Five Questions With… Odario
The Grand Analog frontman and CBC Radio host releases a solo EP in May. Here he discusses his new track Low Light, the power of gospel, a new creative approach, the influence of his radio show, and a magical night in Manhattan.
By Jason Schneider
Over the past few years, Odario Williams has become known as the front man for hip-hop collective Grand Analog, and as the host of CBC Radio’s Afterdark. But now he’s stepping out simply as Odario with a solo EP Good Morning, Hunter slated for release this May via Do Right Music. He recently dropped the first single Low Light (In This Space), produced by Alister Johnson and featuring Vancouver gospel singer Dawn Pemberton.
For Odario, born in Guyana and raised in Winnipeg, the new project continues his efforts to push the boundaries of hip-hop, while emphasizing its power to bring individuals and communities together. He’s demonstrated this already through guest appearances on tracks by A Tribe Called Red, Delhi 2 Dublin and others, while his natural storytelling ability has made him an ideal late-night radio host for the entire country.
We recently caught up with Odario to hear more about how his career has evolved, as he prepared for a cross-Canada with Bedouin Soundclash that kicks off Feb. 7 in Victoria and hits Toronto’s Opera House on Feb. 20 before wrapping up at Montreal’s Theatre Corona on Feb. 22. Go to odario.com for full details.
What makes Low Light (In This Space) stand apart from your past work?
It doesn't stand apart much at all, come to think of it! With hip-hop as the foundation, I've always experimented with different genres. That will never change. I believe it stems from growing up in Winnipeg. Peg City artists have been organically mashing up genres long before it was a thing. But Low Light (In This Space) is the first time I've implemented a gospel aesthetic into a song. I've always wanted to do that because gospel is such a powerful medium, even without having to use words. Working a gospel-inspired sound into other genres, especially hip-hop, can go wrong in so many ways... and can easily land on a pile of cheese. But the incredible Dawn Pemberton made this track pop! But Low Light is definitely a new direction for me, as I'm currently working on a fresh perspective on life in general. I left behind some old baggage I've been hauling around back in 2019, and that "2020 vision" doesn't come easy. Low Light marks the beginning of my exploration into something—and someone—new and unknown. I've reinstalled my childlike curiosity and hunger. I'm starving, and extra nosey these days, and looking forward to digging into future endeavours.
What's the overall process been like making your upcoming EP?
It's been a learning experience because I get to work with talented producers, like Todor Kobakov, who brings a specific process into the space. I try my best to adapt to a songwriting approach I'm unfamiliar with; every producer gets stuck in their own ways, as they should. But I try to be open-minded and be a good listener because I've written songs the exact same way for years. And that can easily make you stubborn about things. So now is the perfect time for a change in process. Todor is a brilliant mad scientist that has set out to match my crazy, and that's all an artist can ask for. In this space, I know nothing—but I can learn a little something if I try.
You're a well-known voice on CBC Radio now as the host of Afterdark. How has that changed your perspective on music?
My appreciation of the songwriting process has evolved. There are plenty of artists around the world that craft magical songs in makeshift studios, tiny bedrooms, dusty closets and mouldy basements because they are possessed to do so. Creating a song can be a gruelling process with very little reward, but we do it anyway. Afterdark takes pride in locating those dark lovely pieces to share on-air. We play an average of 60 songs a night, five nights a week. If you do the math... that's a lot of songs every week! And mind you, I get a lot of submissions every week as well. The songs on Afterdark are so beautiful, unique and well crafted. It's a joy to submerge myself in them as often as I do. I also appreciate the importance of soundtracking the night time vibe, and the correlation between artist and listener during the dark hours. We listen a lot more intently at night. We are a community, no doubt... as everyone else is fast asleep.
What song in your catalogue means the most to you and why?
The Grand Analog song Around This Town comes to mind first. I wrote that song immediately after moving to Toronto, from Winnipeg. I was quite lonely in those days, but at the same time, I was extremely excited to devour the big city. I was quite disoriented. The only cure for that was to write. I'd play the Around This Town demo repeatedly in my headphones while taking 4 a.m. walks through the city because I couldn't sleep. The lyrics would come to me as I'd rap to myself over the loud headphones. I assume I was the "loud rapping guy" waking up the neighbours at night. Regardless, I love the way that song turned out. It's still a crowd favourite. Around This Town also means a lot to me because I sampled an old ‘70s dub reggae record called Dulcemania, which my dad used to play around the house when I was a child. It was beautiful to see that song come full circle in my life.
What's your best touring story?
There are too many to mention! So many memorable road stories often sift through my mind. Like the time we performed an acoustic set in a busy coffee house in Manhattan. No DJ, no electronic instruments. Just a cajón drum with an acoustic bass and sax. There was a sweet ‘lil crowd mixed with intrigued people from different parts of the world. There were so many different flavours in the room, and only half of them were fluent in English. And it was that very night I fully understood the power of words. I was fully exposed to the crowd, like a poet on a pedestal. It felt more like a theatre performance because I didn't have heavy hip-hop beats to tuck behind. The people who barely spoke English understood my mojo and embraced the minimal music. The goosebumps were pumpin'. There was a genuine people connection that night... and a learning experience I'll never forget.