Doom Flamingo's Thomas Kenney Reveals New Project OUKUO April 27, 2020 09:47
Interview by Jordan Kirkland: Live & Listen
Photo by Bain Stewart Media
For the past two years, we've had the great pleasure of watching Charleston's Doom Flamingo take off like wildfire in the festival scene. The dynamic six-piece's unique blend of "synthwave" provides something truly unique and fresh, which is a rare testament these days. Led by Umphrey's McGee bassist Ryan Stasik, the band's powerful sound is a product of an incredibly diverse pool of talent.
Last week, we had a chance to sit down with guitarist Thomas Kenney to learn more about his latest solo project: OUKUO. In this conversation, we learned all about Thomas's eclectic musical background, as well as what can be expected as OUKUO takes shape and grains traction. Check out the full conversation below, and make sure to stream the new single "The Blue City" while you're here.
Let's kick this off with some general background info. How did your musical journey begin?
Thomas: I started playing guitar about 16 years ago. I was in a heavy metal band in high school. As I got to college, my interests were leaning more towards blues, soul, and jazz music. I was studying a lot of jazz, as well as Brazilian and African music. I was always fascinated with anything that was "exotic sounding," whether it was Indian, African, even Caribbean music. I started college as a Jazz major, and I wasn't the most disciplined student at the time. My studies were mainly based on western classical theory. I would love to play devil's advocate with my teachers about western vs. eastern classical theory. One of my professors got frustrated and told me I should go back to the bar.
I switched my degree to English Rhetorical Studies, and I just always kept up with music. I always played in bands. Once you can read and write music, you don't need a degree to pursue it. It's an oral language. So, I moved back to Charleston after college, and I just started playing gigs. I kind of got tapped into this super rich Charleston scene here. Charleston is one of the birth places of jazz, gospel, and r&b. I'm super fortunate to play with some of the best jazz and r&b players on the planet. There's a church every 10 feet in Charleston. Every church has a band, and they're all killin'.
So yeah, I started playing with people like Mike Quinn and Ross Bogan (Doom Flamingo) about seven years ago. They were playing in a band called Wadata at the time. They were helping get the local funk scene started. After that, I started playing whatever full time gigs I could get. I kind of fell into teaching. I've always made digital music, whether it be house, hip hop, or ambient . I'd say I've been a full-time musician for about eight years now. Weddings, teaching, touring, gigging, whatever works.
Very cool. One of the bands you play with is Terraphonics. I've always heard great things from friends in Charleston. Tell me more about that project.
Thomas: Absolutely. Terraphonics is a highly collaborative concept. It's a blend of hip-hop, r&b, and jazz. The band an instrumental quartet, but we tend to work with various MCs and vocalists. We've played a lot of cover shows and rap cyphers. It's been a very fun experience to be a part of.
Well I know that we want to focus on the latest project, OUKUO. So let's do that. Did I get the pronunciation right?
Thomas: Pretty close, but it's pronounced "oo-koo-owe." This project has been brewing in the back of my mind for years and years now. It's really a combination of a ton of different influences of mine. A lot of my friends don't know this, but I'm really into euro-house music and EDM. Most people know me as a guitar player that plays blues, soul, Motown, and jazz. But I've always loved electronic music of all kinds. I love reggae and dub, and all of that late-night, grimy stuff. This project is kind of my way of expressing that side of my brain. Ideally, while it's going to begin as a DJ set, my idea is that once Doom Flamingo gets back on the road, I'll be able to hire on some of the guys to play with me. You know, similar to how Thievery Corporation does it.
Check out OUKUO's debut single "The Blue City" here:
I'm glad to hear you say that. I've always enjoyed seeing electronic artists surround themselves with a live band. It naturally makes things that much more interesting.
Thomas: Yeah, and I'm really the sum of my environment. I'm really influenced by the sound of my friends. Especially my bud Ross (Bogan) who plays keys and synth in Doom Flamingo. He is just the sonic tapestry master when it comes to using effects. He has the absolute best tone, so I'm always drawing inspiration from him. I'm playing most of the parts on the OUKUO record: keys, bass, and guitar. I have my friend Shelton Dessasure on most of the tunes, who is one of my favorite local drummers. The rest I'm either sampling his takes or building drums from scratch in Ableton. I'm trying to compose it like most EDM/Hip Hop projects, but it will inevitably translate really well as a live performance.
You mentioned this has been in the back of your mind for years now. Do you feel that the experience of these last two years with Doom Flamingo has inspired you to finally bring OUKUO to life?
Thomas: Yeah, I would say it's been an influence in a really interesting way. Terraphonics tends to have this really intimate sound that draws really well in small theaters, smoky jazz bars, and places like that. Doom Flamingo has this massive sound, and it's led me to playing on some amazing stages. That's allowed me to play through some huge sound systems. I'm a believer that acoustic force; just the shear massiveness of a sound, it's almost like it's own scale or chord. It's going to affect you emotionally.
I'm definitely composing this music with a large stage vision. This music is not for the 30-person, 55-and-up jazz crowd. It's way more bass heavy. It's way more sampling and electronic, and you'll see that Doom Flamingo uses a lot of electronics and triggering on stage. So. yeah, I'm always responding to my environment as a writer and I'm definitely composing this seeing it in the same acoustic environment as Doom Flamingo as well.
Specifically for this release, as you begin introducing the world to OUKUO, what's the main message you'd like for people to hear?
Thomas: I would say that while it is an eclectic range of sounds, I would classify it as dance music. I'm trying not to filter out too many ideas, but my one criteria is you have to be able to dance to 90% of the tracks. There's also a mellow midnight smoke session track or two on the record, for some contrast.
That's a fantastic rule.
Thomas: (laughs) Yeah, of course. I love dance music because it allows me to directly share with audience. It's the easiest way to take care of each other. If I can make you dance, you're going to reciprocate the energy to me. That just make's for a really great night. I would say one thing that really differentiates this from my other projects is this sound I've been working on for years by myself. It's the sample-heavy side of things. I'm a huge hip-hop fan, and I love producers like Mad Lib And Timbaland, and all of the producers in that vein. They are masters of taking sounds from around the world and contextualizing them in an EDM context. My travels to places like India, Morocco, Spain, Cuba... they have all made a massive impact on the way I produce and play guitar, and that's going to show up. All of those experiences are going to melt into one world that I would describe as OUKUO.
I dig it man and really look forward to listening more. Remind me when we can expect to see the full album.
Thomas: This is the first single, and it's part of a larger record called Gorilla. It's going to be an eight or nine track record. I'll be releasing the second single in about two months and releasing the album later in the summer.
Very cool. Well it's been a pleasure chatting Thomas. Can't wait for all of us to get back out on the road. The world needs live music right now. Thanks for everything you do.
Thomas: My pleasure. Thank you, man!
Photo via Tara Gracer Photography
Check out OUKUO's debut single "The Blue City" here: