Oedipus: The Return of Rock n’ Roll Intelligentisa
By Yelizaveta Rapoport
Photos by Taylor Van Arsdale
Oedipus self-hails as the “return of the Rock n’ Roll intelligentsia.” Their high energy, genuinely fun, and artistically saturated music is both aggressive and melodic, sucking you instantly into their high octane, balls-out loud, and lavishly grandiose sound. They twist together progressive heavy rock, theatrics, and arty stylishness resulting in music that hits you in the face rather than seeps into your ears.
Los Angeles natives Jeremy Heffner (bass & lead vocals) and Stephen Cohen (drums & vocals) go all the way back to grade school (drummer & vocalist Keith Larsen joined the group later in 2004 hailing form the Midwest). While studying mythology in high school Heffner and Cohen honed in on the name Oedipus. The name, heavy with dramatic symbolism, is altogether fitting for the trio.
Before their music career Heffner and Cohen played youth hockey, traveling all over the States and Canada to compete in tournaments, and in 1997 were members of the first ever California youth hockey team to win a national championship. Despite their athletic background, the two opted to become musicians. Heffner confidently says, “If given the opportunity to be hockey gods we would undoubtedly choose to be musicians all over again.” The boys credit their parents for introducing them to music. “From a very young age we played high level travel hockey, so we were in hotels rooms constantly. Our parents decided a good way to keep us out of trouble would be to get us instruments. We spent a lot of time covering Nirvana songs.” The two compare team traveling with band touring and tout it as quite similar; the constant and perpetual views of the open road up ahead, the endless hotels rooms, you get the picture. The actual touring paid off as Oedipus received quite a wealth of fanfare and recognition in Europe, particularly in Poland where the group recently wrapped a string of performances. Their overseas success is in addition to a very respectable following here in the States.
Their latest album Vicious Little Smile was mixed by well-known producer/mixer Sylvia Massy (Tool, System of a Down and Red Hot Chili Peppers). Massey worked his magic on seven songs on the album. Two of their most high-flying tracks “Tres Las” and “Burn It Down” will remind you of that type of music that, as a child, you imagined you would listen to when you grew up cool. Their sound brings forth enough energy to break through a brick wall. However, the groups’ sensibilities go beyond the obvious appeal of their highly energized, copiously sexualized, and ego-driven signature sound. “Around” (2006 Humbility) deserves a special look, with its softer, stripped down, and affecting addition of flugelhorn and its overtones of Jazz and tender melancholy, it seems unique. “Jack & Ginger” (2008 Covetous) is remarkably lyrical and heartfelt. As for “Holding Out For More,” “Covetous,” and “Free”… well, they’re off the rails thrust, hedonism, flesh, and lust all over.
While the groups declaration as the “arrival of the Rock n’ Roll intelligentsia” is a gargantuan roar of the ego, the title isn’t entirely undeserved. And let’s face it; in a perfect world anyone who has the stones to declare themselves the “arrival of rock and smarts” deserves a thorough once over. Heffner explains, “the guitarist from the band Sugarcult wrote that bio for us and that was his wording.” However, Heffner does state that the three of them “pride themselves on being literate” When asked which writers influenced his artistic sensibilities most substantially, Heffner ponders then retorts: “I keep going back to Bukowski, there’s something very dirty and masculine about his writing. It’s… hot media pornography!” Also on the short list are Pablo Neruda, Aldous Huxley, Philip k. Dick, and Kurt Vonnegut. When it comes to music, all three agree that a love for Primus is “the major cohesive” followed by Muse, Foo Fighters, Rage Against the Machines, 311, and Tool. Adds Larsen, “Soul Coughing has been in my music player without stop for the past month.”
Oedipus seems to have a taste for the modern and aesthetic. In fact Heffner founded the downtown LA art gallery/event space “Hangar 1018” explaining that the warehouse organically developed into a sort of crossover between modern art and live music when he and then girlfriend moved into the space, built up walls, and started putting on concerts and gallery shows. “We had around a thousand people in our living room every Friday night as a way to fund living there without going into our pocket for rent. We had movie and photo shoots, we even had female bare-knuckled boxing there once.” “Amongst other things, other unspeakable things,” Cohen cheerfully chimes in.
The experience was instrumental in bringing an infusion of art into the construct of the group. Artists Bod Dob and Seamus Conley met through Hanger 1018 provided cover art for the group’s albums Humbility (2006) and Covetous (2008) andTim Peterson provided the graphic art for Vicious Little Smile.
When Oedipus headlined The Roxy, their sound and onstage performance was laced with frenetic momentum and an ambition for total destruction. They brought the good time. Heffner played and sang wide-eyed and contorted his body as if the music was ripping out of him. Cohen and Larsen were right there with him, pouring everything of themselves into the performance from the first chord to the last strike on the drums, continuing on their eternal quest for a good time via melodic conception and endorphin overkill.
At its core Oedipus’ music has all you could really want: it’s intelligent, genuine, and it feels good. Their performances carry resonance because their audience feels what the trio knows; that when they play they mean it!!!