Interview | Onra

After three years of intense international touring, Parisian producer Onra (Arnaud Bernard) will return next month with his fifth studio album, Fundamentals. Following his Chinoseries collections which broke him internationally, his “Deep in the Night” EP  and the acclaimed Long Distance LP, Onra will be in the country next month to perform Fundamentals at a string of national tour dates as part of the Red Bull Music Academy Night series, including Vivid LIVE at the Sydney Opera House. We had a chat to Onra to find out more about the new record.  

Your new album Fundamentals is out in a couple of weeks and people keep saying it’s an ‘ode to the nineties’ which I know you don’t agree with… 
It’s not right, I don’t like this, it’s not true [laughs]. It’s definitely the same vibe, I think, but it’s not a throwback album. It’s about recreating the vibe and that feeling I used to have listening to those records. It’s something I’m really nostalgic of. That was really inspiring for me, going back to the stuff I grew up with and figuring out that there’s nothing I love more than rap in music. I was looking more at the aesthetic – the album doesn’t sound like a straight throwback album. It has some elements, for sure, it’s pretty simple at times. I wanted to bring that vibe back. It’s a very positive album. It’s not like a lot of stuff that I hear these days that comes from a dark place. This is for people to enjoy themselves, to make out with their boyfriend or girlfriend. Music for good times, you know? I was missing that in music these days.

You put Fundamentals together in quite a short period of time and recorded remotely from Paris, how did the process of this record coming together differ from your past releases?
I did put it together in quite a short period of time but some of these tracks are made a few years and some from five years ago. As soon as I stopped booking shows every weekend, I told my agent that I needed time to work on an album. I said, “I can’t keep doing shows like this every weekend”. As soon as I told my agent it all happened overnight. Overnight, I had this whole project in my mind, it came so so soon out of nowhere and so clear. I had all these songs for so long just sitting in my computer and overnight I put it all together and I realised, “Wow, this is the beginning of something. An album.” Then I started building on it.

Like your past releases, this album was entirely written, sequenced and output on MPC, which you’ve said will be the last record you will do on the machine, why did you decide to move on from it?
Even though I’m not using it to 100% of its capacity, the MPC is still super limiting and very time consuming. It’s really old school, this technique has been here for thirty years.

When was your interest in making music first sparked?
That was in ’98 or ’99. At the time, I was trying to rap. Because I had no internet and didn’t live in a big city, my access to music was pretty limited. It was hard for me to get my hands on instruments to record my voice. One day, I went to a mall and I saw this cheap software – like twenty bucks or something, it said “make your own beats” or some shit – for a computer. So I was using this, not to make beats or instrumental music at the time, I didn’t even think about it. At the time I used it to make hip hop beats to rap on. That’s how it started. A long time ago now, fuck [laughs].

You have such an eclectic mix of sounds in your back catalogue, what kind of stuff did you listen to growing up?
Strictly hip hop and RnB.

Do you remember the first album that got you into it?
It was a compilation actually. It was like ‘Best of Rap ’91’ or something.

Do you have a favourite show you’ve played so far?
My last show in New York was really one of the best. The venue was sold out, it was actually my first show in New York at Santos Party House. It was just awesome.

Is there a location in the world you would love to play that you haven’t before?
I would like to play South Africa.

Yeah? Why’s that?
I know there’s a scene there – a lot of things going on there. I just want to see what it’s like. I love Africa so it would be nice to go there.

After Fundamentals comes out, what’s next for you? 
I have a few collaborations in mind, and theres stuff I want to experiment with.  I want to move into software production centre, maybe that will inspire me to do some totally different stuff. I want to keep myself entertained and challenge myself and hopefully whatever I do will always be relevant to something.

Onra’s RBMA Tour Dates
Friday 15th May – Perth / Parker Night Club
Saturday 16th May – Melbourne / Prince Bandroom
Thursday 21st May – Brisbane / Woolly Mammoth
Friday 22nd May – Sydney / Sydney Opera House
Saturday 23rd May – Adelaide / Rocket Bar