Photos by Ciera McKissick of amfm
You may remember him as SPZYRKT, and it’s not that Xavier Omär is going out of his way ultra-intentionally to further himself from the moniker, but the organic evolution of an artist with something personal to share could not be more apparent than it is when he blesses the stage or steps into the studio. He has fully embraced the idea of true self-expression, largely limiting the amount of space between the artist on stage and the artist in real life. What you see is what you get, and what you get is Cee-Lo Green and Anderson .Paak vibes spliced with Frank Ocean and The Weeknd with a dash of De La Soul and a little Luther Vandross. Don’t get it twisted though: Omär has found his very own unique niche in the fairly newfound contemporary R&B genre that is ever-expanding and finds itself as everlasting as the wave Xavier Omär has created with his style of songwriting.
With co-signs from the likes of Jada Pinkett-Smith, the world is at the self-described perfectionist’s fingertips.
Xavier had his band with him for the second time ever for a memorable Lollapalooza performance Sunday on the Pepsi stage. He sat down with Gozamos before his opening set for the Little Dragon Lollapalooza after show this past Thursday at Concord Music Hall. We’re excited to have him back in Chicago. Good vibes…
Your first performance in Chicago was at The Emporium, an arcade bar up the street. If we were to walk over there right now, what game are you not ever losing at ever?
NBA JAM. Don’t wanna lose ever. Love playing basketball. It’s always been the sport for me.
I saw you you tweet the other day: “Derek Fisher over KD.” Clearly a response to Jordan’s Kobe over LeBron comments. Top 5 basketball players all-time then? You have to take out positions at this point to find the best 5 to ever play. You have to consider eras. The best basketball has been played between ’80 and now. So players who would dominate and be great between ’80 and now: I think Wilt Chamberlain would still be in there. You have to put Michael Jordan. I’m putting LeBron James. I’m putting Magic Johnson. And my fifth is just a toss-up in so many ways. Just don’t even truly know.
I’m assuming (based on the tweet that) Kobe’s not in the mix? It’s not Kobe. Kobe’s a remake, a copy. As great as he is, he’s a top 50 player, but I don’t need him. There’s already a him in there that he’s not better than, so I’m not putting him in there.
I read a quote from you that I absolutely LOVE in regards to your music:
“You could play for your kid, you could play for yourself, and everybody just be lifted. Would you care to elaborate on that?
I won’t even really want go to the studio unless I know I have a particular thing I want to talk about. At times you get to the studio and music brings that out of you, things that you didn’t even know you were thinking about subconsciously. I want everything that I put out to have substance. And I want this message to be able to work for as many people as possible. I don’t want to alienate anybody because of the way I’m speaking. You know, everything has its time and place. What I’m meant to do is meant for everybody. I don’t expect everyone’s music to be that way, and I don’t condemn anyone’s music that’s not that way, but I would like to convey a message that could help anyone. No matter your age, what you’re going through in life, the subject matter, I just want to be able to be a part of it. I think what I have to say is needed.
You’ve described SPZRKT, the Spazzy Rocket as a character. Do you feel like yourself now as an artist? Oh very much. Very much so. I mean, a lot more, as you can see now with the wrestling gear and all. I feel as if I’m fully able to be myself and not have to build this particular character up. I don’t know what people are expecting, but if I’m myself it kind of doesn’t matter, because I’m just going to give them me. And alot of times as that character I didn’t know what I was going to give them. More than anything, I want to share my music and hear people say my name in a way that gives them access to your actual name…a lot of times it makes you stay humble because it isn’t some moniker. It isn’t something you can hide behind. This isn’t some alter-ego. IT’S YOU. It’s no different than what your mother calls you.
Do you feel that the music you’ve put forth is more pure as a result of that? In a lot of ways I’ve never truly hidden the emotion of my writing, but now it does feel very much like you’re baring all. Records like Afraid and No Way Out allow me to go deeper with the lyrics, go deeper within myself and just share me and let that be the difference in the music. Not even so much how I create it or how it sounds, but the way it connects because it’s a place that alot of people won’t allow themselves to go and to pull from. A lot of R&B artists are, they’re pulling from their experiences, but they’re doing it in a way that still makes them look like they didn’t get played or nothing happened to them, but people who are honest, you’re seeing the success of someone like SZA right now. Some of the most honest music you’ve ever heard. And that’s something I’ve been doing and want to continue to do.
Take us through your process if you would from inception of idea to the decision to feature a song on an album…
It varies a lot because there are some songs where the chorus comes to me immediately, and there are other songs where it doesn’t. Sometimes it comes to me as I’ve written the verses. You think, “Oh I’ve written this great hook now let’s write around that.” Honestly that doesn’t happen for me a lot. The process varies. There’s no set way that it has to be. I won’t release a record unless when it’s finished I play it 10 times in a row. Then I know I really like it. I do like a minimum amount of people in the studio. A lot of times, if I can, I like to handle the stop and go of recording, so I don’t feel I’m frustrating the engineer. Let them just do their thing, because I stop a lot. I’m just such a perfectionist in my head. So I like to handle the stop and go. And then once it’s finished, the test is,”How many times do I play it back?”
The Everlasting Wave from last year: How has the reception been thus far?
