There is always something special about a sound you can't quite pin down. It usually means there are forces at work which are both elusive and mysterious. Listening to the new record by Ora Iso will no doubt conjure these feelings. Image Certifies (Downwards) is the incredible new LP from Indonesian-born, Australian-raised Kathleen Malay and New Yorker Jason Kudo. The two met in Brooklyn while Malay was living in New York and they immediately found a symbiotic musical bond. Ora Iso was born in 2011 and has emerged as a truly fascinating project, dipping into the worlds of psychadelia, post-punk and ritual sounds from across the globe. With the record set to drop on iconic imprint Downwards on April 27th, we caught up with the duo to find out about their past, what influenced the record and what they think about the future. (See Q&A below)
The Brvtalist: Ora Iso began in Brooklyn in 2011. What were you musical backgrounds and/or projects before starting this one? How did the sound initially come together?
Jason Kudo: I played in several bands before Ora Iso but the only one really worth mentioning or checking out would be Modra. As far as how the sound came together. Kat and I used to work with one another. I think initially we just bonded over a similar disconnect with our environment and once we got in to the studio it was just a matter of turning that disconnect into sound.
Kathleen Malay: I trained in classical piano from a very young age, then sort of trailed off and let it go in my teens. Years later I met Jason; he mentioned he had a Wurlitzer electric piano that he didn’t know how to play and so we jumped at the chance to jam together. I’ve never had any other band and most likely never will outside of Ora Iso.
TB: With Jason now in the mountains of New Hampshire and Kathleen in Jakarta, how have your surroundings affected the band?
Jason: All the songs for Image Certifies were written before the move so you'll have to wait till the next record to see how our new surroundings have affected the band. For me personally being up in New Hampshire and not having to worry about noise complaints from neighbors (as I don't have any) and the endless amount of space I have are very enticing prospects for future work. Whether or not I can put them to good use remains to be seen.
Kathleen: For me, it’s more a matter of how my surroundings affect me mentally and emotionally, and from there we’ll see how that will affect the sounds to come.
TB: I am interested in the ideas explored in the new album, Image Certifies. There is a definite melancholy throughout but it's laced with promise as well. Talk about creating the album. Also, do you have an optimistic view of the future?
Jason: If you sense of optimism or promise it's probably coming from Kat. I don't really see myself as having an optimistic or pessimistic view of the future. Since those are largely subjective outlooks. I just do my best to see things for what they are and let everybody else have their usual emotional meltdown responses.
Kathleen: Both our albums were recorded entirely analogue on reel-to-reel tape. By default, I don’t think about the future, I mostly let life happen for me. I just think it’s important to recognize that this world is equally full of both the light and the dark.
TB: A lot of the record has a very ritual feel about it. What philosophies, religions, spiritual magic or otherwise are you interested in?
Jason: I've never really subscribed to any particular type of dogma but also consider myself open to different religions and spiritual practices. I try to pick up what I can where ever I can and I prefer to learn from people directly. As far as philosophies go I'm a huge fan of Stoicism.
Kathleen: My father was Catholic and converted to Islam upon marrying my mother. I was mostly raised in Australia without religion but with tolerance. Despite the fact that I’m now living in a country where it is compulsory to state your religion on your ID card, what intrigues me the most is not the predominance of faith but the rich, ancient mysticism and folklore that is still very prevalent in Indonesia. Through personal experience here, I’ve come to believe in abstract energies – that which cannot be seen but can be felt, missives from a separate dimension. It took a little mental adjustment to recognize the splinter between what I previously thought was “real”.
TB: Downwards is a great label with such a variety of genres. It seems like Ora Iso is inspired by a lot of different things. Care to describe your sound and what have you guys been listening to recently?
Jason: I don't know how to describe our sound honestly. I don't know if I'd bother playing in this band if it was a sound I could easily describe. As for what I've been listening to lately when I sit out on my porch, I mostly hear woodpeckers, turkeys, grouse, squirrels and robins in the day and coyotes yapping at dusk.
Kathleen: I usually shrug my shoulders then change the subject if someone asks me to describe our sound. Here’s a sample soundtrack to my life in various real and some fictional situations:
Late night walking through city streets on an urgent, most likely reckless mission: Tzusing - 日出東方 唯我不敗
Dawn in the passenger seat, driving on a rural highway, watching the sun rise over rice paddies and tiny villages: Soisong - Jam Talay Sai
Sunny afternoon stroll: The Walker Brothers- Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore
Ultimate karaoke song: Whitney Houston - Greatest Love of All
Wake up, make the bed, open the curtains, sweep the floor, empty the ashtrays, meticulously fold clothes etc: Capricorn – 20HZ
Listless, paralyzed by own thoughts, staring at the ceiling: Robert Turman - Morphine
Heart swelling with good intentions: Wim Mertens - Iris
Lullabies: Grim - Parable & Coal / Berserk Soundtrack - 4 Gatsu
Dramatic contemplation of past lives: Rachmaninov - Trio Elegiaque n°2 op.9 Movement I
If I was a world-class boxer making my entrance into the arena for a championship match: HTRK - Hate Rock Trio
TB: What's next for the band and what do you want to accomplish with the live show?
Jason: It's been about two years since Kat and I have played live. At that time we were well practiced and had been touring quite a bit. First thing on the agenda will be to get back to that place where we left off. I'm not interested in half-assing live shows. Next will be to put together some new material for the upcoming tour and our next record.
Kathleen: I’m getting rather impatient, I just want to play again in Ora Iso. I’ll think about the next step when that time comes.
Image Certifies is out April 27th on 12" and digital formats via Downwards.