OTR, the 25-year old aerospace engineer-turned-producer. A young man with intelligence, talent, and wisdom you do not often see in today’s emerging artists. His unchaining and tranquil compositions glide and sail on the waves of electronic revelry. With a sultry and touching new single with Shallou titled “Heart”, OTR is stepping onto the scene with a sense of self and purpose within the industry. One EDM communed with the American producer about coming into his own, what it all feels like since those days in rural Japan, and how his music career has taught him more about Ryan.
One EDM: You began your musical journey back in 2012. Seven years later, you’ve got a number of singles, your 2018 “Unfold” EP and your latest release “Heart” feat Shallou under your belt. What has it been like releasing something so personal as your music to the world? Has it been liberating or terrifying?
OTR: It’s a mixture of both. I find it liberating to get some of these inner ideas out of my own head and into the world, especially coming from and engineering background, where there really isn’t an outlet for something like that. At the same time, there is a little fear of rejection when putting yourself out there, but that’s what makes this whole thing exciting for me.
Please tell us how you came to create “Heart” with Shallou?
I had written an instrumental and sent it to my management team – they fell in love with it and thought to hit up Shallou’s management for a possible collaboration which I honestly thought was a long shot. Shallou wrote back asking I come to LA for a session and before I knew it we were writing together in studio.
What’s crazy is what we came up with in the studio didn’t really fit the instrumental I had written before. I was a little bummed since I thought the vocal performance and lyrics were great but the two ideas didn’t really mesh. Then one night I had a few beers and rewrote the song into what it is today. I’m very grateful to Shallou for giving me the time after our studio session to figure out the direction it needed to go.
In the music video for “Heart”, you find the two characters traveling towards a light. What does that light symbolize? Is it safe to say the light they are attracted to is a metaphor in following your authenticity?
I think it’s too soon for me to say what that light resembles in general. When we were coming up with ideas I was immediately attracted to that concept as a way to bind things together across my pieces of work. I believe subconsciously it fulfills some inner desire to represent something bigger within my own work but I don’t think I understand quite why yet haha.
Your sound has a very chill, free-spirited, and relaxed vibe. There is almost a kindness to your music. Does your music aim to create peace in the places in our lives that could use it?
Yes absolutely. I started focusing on production as an outlet because I was isolated and alone. I think when I write now, I aim to fit in people’s lives when they are alone or when they have a moment of reflection – sort of how people behave when they’re on a long drive. The goal is to paint a picture with these sounds and melodies and for people to be transported to that place with me.
Where do you think you would have been now if you have never taken that internship in Japan? Is your experience there a key component to your growth as an artist?
I don’t think I would be an artist today if I hadn’t taken that internship in Japan. Japan was actually pretty tough at times since the town I lived and worked in was located in rural in nature and was pretty isolating. I also was a last minute replacement and because of that I didn’t have much time to acquire any Japanese language skills and so I didn’t communicate with very many people. Those two factors together created a period of intense isolation for me. With that said I think with any moment of isolation there is an opportunity for growth. Without that isolation I wouldn’t have taken the time to really understand myself, to search for music that alleviated those intense feelings and to write my own work.
As a new artist emerging into the scene, one of the many things you hope for is to be noticed for your originality and unique presentation. Is it a waste of energy to focus on whether or not you will be loved by the public?
It’s definitely a waste of energy but it’s something that is entirely normal and human to worry about. We all want to be accepted and yearn for our work to matter to other people. For me, the first step to alleviating that feeling is to feel connected with the music that I’m writing and to actually enjoy it. If what I’m writing doesn’t resonate with me, then why should other people care? Outside of that, setting realistic expectations and working hard is the best way to keep going in this industry without going insane haha.
As human beings, we do not like to be compared to each other, in regards to electronic music, who is one artist you would be honored to be compared too?
I think I’d be honored if someone said I was the love child of M83 and ODESZA. I think we all emulate artists we identify with and if people can still identify originality in my own music while still making comparisons to others, then I think that would be a win in my book.
Does your knowledge of mathematics aid in composing music? How do you bring together the rules of mathematics and the zero rules in creativity to end up with a working result?
I think my knowledge in Math has driven me to care less about the technicalities behind composing music. I was unbelievably tired of cramming for exams that I wanted an outlet that felt more real and in the moment – which is why I was driven to play piano in college. What understanding math has helped with is allowing me to quickly grasp concepts like music theory without really having to dive into the technicalities behind it. I can keep it in the back of my head when I clean up tracks later, but writing music is more about being in the moment.
How much do you use the good the bad and the ugly of your life expressed through your music?
That’s a tough question to answer. I don’t think I consciously try to use the moments in my life as a way to express things in music. I believe I try and blend the good and bad by putting them into one box. For example in Heart, Shallou’s vocals are very beautiful, some have said the synths are a good compliment to that theme of beauty, but the lyrics are pretty sad and hard-hitting. I think the balance between that duality is the best way I can pull from my own experiences. Nothing is overtly leaning more towards too sad or happy – just paints a more realistic picture
Where do you write? Can the location be stimulating to your creative process?
I prefer to write at my home studio. There’s something great about having everything familiar around you and having that time where nobody is bothering you or looking over your shoulder. It’s great to generate ideas from a collaborative session but I find my best work is when I’m alone and at home.
It is still early in your career, but have you faced any moments where the pressure was almost too much to bare? If so, how did you come out on top of that?
Yes. I think I like to overthink things and sometimes I can get in my own way. A lot of the music I’ve been writing has been building up for the last year or so and I think having to sit on all of it for a while was causing me to go a bit crazy from anticipation. I think my friends/family/management team really helped me get through it since we were all newly experiencing it together. We’re all new to this next step and realizing I’m not alone has helped.
What is the greatest gift that music can give to the world? What gift has it given you?
I can only speak for myself, but music helped me get through the hardest parts of my life and it has made the best moments of my life even better. I identify good and bad periods of my life with different songs and having that emotional timestamp is really good for my sense of self.
What can we expect from OTR for the rest of 2019?
I have a few singles set to release in 2019 that I am very excited about and we’re starting to put together a live show – hope to have more announced for everyone here soon!
What have you learned about yourself thus far to never be repeated?
I’m always learning about myself and I feel like every year I put into this I come out with something new that I learned about myself. I think I learned how hard I can push myself before becoming ultimately useless haha. From that experience, I learned how to better balance my life so that I can continue to work hard but also maintain my sanity and health – which allows me to work more in the future.
To stream or download “Heart” click here.
For more information about OTR click here.