(That project) was almost a 2 year thing. I was making songs, but I didn’t feel that it was going to connect with anyone. It sounded good, but I didn’t want good. I wanted GREAT, especially because it was the first project that I was doing after working with Sango. I didn’t want to say that the pressure was high, but it was, “Ok. Now you need to make a separation. Make a separation between mine and Sango’s sound, make my personal sound.” For two reasons: one for when we come back together in the future people can look forward to that particular sound. And then also, I could still be my own artist when I wasn’t working with him. So I had that in mind, and that was a really frustrating process. Because to that point, everything I did was with him. I’m excited to how people received it, because it did what I wanted it to do, and that’s differentiate my sound from Sango’s, and it made a mark on people’s hearts…
Talking about connectivity and how you connect with people through your music, how did you connect with Sango in the first place and decide to make music together?
It was twitter, so shout out to twitter. (laughs around the room) He found me on a website. I was just putting my music wherever I could. He found my twitter, and I guess I was doing lyrically what he needed someone to do vocally. You know? He was a producer, so I was saying what he needed to say. At the time we were just fresh kids trying to do something new, and we were like, “We should just do a project together.” It’s one of those perfect storms. And we’re working on our second one right now.
(I of course ask about a release date.
He says summer of next year 😉.)
How do you stay connected to your music after a year or two goes by from when you wrote it and then convey that to the crowd?
You have to believe in what you wrote to begin with. You have to love it, and if it’s real it’s gonna stay timeless. What Joe K said to me: “If it’s great, it will be timeless.” We’ll listen to it next year and it’ll still be just as amazing, and we were lucky that that happened for us. It’s just crazy that in this age two years feels like ages. That’s crazy. That’s just the time we’re in: I make a project or put out a single, and they’ll listen to the song and say, “Man that was great. I can’t wait for the next one.” I’m like, “Can you just listen to this one some more?” I came up against that even with The Everlasting Wave. People couldn’t wait for the next one, and I’m like, “You haven’t even unpacked everything on this one.”
Could you compare/contrast growing up in an era where we had to save up for an album maybe once a month, once every two weeks vs. now being an artist in this sort of disposable/iPod/streaming generation of music?
When we listened to music there was nothing telling us that they could give us another one right away. In our minds, when that music came out, that was it until…whenever. You would hold onto it, because that was it for awhile. At least a year, the way record companies worked. Now? Future might drop a tape every month.
How did you hook up with Little Dragon for this show tonight and then a couple east coast stops (Boston, DC, NY)? How’s it been going?
Shout out to my agent Ryan Thompson at CAA. They asked who I would like to go on tour with and they had ideas of people who I would fit with. And honestly our genres, this isn’t a fit. But because I grew up listening to Little Dragon, they’ve influenced me enough in a way that a handful of fans each night will walk away with what I do and want to hear more of it. The idea isn’t so much to just get up in front of people who already know me. Let’s get in front of some people who don’t and expand who knows me. They gave me that opportunity. They still had to ok that, so I’m very honored that they picked me to join them. I’m excited to be a part of this. I’ve had fun with Yukimi. They posted me performing last night in Cleveland on their Instagram, so it’s been really great.
You find yourself now in this contemporary R&B genre with a few other names, either intentional or not. Describe what that means to you and then the evolution of rhythm and blues as a whole, its inception to ’90s to contemporary…
It’s one of the most versatile genres. It’s more about the voice than it is even about the music. I’ll hear some songs off of Blond, and someone will tell me it’s R&B, and I’m like, “No. That’s not R&B at all.” But he’s an R&B artist. The voice defines it even more than the music does. People call Khalid an R&B artist, and his voice has every capability of it, but to me that man’s a pop artist. That man’s a pop star. I feel like I will continue to toe that line between pop and R&B. The voice is R&B and sometimes the record is really poppy, but sometimes the record is full of soul. I’m a drummer, so everything is based on feel. Combining those elements, I’ll always toe that line. You can think of two names right off the top of your head that do both: Frank Ocean and The Weeknd. It puts me in that class immediately. I’ll always touch as many corners of R&B as I can. The Everlasting Wave is eight different styles of R&B. I will continue to be that unpredictable guy, but the roots and the foundation you know what they are.
Touching on basketball earlier, you’re from San Antonio, so I assume you’re a Spurs fan.
Any predictions for their upcoming season? Can they beat Golden State?
With Kawhi on the court?
No. They can’t. This is why, because now we know that their 2nd best player doesn’t want to be there. See, I love this because I would be a sports journalist if I wasn’t making music. I personally, as great as Gregg Popovich is, this roster with our 2nd best player not wanting to be there, with Tony Parker injured and out until February, with Manu turning 40 recently, Pau Gasol is what, 38? It’s Kawhi Leonard and that’s it! We may not win 50 games this year. Maybe 46?
This has been said about the Spurs for the last 20 years though.
Yea, but all of those years it was Tim (Duncan), Tony Parker, and Ginobili. Now, Tim’s gone, Tony got hurt, and Manu’s 40. We don’t have one guy that could pick the others up. It’s Kawhi, and that’s it. Kawhi Leonard. The end. (laughs) And now he’s coming back from injury…
Keeping it somewhat sports/entertainment related, why Bret Hart and this particular jacket?
Well, growing up my favorite wrestler was Shawn Michaels. This jacket was just cooler than the Shawn Michaels one. Flat out. It (the Shawn Michaels jacket) had mullet Shawn Michaels, right before he became The Heartbreak Kid. The color scheme just wasn’t as cool. This color scheme is amazing. Watching Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels growing up, Bret Hart vs. Stone Cold when they did the double turn at Wrestlemania, The Hart Foundation, Owen Hart, British Bulldog, Jim Neidhart, all those guys, even Flyin’ Brian Pillman when he was with them. Bret Hart was their leader. I felt like I knew Canada because of Bret Hart. So that’s the reason for this coat. He’s literally one of the best wrestlers of all-time, so I’m just representin’…