Artist Interview: Mt. Oriander

Posted: by The Editor

Last year’s Then the Lightness Leaves and I Become Heavy Again was a triumphant return for Mt. Oriander’s Keith Latinen, who pushed his indie-emo sound further than ever before on his first LP under this name. Incorporating strings and horns and a slew of guest appearances, it felt like an appropriate homecoming for one of the genre’s most seminal figures. We caught up with Latinen to discuss the record and returning to music after a half-decade away.

Has it been weird for you, after being out of music and then after quarantine, to get back into releasing and promoting music?

It definitely has, yes. I actually started writing music and recording again before the pandemic hit, but that hit a giant pause button for me. At that point, drums had been recorded for this album and we were working on recording guitar and bass and had to cancel a bunch of studio time. All of the Parting EP had the music done as well and just needed vocals. I had a show lined up for Mt. Oriander too that obviously got canceled. It was going to be my first show back since Empire! and it would be a full year before I got to play a show again, making it 6 years between the last time I performed music live and a tour we did in the fall of 2021. That’s a pretty long stretch, haha. Things also changed a lot since Empire! had ended and I had to reacclimate myself to a different world than the one I left. Spotify was king now, music blogs had lost some popularity, TikTok entered the chat, etc. I don’t know if it’s better or worse now, but I think that it’s the world we live in now and if you can’t adapt, then you risk going unheard.

You’ve mentioned a few times that this is your most collaborative non full band record yet. How did that come to be?

I knew I wanted to ask some friends to be on it and as I kept writing, I just kept asking more and more people. Getting people to contribute is like herding cats, but somehow nearly everyone I asked was able to contribute something. That was kind of unexpected and a partial reason I asked so many people is that I thought most of them would never actually get a chance to carry though and get me their parts. I think the length of time it took to record this and the pandemic gave some people some extra time to record their parts for me, so that was a major win.

I believe this is the first time Cathy’s sang on a song of yours—am I right on that? Why did you decide she should sing on “You Were Part of Me”?

Actually, nope! She has been lending me her voice for a while now, dating as far back as Anna Flyaway. She sang on a handful of Empire! songs too, as far back as our debut EP when it was still my solo project. I wanted her to be a part of it because she has a beautiful voice and that just felt like the right place to put her. I tried to follow the same methodology for all the musicians I asked to help–the place in each song that was calling for a specific person or instrument. The other reason is I wanted our kids to be able to hear both of us on a record that was made since they have been born. That was pretty special to be able to show them where we sang together. Their faces lit up, haha.

This is also, tied with the above, probably your most ‘full-band’ sounding record yet. It’s a lot denser than the Empire! Empire! records were and there’s a lot going on in every song. How different was the writing process for you?

Thanks! To be honest, it wasn’t altogether that different than a lot of Empire! sessions–there is a large chunk of our catalog where Empire! was just me and these sessions were not dissimilar to those. I wrote every song to work without the guest parts because frankly I had no idea who would be able contribute and I needed the songs to be fine either way. The added parts really enhanced the album and I’m very glad to have them there, but the songs still work without them. As far as the actual writing, I wasn’t rushed and I just wrote and recorded when it felt right. No one was expecting anything and I hadn’t really talked a lot about it publicly, so I just let it happen at its own pace.

Was there any worry, coming back with a full length after this long, that fans of your previous bands might have unreasonable expectations?

Honestly, no. I really existed outside of the music world after Empire! ended, so my musical career didn’t come up any more often than random stories and memories when I would see or talk to old friends or tell people who had no connection to the scene I was a part of. It’s kind of hard to accurately describe how my band was popular in an incredibly micro-niche scene and if you took even a small step outside of that, chances are that you wouldn’t have heard our name. In any case, I was pretty sure I was never going to do any of this again and that it was just something that I used to do. To be frank, I was surprised that people still cared about anything I did when I came back and continue to be surprised that people do. Not in like a self-doubting way, just it’s kind of something beyond the scope of anything I will ever be able to understand. I really appreciate it though and it never fails to overwhelm me.  At the same time, I don’t know that people had any expectations for my new stuff. I was pretty quiet about having new stuff and I would wager that most people who still listen to my old bands do not know this project exists.

If you played this for the Keith of When the Sea Became a Giant, or Anna Flyaway era (whichever was first!), how do you think he’d feel about Then the Lightness Leaves?

Anna Flyaway predates Empire! by a year or so, I want to say. That is a good question, but I think past-me would be in wild disbelief that it existed and that it sounded like a real band, haha. Everything I had done up to that point was poorly recorded DIY stuff and nothing more than burned CD-Rs and no real touring. Past-me would have been blown away by pretty much everything I got to do. I think the biggest thing that would shock early 20s me is that late 30s/early 40s me is still writing music and playing shows. I think early 40s me is kind of in shock too, lol.

Since Count Your Lucky Stars has been putting out records again, you’ve moved away from the emo revival sound you were originally known for. Was a conscious thing, or are you just gravitating towards different stuff now?

I guess I never really thought about that? CYLS had a much more varied roster than I think people gave us credit for, but I know that the emo revival is what we were known for. But I just try to put out music that speaks to me and this is the stuff that is speaking to me now. I actually don’t think it is all that different than the stuff we did before, but music is entirely subjective and as long as people seem to like what we are putting out then it is all gravy to me.

Can Parting fans expect anything from you in 2023?

We wrote a bunch of songs the last two years and then took kind of a natural break. We are planning on picking them up and recording an LP and some extra stuff. I don’t know that it will come out this year, but it should be recorded. We have a lot of songs so I am excited to see where we take them.

What’s one video game you think everyone reading this needs to check out?

I usually talk about JRPGs and I will never stop loving those, but the other day I downloaded a game called Mom Hid My Game and Cathy and I were playing it with my kids and it is a riot, haha. We were all cracking up over it. The plot is this kid’s mom takes his Nintendo DS and hides it around the house and you have to solve puzzles by clicking and pointing objects to find it. It’s a super funny game.

If there’s anything else you think is important, say so here!

Thank you for being one of the people who still care about what I do. It isn’t lost on me. Thanks to The Alternative for keeping the doors open, it is a vital voice in a time where it is sorely needed. Can’t wait to show everyone what I am working on next!

Then the Lightness Leaves and I Become Heavy Again is out now on Count Your Lucky Stars.

Zac Djamoos | @gr8whitebison

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