Oto So Far

The band behind the Japanese name reclaims the spotlight from its departed front woman

For Chrissakes, you wouldn't buy a car without first dialing in the radio. And you wouldn't rent an apartment without asking if it came with its own indigenous creepy crawlies. These are high-commitment decisions you could be enmeshed in for months, maybe years, depending on your threshold for self-flagellation.

In comparison, asking you to jump into your dB-deficient boom car and leave your roach-infested abode for an hour or two to check out the unveiling of a new band isn't such a stringent time investment. And Oto isn't a new band, per se, since it already has a following that flocks to its infrequent live shows. And there is a recorded track history as well, recently rendered obsolete with the addition of two new personalities (singers Misty Chapman, a.k.a. "Suont," and Athené NaShea) in place of a departed one (Japanese-born singer Coppé). Ironically, Oto has chosen a sushi restaurant to talk about its recently jettisoned Asian ancestry. Think of Oto's December 7 show at the Bash on Ash as a blind date set up by a friend whose judgment you trust so implicitly that no red flags go up when he assures you this band's got a "winning personality."

Oto's got personality, all right, maybe too many for one group to contain. Several attempts to check out the band at its Van Buren rehearsal space were dashed at the last minute when some of its seven members were unable to make it. Five Oto members have shown up for this interview, which means that unless they are of one mind like an ant colony, there'll be lots of overlapping dialogue and plugs for other band side projects over dinner.

Oto: A dance band with multiple personalities.
Kevin Scanlon
Oto: A dance band with multiple personalities.

Details

Scheduled to perform on Friday, December 7, with Joined, and W.O.M.B. Showtime is 10 p.m. Also performing are DJ Essential, Egorock, and Jimmy the Mantis Claw.
Bash on Ash in Tempe

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Luckily, today's Oto members are on the same page about their musical agenda, whereas in the past the band has operated like Siamese twins pulling in two separate directions. The musicians formed Oto to be a performing unit that could freestyle and take improvisation cues from a crowd. Its singer was less comfortable with that idea, preferring sporadic live work and creating within the padded-room confines of a recording studio. What turned out to be the band's last show with Coppé at the Emerald Lounge last summer pointed up this ideological tug of war. Those familiar with the group's newly released self-titled CD couldn't help but notice that the secondary role of resident rapper Mister Puma M.C. had stepped up considerably, while Coppé seemed lost onstage, like the star pupil who neglected to study for the big quiz. When she wasn't required to sing in her native tongue, she mostly played button jockey on an effects pedal aptly named the Chaos Pad that still irritates Oto members months after its retirement from the group's live arsenal.

"Let's try to keep things positive here," warns good-natured drummer Stephen Pond at the first hints of animosity. But Oto's synth player and master sampler Terry Dreisher is having none of that.

"If I had a time machine, I'd go back and take out the guy at Korg who invented that Chaos Pad," he grouses. "It's a very unmanageable effects unit made for DJs and line-in situations, not for microphones. Coppé is very creative, the idea was cool, but when you get into a live environment, every situation is different. Every room is different. The Chaos Pad wasn't the type of unit you want to have a live vocal microphone going through. So it caused all sorts of problems live. Feedback through the entire set."

The Chaos Pad didn't seem quite so unmanageable at that last show, probably because the band had grown less reliable as well. The death of Coppé's father kept them from performing together or even in the same state for much of the year, and Pond maintains that "the newer stuff came off very half-assed. Coppé would come into town, we'd practice for a week and a half and play, and she'd be gone again. Then we'd be practicing the set on and on again without vocals for months. We went stir crazy.

"She didn't understand that. She said she had to be in a recording studio all the time or she'd go crazy. Well, we're live musicians; if we're not able to play live, we go crazy. We'd gone a year without playing. We wanted to be more of a band, bounce ideas off each other. It was like trying to restore a car but you're always missing pieces." The group rationally parted ways with Coppé several months ago, and its last recorded tracks together will make up the bulk of a Coppé "solo" CD due out sometime soon.

"We basically just wanted to move on and be a more cohesive unit," remarks Pond. "We just wanted to play with people who were gonna be there to play and perform a lot more often. Terry and I worked with Misty in the past. As an added bonus, she was friends with Athené, so we've had a lot of fun the last four months writing brand-new material."

"A lot of people thought Oto was Coppé's band, but the opposite was true. She was a part of Oto," says guitarist/keyboardist Rick Southern, whose work with the singer predated his participation in Oto. "Every article that came out was based on Coppé. Oto was always in the background."

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