Chapel Hill ruined music for Emil Amos. On the road with his ruminative world music-meets-trance metal duo OM, the drummer and Orange County native remembers a childhood when Superchunk's Mac McCaughan worked in record stores, when a whole town seemed to be obsessed with Polvo and when his mom petitioned to legalize skateboarding.
But after leaving Chapel Hill for college, Amos learned that the rest of the music world didn't share that local and accepting sensibility. He stopped playing publicly for years but eventually re-emerged as an active psychedelic explorer, both with his own bands Grails and Holy Sons and, for the past few years, with OM.
Before a stop in Boston, Amos talked about the skating injury that canceled a recent OM tour and the qualities that make OM's latest, Advaitic Songs, intriguing.
The most recent break was the second time I've broken my arm skateboarding. Last time, I was on acid in college, and my doctor was this anti-humanist, quoting Kurt Vonnegut and talking about how human beings were parasites on a rock floating in outer space—as he was wrapping me up. This time, it wasn't nearly as bad, but it was the day that our record came out. I was trying to get some exercise before our tour. I had just moved downtown in Portland, and there's a lot of stuff to watch. Someone had left a latch pulled up in a city grate, and it just threw me. I was going a little fast.
I wouldn't have been able to do anything that I have done at all after recording for 20 years if I didn't have tolerance and patience. If I had listened to my ego on day one, I would have burned my own psychological house down. I would have thought that I deserved something and felt entitled. All musicians fight against that within themselves. The one thing that got me through to make the records I made and be a happy person is the ability to step back and shut out those voices, to withstand the horrible things that happen to you when you're trying to make art.
Without it, I would be screwed. I realized really young that I was never going to be the best basketball player, and I was never going to be the best skateboarder. But the more I found music, I knew it was the one thing I could express myself and excel in. But it's a really strange thing that your human character is expressed through the way your fingers touch things. A lot of people take it for granted, but maybe that's one reason they're not memorable sonically. The way your fingers touch things is everything about how people hear you.
That's one of the great words people have never understood. It's one of the most important words to me in a Nietzsche-ian sense—personal power. It's like when you take LSD; it's not that you're imagining that you're super-powerful, but you become completely aware of your connections with the elements all around you in the universe. You're summoning the power of everything, and you are the result of so much evolution and energy on this planet. Within that is the highest level of happiness I've ever experienced in my life.
Every two years, I get depressed and call Jenny Waters [longtime Chapel Hill musician] and tell her I'm moving back. I can hear her rolling her eyes on the other end of the phone. She knows that I'm always fantasizing on moving back, and I never end up doing it. In Portland, there's incessant rain, so you look outside and just know that everyone in Chapel Hill is just living it up. It's just too hard to decide when you should return to close the full circle of your life, to go where you know every crack in the sidewalk, to go where you smoked your first cigarette behind the Harris-Teeter or whatever. I know that town so well that I don't know what part of my evolution needs to go back there.