It’s about an hour before sunset when we arrive at Anth Wendt’s home studio in the city’s south-east. The Adelaide producer and multi-instrumentalist better known as Oisima is surrounded by instruments of almost every order: a violin, an upright piano, guitars, a saxophone, various beat up MPCs and mixers, and a vintage organ – which hums eerily until about midway through our interview.
“She’s a cranky old girl,” Wendt says, flicking a few coloured switches to quieten it down.
A handful of his favourite records are on the mantle, and hundreds more line the hallways of the Victorian maisonette. There’s a turntable in almost every room. And that’s just what he keeps at hand. Wendt has a whole other studio’s worth of gear in storage alongside tons more vinyl. He pours wine and selects some background music. Between sips and surprise cuddles from stumpy-tailed cattle dog Elka, he runs us through his new record.
We first heard whispers of a new Oisima album back in 2017. “It’s coming along well,” is what he told us then. Two-and-a-half years on, the album – titled Deeper Waters – is finally complete. It’s out now via Missouri-based label Yoruba Records and will be performed live for the first time at Womadelaide this weekend.
But its inception began four years ago. Wendt takes us back to a specific day in March of 2016. He’d just played the final support gig for French house/nu-jazz artist St Germain (Ludovic Navarre) at Sydney’s Enmore Theatre. “He came up to me with his translator – because he doesn’t speak a word of English – who said, ‘Ludovic really wants to say something to you,’” Wendt recalls. “‘Ludovic wants you to know that the reason he asked you to come on tour is because he’s been in love with your music since you started making it, and it’s been his honour to have you on tour.’”
Hearing this from someone he admired so deeply knocked him about. “I finished the show, and I went outside and had a tactical tear,” Wendt says. “I took a year off music after that show. I didn’t feel like I was being grateful if I kept going. I just needed to stop and appreciate what I get to do.”
Wendt says he noodled around with ideas – old habits are hard to kick – but he stalled, finding himself split between familiar and unfamiliar processes for making music. “I’m predominantly a solo producer who has people come and guest on songs that I write,” Wendt says. But in 2015, Oisima played Here’s to Now festival backed by a 12-piece band. “Here’s to Now gave me the opportunity to hear my music as I’d never heard it before,” Wendt says. He resolved that whatever he did next, it would capture that experience.
Wendt challenged himself to craft a record that was wholly original. “Every single piece, every instrument, every sound – there’s not one sample … the whole thing was recorded live,” he says. Songs were pieced together over numerous sessions with Adelaide’s jazz elite, constantly flexing and reforming as the players explored new sonic territory together. “It allowed my music to go to places that I couldn’t imagine,” Wendt says. By the end, he had 30 finished tracks, seven of which made it onto Deeper Water.
“Nothing would have happened with what I’m doing now without the Adelaide jazz community,” Wendt says. “I planned to move but my booking agent and my manager said, ‘Dude, stay in Adelaide.’” He cites Kiah Gossner, Ross McHenry and Adam Page as his principal enablers. “Adam single-handedly changed my style,” he says.
When Wendt moved to Adelaide – roughly 12 years ago – he says he was “trying to emulate Flying Lotus or Teebs or whatever”. Seeing Page play live skewed him in a new direction. “I got Adam around to my house,” Wendt recalls. “I had this rolling beat … a sample of a Thelonious Monk song … and Adam played this ruthless fucking sax line.” The resulting track, Trying to Remember, was released on his 2012 Dusk Til Dawn EP. It caught the ears of other jazz-influenced beat makers Flume and Nick Murphy (formerly Chet Faker), who both singled it out as their favourite song of the year.
“It was weird,” Wendt says. “I was this beatsy jazz dude who was getting played on Triple J – which at the time was unheard of.”
The evolution to a fully live studio album took more than a decade. Deeper Water is texturally distinguishable from previous Oisima releases. It reflects the artist’s home as much as his musical influences, and captures the character of Adelaide’s live music scene.
“This record is not even mine,” Wendt says. “Well, it’s not not mine, but it’s not just mine.” Featured on Deeper Water are Adelaide musicians Giovanni Clemente, Jason McMahon, Alex Wignell, Ben Todd, Kiah Gossner, and others, with lyrics and vocals by Jimetta Rose, Wallace Golan, Nelson Dialect, Cazeaux OSLO, Abbey Howlett and Anthony Mills.
Deeper Water is noticeably more organic than previous Oisima releases. As with all his previous albums, it opens with a short instrumental – in this case Reprise, two gentle minutes built around a rough piano progression with a top line of breathy saxophone by Giovanni Clemente. Beneath there’s a whump of acoustic bass and the faintest hint of a drum loop, alluding to what’s up next. From there, the record settles into a groove that’s part summer party, part late-night afterparty. Rhythms have a cohesive, rolling quality, leaving behind the glitchy, sample-based feel of earlier Oisima work. The spacious production provides scope for the instrumentation to breathe and soloists to contribute their personal inflections across Wendt’s characteristically broad pan.
The first single, Loving You Was Easy featuring Wallace, was released late last year. It was the first song Wendt wrote for the record – after several days of BADBADNOTGOOD’s Time Moves Slow playing on repeat in his head. “I based my whole record off one line in that song,” he admits.
He swivels to his mixer, bringing up the Canadian band’s original and letting it play through to the chorus. The unmistakably gruff timbre of Sam Herring’s vocal sits soulfully over a stuttery drum pattern and elongated organ. “I mean, come on,” Wendt says, sliding down the fader like he’s rousing from a dream. He plays us a little of his own track. “They probably don’t sound similar at all … but it’s got the same feel, in a weird way.”
At this weekend’s Womad gig, Oisima will be aided by bassist, arranger and Wendt’s “saving grace”, Kiah Gossner. “He takes my vision and allows me to perform with orchestras. I couldn’t do shit without him on this live scale … I’m very lucky to have that,” Wendt says. “Going into the Womad set is fucking scary,” he continues. “The most freaked out person on that stage is me.”
Deeper Water * is out now via Yoruba Records. Oisima and band play Womadelaide’s Stage 7 on Monday March 9 at 8.15pm.