Keeping it Long Distance: An Interview with Onra
Synconation’s very first interview . . . and we got Fing ONRA . . . whaaaaa? Anyway, Synco Super Star Carlos Andujar interviewed the hell out of ‘em. And now, he’s blowin’ up! Original interview was published November 22, 2010.
Anyone who’s been in a long distance relationship will tell you that sooner or later, your life becomes a lot like a roller coaster: wrought with extreme moments of excitement, wonder, and sheer terror. By the time the ride’s over, you’re left feeling a little tattered, a little worn, but somehow better for having survived the whole thing.
Parisian beat-maker Onra (a.k.a. Arnaud Bernard) captures all of those elements and mashes them together to craft one of the year’s hottest beat records, Long Distance. From the silky smooth grooves of tracks like “My Comet” and “High Hopes” to the edgy, raw sampling of “Rock On” and “Operator”, Long Distance is a rollercoaster ride you’ll want to take over and over.
Having recently returned from a US tour, Onra was kind enough to answer some of my questions and talk about the making of Long Distance, how he gets his signature sound, and his plans for the future.
Synconation: Let’s start with the basics, first. For those who may not be as familiar with your work as others, can you talk about how you became involved with beat making in general? What inspired you to get started?
Onra: I’ve always been a fan of Hip-Hop music since I was 10. So, I’ve been listening a lot and then I started just for fun and passion. It got more serious over the years, especially when I bought my first MPC  in 2003.
I remember the first Onra song I ever heard, “Long Distance”, and I can remember it having a distinct 80’s feel to it, a feel that I’d been trying to find more of in modern music. Have you always been inspired by music from the 80’s and early 90’s? With so much of your music based on the art of sampling, can you describe your process of picking records and songs to use in your beats? Any favorites in particular?
I have very eclectic tastes in music, it’s hard to describe and I hate to name drop genres… 80’s and early 90’s are definitely genres that I love to listen to. I pick samples when my ears are telling me it sounds good. There’s no scientific way to explain the process, it’s just natural.
It feels like there’s a “revival” of sounds that you would typically hear in the 80’s and early 90’s happening these days. Having listened to Long Distance multiple times now, I feel pretty confident in including that album as part of that revival. Do you feel that that’s accurate? Do you find yourself leaning more to that sort of 80’s sound or was it simply coincidental in the case of Long Distance?
That’s very accurate; all the songs I sampled to make this album were made in the 80’s. It was my goal to keep it in that vibe. It’s a genre that I’ve been heavily listening to those past few ears.
I’m a big fan of other artists like M83 and the Valerie collective, all of whom are based in France and as of late have released material paying homage to the nostalgia of the 80’s. Is this kind of music fairly representative of the music scene in Paris or even France in general? Is there a sense of community there and would you ever be open to collaboration with artists like M83 or College?
I’m not familiar with French scenes, I barely go out when I’m in my city ‘cause I’m always busy making music.
I read that you actually traveled to Vietnam and brought back some records of traditional Chinese songs which you later used for your Chinoiseries Part I release. Will you be doing something similar for Chinoiseries Part II?
Yeah, it’s exactly the same concept, with the same kind of samples… Nothing new. I do it for fun and I do it for the fans ‘cause I know a lot of people like this aspect of my work. My goal is not to disappoint with this one, ‘cause there won’t be the freshness of the first one.
You recently started touring the United States a little while ago. Hopefully you’ll come back soon and perform some dates in Florida! I can totally see myself rocking out “My Comet” in South Beach, Miami Vice-style. Is this your first time performing in the United States? How do you like touring and performing in the U.S. versus Europe?
It’s my first time having a proper tour in the US. I had a gig last year in Los Angeles with a few friends though. I would love to perform in Miami. I’ll be back in a few months, so I think that may happen at that time. This US tour was very intense because I had so many gigs in such a short time. In Europe, you’re able to come back to your city and leave the day you’re performing, it’s more relaxed.
I’d like to get off-topic for just a second, and talk a little bit about your gear. Watching the few YouTube videos that exist of your live performances, I can see that you use two Akai MPC1000’s and a Korg Kaossilator pad. Anything else that I’m missing? Is your setup for performing live a lot different than what you use in the studio?
Yeah I use two MPC 1000’s, a mixer, a Kaoss Pad for effects and a Kaossillator for sounds. It’s a nice set up. It’s like I’m deejaying my beats from my MPC’s, and I play layers on top of them, to make them evolve. I make music with the MPC 1000, so it just makes sense for me to bring it out on stage too.
I noticed you had a number of guest appearances on Long Distance throughout the record, notably Buddy Sativa who you’re on tour with currently. Can you talk a little bit about how you developed those relationships and who if anyone you plan on collaborating with for future projects?
Well, Buddy Sativa and Walter Mecca are French artists too. We’ve been friends for a few years now, and I know they can understand the Funk, so it was just natural for me to invite them on that project. There’s bunch of people I would love to collaborate with, but I keep it as a surprise for later!
I understand that the concept of Long Distance is literally about long distance relationships. Would you mind elaborating on that? Is Long Distance an album of personal experiences for you?
Yeah totally, my personal experiences have influenced me to create this album. Sounds kinda cheesy but it’s true! Can’t get too personal on that subject actually! Just listen to the album, you’ll understand.
Your current tour is wrapping up. What are your plans after the tour is over and for the near future in general?
I’m gonna work on Chinoiseries 2 now, I have a few weeks to finish it, and it will be out at the beginning of 2011. After this, I don’t know yet… We’ll see. This is my priority right now.