Oneida on their 10 Best Songs

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best Oneida songs

Oneida‘s music is an exercise in taking psychedelic music to strange frontiers. For 25 years the band have been pushing at the edges, taking on different forms and approaches with each permutation, from frantic synth-punk to hypnotic krautrock repetition, eerie dirges to minimalist ambient-drone pieces. It’s always changing and mutating, never the same as the previous incarnation, rarely broadcasting where the next phase headed.

Case in point: The band’s new album, Success, being released via Joyful Noise, finds the band embracing a guitar-driven sound in a way that feels novel—which isn’t something that you can often say about rock music made with guitars anymore. With Oneida, however, there’s always a unique twist, an off-kilter angle, and a different approach.

Ahead of the release of Success, we spoke to co-founders Fat Bobby and Kid Millions about their picks for the 10 best Oneida songs, which together showcase just how diffuse and unpredictable their sound has become over the years.

“Sheets of Easter” (2002)

from Each One Teach One (Jagjaguwar)

Bobby: It’s one that I think has had a lot of impact on how a lot of people perceive Oneida, and it’s been a great opportunity for us to present one side of who we are very, very clearly. Most of our records have music that’s pretty long, but I think that song provides something else, as well.

Kid: It was different in that it was distilled. It was kind of, it felt like a breakthrough for us, because it felt like something to do that would be ridiculous, but true to our core. We would open sets with it when we first started playing it, and people really connected with it right from the beginning. And some people not, but…

Bobby: …which is understandable. But that’s true of our music, often. That’s a song that people have approached me, and other members of the band, and described personal experiences they’ve had with it. I think that’s a pretty good barometer for putting it on a Greatest Hits. And if we were to issue this Greatest Hits, it’d have to go first. That’s the way it is.

Treble: It has a hypnotic quality to it. Like the closer you get to the middle you’re just vibrating.

Kid: Good!

Bobby: Good! It has a very specific experience for each of us when we play it. I’ve had people talk to me about giving birth to it. About kicking habits to it. I think it has an impact on people for whom it’s the right thing.

Kid: There was a video a friend of ours sent, of his child, he has a little boy. And he was playing him “Sheets of Easter” because it was calming down a tantrum. The kid was really psyched to hear it, but you can see the tears that were streaming down his face drying. (Laughs) There’s lots of utility to it.

Bobby: It’s a practical piece of culture!

“New Head” (2001)

from Anthem of the Moon (Jagjaguwar)

Bobby: That song to me, which is the first song on the album Anthem of the Moon, has the perfect balance of energy, form, concept, chaos, like all of those things that are really important to who Oneida is, are all in there. It’s all presented quickly and in my personal experience, perfectly. Like, there’s a simplicity and a form and pushing at edges you don’t expect. It’s all there and saying something about transformation and achieves it really fast, so why stick around.

“All Data Lost” (2015)

from Positions (Rocket)

Bobby: That’s a cover, a song by Chrome. 

Kid: It’s kinda like something that we released and it’s almost sometimes I’m kinda like, “this could really just be an Oneida song,” even though there’s clearly a heart and it’s good to give credit where credit’s due. It just kind of felt like it became something unique and our own. Chrome is just one of those special bands that doesn’t really make sense. Like, how did it happen? How did it exist? All those early self-released records are so special and weird, and very DIY, in an experimental way that still has hooks and an aura that’s very compelling. 

Bobby: That’s like people who, like they were pursuing their own vision, and then when they splintered they pursued their own vision and it’s all worth following. Even if it doesn’t speak to you, those are minds that are always pushing somewhere new. In a lot of ways that’s kind of like the other shoe dropping after “New Head.” I think of them as both being about this sort of transformational mental experience but they take completely different approaches, except the form is the same. The form of the two songs—obviously it’s not exactly the same, but they’re kind of like two versions of the same thing, hitting the same notes. Reflecting who our band is at different times. One is around 2000, and the other is…when did we do that? Around 2015, I think. 

Treble: Did the similarities occur to you at the time?

Kid: No way. (Laughs) 

Bobby: I don’t listen to much of our music, I like this one because it’s in conversation with somebody else’s music I like, but it’s amazing. 

“The Human Factor” (2009)

from Rated O (Jagjaguwar)

Kid: This one’s cool because it’s as gnarly as I feel like we could get. I’m sure we could get more, but I just remember, I did the vocals, and trying to get, it really doesn’t sound like really extreme vocal moments of black metal and death metal. I don’t love to revisit my lyrics and vocals, but it brings me back to the creation point which might have been a tough time. But then it became kind of fun to perform. So we also did a live version and released it on a 12-inch that actually got to the ears of Julian Cope somehow, so it resonated with him, and I think it’s a very distilled piece of the band that maybe isn’t really considered. No one’s going to take our band as seriously as we do. People are like “Krautrock band, obsessed with repetition,” and yeah, cool, for sure. But there are so many other aspects to us and so this is one where I don’t think you can play this for someone and if they heard it, they wouldn’t name us.

Treble: It feels more ominous than Oneida songs usually sound.

Kid: Yeah, I can see that.

“Each One Teach One” (2002)

from Each One Teach One (Jagjaguwar)

Bobby: That one’s just fucking awesome. If you put that on, that album’s from 2002, it sounds like an awesome, strange piece of rock ‘n’ roll music that fits, whenever, wherever. And we still play it live and it moves around in terms of what it sounds like, but come on.

