Joyful Noise Recordings

Sometimes even the longest journey ends close to where you started. Throughout the teens, Oneida pushed further and further into abstract, atmospheric sounds, recording long haunting compositions that couldn’t have been more different than the pulsing, hammering anthems of their past. But now they return with Success, their most guitar-centric, rock album in decades. It kicks off with “Beat Me to the Punch,” a song that is minimal like the best Ramones songs are minimal, pared back to beat and melody and a limited number of guitar chords. It’s an uncomplicated pleasure from the get-go, and if it’s ripped in half later by a corrosive guitar solo, well, what did you expect? This is Oneida.

Oneida has long straddled gray-area boundaries between the NYC punk/psych/rock world and the art/experimental world, playing at gritty rock clubs and elevated cultural institutions, including the Guggenheim, MoMA PS1, ICA London, MassMOCA and the Knoxville Museum of Art. The band has been known for extended live improvisational performances, collaborating onstage with Mike Watt, members of Flaming Lips, Portishead, Boredoms, Yo La Tengo, Dead C, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and many others. Oneida’s members juggle a wide variety of other music projects. Drummer Kid Millions has played with Spiritualized, Royal Trux and Boredoms and releases solo compositions under his own name and as Man Forever. Shahin Motia founded noise-punk’s Ex Models and currently plays in Knyfe  Hyts. Kid and Fat Bobby perform and release music as People of the North, and Bobby has a band called New Pope (postpunk/minimalist duo/trio) releasing a second full-length this year (Shinkoyo).

“We’ve been in the woods for a long time, doing very challenging, fucked up and psychotic things and sharing them with the world and expecting people to keep up,” said Kid Millions. “We honestly did not try to make something more straight ahead but it came out that way.”

To understand how Oneida got here, you have to consider the pandemic, which beat them down first, then set them up for a joyous, triumphant return. The band had booked studio time to record the first of these songs in March 2020, but as the lockdown intensified, they canceled those dates and spent the next 15 months kicking themselves for missing their window. It would end up being the longest break in playing together since Fat Bobby and Kid Millions started messing around in bands in their junior year of high school. Oneida’s five members hunkered down in their various locations—Bobby in Boston, Kid Millions, Shahin Motia, Hanoi Jane and Barry London scattered across Greater New York City—and wrote material. “We had this large and growing collection of songs,” Bobby remembered. “Like everyone who works in some productive, creative way, you get used to the fact that sometimes the faucet is open. Sometimes the faucet is closed. This time the faucet was wide open.”

As the pandemic eased, Oneida got back together again in May of 2021, renting a studio in Rockaway Queens so they could play and record together for the first time in over a year. There were no songs and no agenda. The idea was just to improvise together for two days to see what came out. No one in the band knew whether they’d still be able to play together in the same way, with the same intensity after so long apart. But the magic was still there. “That was a really powerful experience for us,” said Bobby. “There was something very productive about oscillating between that freeform experience and the new set of songs that are honed down and as minimal as we can get.”

With that session under their belts, Oneida reconvened at Spaceman Sound in Greenpoint Brooklyn in September 2021, working with engineer Tom Tierney to capture the new songs in the stripped-down rock and roll sound they seemed to demand. “We wanted to play very, very simply in our own idioms and own vocabularies,” said Bobby. “But it’s funny. It’s a record of rock songs. Some of which have two chords. Some only one.”

No band is an island, so of course there are influences—the fuzzy clangor of the Velvet Underground, the keyboard-stabbing exhilaration of the Clean, the paranoiac lyricism of Suicide, the giddy wallop of the Modern Lovers’ “Roadrunner,” the time-bending open-ended-ness of Can. Still, the main factor in Oneida’s sound is Oneida, specifically the band’s willingness to go where the music takes them, without too much calculation or premeditation.

“One thing that’s important to me about our band is we really believe in following impulse and instinct,” said Bobby. “That doesn’t mean we can’t be conceptual. We’ll often have ideas and pursue ideas. We just have a lot of faith in the process of moving forward with some blindness and to try and like remain open to whatever chaos directs us. I think it’s funny and awesome that it seems to have resulted in an accessible bunch of music that sort of sounds like you’re at a rock show.”

Moving forward has always been important to the members of Oneida, but if you keep moving forward long enough, it might just bring you home. At Oneida’s first post-pandemic show in July 2021, the band played its landmark, single-note-hammering classic “Sheets of Easter,” then launched into all new material. The connection between the new songs and the old one was palpable, in the banging rhythms, the blasts of keyboards, the motorik motion that can go on forever or stop on a dime. Sometimes the journey takes the shape of a perfect O.
– Jen Kelly