EXCLUSIVE | Ole Koretsky predicts solo performers 'will become prevalent' due to Covid-19 impact
Koretsky has already released singles 'The One' & 'Call It A Day' and plans to drop his upcoming album 'MMXX' this July if all goes according to plan
The multifaceted NYC-based artiste and producer Olé Koretsky is best known for his work with Andy Rourke (of The Smiths fame) in their DJ outfit and band Jetlag. When the late The Cranberries’ vocalist Dolores O’Riordan (who was Koretsky's girlfriend) joined, the trio changed their name to DARK and released their critically-hailed debut album 'Science Agrees' in 2016. Koretsky also toured with The Cranberries and recorded two albums with them. However, in January 2018, before The Cranberries released their Grammy-nominated album, 'In The End' (2019), O’Riordan tragically passed away, which prompted Koretsky to take some time off. “I spent a couple years self-isolating,” he explained, but ultimately, he emerged with a new outlook on life and a handful of songs. “I felt it was time for me to shift focus and rejoin society,” he revealed. MEA WorldWide (MEAWW) recently spoke with him in an exclusive interview about his single 'The One' and his upcoming album 'MMXX' - another brand-new single off that album, 'Call It A Day' has just been released.
In your own words, how did you first start getting involved in the music scene? What made you realize you wanted to pursue music full time and how far back was this?
In the '80s/'90s I was alone a lot as a kid. I skipped school often and I’d spend my lunch money on cassette tapes. There was a pharmacy near our Brooklyn flat that had a discount music rack. I still have a Beach Boys compilation and Ray Davies’ 'Return to Waterloo' that I bought there for $2. I got a lot of classical music and jazz because it was the most affordable. I’d also buy blank cassettes to tape radio DJs and dub my downstairs neighbor’s vinyl collection. At that time I was exposed to a lot of rock, house music, and hip hop and I fantasized about being involved in of all of it. I had no social skills or any kind of skills so music was an easy way to find common ground with people. There was a music shop across the street from the pharmacy (I think it was called Maggio’s.) I spent many hours in there looking at instruments and equipment. I stayed very quiet and didn’t touch anything. I had a big shift around age 14. I discovered punk, new wave, and The Smiths. I looked old enough to sneak into Manhattan nightclubs, and my mother bought me a 4 track recorder all around the same time. I would borrow random instruments, guitars, drum machines, etc from friends and dig in for weeks at a time learning to write and record. I was in a few bands and played a lot of gigs through the '90s. I couldn’t afford to go to college though I might’ve really enjoyed it since I like learning and reading. I didn’t have any prospects or ideas of what to do with my life. I developed all sorts of problems and wasted a lot of my time and my health. Music was the only constant but even that started to fade into the background. It wasn’t until I met Andy in my 20s that I got excited about being creative again.
When did you first meet Andy Rourke and realize that you both could get a project like Jetlag off the ground? Did you ever get starstruck in the early days of meeting famous musicians?
I met Andy in the early 2000s while I was going through a really difficult time. Music aside, he’s one of the kindest human beings I’ve met. I don’t have siblings or many friends so Andy filled that void in my life immediately whether he was prepared for that or not. I look up to him the way one would look up to an older brother. The kind of brother that has cool friends, plays in a cool band and tells you about all the exciting adventures to be had out there in the big world. I was always oblivious whether someone has or hasn't got money or recognition but I would always tune in to people if they have a special quality about them. Andy has a very special quality about him. Of course, I was excited about him being a member of the Smiths. The Smiths are brilliant and Andy is one the best players in the game, full stop... but that doesn’t define a friendship. He’s always been there for me like family. We didn’t do any work together until he moved to NY in 2009. We became next-door neighbors and recorded a lot of music. It would be interesting to dig up some of those recordings now. We never had a game plan. We were having fun and just being free and creative. We did a handful of live shows as Jetlag, a ton of DJ gigs, and we enjoyed remixing other people’s music. We talked about releasing original material but our energy was just too scattered to get from point A to point B.
We all dearly miss Dolores O’Riordan, who was an iconic and beloved singer. How are you coping with the loss?
