Aunt Ange is a dark-rock collective from Long Island that incorporates moody concepts, skillful musicianship, and a driving integrity to create mysterious yet melodic rock ‘n’ roll. The group’s latest release, Olga Walks Away, showcases the band’s thematic ideation, and recently AQ had the chance to talk with multi-instrumentalist Patrick O’Brien about the group’s deep origins, their influences, and their forthcoming follow-up to Olga Walks Away.
Patrick, can you tell us a little bit about where Aunt Ange is from?
We all stem from Long Island. My brother Austin (Reese, saxophone/guitar), Jack (Kearny, multi-instrumentalist), and I all grew up in Garden City, for the majority of our adolescent years. Jesse (Steffen), our drummer, grew up in Roslyn. We found ourselves surrounded by people who viewed the world a little differently than an artist might, which for me, made it difficult to express my creative side outside of my bedroom walls at the time. I enjoyed my own little creative world at home—always writing, drawing art, and creating music. Jack and I began playing music together during our elementary school years. That’s when this whole project began. We were then, and still are now, trying to make the best possible music that we can pull off, without sacrificing both integrity and honesty. That’s what mattered to us most back then. And that’s what still matters to us today.
Right on! So, it’s pretty safe to say that you guys have been playing together since you were young kids, right?
This band started way back in our formative years. Jack and I began to play music together in the fifth grade, and [we had] all sorts of different names for our bands. The name of our group didn’t matter to us much at the time. We were more interested in learning to play our favorite songs and figuring out how to perform them live. We learned lots of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and even some Beatles songs. I have no idea what it actually sounded like, but to us at the time, it was heaven. We really got lost in the music, and it gave us an escape from the pressures of our everyday lives. That is the beauty of music. Whether you are a songwriter performing your own songs, or a listener tuning out the world with your headphones, there is a profound connection to this other world we call music. It is other-dimensional and almost ghost-like. When listening to, or performing music, we all step into this unknown world which can at times be scary, and at other times feel like pure bliss. I think we can all relate to that.
There is a sixth sense present when we play our concerts now, because we have almost an entire lifetime behind us of understanding each other musically. And we never take that for granted. I can’t believe that it has been over 25 years since we started making music together. It’s crazy to think about. I remember when we started to record our own songs back then, on a four-track cassette recorder that Jack had just purchased. This little machine gave us the ability to finally record the songs we had been working on. A few years later, Jack upgraded to an eight-track recorder, and our minds were officially blown! We could now do more layering with our newly acquired tracking capabilities, and we experimented with it heavily. We loved it. I often wonder if we still have that cassette machine laying around somewhere, and those tapes.
Yeah, man, that would totally be an awesome trip down memory lane…. So, how would you describe Aunt Ange’s music to someone who has never heard you before?
Our music is best described by one of The Aquarian’s very own journalists, Doktor John. He wrote about us in his New Dark Age column. Dok described our music as ‘Dark and trippy—heavy on concepts of mystery and mortality… with themes that tap into a childlike vision of Grimm fairy tales, set to rock with elements of early twentieth century musical idiom, and accented with occasional rusty-sounding saxophone riffs.’ When someone asks me what our music sounds like, I often use this quote from him, because we have always had trouble translating our sound into words. I don’t mean that in an egotistical way by any means. Far from it. It is just a little bit difficult to describe. I remember when I read his article, I said to myself ‘That’s it! He gets it.’
Doktor John definitely has an astute ear! So now, let’s talk about influences. What was informing this very unique sound that you guys have?
