By Jordan Reisman
Photo courtesy of Nnamdi Ogbonnaya.
Nnamdi Ogbonnaya from Chicago, Ill. makes a lot of music. He is currently enlisted in seven bands either playing drums or bass and is one of the more recognizable characters in the Chicago music scene (I say “music” in a general sense because he’ll play anything). He releases solo music under the name Nnamdi’s Sooper Dooper Secret Side Project seemingly every week, and even when he’s on tour with his other bands, he’s still making music in the precious moments he gets to himself.
BTR had a chance to speak with Ogbonnaya fresh off a Canadian tour with his band Itto and back at his college, the University of Illinois at Chicago where he has practically the least musical major imaginable — electrical engineering. Our talk began with what really became Ogbonnaya’s mantra towards life and music, “It’s easier for me to get motivated to do music things, so I can do that by myself. Anything else, I don’t have motivation to do by myself.”
Now that this is understood about him, we can start at the beginning.
“I’ve been writing songs by myself for god knows how long but this solo project is just me wanting to do something while I wasn’t playing drums. It’s a lot of electronic things, so it’s a quieter approach to everything. I can do it at night, I can do it whenever because I don’t have to be loud,” he tells BTR.
Ogbonnaya has a rigorous approach to playing music, and admits that he feels restless when not playing drums, so the Sooper Dooper Secret Side Project was a way for him to stay engaged even when he can’t be playing drums for three hours at a time. He said the longest time he ever went without playing an instrument was two weeks and during that time he was “crying.”
Drummers are hard to come by, and talented drummers with extreme focus are even harder. Ogbonnaya satisfies both of these criteria and with that comes near weekly requests to be in a new band.
“I have a lot of friends that are really awesome musicians so we just keep wanting to start new things and do different projects. It’s mostly other people asking me to do things and not me trying to start a bunch of projects. I’m only in bands with people I’m good friends with but if someone wants me to play a show with them or learn songs to go record, I’ll usually do it if I like their music,” he says about his screening process.
It’s a pretty incredible time to be a musician in Chicago right now as the city is large enough to host such a diverse array of musical cultures and scenes but dense enough that there is a communal aspect among those who are involved with them. Ogbonnaya has even created his own Chicago microcosm with his label, Swerp Records.
“There’s so many bands and so many different groups of bands. It’s hard to actually gauge how much music there is because you can go to one show and see people you’ve never seen before and then go to another show and see a bunch of people you know. There are just a bunch of different scenes, for lack of a better word. You’ll definitely find stuff you’ve never heard of if you just look into it a little bit,” Ogbonnaya tells hopeful Chicago tourists.
Ogbonnaya hesitates when using the word “scene” only because the word has taken on so many meanings that to use it would almost be likening something sacred and unmentionable to mid-2000’s Hot Topic-core. Having gone to one of his shows myself, I can attest that there was no Manic Panic in the audience and one could really feel sense of community there.
His May release, Bootie Noir, is a complex and slightly schizophrenic record that challenges the listener by just featuring so many genres including hip-hop, math rock, noodly emo guitar tapping, and includes a few skits. Again, another word that is a bit cringe-inducing but apropos here is “crossover”, which would really only apply if someone pegged him as strictly involved with Chicago emo. Ogbonnaya tends not to put too much faith in staying the same and instead strives to one-up himself, in turn, forcing the listener to advance their taste as well.
“I feel like people like more than they know. People that say that they only listen to punk will probably like other things if they just give it a chance. I was never into picking one thing and liking it. I’m just into so many things.”
Bootie Noir will make you laugh, seriously, but at the same it’s not a “joke album.” Listening to BN is like stepping into Ogbonnaya’s head which is a little terrifying but each go-around is more exhilarating than the last.
“I make music seriously even with stuff I joke about,” says Ogbonnaya. “All music is kind of funny to me so anything I do is going to have some sort of weird feel. None of it was intentionally supposed to be a specific thing.”
Such a creative process would would confuse most but for someone as regimentally scatterbrained as Ogbonnaya, it comes naturally. With his aforementioned recent release West Coast Burger Voyage and his hyper-productive work ethic, he says that “music isn’t hard.”
“I don’t know if that’s a good thing to say or if people will take offense to that but if it’s something you like to do, you’re gonna figure out how to do everything that you want,” he continues. “That goes for most things: if you like it, you’re gonna figure out how to make it work.”
There is no hint of pretension in Ogbonnaya’s tone. Though his songs are complex, the way he works is astoundingly easy. His last two releases felt autobiographical in the way that they are outwardly funny and outlandish but also personal.
He says about a possible deeper meaning hidden in the nuggets of his work, “I like writing songs that people think are really personal to me but aren’t at all.”
While his music is not exactly hinting to an ocean of melancholy under the surface, he gets excited when his music means something to others.
“When people hear a song and they’re like, ‘This actually meant something to me’ and I’m like, ‘That’s fucking awesome. It didn’t mean anything to me but I’m glad it moved someone.’”
The thing about Ogbonnaya is that in no way is he trying to be something he’s not, especially not a pseudo-tortured artist at the same time as writing songs about butts. He only knows how to be himself, and that’s a lot easier to be when you have such a one-of-a-kind name.
“I feel like if more people made a conscious effort to just be themselves through music, we’d have so much more diversity in music.”
To dive into Nnamdi’s Sooper Dooper Secret Side Project, click here.
Check out Nnamdi’s music and interview on the newest episode of Discovery Corner on BTR .