ALWAYS CHANGING, ALWAYS THE SAME: A Conversation with Landis Wine of Opin
by Christopher Wolford
Landis Wine is a man of many masks. He’s a singer, a multi-instrumentalist, a songwriter, a producer, and the list goes on and on. You name the part and he’s probably played it at some point during his career. However, he’s probably best known as known as the frontman of White Laces, a Richmond band who, after six years together, decided to call it quits back in November of 2016. Sad as it was to say goodbye, Wine wasn’t about to stop doing what he loved, so alongside former White Laces bandmate Tori Hovater, Opin was formed. Now with their self-titled debut album out in the world and a tour under their belt, Hovater and Wine are ready for whatever comes next. I sat down with the latter to talk about the new album, musical influences, and how parents have this uncanny ability to make music uncool.
Landis Wine and Tori Hovater of Opin
Christopher Wolford: To kick things off, how did [you and Opin bandmate Tori] approach making music differently this time around?
Landis Wine: During the last year or so that White Laces was active, we took a couple extended breaks from shows. During that time I moved from generating song ideas [and] demos that were specifically meant for the band to putting together demos, loops, [and] various ideas that I knew were probably unplayable for us. The longer the break, the more disconnected the style became. At some point during that time I sent a playlist of the demos I had been working on to the band and Tori got in touch and offered to start developing some of them under a different project title. From that point on, we began developing things more along the lines of how a pop producer would handle things. We kept the electronic skeletons of the song and began to bring in both live instrumentation and greatly modified synth tones. After a while it just became this ridiculous puzzle of sound that we ultimately brought to Jeff Zeigler in Philly to sort through.
CW: When you were making the record, what did the two of you want to say with this music you either couldn't or didn't have the chance to with White Laces?
LW: For me, White Laces was only the second band I'd been in for any extended period of time. I grew up in Martinsville, a small town in Southwestern Virginia that had a dire economy and no music scene or clubs to speak of. That being the case, when I wanted to record I had to play all the instruments myself most of the time and use an old cassette 4-track to glue it all together. Once I left for college I began actively trying to play with other people and hadn't really taken a step back to that kind of process in a really long time. So with Opin, Tori and I were able to make decisions solely on how things felt our sounded instead of worrying about contextualizing them into a rock band.
CW: What made you decide to work with Jeff Zeigler?
LW: I first worked with Jeff a few years back when we recorded the second White Laces LP Trance. I was familiar with War on Drugs’ Slave Ambient and the Kurt Vile records he had worked on so I figured it wouldn't hurt to reach out. As it turned out we really clicked and I've worked with him ever since. I think he's one of the best producers working today and he's been a really invaluable interpreter of whatever ideas we've brought to him.
CW: I think the best words to describe the first single "Flee" would be “Cosmic Pop.” There're some familiar pop elements (a catchy piano riff, punchy vocal lines) but then you have some new things enter the fray like the storm of cymbal crashes and saxophone runs. It reminds me a lot of Jim James' solo work. Was his music an influence on either of you? How are the two of you feeling now that the first single is out in the world?
LW: Thanks! I wouldn't say his music was really an influence at all, but I loved My Morning Jacket’s At Dawn and was always a fan of how he used space. I actually got to meet him briefly in Portland while on tour with War on Drugs and watched them cover John Lennon's "Mind Games" together. I find some of the same elements in the more recent Destroyer records. I've been a fan of his since my late teen years so some of that has definitely seeped in.
Tori and I are both ecstatic that the single is out. It's strange building things backwards but also exciting in its own way.
CW: Destroyer just keeps getting better. Dan Bejar is definitely the kind of artist who isn't afraid to take risks with his music. Kaputt was a perfect example of that. Poison Season felt like a return to form in many ways but it still found a place for some of the sonic elements of the former.
LW: Totally agree about those albums. The first time I saw them I had just graduated from high school and they were playing a record store in North Carolina after This Night came out. Easily one of the most impactful shows I've ever seen. Totally massive sound from the band and the lead guitarist's amp blew out in the middle of the set but they powered through and ended with "Strike" from [Streethawk: A Seduction]. What a show.
CW: Some of my favorite bands in recent years have come out of the Richmond scene. You've been involved in that scene for awhile. How have you seen it change over time?
