BACKSTORY: A multi-instrumentalist previously lending his musical abilities to My Dad, Nervous Passenger, The Para-medics, and literally a dozen other Chicago-based experimental rock groups
FROM: Southern California, originally, and raised in Chicago’s south suburbs
YOU MIGHT KNOW HIM FROM: His place behind the drums alongside seemingly every band who ever opened a math rock show in the past seven years
NOW: Gearing up to open a handful of summer shows for Speedy Ortiz in support of last summer’s DROOL, and planning a new record with his experimental jazz band Monobody
Nnamdi Ogbonnaya knows exactly what it means to embrace the entire breadth of his city’s storied music scene. The Chicago-based musician has less in common with the Kanyes and Corgans who’ve emigrated from the Windy City since their rise to fame and more in common with the Chances and Tweedys in his integration of the city into his music. Since he established himself there in the early 2010s, Ogbonnaya’s drummed or played bass in over a dozen experimental rock bands whose genres range from punk to jazz to math rock (typically an unclassifiable blend of the three), while working on solo material generally reflective of an interest in hip-hop.
Yet his solo discography is entirely singular. Ogbonnaya’s most recent album, last summer’s DROOL, is his most genre-focused recording to date, comprised of thirteen tracks inherently hip-hop in their having a beat and being rapped—but the likeness essentially ends there. Instead aligning more with his professed interest in The Simpsons and Looney Tunes since childhood, the vocals on DROOL often sound like an animated series based on TV on the Radio’s Dear Science; like the rubber-hose arms of the cover’s animated Nnamdi, Ogbonnaya’s distorted vocals weaving in and out of hard-hitting SoundCloud beats nearly equates to the unpredictable time signatures he’s mastered in his concurrent career as a math rock drummer.
“I don’t think there’s anything in my brain distinguishing or separating any of those weird artforms or influences, like cartoons.”
“I think a lot of math rock is built off of messing with people’s perceptions, because people wanna nod on two and four and have a natural flow to things,” Ogbonnaya wearily posits from his Chicago apartment, where he’s slowly recovering from SXSW in Austin, Treefort in Boise, and, most recently, a twenty-four-hour road trip back home to Chicago. “So in that aspect, math rock is this joke where it’s like, ‘Oh, right when you think you’re gonna get it, they switch to something else.’ I think you can do that lyrically without jarring the whole song and switching the beat.” As evidenced by the tracklist’s unconventional stylization (titles include “let gO Of my egO” and “nO drOOl”), DROOL’s originality is largely derived from its moment-to-moment rejection of linearity.
Where most musicians would wallow in nostalgia to communicate ideas originating in childhood, Ogbonnaya’s music feels like a continuation of it, delivering lines influenced by city living, personal relationships, and the spectre of police brutality through terminology and enunciations reflective of his illicit time in front of the TV as a kid. “I wasn’t allowed to watch much TV, but you always find a way to do a thing you’re not supposed to do if you really want to,” he says of his formative years watching shows that, in retrospect, were “super graphic and wild, just kind of bombarding me with different concepts and ideas and sounds.” In other words, common themes of the local news presently influencing the lyrical content of his music.
“I don’t think there’s anything in my brain distinguishing or separating any of those weird artforms or influences, like cartoons,” Ogbonnaya clarifies, though this statement also proves applicable to much more than animated TV shows. OutKast and Young Thug are among the hip-hop influences he lists, citing two definitively weird generations of the genre. Last but not least: “Mystery Men!” Ogbonnaya blurts out after conjuring up the perfect film to liken his music to. Instinctively defending his choice, he inadvertently sums up the telos of his music: “It’s kind of cartoonish, but it also makes you feel something.” FL