from yourself and Alex. One of my main gripes with a lot of hardcore, or metal, or whichever mix of those genres you prefer, is that instrumentally bands can sound great and have heaps of cool hooks, but then vocally there’s a very ‘one-note’ delivery. The vocals will lack variation and dynamics, and they don’t keep things interesting. But with Mental Cavity, there’s so much going on vocally: highs, lows, gutturals, cleans, melodies; heaps of different shit, which keeps me as a listener wondering ‘What comes next?’
(Laughs.) Well, thanks. And with that, certainly, the benefit for us is that everyone in this band listens to lots of different music as well. We’re not just listening to metal. I think that, over the last couple of years, especially in the scene that we play in, there was this big resurgence of having no clean singing at all. Even with I Exist—which is funny, because I Exist is probably the best band that would lend itself to having clean singing, because it’s just stoner rock riffs (laughs). But that’s not how our singer [Jake Willoughby, I Exist lead vocalist] sings.
I guess that we’ve played a lot of shows, and toured with a lot of bands outside of that scene, which probably influenced us a bit. But I mean, even stuff with bands like Tragedy, it’s not clean singing, but they have two singers. All the bands that we love, they might have a primary vocalist, but then they’ll have a really strong backup vocalist as well. Alex and I did all of the backing vocals for I Exist, and I think on the Mental Cavity EP, you can tell that it’s just two guys who do backing vocals (laughs). So, I hope that on this album it feels like we’ve tried a bit harder (laughs).
Alright, I’m going to put you on the spot now Aaron… Let’s get down to brass tacks and talk about ‘riffs’.
(Laughs). Ok. Let’s do it.
A few questions: What makes a good riff? Where do they come from? What’s your song-writing set up like? And do you have any rituals or processes you go through to shape the material for Mental Cavity? Tell us all of your secrets.
(Laughs) Alright, you might need to prompt me again for each one of those. But for the first one…
What makes a good riff?
For me, it’s staying in your head. It has to have a hook. Like, you can think that a riff is the sickest thing in the world, when you’re playing it and thinking it’s the coolest thing ever when you’re jamming it with the band, but then it has to also be good with the singing, be good with the music. The thing for me with writing riffs, is that often times—and this is definitely a trait of the riff writing in I Exist as well—I would write the riff and think ‘This is the best fucking thing in the world; nothing is going to beat this,’ and then we’d put singing over it, or we’d put a lead over it, and it would sound way better than it did before. Or sometimes, the one that I thought was the most boring, like the middle-of-the-ground or the bridge riff, ended up standing out and being the best part of the song.
I feel like that a lot of riffs, like the best riffs I’ve ever heard, are like that too. They’re really memorable: they’ve got a great hook; they don’t need to be a chorus, they can be a verse. If it’s catchy, and it sticks with you, then that’s a good riff to me. Ok, what was number two?
Where do they [i.e. the good riffs] come from? Where do you get ‘riff-spiration’?
I think… boredom maybe? (Laughs.) I tend to write the best songs when I’m not thinking about it. When I set out, to sit down and write a song, you know force myself to go to the guitar, I just come up with bullshit (laughs). But when I’m just mucking around, that’s when the bets riffs will come. I think for this record, and they EP, and pretty much every I Exist record too, the ‘standout’ songs or whatever were always written like a week before we go to record.
On ‘Aneurysm,’ the first proper song ‘Dissenter’ and the outro riff, I wrote literally a week before went in to record, and they’re two of my favourite riffs. Like the chorus riff in ‘Dissenter’ and that really low riff in the outro—the outro one we never even jammed, and ‘Dissenter’ I think we ran through once at jams. So, I’d probably put it down to boredom and necessity (laughs).
That’s sick. In terms of your song-writing, do you have any rituals or processes you go through?
I tend to try and write whole songs. I don’t like to write a riff, and then try and write a whole song around it. Because, again, if I try to do that it mucks up real hard for me. I try and write either a really good chorus, or an outro/intro, and then sort of build around it. Like, that’s the thing, I’m not that good at guitar (laughs). I’m only good at playing the songs that I write. Every band that I’ve played guitar in, I’ve either written the songs, had some input on the songs, or had some assistance in being able to play them. So, when I play guitar, I just write songs. The only other songs I can play are Eyehategod songs because they’re the easiest songs in the world (laughs).
