The goofy laidback outlier of Dirty Hit talks genre agnosticism, touring with friends, and the coolness in being uncool.
Note: this interview originally ran on Set the Tape (link).
An axiom commonly shared by both musicians and professional wrestlers is that their stage personas are basically just their own personality turned up a good percentage. They might noticeably switch “on” when they get up to perform, but you can still notice their off-stage selves in the performance given. This is an observation which can most definitely be applied to Oscar Lang, the prolific rambunctious outlier on the latest Dirty Hit Tour. The second he walks into the upstairs green room at Sheffield’s Leadmill for our interview, he reconsiders shedding his thick winter jacket upon feeling the air being “quite nippy” and noting the single-glazing of the room’s windows. As I set up the recording equipment and parameters, he takes the time to point out the tape recorder decoration of my voice recording app with great joy. When he eventually drops an f-bomb on-tape for what’s also meant to double as an air-able radio interview, he immediately catches himself and confesses that “I knew I couldn’t hold it, I had to get one out there!” whilst suggesting the dolphin sound effects from Spongebob Squarepants to the editing team to mask it.
Oscar is a relentlessly charming, full-force, goofy human being and his laugh is an infectious constant presence. That’s off-stage. On-stage, he swears like a sailor, gyrates like your drunk semi-sleazy uncle at a best friend’s wedding, refers to his band as “The Oscar Lang Wang Gang,” and plays his newly-written dead-cheesy Christmas song as the set’s penultimate number to a raucous sincere reaction. All of these are genuine compliments, for the record. Oscar cites Mac DeMarco as one of the biggest inspirations for his music which is evident in his fun-loving stage persona and the louche This Old Dog vibes of his 2019 album Silk, a record that flips from a goof (‘Snacks’ is introduced on stage as “a fun song about being depressed and eating too much fucking food”) to a sincere vibe on a dime (‘Passion’). But whilst DeMarco is similarly willing to be weird and silly, his overall sound has recently settled into something unified and consistent.
By contrast, Oscar followed up that June album barely a month later with the Bops, etc. EP whose first three non-intro tracks recall (in order) Electric Light Orchestra (‘Hey’), Supertramp (‘Trash’), and Flight of the Conchords (‘French Girl’). I feared that bringing up the ELO comparison in particular to him would come off as a backhanded compliment, but I needn’t have worried since his smile widened even further when I invoke the name. “Mate, I LOVE ELO, so that’s a sick influence!” By his own admission, he is a restless unapologetically genre-hopping muse-following type who switches styles dependent on what he’s interested in that day; he confesses to having a full EP of dance tracks he wants to put out at some point whilst his set after the interview swings from funk pastiches to throwback mid-00s indie rock and back several times across the half-hour. In that respect, he’s a product of our generation, raised on the Internet with little interest in or consideration for antiquated notions of genre gatekeeping and good taste so long as the music slaps.
Or, as he puts it: “If the music is truthful, there’s a certain coolness to being completely accepting and putting everything out there without shame.”
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
One of the things I’ve noticed is that there is a complete lack of self-consciousness to your work. A willingness to be fun and goofy which stands in stark contrast to so many other artists, even on the Dirty Hit label.
For me, I view my music as like a personality of me. It’s like an Instagram or something; me on a page. And I think it’s kind of ridiculous to expect one artist to be completely serious or completely this or that. Any one day, I could just be completely depressed or completely “wahey-ey, let’s go!” So, for me to have the difference like that in my music just shows my character and I don’t really give a damn if anyone cares that it’s a little tongue-in-cheek. I like that, it’s nice to have a bit of fun sometimes.
You’ve mentioned a lot in interviews that you’re very restless and change musical styles all the time based on what’s currently interesting you. But I’m curious about, now moving from making music in a bedroom to making music in studios with a band, how does that change things logistically when coming up with the music?
It kinda makes it harder in a way cos now I can do so much more! There’s no limit to the possibilities. I can do this stuff on the laptop, a rap track or a grime track or a dance track or just whatever track, then I can go with my band and just do a proper THRASH METAL RAWWWK! So, now I can just do anything it’s kind of…
Overwhelming but at the same time “oh, yes, I can finally do that!” Cos there have been so many times where I was limiting the music I was making. One of the reasons I was doing synthy lo-fi sort of sounds is because you can just do that on a computer, you don’t need that many resources. But now that I have the resources to be able to go out and record all sorts of music, it’s been really sick to be able to be like “oh, I can record an acoustic guitar track and now I don’t have to…” On my album Silk, I had to get my drummer, who is actually now my guitarist in the band, to go to his old college for an hour and do five tracks in an hour. One or two takes on each one with three mics on the drums, and that was it! So, it’s nice to know now that I can get legit drum takes and take my time with it.
I read that you’re trying to… not so much be less collab-heavy going forward, but on all your previous works, you work a lot with other people and I believe you’re trying to figure out how to do more stuff by yourself?
