On their latest album, Opin trades in a traditional lineup for a fresh approach, in which every member can play every instrument.
After their 2017 debut album and an EP the following year, Opin is back with an experimental, electronic sound journey perfectly suited to a year of oddity and struggles. The band’s new album, Media & Memory, drops Oct. 23, and will be accompanied by a remix album.
A broken wrist and unfamiliar instruments — not to mention a pandemic and months of lockdown — might not sound like a recipe for success for a band recording their sophomore album. But for Opin, the Richmond-based trio made up of Jon Hawkins, Tori Hovater, and Landis Wine, the project was an experimental journey years in the making.
The new record, Media & Memory, comes three years after the band’s debut self-titled album, but a lot has changed since the first album’s release. After releasing their first LP with Egghunt Records, Media & Memory arrives via WarHen Records at the end of the month. The new album is the result of more experimentation in writing and production than the band’s previous projects.
“I feel like we hit our stride with this record, because about 90 percent of it was written with three of us in a room,” Hovater said. “Jamming, picking apart ideas, and playing things over and over again, deciding what we did and didn’t like.”
While their first album had more of a piecemeal recording process — band members and producers sent bits of material back and forth, from city to city — Media & Memory represented a chance to work together and build the album’s sound from the ground up.
“We were unlearning what we had to do, and figuring out what we wanted to do,” Wine said. “It sounded more focused, more like a band, and like less like a group of people trying to duplicate the sound of a record.”
“We all realized we were into the same sound and going for the same thing,” Hovater added. “Rather than ‘this person wrote this song, this person wrote this song,’ we were all able to see it playing in a room together. We gave immediate feedback on each other’s ideas and built on things.”
With more time to work together, the band was able to try out new instruments. They also took advantage of the group dynamic to learn different techniques. Wine picked up a Bass VI guitar, and Hovater built her keyboard and digital synthesizer expertise. As they discussed how they traded instruments during the recording process, Hovater and Wine bounced answers off each other with a similar ease and excitement.
“I think our gear and hitting our stride in a collaborative writing process are very intertwined,” Hovater said. “If you asked us two years ago who our bassist was, we would say Jon.”
Wine added that Hawkins had never played keyboards before joining Opin.
“Now, anybody could be bassist, anybody could be playing the hook,” Hovater said. “Between us, we all trade parts around and we’ve all written different parts. It’s really cool, because A) We don’t get bored since we don’t do the same thing all the time, and B) It keeps things interesting. It’s a fun way to use our gear to play any part at any time.”
Although Wine injured his wrist in the middle of recording Media & Memory, the band didn’t go on hiatus. Instead, a few songs were dropped, some were rewritten, and two tracks were added to the final project.
“That was dumb as hell,” Wine laughed. “But I was determined. I was like, ‘We’re gonna do this.’”
A tight record at nine tracks, Media & Memory still has room for a lot of experimentation — and even more character. With so many different ideas, the songs are a cohesive listen with what Hovater calls “a purposeful dissonance.”
“We have a lot of fun. We have major stuff going on, minor stuff going on, and lines that maybe don’t seem like they should fit… but they lock in with everything,” Hovater said. “If I listen to a part someone is writing, the last thing in the world I want to write is a complementary part that you’d expect to hear.”
“The more we played together in a controlled environment — and just got used to doing that over and over — we developed our own way of interacting with one another,” Wine added. “Thematically, [the album] develops its own mood after a while.”
The band gathered at Spacebomb Studios to record the album live. It didn’t leave much room for error, but tracks with the relentless spirit of Media & Memory.
“This record is gnarlier, dirtier, spookier, and more cinematic than what we have done before,” Hovater said.
After two years of work and facing both personal and global struggles, Opin’s newest release is a small bright spot in a mess of a year. The trials Media & Memory faced during its journey to completion are evidenced in the raw artistry found in each song, and the sprawling creativity of the album in its entirety.
Top Photo: Opin by Monica Escamilla