Opiuo Talks The Importance Of Mental Health & The Honor Of Being A Shambhala Staple

After celebrating its 21st anniversary this year it is safe to say that Shambhala is a music festival with a fair amount of history. Whether it be Longwalkshortdock’s enigmatic annual set at The Amp or Rich-E-Rich’s exquisite closer at The Fractal Forest on Monday morning, every Shambhalalovely has their favorite tradition. After yet another righteous set at The Fractal Forest this year, New Zealand’s groundbreaking bass innovator Oscar Davey-Wraight better known as Opiuo has established himself as a beloved staple of Shambhala in his own right.

As one of the most sought-after names in the world of dance music, Opiuo has broken musical boundaries with his eclectic production and completely unique live performances. 2018 marked a major milestone for Opiuo after his landmark performance at Red Rocks accompanied by the 20-piece Sygyzy Orchestra. The super-talented Kiwi has amassed a dedicated worldwide fanbase that happily follows the beatsmith from Red Rocks to Shambhala and around the globe.

Before his set at the Fractal Forest, Opiuo sat down to talk to us about a myriad of topics, from the honor of being a Shambhala staple to conducting an orchestra at Red Rocks, his early days growing up in New Zealand and the importance of mental health.

Sensible Reason: What does it mean for you to play Shambhala? You’ve become a staple here and a fan favorite people always look forward to your set.

Opiuo:  It’s a huge honor! I have a lot of respect for this party and I just love it. It’s a really refreshing place to come and play, everyone really gets it and really appreciates what you’re doing. It’s a trip [playing the Fractal Forest] and looking out and seeing everything, the crowd reacting the way they are.

SR: In between shows when you are traveling do you work on tracks?

O:  Traveling not so much. I think when I’m on the road I’m focused on being present and giving my attention to the shows mostly. I work on my live show, program lighting do whatever I need to do for the show that I’m touring at the time. When I’m off the road and everything about my live show is dialed up, it gives me a chance to collect myself and make music.

SR: Do you feel like that tinkering makes a big change in your sets from show to show?

O: Yes, I have an inability to do the same thing twice. I feel like I’m cheating people if I do. Even though it’s completely different people that are there the next day. I just feel like I need to keep it fresh for myself and I do a bunch of live things on the spot that helps me stay fresh as well.

SR: So adding new wrinkles into your live show is really important for you to keep doing what you’re doing?

O: Totally, I wouldn’t be doing it otherwise. I don’t know how people do that. If it works for them that’s great but I couldn’t do it.

SR: Do you consider yourself a perfectionist?

O:  Absolutely. I always disliked people telling me “yeah that’s how it’s done.” If something doesn’t make sense or work,  at some point someone has to come along and be different.  Even the smallest things, like “this is how the industry does this” or “this is how these guys do that.”  If that doesn’t make sense to you then try differently.

SR: Coming from a completely different part of the world how does it feel seeing your fanbase grow tighter and stronger here in Canada and the States? 

O:  It’s been an interesting Journey. you go through phases when there are fresh new things happening and you’re part of that for a while. But the cool thing is, just even for myself to feel okay and confident to do what I do and not try to follow someone or a trend that may boost my fan base for that moment.

I’m extremely lucky because, for the people who do follow me and follow what I do, the appreciation that they give it is pure. Actually, that’s something that I picked up on and I draw from that. I’m proud of the people who come to my shows.

SR: What was it like when you first started making music in New Zealand?

O:  I just started doing it, I got a program from my parents’ friend called Reason.  That would have been in the year like 2000. *laughs* yeah a long time ago. And I just mucked around made some dub tunes.  I think I started to release my first official stuff around 2007/2008,  maybe one or two songs a year. New Zealand had this awesome reality where it was kind of removed from the rest of the world. The cool thing is that when I move to Australia in 2005,  I got exposed to the artists who were coming on tour from the UK and the States. I started going to the shows and really experiencing electronic music. So I didn’t discover Bassnectar and Tipper until after I actually started making beats in New Zealand and then I said “holy s*** this is really inspirational.”

SR: So who were some of the first artists that you started listening to that got you into producing?