I think with our band, people think that we’d get really drunk, or smoke a tonne of weed, and write songs. But in reality, it’s when my dog isn’t being annoying, or when I can get five minutes to myself, and I go to my spare room and play guitar through my little practice amp, that I write songs. And I’ve been writing songs through the same shitty practice amp, in my bedroom, for like fifteen years (laughs).
See? This is what I wanted Aaron: to pull back the curtain on the rockstar fantasy and get to the cold, hard reality.
(Laughs). You’re welcome.
Cheers. Now, to wrap up, let’s do some end-of-the-year list shit.
Sweet. Let’s start with: What’s your favourite record of 2017, thus far?
The new Pallbearer record, ‘Heartless’. That’s probably the best one.
Man, I love that record. It’s fantastic.
Yeah, I mean there’s been a bunch of other really great records that have come out. But ‘Heartless’ came out in like January, or maybe February [March 24th – Ed.] … I can’t remember, and it’s still the one I’m listening to the most. It gets a play like every week or two weeks. And I’d lump Pallbearer into being one of my favourite bands, like confirmed as a great, great band.
And then I saw them recently when they were here, and they played every single song I wanted to hear off this record, and off the last record [2014’s ‘Foundations of Burden’]. It was fucking awesome.
I was just about to lead in to that actually. I also caught them on that same tour in July this year, at the Brisbane Crowbar show. I absolutely love ‘Foundations…’ and I thought ‘Heartless’ was incredible on first listen. Then seeing them live, they were just stupid heavy, ran through all the hits, and played for well over an hour. I was so fucking stoked.
Yeah, this time and the last time they came out , they played at the Northcote Social Club in Melbourne, which I can walk to from my house. So, not only was it fantastic musically, but I could get drunk and stumble home (laughs).
That’s perfect. Now you might have already answered this next one, but: What’s your favourite show, either as a musician or punter, of 2017?
Well, Pallbearer was definitely sick. But, when I went to America earlier this year — and this isn’t really a ‘show’ — I’m literally the biggest Eyehategod fanboy in the world, and somehow, over the course of the last ten years, I’ve sweated myself in to being friends with those guys, which is just the dumbest thing to me. Like, if you went back and told thirteen-year-old me that that would happen, I would have completely lost my mind. But when I was in America, I went to an Eyehategod band practice.
Holy shit. That’s wild.
Yeah, it’s probably the best thing that’s ever going to happen to me (laughs). It was like a show just for me (laughs). It was killer.
That’s awesome. Now let’s move to the more difficult questions: What’s your favourite record of all time?
‘Take as Needed for Pain’ by Eyehategod is the best album of all time. Either that or ‘Dopesmoker’ by Sleep. I mean, those records are the kind where you have to settle down and strap yourself in. Obviously because one goes for an entire hour (laughs). And to be fair, in that way, I kind of prefer ‘Jerusalem’ by Sleep, which is the cut-up version of it [‘Dopesmoker’], because I can listen to it in segments.
Good choices. Now, the last and perhaps the most important question of all: What’s the best riff of all time?
Oh… that’s hard. There are many ‘best riffs’ of all time. One of favourite riffs, and one which has probably influenced maybe everything I’ve ever liked, is the main riff off of ‘A National Acrobat’ by Black Sabbath. It is the perfect stoner rock riff. I cannot fathom for the life of me, how ‘Tony’ [Frank Anthony] Iommi came up with that riff.
No one ever seems to know or care about that song, because it’s like track two or three off ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’. But it’s like the slowest, grooviest thing; tuned to E so it sounds fucking killer. It’s one of those riffs, where I’ll be drunk or whatever, telling people how great that riff is, and everyone knows it when you play it to them, but no one ever really thinks of it. They always think of ‘Paranoid’ or ‘Sweet Leaf’ or ‘Iron Man’ whatever. But it’s the perfect riff for me.
Sick. Well, those are all the questions I have for you, Aaron. Thanks for the chat, and I’ll let you get back to your commute.
Cheers. Have a good one dude!