This Isn’t Olive Garden – A Vita Sit-down with Dana T and Curt Oren

Iowa natives and creators of all sounds large and full Dana T and Curt Oren dropped by Caffé Vita to talk with KXSU about their latest releases, tiny mind MASSIVE soul and 2%. Dana’s newest collection, tiny mind MASSIVE soul, released last Halloween. Only ten songs in length, tiny mind MASSIVE soul includes some 23 instruments in the credits and took nearly three years to make. Each song on the record is a spectacle, complete with rich sounds and introspective lyrics.

Oren released his project, 2%, this past August. This dreamy and emotionally-driven album was recorded in a cave, which explains the grand echoing effect. Emotional and supremely unique, 2% takes advantage its surroundings to create a sound all its own. With the haunting melodies of Owen’s saxophone, the utilization of plunderphonics, and the echoing of the sweet harmonies of singer Nora Petran, 2% is an unstoppable power.

JO: When we were first talking about where to do this interview, the suggested meet up spot was Olive Garden. This is not Olive Garden. Can you tell me more about this
“Unlimited Pasta Pass” you mentioned?

Dana: Curt pitched the idea to me (the ‘Pasta Pass’)—you pay a $100 flat fee to get pasta as many times as you want in 7 weeks, but you can’t share and you can’t leave the restaurant [with leftovers].

JO: But how would they know if you brought the pasta outside the Olive Garden?

Curt: Should we be saying this on record?

JO: Your secret is safe with me.

Dana: We plan to start the 7 weeks and take the least amount of risks pastable.

[Collective laughter]

Dana: As we get to the end of the 7 weeks, we plan to get riskier with our attempts to get the most pasta out of the confines of Olive Garden as we can.

JO: So how is your tour going besides the “Unlimited Pasta Pass?” 

Dana: It’s been good! We played in Iowa City, Lincoln, Omaha, Colorado Springs, Missoula and Spokane. We’ve had a few mishaps, but other than that it’s been good. [There’ve been] some gaps between some of the cities, but we sort-of knew that would happen anyways.

JO: Dana, you are touring in support of tiny mind MASSIVE soul. Looking at the credits, there are 23 instruments listed and a huge list of places you recorded. What all went into the album?

Dana: It took me about 3 years to do all of the pre-production for the album. I make demos of all my songs, which were basically just bad horn samples. In the fall of 2014 I started recording primarily at Flat Back Studios, where I also work now. Most of the rhythm tracks, a lot of the guitars, and some of the horns were recorded there. I have a lot of friends who live all over the Midwest who I wanted on the album, so we recorded all over—in Minnesota, Chicago, St. Louis, and Iowa City, to name a few.

JO: Before you left to record at these various locations did you have things set out in terms of what you wanted the recordings to sound like, or did you make it up on the spot?

Dana: With this album I was definitely pretty specific about how I wanted things to be. There were some passages of improvisation on the album where I would just roll and people at the locations would do whatever felt right. Other than that, I normally would send the sheet music ahead of time.

JO: Curt, you are touring in support of your project 2%. Tell me a little more about that experience.

Curt: I released a record with my friend Nora [Petran] on August 5, 2016. It’s a split [record], with 3 songs of hers and 3 of mine, and we recorded it in a cave. Her songs are more folk/singer songwriter, while mine are more “Phillip Glass on the saxophone.” The cave acts as a glue for bringing our styles together. 2% basically captures the sound of the cave, which was our goal. I’ve actually been touring since the release date, trying to get the music out there and sell some merch.

Dana: Sell for incredibly reasonable prices, by the way…

JO: So both of you have a very large sound—Dana with the many instruments and Curt with the cave. How do you translate this large sound into a concert setting?

Curt: We are the only people who could convince ourselves it was a good idea.

Dana: We take a lot more liberties with the music, in that we will joke with each other onstage—and we will change things within the music to make it more interesting within the context of a duo. We also have themes each tour; this tour, our theme is “Dana T and Curt Oren march to Washington state.” Curt uses a PowerPoint and I wear a suit and we campaign against each other because Iowa can’t afford to have two Avant musical comedy acts.

JO: So what were some musical influences for you both, and what inspired your latest projects?

Curt: My music is going through a big shift right now. I’ve started to play with backing tracks; I’ve been taking a plunge and making electronic music now. The stuff that is more acoustic on the cave album was largely inspired by Colin Stetson. I want to make music that is inherently me, so I have started to gravitate away from that style. I don’t want to be cast in Stetson’s shadow, and I haven’t listened to his records in a while, but he was a total shift for me as far as inspiration goes. Lately I’ve been influenced by musicians who focus on sounds [that are] in opposition to synths and drum machines, mostly because I don’t know how to use them.

Dana: My record is a description of a spiritual transformation. Growing up I went to church because in Iowa it was common; my grandparents went, so I went a lot. I always kind of knew it wasn’t for me. It took a while for me to realize what I was besides that. Tiny mind MASSIVE soul is a discovery of feeling comfortable believing in something you’ve compiled [together] from different areas of the world. Musically, I wrote this album while I was in music school, so I was influenced by lots of 20th century music—people like John Cage flipped my mind on what music can be. It is a pop record, too, so Beach Boys and Frank Zappa were a huge influence.

 Dana T: Facebook | Website | Instagram

Curt Oren: Facebook | Bandcamp | Worthy Read

JULIA OLSON | I just wanted breadsticks | KXSU Head Reporter

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