LW: Always changing and always the same. When I initially moved here to go to college at [Virginia Commonwealth University] I didn't really go to shows because I was intimidated by the scene. I had gone from being pretty isolated in my home town to trying to figure out how to find my way around a deeply established network of bands and genres. Richmond has always been a strong town for punk, hardcore and metal and at the time there was a collective called 804 Noise that exposed me to a lot of electronic/ambient/noise music I wasn't familiar with. There wasn't really much of anything resembling the kind of traditional style of indie rock that was de rigueur in places like Chapel Hill or Boston so I was always on the periphery, which was ultimately a good thing, because I didn't really have a peer group that was trying to reinforce its own taste and I spent a lot of time outside of my comfort zone as a result. Since then Richmond has developed really healthy micro-scenes and even though there's still not loads of overlap there's a plethora of talent. Recently I helped Dazeases track and edit vocals for her new EP and I head into the studio tomorrow with Big Baby to help produce their new record coming out on [Egghunt Records] later this year.
CW: How does producing other artists' work fuel your own creativity?
LW: I'm not entirely sure how to answer that question yet. I haven't really recorded other people's music (aside from bits of work with close friends) in a long time so we'll see how it goes. After spending so much time on production with Opin, I decided I should probably use that to my advantage and start working with local groups whose music I admire. Generally after I finish an album I allow for a period of time for life/ideas/new music to seep in so I'm hoping that by going through the process with a few other groups I can get outside of my own headspace and learn from them a bit.
CW: Circling back to Opin, what are some challenges with translating these songs into a live setting?
LW: We've had the core live group for Opin organized for several months now, so we slowly worked issues out behind the scenes so we could avoid as many technical hiccups as possible. Along with Tori and me, we've got Ethan Johnstone from Night Idea, who is an incredible drummer and Jon Hawkins on modular synth bass who is a dude I've known for years an amazing multi-instrumentalist. We still cue bits of ambience from my laptop but we do it all with a flexible live functionality that probably would have been far more difficult even just five years ago. That way we can keep things feeling like a real live band instead of following along to pre-recorded tracks. We [also] learned a cover of Mariah's "Shinzo No Tobira" which we'll be integrating into our sets along with songs from the record.
CW: Any particular reason you chose that song to cover?
LW: When we were mixing the record in Philly with Jeff we stayed at his place and we'd generally stay up pretty late and listen to old records and one of the ones he played us was a recent reissue of Mariah's record Utakata no Hibi that included that song. I fell in love with that song and felt like a lot of the elements tied into some things we were trying to do with Opin.
CW: As you grow as a musician, and even as a person, do you find yourself searching for obscure, cult classics for inspiration like Mariah or do you tend to revisit old favorites in hopes of finding something new?
LW: I've always been pretty obsessive about exploring music and I've always tried to push myself to familiarize myself with things that exist outside of my wheelhouse. It usually ends in a combination of rediscovering older groups [or] niche genres that never clicked with me at a younger age and trying to stay on top of what's new in electronic music and contemporary rap/r&b/etc. That said I'm often able to circle back around to older records and gain a new appreciation for certain elements of the songwriting and/or production through the lens of new discoveries. A lot of that inclination comes from my time spent as a music critic in my teens [and] early twenties. I was lucky enough to be a contributor to Stylus Magazine when it was still a functioning entity and that definitely shaped my curiosity and openness to genres I didn't fully grasp [or] appreciate then.
CW: I used to be really bad about instantly writing off music if my friends overhyped it - your typical teenage contrarianism – but now when I get into an artist or album I slept on, it's one of my favorite things in the world. It's a reminder how much I've grown since then. Have you gone back to anything recently you previously passed on during your younger years?
LW: As for a good example of that sort of change in perspective I've found myself diving back into Autechre, Muslimgauze, Prefab Sprout, and UGK in the past year or so. All of them were a bit imposing when I first encountered them, whether it was due to the depth of their catalog (UGK) or stylistic dissonance with my taste at the time (Prefab Sprout).
CW: Any artists you haven't quite been able to crack yet?
LW: A lot of the toughest ones for me reside in the genre of Classic Rock. My parents didn't really listen to it and by the time I was exposed to a lot of it in my early teens I was already pretty defiant (read: obnoxious) about my musical tastes and it seemed terribly out of step with what I was into.
CW: It's fascinating how parental figures influence our musical tastes. I heard a whole lot of "Country" music when I was a youngster. And by "Country" I mean 90's Country like Garth Brooks and Shania Twain. Despite never actively listening to those songs once I developed my own tastes, I still know most of the words. It comes in handy for barroom trivia sometimes. What's your earliest memory relating to music?
LW: Probably being in the car with my mom while she was listening to Amy Grant or Wilson Phillips. She was never exactly a huge music fan but there was always a lot of smooth pop around. I remember as a teenager I bought my first Cocteau Twins album and she LOVED it and it took me maybe ten years to revisit them as a result.
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