Q: I love how you sampled Mike Wallace’s commentary from Bobby Fischer’s 60 Minutes interview in your latest song. Walk us through the creation of “Bobby Fischer”. What is it about his story that inspired you to make this track?
OJ MOUNTAIN: Kudos on finding the sample – I’m impressed! I’ve always been attached to public figures who have a level of mystery and enigma attached to them. I’m a relatively aloof person, so I think I relate to people who are kind of in their own head all the time like Fischer was. Something about how magically genius he was paired with how detached he was from society resonates with me for some reason. He was virtually self taught, which made his approach to chess incredibly unique and fresh. I like people who strive to reinvent things. Before I really got into chess he was the only player I knew, and so I always associated his aura with the game of chess itself. During quarantine, we were all kind of forced to be more introspective, and so I saw a correlation between Bobby’s outlook on life and how I was feeling at the time, which centered around being in a cloud of anxiety while trapped in a small space. Fischer isolated himself so much that his whole life was basically spent in self-quarantine. If he were around today in COVID times, I imagine he’d find great solace in them. That’s kind of the point of the song too. Being able to find joy and contentment in being alone with yourself.
Q: How did you first get into chess? What have you learned from chess that you’ve applied to your music? Are you able to apply the things you’ve learned from chess to help you navigate the music industry?
OJ MOUNTAIN: My dad first taught me the game when I was a little kid. I went through small phases of playing back then, but I didn’t really become obsessed with it until about two years ago. I think chess is beautiful because it’s purely analytical and systematic in many ways, yet open for so much creativity at the same time. Bobby Fischer was a master at displaying that. The music industry is actually super similar, because as an artist you have to mesh the logical business side of things with abstract creativity that requires you to be in a completely different zone. Chess forces me to simulate this process in a bite sized way that makes sense, especially during times when I feel like my music career doesn’t.
Q: What was it like shooting the music video for “Bobby Fischer” in the middle of a Boston winter? Which shot is your favorite and why?
OJ MOUNTAIN: It was FUCKIN COLD. It was about 20 degrees out, and because we wanted to reenact the real game 6 between Fischer and Spassky, we insisted on wearing shirts and ties to make it seem more like we were in a real chess tournament. Every time the camera cut though we would immediately throw our coats back on, and in the shots where it’s only our hands and the chess board, we actually still had our coats on besides the arm we were using to move the pieces. The owners of the house and yard we were shooting at brought us out hot chocolate because of how cold we must’ve looked, which was really really sweet of them. My favorite shot is probably the one near the end when it’s dark out and the light is shining over the board. I love the surreality of it.
Q: Your music blends hip hop, jazz and rap in a fresh way. What is the key to your sound and how do you make your music stand out?
OJ MOUNTAIN: I don’t feel there’s really a key to my sound, it’s more just a culmination of my musical journey and the artists I listen to across genres that inspire me. The more I listen to interesting music the more interesting mine seems to become. I’m sure an objective third party could pretty accurately describe my sound, but I don’t really concern myself with that most of the time. Rapping wise I’m definitely most inspired by MC’s on the lyrical side. Not many people both rap and play the sax, and so I think if anything makes me stand out it’s definitely that.
Q: You use sound bites in your songs quite a bit. What draws you to use sound bites? What comes first, the sound bite or the song?
OJ MOUNTAIN: The first artist I heard use sound collages and made me fall in love with them was MF DOOM, but plenty of artists throughout history have used them as well. Like I say in Bobby Fischer, “got the wild/Wilde thought that life imitates art”, I feel like so much of life is intertwined with music, so adding in conversations and people talking in songs is really powerful. It brings the reality of the world closer to the listener, while also taking them out of it, as adding/combining sound bites can allow you to recontextualize basically anything. Almost always the song comes first, and then I’ll go and look for fragments of audio I can chop up and insert in as typically the intro or outro. In the case of Bobby Fischer though, I had already seen all his interviews, so I kind of knew ahead of time which parts I wanted to include.
Q: You entered the music scene as OS but later revitalized your identity as OJ Mountain. Why did you choose to rebrand yourself?
OJ MOUNTAIN: OS represents a more immature and naive version of myself. I view my aliases as separate identities, and I created that identity during a time when I wasn’t comfortable with who I was. OS still exists somewhere, but I changed my name to symbolize a new chapter of music and goals in my life.
On a less pretentious sounding note – it also just made sense for searchability and memorability. The only thing that pops up when you search “OS” is apple software. My initials are “OJMT”, so “OJ Mountain” is way more natural, fits my actual name, and summarizes who I am a lot more cohesively.
Q: What’s coming up next for you?
OJ MOUNTAIN: Music wise I’m dropping an album in the latter half of this year. I’m gonna get weird with it. Lots of saxin’, rappin’, and everything in between. I’m performing as much as I can now that COVID is less of an issue in some places, so every week I go to open mics and showcases, and me and my jazz friends who are in a band called “Boozehound” are putting together a local show on May 7th. Me and my business partner recently started a talent agency/recording studio business in our house, so we’re constantly working on that these days too. Overall just some funky vibes, trying to get my name out there as much as possible. I’m going to be travelling a lot this summer, so I hope to get lots of inspiration from that, and then get back to hustlin!
Interviewed by Brynn Hinnant