I miss Dolores every moment. I don’t think this process has an end or a final outcome. I’m eternally aware of her presence and her absence. I’m well aware of the magnitude of her talent as a performer and songwriter but I didn’t know her as a rock star. We enjoyed a lot of the same music and we worked well together but all that was secondary. She had an amazing ability to see the beauty in the most mundane things. She had a boundless capacity for experiencing the fullness of life with all the extremes and in-betweens. She is grace and glory in every possible way and she made me laugh a lot. I just hope I was able to give her even a fraction of the love and comfort that she gave me while we were together. Bless her soul and her family and God love her fans.
What can you tell us about the making of 'MMXX'? Did you foresee the year 2020 going this unexpectedly, with the coronavirus ravaging New York in particular? When does 'MMXX' release, and how many songs will be on it?
I’m normally hyper-productive. I spent all of 2017 recording three separate projects in between touring, but I haven’t worked, played, or recorded much of anything since January 2018. I only had three new song ideas and I just decided to share them. I was initially just gonna post the songs on SoundCloud and move on but it was suggested that I put together an EP and make it available on streaming services, because, why not? So I started digging through my demos and put together a little package. Of course, I had no idea that Covid-19 was about to hit, but perhaps I felt something subconsciously because I had never worked as quickly as I did between October 2019 and January 2020. I phoned a friend (a brilliant engineer called Mike Dextro) and said I’m gonna need a lot of your time and energy to help me deliver these five songs and we’re doing this right now. As soon as I had the idea and before the songs were even finished, I started calling mix engineers and video producers and I’m amazed at how patient and understanding everyone was with me. I felt a real sense of urgency, like if I don’t do this now, I’ll never do it. I flew down to Mexico to shoot a video in November. I spent December mixing and editing two other videos. I lined up all the logistics and distribution just in time to fly to the Grammys at the end of January. I spent a lovely week with family and the band in Los Angeles and then, just days after returning to New York, all the madness began. My friend Mike, the main engineer on this EP, became infected almost immediately. He’s on the mend now, but he gave us a real fright. I wasn’t sure how to proceed but with the blessing of my friends and family, I decided to keep going. God willing, 'MMXX' should be available in July.
Who are you primarily addressing on the song 'The One'? Was there a specific person or personality you were delivering these lines to? What was the thought process or mindset behind writing this song?
Most of my ideas start with a melody or guitar progression. That initial idea might get stuck in my head and create a mood. If a distinct mood or feeling gets attached to the idea then I kind of know if it’s worth developing further. At that point, I’d add lyrics or start thinking about structure and arrangement. Once there’s a mood, the lyrics just flow. I’m sure that specific experiences affect the music but it’s more like free association with the actual words. While I was piecing together 'The One', a lot of religious imagery would pop into my head. I thought about Jesus for example. It’s not a song about religion at all but it’s just how I process things. It’s a snapshot of a feeling but it doesn’t necessarily refer to anything specific.
How does your background as a multi-instrumentalist help shape your current sound? Are there any artistes you would cite as musical inspirations?
Working alone lets me keep my own pace and hours and having instruments and a studio at my fingertips enables me to lay down ideas very quickly and allows me to get into production and arranging process very early on. I occasionally need to bring in a drummer but it’s no big deal. By the time I share an idea with someone, usually all the parts, vocals, and the general feel of the song is already there. I might invite other musicians and singers to come in and improve the track. Once I feel good about a song, I’ll share it with another producer or mix engineer and ask them how do we get to the next level. If they don’t like a vocal take or want to make some changes, I wouldn’t have an ego trip about that. I’m grateful that someone else is willing to listen and make suggestions and help me improve. It’s a perpetual learning process and I’m slowly but surely becoming a little more confident and skillful as I go. As far as artistes that inspire me, there’s too many. Bernard Sumner and Robert Smith influenced how I relate to pop music from a young age. I pay attention to people like Will Sergeant, Nile Rodgers, and Johnny Marr when I play guitar. I don’t pretend to be a player of that caliber but I’m hyper-aware of their work. I’ve always drawn ideas from electronic music and hip hop. Erik Satie, Angelo Badalamenti, Jimmy Edgar, and James Murphy inspire me. We could go on for days because the inspiration is everywhere.
'The One' is quite haunting and dark, despite also having a deeper, almost positive message of resilience and resolve. What was the process of combining these elements like, and are there any challenges that go along with it?
