Onstage and in person, Oxymorrons are uncontainable. Even just sitting and talking, they emit crackling energy that translates seamlessly to the Rough Trade stage.
Combining thunderous beats with electric guitars and virtuosic bass lines, layering emotive lyrics against infectious refrains, theirs is a stadium-ready brand of hip-hop-rock fusion that manages to sound totally unique.
Oxymorrons "See Stars" [ Offical Music Video] www.youtube.com
The project of Queens-based brothers KI and Deee, who have been making music together almost their entire lives, Oxymorrons is a hybrid of genres, visions, and emotions, bound up into one super-charged entity. The band has been blending hard rock with hard hip-hop long before Kevin Abstract and his peers rose to the top of the charts. Oxymorrons' come-up has been a long one, but they're finally breaking through to the mainstream.
Popdust talked to Oxymorrons about the grind to the top, being simultaneously vulnerable and ambitious, and how in the end, we're all made of the same energy.
Congrats on all your recent successes. It seems like you guys have had a crazy upswing.
DEEE: It's been cooking. Between touring, new management, and the festivals we've booked right now, the upswing has been crazy. Everything we've worked for for a long time is culminating, so it's kind of like, "oh shit, let's ride the wave."
ADAM NOVEMBER: I got lucky and came for the good part.
What was the not-so-good part?
MATTY MAYZ: There were a lot of ups and downs.
KI: Empty rooms. Sometimes you gotta share a sandwich. A lot of sandwiches.
D: To be somewhat serious, it's a grind. We built this shit on our own. There was no one investing in us. It's been a push and pull, but it's all culminating now, so it's worth it. Before, it was like, what the fuck are we doing?
MM: The light at the end of the tunnel helps.
D: We've figured out our sound. Now, it's cool to blend genres and break rules, but we've always been doing that. We've been misunderstood for so long. The labels would tell us—you guys are great, but where are we going to put you? They wanted to put us in a box, but one of our rules is to be unapologetically ourselves. Now, sound is catching up and being more accepting to a black fucking rock band, to tell you the truth.
KI: We had to wait for our time. And it's beautiful.
D: I think it was the cosmos, and us working really hard for a long time. Labels told us we were too black for rock, and too rock for hip hop. We were dealing for that back and forth for so long that we thought no one was ever going to get it. But now people are getting it, and we're feeling good as a band, and we're gonna keep shooting for the stars.
Over the past few years, mixing genres has become so prevalent, so some of your early work is almost prophetic. What made you start blending rock and hip hop?
D: We grew up listening to all different types of music, and our rule was—if it feels good and sounds good, then it's good. Sonics are sonics; it's all just sound, just vibrations. You can put vibrations in a box and you can put a name on them, but if people feel it, they just feel it. The reason you call something rock is because someone classified it that way. But really, it's just sound.
KI: We grew up with so many different genres of music, so we were like, why settle for one? That's why we called the band Oxymorrons in the first place. It's about marrying different things together.
Oxymorrons Green Vision (Official Music Video) youtu.be
You've said before that you have a bunch of different influences.
D: I'm a huge fan of Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine, and Billy Joel. Queen is my favorite band, but then I'll turn around and listen to Kanye and Kid Cudi. It's across the board. Right now I'm listening to Cool Schoolchildren and before that, it was Bless the Fall and Lil Wayne's album.
KI: I listen to elevator music and Korean pop music; I listen to anything. Big Bang is my favorite Korean band. So we take all of that stuff and put it in. Music is music.
Do you [KI and Deee] feel like growing up in Queens influenced your music?
D: Subconsciously, it did. Queens is the most diverse borough. Growing up there and having foreign parents keeps your palate open. We never put ourselves in a box, though we easily could have. Where we grew up in south Queens, we were the only kids listening to rock; everybody else was listening to hip hop. There wasn't a name for what we were doing.
KI: Queens changes every four or five blocks. That's the beauty of it.
You can kind of hear that in your music's texture. So was there a moment you realized this band was going to work?
KI: It was always bigger than us. Touring just opened things up. We were able to connect with people in a really cool way.
D: When people told us they're inspired by us, we were like—if we can inspire ten people, we can inspire ten thousand.
MM: We didn't realize how wide the spectrum was for people who care about what we were doing.
D: We bring people together, people who would never be in the same room. You'll see a dude who just listens to straight hip hop, standing right next to a dude who listens to nothing but metal, and they're enjoying it together. It's kind of like, shit, we are the world.
Oxymorrons- Brunch (Official Music Video) youtu.be
You've got some amazing support from people in the industry, too.
D: Sway [Calloway]'s been a supporter from damn near day one. Lupe [Fiasco] took us on his first tour; a lot of people connected the dots and helped us a lot along the way.
KI: Those people who came up and gave us a dollar—everyone who helped us, even a little—they're as much of celebrities as anyone who helped us in the industry.
D: Remember when we used to be in one hotel room? We toured the entire country in an SUV.
MM: Sixty-nine trips with me sitting Indian style.
KI: My legs…
Your music toes the line between vulnerability and these huge ambitions and energy. Was that an intentional contrast?
KI: That's just who we are. I want to be vulnerable and I want to be real; but at the same time, we're not gonna hold back on showing our light. We don't want our fans to hold back on showing their light; either. We're all doing this together. We're all on this globe together.
D: There's no reason to minimize yourself for someone else's comfort. Just because I'm shining doesn't mean you can't shine next to me. Even in a business this competitive, we're all in the same space; there doesn't have to be war. We just want to be authentically ourselves. We are vulnerable; we go through things.
KI: Everyone's trying to hide themselves by keeping it cool, but being yourself and showing that side is the cool.
Photo by Tommy Vu
Often they're viewed as mutually exclusive—toughness and emotional vulnerability.
AN: The balance between confidence and doubt is definitely something that all people deal with. We try not to hide that.
D: Let it out; it's all good. We have an open-door policy with each other. We tell each other about all our emotions no matter what. If someone's pissed off, we say it; if we love you, we say that too. We hug each other. It's weird to not be real. We're a family. We're manifesting one of the largest things you can ever try and manifest as a person—we're breathing life into a dream, this thing that didn't use to exist, that started as an arbitrary concept. Now we're all sitting here, talking about some shit that was created in a basement.
KI: Thank you for caring.
D: Sometimes even mid-show I'll just gaze into the crowd like, "Holy shit, why do you even like us, why are you all here?" It's so crazy. I'm actually self-conscious, whereas Deee's the one who's like, I'm fucking divine, I'm the greatest.
It's so powerful to sing out something that you wrote in a moment of vulnerability and hear it sung back in crowds.
D: And to have people say, hey I felt like that too.[That's] something I don't take for granted at all.
AN: In terms of the coolness factor between an audience and the artist—we need each other to survive. I don't know where that coolness comes from. I might be onstage, but we can only do this together. Only together can we relate and feel something.
Oxymorrons - Asleep [Offical Music Video] www.youtube.com
So what's next?
D: We're finishing a project; I can't put out any dates, but in late June, there will be a lot more content. There are things I can't say, but there's a lot going on, and this is our year.
You seem to have a very loving communion together as a band that probably translates to the stage, and I think a lot of people will connect with that.
D: If you took us out of here and put us in a bar, it's the same. We act exactly the same no matter where you place us. It's easy; when I'm onstage, I do what I do in front of the mirror at home.
Anything you want to add?
D: Live long and prosper. We're all one energy. We might be living in this space, but it's absolutely all one energy.
KI: More shows coming up, more festivals...be there.
Image via The 405
Eden Arielle Gordon is a writer and musician from New York City. Follow her on Twitter @edenarielmusic.
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