Kid: It’s very hard. I’ve heard other bands talk about how they never quite execute something, like there’s always more to do. I always feel like we could keep playing “Each One Teach One,” we could play it every show, and I’d never feel like  yeah we did it, it’s done. There’s so many layers to execute and make happen. Even rhythmically it’s weird. Bobby and I have been playing together longer than the band, and the kind of rhythmic center of it [imitates rhythm], it doesn’t quite work [snaps fingers]—it works for us because we do it, and it sounds amazing, but it’s a unique little language between us that I think is really cool.

Bobby: The song itself is a pretty solid statement of purpose. So it has that going for it.  

“Absolute II”

from Absolute II (Jagjaguwar)

Bobby: That’s an important piece of music. I don’t know if you could call it a song. From 2007 to 2010 or ‘11, we released a series of releases that were designed in threes. The project was called ‘Thank Your Parents,’ and there was a record called Preteen Weaponry, a single-long composition divided into three parts. Then in the middle was Rated O, which was a triple LP, and then the last piece of that project was Absolute II, which was four pieces and the last one was the title piece. Where it comes in our life as a band is really monumental because we’d been playing music like that together for a couple of years, and we had our own studio space, The Ocropolis, which was a really great resource but also really strange. Like you could get in there and stay in there mentally for a long time. And we were just making some really powerful, abstract music. Which is played. If you listen to that and turn it up, you’ll hear that it’s played. It’s not like I’m saying “therefore it’s real music!” We  have tons of stuff that’s assembled and conceptualized, but that’s a really powerful statement about a band. 

“Caesar’s Column” (2004)

from Secret Wars (Jagjaguwar)

Bobby: We were a trio when we made it. That’s from Secret Wars, and that’s my favorite of that era.

Kid: I don’t even know how I ended up with this book, and i’m sure it’s hideous, but there’s this sci-fi book and I think it’s called Caesar’s Column, and it’s really old. I had to request it, had to go into the Brooklyn public library and get this special copy, and it’s kind of this vision of the future. But that was the lyrical content. And we were touring, we probably played this one a lot before we recorded it. Does that make sense?

Bobby: We had to have played it before. Well, maybe…

Kid: It doesn’t matter. But we were playing with these huge gongs. They were massive. There’s a few photos, but we had a guy, Kayrock (Karl LaRocca), come along and play them in our set. Nobody knew how to mic this set, but they’re so huge, but we’d be in a basement and the guy would put an SM-57 on them.

Bobby: Kayrock deserves a lot of credit. He went to Bali and Indonesia a bunch and studied and learned to do this and shipped all these huge gongs and created this gamelan gong set up and he wrote the part and played it.

Kid: Imagine having a live video from that era. We just didn’t document. 

Bobby: We tried to do a TV show in Atlanta and they got wasted and erased the tape. (Laughs)

Kid: I remember that was a track that not only was it cool, but I think it really had a moment. Like, I remember this guy, a guy I’ve known for so many years who did A&R at Sub Pop who said, “hey, I heard your new tune over a PA at a festival.” Because it’s an awesome tune!

“Up With People” (2006)

from Happy New Year (Jagjaguwar)

Kid: That’s a fun one, because that was originally a People of the North tune. Bobby and I have another band, side project, whatever you wanna call it. Bobby’s always been into different, minimal dance music.

Bobby: You posed the “what if.”

Kid: I was like, “what if we tried to play one of these minimal things?” It was just Bobby and I doing this thing. There was a reason, maybe Jane was out of commission, so we were just doing stuff and brought it into Oneida. And it’s a very weird, cool, effective, awesome tune.

Bobby: It’s a really positive song for me in terms of learning limitations and saying “Oh let’s try and play something like this” and learning there are ways that I play things differently, like beats or whatever, and trying to hear that and make changes from there. Working with the drums and the Woodie together. That’s a song for me where I figured out the places in how our beats go together and kind of vibrate against each other.

“A List of the Burning Mountains (II)” (2012)

from A List of the Burning Mountains (Jagjaguwar)

Kid: It was just a moment of a real culmination of a certain kind of abstract thing, but it was really special and strange. It’s one performance, so I always get my hackles up about psychedelic bands, because they’re not psychedelic like we are. It’s very dislocated and unique. I tend to lean toward some of those where we’re like “Wow, we got somewhere I’ve never heard before.”

Bobby: The absolute natural outgrowth of Absolute II. Where you listen to it and you say, “That’s a fucking band playing that abstract ambient piece.” And then yeah, A List of the Burning Mountains, the second side, that’s the sound of a band shredding hard on the same concept. It’s total underworld shit. 

“Beat Me to the Punch” (2022)

from Success (Joyful Noise)

Bobby: Obviously we don’t have the kind of perspective on music that’s this recent that we can get on the stuff we’re talking about now. Distance helps a lot. Even without perspective and distance from it yet, I’m already recognizing the simplicity, the simplicity of the musical vocabulary and the directness—I’m not saying it’s easy to play or simple minded, but presented in a very simple, direct way. And still has the particular unsettled, uncertain vibe, with all that direction and drive and simplicity. And that’s one that’s gonna really last, it’s one we currently play live and we intend to play for a really long time. 

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