O: Well have you heard of Salmonella Dub?

SR: Nope

O: They are a New Zealand band and they were a big – big inspiration. In my early days, my parents used to have festivals on their land. They wouldn’t exactly throw them but they would provide the land. So when I was really young when I was like six or eight I was around a lot of live music. So from a very young age, I was going to these festivals and experiencing super powerful music. I think that really helped allow me to make the music that I wanted. I was never exposed to just one type of music. I got to see live music, I got to see the big energy trance music, Psy-trance, Hip Hop. So from a young age, I was surrounded by a lot of different music.

SR: Sticking with that eclectic view of music, what are the big differences for you between playing solo and playing with your live band?

O:  When I first put the band together I really wanted to extend my live performance possibilities and do it in my own way. I didn’t want to look at other people who were doing it [live bands] and do the same thing.

The pros of it are you’re with your homies on the road, you can make the music potentially more powerful. The cons of it are you can’t just play a track you just finished. As much as I never want money to be a driving force of what I do and I never want to focus on that, it’s a lot of money spent and you have to survive. So in between that [the live band tour], I’d also be doing solo shows just to pay my bills and do what I need to do.

But truly my belief is at the end of the day I want to be able to look back and say “I did it my way I did my thing.” I think it’s all about doing whatever inspires me at the moment. If it’s solo shows or band shows, whatever it is, it has to stay fresh.  Not just for me but for the fans who come out and see the band a few times and they want to see the solo show now or vice a versa.

I feel like that’s how I continue to evolve and that is what ultimately led me to do the 20 piece Orchestra.

SR: Really happy you brought that up because I wanted to ask you exactly what it is the meaning of Syzygy and what it was like performing at Red Rocks?

O: So Syzygy is the name of the release of the music but it also means a relationship between two correlating or opposing things. So you could say the sun and the moon were aligned in Syzygy. It doesn’t necessarily mean its a good or bad alignment it is just the nature of the two things. So the Syzygy could be between me and the music, you and the music, you and the orchestra, me and the orchestra whatever it is. Syzygy is the relationship between those two things.

Everything I’m doing this year’s based on that, so that’s the name of the orchestra and the name of the release.  And I feel like this is a really cool word. I really like the look of it.

SR: So what was that Red Rocks set like particularly?  How did it feel playing a headlining set of that nature at such a historic venue?

O: At the time, while you’re doing it I think it’s best not to let it get to you. I think it’s best to be focused on exactly what you’re doing and that’s exactly what I did. It went by really fast and watching the video back I felt like it was awesome. But at the time I walked off the stage and I had no emotion left.

You know, the adrenaline stops and people are coming up to me and telling me how amazing it was for them and what it meant for them. At that moment I think I sort of realized that a lot of that performance was for those people. As much as you do it for you and it is your own challenge if no one was there to react to it, was it even a thing?

SR: After you got off stage you said you were drained. Does that happen a lot after shows?

O:  Well there’s an extreme high every time. I have an addiction to playing shows. And then there’s a moment when if everyone goes out of the room or if you leave the room and suddenly you’re just by yourself, and you just left thousands of people. It’s at that moment when you have to realize that the highs and lows are there. And it’s those moments when you’re in the hotel room by yourself like “where did everybody go?” you really have to make sure that you are okay with that. And that you have everything that you need to get through those moments.

SR: Wow I never considered it from that point of view.

O: Yeah, it’s good because people are talking about it a lot more, but there’s a lot of depression in the music industry. A lot of people struggle with mental illness. I think part of it is you’re in this situation where everyone’s on a high in this beautiful moment and you’re potentially the catalyst and the person responsible for that moment. Then everybody disappears. You really have to make sure that you’re strong, balanced and healthy.

SR: So self-care must be really important to cope with that.

O: Yeah, I noticed it a few years ago when I was touring a lot. I was getting really tired lot more and really sick randomly and I realize I was just doing too much. I was just pushing it too hard. It’s also really important, for me at least, to surround myself with people that are one step removed from that reality. It’s really important too because it’s necessary to have days where you’re not in that world and you can take a step back and be you, just completely you.

Jabari Kefele

Back by popular demand.

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