I’d say we all have a deep appreciation for the music of Nine Inch Nails, Nirvana, Tom Waits, the Cure, Radiohead, the Beatles, Danny Elfman, Bach, Beethoven, Elliot Smith, Pink Floyd, Sonic Youth, and many others. I also think it is very important to include some other influences besides music. I’ve always had a fondness for the writings of Edgar Allan Poe, and the art and writings of Edward Gorey (amongst other authors and illustrators). I feel as though there is a direct correlation between their forms of art, and our music. I’ve always wondered to myself, ‘What kind of music would be playing in the worlds of Edgar Allan Poe and Edward Gorey? What would that music sound like?’ I can remember sitting in my basement, watching the old Disney Halloween cartoons with Austin and Jack while we were recording our third record Olga Walks Away. We turned the sound down and watched the visuals without the music or sound effects. I think that moment had a big impact on how our songs “Black Funeral Dress” and “House of Bones” came to be. You can hear the percussiveness and the grinding of certain objects playing rhythmic patterns throughout the songs. It almost sounds like skeletons dancing together on a cold, haunting, and windy night. It is moments like these that spark the musical creations on our records. We think visually, and within those visuals, there is always a soundtrack playing in our heads.
Olga Walks Away is also your most recent release. Can you talk about the album a bit?
It is a concept record, and the songs have a haunting feel to them. The songs each stand on their own, and sound different from one another. But there is definitely a linear theme throughout the record. We recorded the album, for the most part, in New Hyde Park. That is where me and my brother Austin were living at the time. The house was haunted, and I don’t say that lightly. But the atmosphere surrounding us set us up for that record. We wanted the basement we recorded in to feel like Halloween—and it did. We surrounded ourselves with pumpkins, flickering candles, and giant bowls of chocolate and almonds. The lights were almost always turned off, giving way for the candles to light our view. And we worked incessantly—almost every day for two years straight. We wanted it to be exactly how we heard it in our heads, or at least as close as possible.
I remember picking up the violin for the first time on that record. We wanted to convey a live orchestra feel and having the violin on hand definitely helped us make that happen. You can hear how the recorded string sections are slightly off key at certain times throughout the songs, but we loved that part about it. It added to the haunting atmosphere and gave the record the human element that it deserved. It took us a long time to record those string sections. Partly because of my lack of experience with the violin, and partly because of the amount of tracks we had to record to make it sound big. Each string section you hear contains at least 20 different tracks, all double-tracked. It was a painstaking endeavor, but well worth the effort in the end.
Wow, that’s intense! So, with that being said, what is your writing and recording process like?
When writing a song, I typically start at home with just an acoustic guitar or the piano, some words, and a melody I’ve been hearing in my head. When Jack writes a song, he begins with the guitar or piano as well. Then we bring it in to our recording studio and break it down into different instrumentation. The guitar part can easily become a harmonium part, or the piano piece can transpose into an accordion. It all depends on what the song calls for. But the root is always there. We just branch it out into a bigger, orchestrated composition.
With the recording, we start with the drums as our first instrument to record—not always, but most of the time. It gives the song the heartbeat… the driving force behind the instruments to come. On the past three records, I recorded the drum parts while imagining the songs in my head. It was the best approach that Jack and I had at the time. But now that we have Jesse Steffen as our drummer, he takes things to a whole new level on the new record we are working on. He is truly one of the best additions to Aunt Ange. He also does things that enhance the older songs in a whole new way. We are so lucky to have him in the group.
Can you tell us a little bit about the album you’re working on now?
I’m excited to say that we are currently in production on our fourth record. It is a very exciting time for the group. With the addition of Jesse on drums, and even more contributions from Austin on a multitude of instruments, this is a pivotal moment for the band. The songs share some of the elements that Olga Walks Away had, and they are more rock heavy. But, they always maintain the choral arrangements, the dark harmonies, the cryptic guitar arrangements, and the violins. We’re thinking of adding a cello to some of these new tunes, and we are definitely pushing the boundaries even further with this album. It will be coming out late this year if all goes according to plan.
Cool, man. Good luck with the recording. So, in the meantime, where can readers find your music?
All three of our records can be found on Bandcamp at auntange.bandcamp.com, and Olga Walks Away, is available on almost all streaming platforms, such as Apple Music, Spotify, and Amazon Music.
To learn more about Aunt Ange, please visit their official website: auntange.com