Heritage Hump Day: Otto D - "Why Should I Care"
Every Wednesday is Heritage Hump Day! That's because every Wednesday from now to the end of the year or before someone really big stops us, Heritage Hump Records (a temporary subsidiary of Onus Records) and New Times will be bringing you a limited edition collector's item of a much beloved Phoenix band that only sounds like it walked the scorched earth of Arizona before or shortly after the year 2000 A.D.
We will honor that band with a commemorative digital single that you, the digital public, will have a limited time to download to your computers and smart phones before this single gets marked up to an exorbitant price as determined by the mp3 collector community. When that happens, a new Heritage Hump subject will be chosen and the free-for-a-limited-time-only cycle begins anew.
On December 9, Otto D'Agnolo (a.k.a. Otto D), the platinum award-winning producer/engineer/songwriter and former owner of Chaton Studios will be performing at Last Exit Live! The reason this event is worthy of note is that in all the 20-plus years D'Agnolo has toiled in the service of music and musicians in the Valley, he has never once performed his own music live for the local gentry.
Recently, he portrayed John Lennon in a tribute show called Working Class Hero and at the Lennon 75 celebration at the Celebrity Theater, which must've lit a fire somewhere in the posterior area. He has released several CDs you could get on iTunes in the past 12 years as Otto D and the fictitious Caesar Bach, so you'd think maybe the odd CD release show would be in order. Nah. Why so long in the shadows, you may ask?
"It never crossed my mind," says D'Agnolo, who says he wrote this material, particularly the Caesar Bach CD as "an audio gag reflex to what I was hearing on the radio. I thought, 'Can it really be that hard to do?' I just started going and suddenly 20 years of following the "rules of how to make records" kind of exploded onto my computer screen.
If the thought, “You can't do that on a record' came into my mind, then whatever "that" was became a prerequisite for the next track. Simple rules like making sure things are in tune and not putting your beer on the console while you cutting your own vocals in the control room with the speakers blaring (instead of wearing headphones. That's about four broken rules in one defiant act of audio hand book blasphemy."
We first learned about Caesar Bach in a CD bundled with a book D'Agnolo wrote about our still crumbling record industry called The Music Business Is Burning Down, Thank God (Trafford Books) and in a 2006 New Times profile titled "How It Otto Be."
When D'Agnolo, without missing a beat, says, "That's not what the '60s were for," it's not a boomer battle cry for old music, but more an indictment on how the music industry once had a model of how the whole art and commerce and radio thing worked beautifully before everyone started second-guessing themselves. The Music Business Is Burning Down reads like a more hopeful Hitmen! (yep, he covers current record industry payola scandals, too), offering viable scenarios of record companies embracing free downloads, promoting an artist to generate fans (not sales), and then sharing in other streams of revenue, like merch, publishing, and tour receipts. Artists will also have to make their records more of an event, whether it's through eye-catching graphics (Tool's new album contains a collection of edgy 3D art and glasses) or charging fans an annual subscription fee that entitles them to exclusive perks (see Prince's Web site).
D'Agnolo's full of ideas, and he gives one away right here that isn't even in the book. "If AOL put one or two free songs by new artists on one of the 20 million or so CDs they give away each year, more people would at least be tempted to at least put the disc in their computers. Because who doesn't want free music? You could pay the artist one or two cents per CD and he'll make more than he'd ever make at a traditional label. Hello? AOL to artist — you got royalties!"
You wonder if AOL CDs are worth anything now since so many people flung theirs out the window. The book is full of prescient predictions about how things in the industry could thrive in the era of free music, many sadly not implemented.
"The thing that seems to me to have NOT happened is the very thing that SHOULD have happened and still can. If I get my way, I'll be the one to make it happen since nobody seems to be watching or seeing what I see," says D'Agnolo. "I proved a model would work a few years ago and I'm talking to new people about building the perfect beast that will again revive certain necessary portholes for financial transactions between market elements that can and will create GREAT income for high-end recording studios (most struggling for their financial well-being), GREAT income to recording artists (most struggling for their financial well being) and RENEWED interest in rebuilding something similar to LABEL BRANDS."
Speaking of brands, this week we're stamping our Heritage Hump insignia on a track from D'Agnolo's Caesar Bach CD. It's a pretty fine example of how to throw away the rule book (keep track of how long the song veers away from the chorus never to return) and still come up with an arresting three-and-a half-minute pop gem.
"Why Should I Care" is a fairly balanced example (if one exists) of the Caesar Bach experience, says D'Agnolo.
"I didn't have the name and didn't think of the record as being me while I made it,” he says. “I just kept making tracks that seemed interesting without worrying about the fact that it was me or what anyone might think of me if I released such a beast.”
Now all he needed was a memorable moniker.
“Once the project was complete, I thought, I should have a better name than mine, mine being one that no one can pronounce, which isn't an uncommon experience for artists, whom almost inevitably change their name. Elvis Costello’s name choice inspired my name choice as well,” D'Agnolo says “Being a big fan, I admired how he took the name of an American Icon, combined it with a famous American comedian, made the statement ‘My Aim Is True’ and then stood on the cover of his record like a Pinocchio doll version of Buddy Holly. He made you wonder, what the heck is this guy about — music or comedy. He made you listen with no ability to gain a preconceived notion, so you had to choose between the conflicting images after listening. Was he a clown? Or a genius?”
“You had to decide and really he was a bit of both. Guess that wasn't a surprise. But in the end, I thought an alter ego name might be nice if it was a name as singularly perceived as Elvis then tagged with musical connection. I came up with Caesar (my being Italian and interested in world domination, musically speaking) and attached it to Bach as a pretty heavy music name.”
"Why Should I Care" was actually a lyric based on the lack of relationship with John Lennon. Silly concept but in hind sight maybe not. I'll never forgetting hearing about his death and it struck me that while I would never ever meet the man, he could not have cared less. Still an odd concept for a lyric.
"My work since that record (in 2004) has not been nearly as reckless and convoluted so I can't say in represents what I'm doing at my upcoming show at all (most of which comes from my latest CD called "A Muse Zing") but the track certainly requires a few listens to gather in and is very representative of the Caesar Bach CD as a whole."
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