I don’t know. Combining elements sounds like alchemy. I try to create an atmosphere or an environment and just hope that it resonates with the next person. One person might hear despair and another person might hear hope. The fact that someone is listening and feeling anything at all is in itself a reward.
'MMXX' is described as having a ‘darkwave electronica’ sound that ‘echoes a deeply intense and aching beauty’. Where do you draw inspiration from when putting projects like this together?
I tried to keep the production somewhat consistent. Maybe there’s something sad going on throughout. I wasn’t intentionally trying to tap into darkwave electronica but I suppose it’s something that’s just baked into everything I do. It’s not a conscious effort. I put some thought into which songs to put on the EP. I hope they make sense in context together. When I work on songs, I usually don’t know which release or which project they’re for or if they’ll ever be released at all. There are two songs on 'MMXX' that I intended to go on the third DARK record but, of course, that didn’t work out. I just work away at my own pace and put all that business and marketing nonsense out of my head
Do you think people might relate to the sound and thematic elements of 'MMXX' more so now, given the current situation of the world? Is there any song in particular on the EP that you think people might resonate most with?
I think most of what I do is a bit dark and might sound depressing on the surface. If someone is going through a difficult time, things tend to become exaggerated or amplified. In recent years I’ve been making an effort to keep my intentions clear and positive. While there’s been no fundamental change in my style or delivery, on the metaphysical side I make sure that there’s positive energy attached to everything I share with my friends, family, or potential listeners. It would be brilliant if even a few people found some comfort in something that I did.
'MMXX', being the Roman numerals for 2020. Other than the pandemic, is there anything particular about the year that you would moniker the EP that? Why is the year important to you? Or is there any link to ancient Rome in the music?
I didn’t intend on making an EP. It was very much the case of “oops, I have an EP." Calling the project Koretsky was simple enough. It’s my surname and Dolores really liked the feel of the phonetics. She even briefly floated the idea for calling the band Koretsky before we settled on DARK. I was undecided about if this release should have a title or not. I wasn’t aware of Corona and I wasn’t thinking about Ancient Rome when I made the decision. I just wanted some kind of identifier and I thought I would just sign and date it like one would do to a painting - Koretsky 2020 or MMXX. I went this route specifically because I didn’t want to provide a meaningful title. It was a purely aesthetic consideration. While nowhere near as creative, perhaps on some level I was inspired by the packaging and presentation of some of the old PIL records.
Do you think the coronavirus pandemic is changing the music industry substantially? If future lockdowns take place, do you think we could see a return to more acoustic-based music or perhaps see an increase in the usage of electronic equipment since the media is going more digital?
The business around music was already evolving very quickly so I find it difficult to imagine where we go from here. As far as big studios go, I don’t miss them and I’ve gotten accustomed to working remotely with other artistes for years now. I’ll occasionally need to track with a live band in a proper room but that’s not really what’s at stake here. I still have access to musicians, engineers, rooms, and gear. It’s just less convenient and requires more planning than usual. What concerns me more is that a great deal of artistes make their bread from tours. Unquestionably, creative people will always find an outlet for their ideas but they’re not all guaranteed to find the revenue streams to pay their bills and feed their kids. There is never a shortage of beauty or creativity in the world even if the delivery systems are flawed, but the effects of an artiste’s ability (or lack thereof) to engage with their audience could be very serious.
Surely the music execs and business heads are scurrying and scrambling on every level to adapt and offer up various business models but we’re certainly in for a bit of change. I don’t mind the internet and I could see myself getting into creating content and interacting with people virtually. I enjoy working with an acoustic guitar as much as a drum machine, as I do alone or with a group. Many artistes will land on their feet and will continue to create cool things but the idea of social distancing at a concert is a very strange one. Financials aside, playing to a venue at half capacity is a sad proposition. The energy exchanged between a performer and a crowd is very real and it’s not pleasant to have to put that on the line. If outbreaks and subsequent lockdowns persist, it’s easy to imagine that solo performers will become prevalent and that it would be far less convenient to exist as a rock group or a collective of any kind. Recording live drums and groups of people tend to be pricier than solo acoustic performances or electronic ones, so taking ticket sales off the table might really hurt some of the smaller artistes. A lot of people are scared and anxious right now. Let’s do our best to be kind to each other and things might look up before we know it.