Yeah, I’m trying to. A lot of the time I would do the tracks and then be “hey, you wanna hop on this track?” But I do love working with people; it’s the best thing, bouncing ideas off of other. But I just wanted to hone in on myself, the music that I was writing and get better with everything I was doing. Cos I’ve always been a huge music nerd, I can look back on stuff I was doing even three months ago and find so many flaws in it. There’d be certain lyrics where I’d be “oooh, I dunno about that.” Lyrics right now is the thing that I wanna get good at because I’ve been getting into writing poetry.
Is that also why you’ve been so prolific, amassing this ridiculous body of work, in an effort to curb those perfectionist tendencies?
Oh, definitely! It’s kind of weird as I don’t consciously think of it like that. It’s just the music I make as I’m going which then gets uploaded and people will listen to it. It’s kind of like a form of practice but in front of everyone. *laughs*
In that sense, then, do you just naturally prefer EPs as a format? Spotify lists two “albums” but only one is really longer than an EP, and you’re still technically working on an official full album.
My first “album” was Teenage Hurt, which I thought when I put it up would be an EP cos it was 7 songs and one of them was just a little track between. It’s weird to have the definition of an EP change cos, for me, an EP is getting halfway through an album and going “right, I can’t wait, gotta get it out!”
Whereas an album is “ok, I gotta hold everything back for ages” and it’s just so satisfying when you’re like “AH, HERE YOU GO! 13 songs all out in one, so much content for you guys.”
Does that personality of always wanting to move forward and try new things makes you more mentally suited for EPs? Do you have to put yourself and your mind in a place to be able to do an album?
Yeah, I think you approach it as “I’m going to do an ALBUM!” It’s not you start making an EP then… well, actually, Silk started as an EP and then slowly evolved into an album. But I think with the album I’m next going to make, I’m definitely going to be, “right, this is an album, it’s going to be a big collective of work.” I’m also hugely a perfectionist with the way my music is structured together. I don’t wanna combine these old tracks with these new ones, cos I’ve been writing music for ages and there’s tracks which I’ve written when I was 15/16 which I’m still gonna release. I’m just figuring out what would sound nice and stand as a collective body of work.
What drew you to Dirty Hit? Did they come to you?
Some people don’t know this, I met Bea [beabadoobee] ages ago. Me and Bea started making music in my room, I set up her Spotify and her Bandcamp, basically just doing everything up until she got signed with Dirty Hit. She didn’t know much about the music industry so I was “I’ll handle your emails!” I went into the meeting with her and I met Jaime [Oborne, label co-founder] the first time Bea did as well. She got signed, I did that first EP for her on Dirty Hit and I guess they just wanted me next! They saw what I was doing and must’ve liked it as now I’m signed to Dirty Hit. I was always drawn to them because I was so familiar with them thanks to Bea, even going to their offices, there’s only 10 people there so I knew all of them pretty much already.
What’s it been like going on tour with Bea and Rome?
Well, I’ve known Bea for ages but this is our first tour with Rome. I’d only met him for half-hour at the Dirty Hit Studio before and he’s a fuckin’ sound don, we love chilling with those boys. So, yeah, the Dirty Hit Tour is just like a family on tour.
So, what’s in the future after this?
We got new music coming out early next year and that again is another change in sound cos I don’t like to keep it simple. I’m just excited to keep changing my sound, and I hope people support that and still respect it cos whilst these are different styles of music, I think it’s still the same style of songwriting. You still hear the same songwriting in general.
Plus, I’d like to think that, our generation lacking ideas of genre-gatekeeping, we don’t go “I only listen to Rap” or “I only listen to Rock” nowadays.
This is the problem! People are always asking me what kind of music do I listen to? “Mate, I couldn’t say, I don’t know.” I don’t really add full albums into playlists and stuff. I just add one or two songs and my playlist is just the weirdest mix of shit. Some Rage Against the Machine, some orchestra music, some random grime…
But that’s how a lot of us consume music now! We don’t see genre, we just go “is it a bop? Do I connect to this?”
That’s what I’m like with my music. I couldn’t stay with just one thing cos I like too much stuff!
Speaking of which, I like to ask artists I interview to offer up recommendations on what they are listening to…
There are A LOT of artists that I listen to…
Try and keep it manageable, if possible!
I do kind of resolve around indie music, that’s where my heart is, but I don’t know what exactly that constitutes. A lot of people say Arctic Monkeys is indie music but I wouldn’t say that’s my sort of thing. Mac DeMarco-indie is more me. I’ve been listening to a lot of Luke Temple. He’s this alternative artist, I wouldn’t call him indie, but he’s weird and I love him. A lot of Andy Shauf; this venue looks strangely like one of his album covers, he’s got a new one coming out. And I’d say Connan Mockasin as well. Just everything about him, he’s cool. I like weird people, they inspire me.
Bops, etc. and Silk are available now to stream and buy on vinyl from Dirty Hit.
Callum Petch don’t care for Instagram likes.