If you’re looking for new music that offers catchy hooks, mesmerizing instrumentals and an invigorating story line, you will love Nowhere Nation’s newly released debut album Omicron. Created by Arthur Blume and produced by Doug Rockwell (5 Seconds of Summer, Sleeping with Sirens), each track from Omicron threads together a rich concept, architected like an adrenaline-pumping mini-movie, across the album’s twelve tracks. The world of Omicron is inspired by the current socio-political climate in the United States, and features accompanying graphic-novel-style illustrations by Aidan Hughes of KMFDM fame. The debut title track, “Omicron,” introduced the story of Seven, a secret agent that finds himself in a state of constant paranoia and hyper vigilance, haunted by flashbacks of the immoral operations he’s been involved in. Safely in an airport after killing one of his pursuers, he sees news of a bombing in a refugee camp, feels haunting guilt for placing the bomb, and resolves to leave the agency. The cinematic instrumentals and lyrics provide a vivid look into the character’s perturbed state of mind as Seven reflects: “What’s my name and what’s my crime / A whole life I don’t recognize.”The sinister second single “See Inside Your Mind,” introduced listeners to Peter, the head of the agency, and Nine, the agency’s assassin and Peter’s lover and protégée. Nine is tired of working for Omicron, but feels bound to it and Peter. Nine meets agent Seven, and they fall for and into bed with each other. They confide in each other about their dissatisfaction with Omicron, and plot to run away together. After spending one last night with Peter, Nine is ready to break up with him (despite feelings of guilt) and leave Omicron to be with Seven. Nine travels to London and then to North Africa to meet up with Seven; Peter is slated to join them shortly to oversee a covert operation against a suspected terrorist leader. Meanwhile, Peter, at a cocktail party in Washington, DC, reflects and feels great satisfaction in being the spymaster and being able to manipulate people and read their minds — including, he mistakenly thinks, Nine’s.In Rubaiyat (Sky on Fire), Seven prepares to escape Omicron. After wrestling with final doubts, Nine joins him. Peter carries out a disastrous covert attack without them. Seven leaks the news of Omicron’s existence to the world, over Nine’s protests, and they break up. Peter is imprisoned by the US government and ends his life.
You just dropped your debut album Omicron. How does it feel to have it out in the world?
I couldn’t be happier about it. When I started, I didn’t know I’d be lucky enough to work with producer Doug Rockwell and artist Aidan Hughes. They took a story I was already passionate about telling and gave it a more extraordinary sonic and visual realization than I’d ever dreamed. You can see all they achieved, in interactive form, at nowherenation.net/omicron. (Tip: Click the characters to see what they’re thinking.)
Did you think your first album would be a concept album?
No — that was a surprise. I’ve been writing since college, so I had plenty of songs, but for a long time I didn’t feel I’d I’d come up with a spark worth rallying an entire album around. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I woke up on a plane flight and thought “If there was a story, that’d clarify everything.” This idea was a roaring success for me. It made the album far more interesting and purposeful because everything serves a dramatic arc. It also made writing much faster. When I know the characters and truly understand what part of the story I’m writing for, the entire song sometimes arrives in a few minutes.
Tell us about your creative process?
Often I wake up with a few measures of melody or texture in my head. If I jot it down in any form, it’ll live long enough to get turned into a song; if I don’t, it’ll get lost completely, no matter how cool it sounded in the middle of the night. This can be tough because often I’d rather just go back to sleep.
But it happened multiple times on Omicron that I’d sit down at GarageBand at 4AM meaning to record just the brief melody I woke up with, and before I know it, it’s 6AM and the demo is done. Then I go to breakfast. Then I have a sudden epiphany about lyrics, causing me to abandon breakfast and sprint back upstairs to redo all the vocals. I send the demo to SoundCloud and listen frequently for a few days, taking notes on how to sharpen rhymes and make things easier to sing. Then I’ll record vocals one more time, and the resulting demo is what gets sent to the producer.
When did you first come up with the idea for the story of “Omicron?”
About six years ago. It started when I wrote an early version of the title track. I didn’t know the full story or the name of the agency, but I remember that it already had the lines “What’s my name, what’s my crime” and “I’m as damned as a man can be.” Not long after, I wrote another song, one that sounded very different from anything I’d done before — moody, surf guitar, low string tuned all the way down to C — and started playing with lyrics about a man getting sent on a mission he wasn’t sure he was going to return from, and a woman who fell in love with the power she felt while holding a sniper’s rifle. That song became “Silence.”
So it was clear that the characters were some kind of agents, meaning they belonged to some kind of agency. Given events at the time (or now), it wasn’t much of a leap to conceive of this agency as so secret you and I wouldn’t even know about it, with a leader who believed the war on terror gave him ultimate license. That led to “Heaven and Earth” and that meant I had the first quarter of the album.
Tell us about the latest single “Rubaiyat (Sky on Fire)”
“Rubáiyát (Sky on Fire)” is the middle of a three-song arc in which two of our characters betray the third (their boss, the leader of the secret agency) and escape from the agency, but first they steal secrets to forestall the leader from lashing out at them in revenge. It’s a moment of maximum dramatic tension because one of the fleeing agents was romantically involved with the leader and is thus betraying him both professionally and personally. This sequence starts with raï-inspired dance music as one agent dreams of impending freedom, and ends with a powerful rock/electronic confrontation between the characters as they sort out their loyalties.
The song is inspired by this quatrain from The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám:
“Ah Love! could thou and I with fate conspire / To grasp this sorry scheme of things entire,
Would not we shatter it to bits — and then / Re-mould it nearer to the heart’s desire!”
I’m incredibly excited to share this album with listeners. It was my goal to create an album worth enjoying in its entirety, and now that it’s all come together, I’m thrilled at how it feels to experience the music and illustrations start to finish. I’m looking forward to hearing how it makes listeners feel. Live performances are coming up in the next few months as well.
Omicron is the first of three planned concept albums, all of which I think of as “mini-movies” with their own complete stories. The second one is already written and we’re producing the first track this fall. It will again feature art by Aidan Hughes, which is already largely done and looking amazing.
For a key to the second album, you can check out the last track on Omicron, “Hell From Heaven.” This is a conscious point of departure — new character, breakout sound — pointing in the direction of what’s coming.