Cullen Omori’s Synthetic Romance

Two years after the breakup of his first successful band, Smith Westerns, Cullen Omori decided to face up to the emotional trajectory, releasing his debut solo album ‘New Misery’.

Cullen Omori - Birthdays, London, 24/05/16 | Photo by Wunmi Onib
Cullen Omori

Smith Westerns was first formed back in 2007 by Cullen, his brother Cameron and Max Kakacek. Their self-titled record was released in 2009. Featuring songs full of love with sweet choruses, the record garnered plenty of positive reviews. The next album was released in 2011; “Dye it Blonde” hit the top of the music charts. The band toured several times all across the US with artists like Arctic Monkeys or Yeasayer, as well as all through Europe.

However, in 2013, Smith Westerns decided to part ways. “The band just didn’t work. Both creatively and personally. “ is how the trio explained their decision by the end of December in 2014. Max Kakacek then formed group Whitney and Cameron went to university.

Chicago-born musician Cullen Omori  spent nearly two years writing his debut solo record, finding it extremely challenging to stimulate creativity. His solo album “New Misery”, released a little while back this year on Sub Records, talks about his personal fights. The title track “New Misery” opens with melancholic lyrics such as “Is it enough to be happy?”. Cullen’s lyrics can be dark and biting, with plenty of allusions to regret, past mistakes and self-doubts. In “Synthetic Romance” Cullen sings “ Chicago is home but I’m lonely here” and then “ Oh, my girl, she loves me so. Well hey, hey, hey. You know, love like a sinking stone”. The record is also full of dreamy, blissful pop tracks.

Cullen Omori on Going Solo, writing and Smith Westerns

What’s Cullen Omori solo like?

Cullen Omori: In terms of music, describing what your music sounds like is comparative to being asked to describe whether or not you’re attractive and why. Going from being in a band to a solo act was liberating but also scary. Putting out music is nerve-wracking in general, but to be fully responsible creatively and also to have your name be the project it feels like full nakedness.

What’s your writing process like? What inspired you to make this album and what does it mean to you?

Cullen Omori: This record came about organically through the ashes of my old band. I don’t believe I wrote the album through any divine inspiration but more as a reaction. A reaction to being dropped off in my mid 20’s with no stability and trying to reign in these destructive tendencies I had acquired through a year of touring, and acting on them because I was in this creative vacuum.

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Do you get annoyed when people keep asking about Smith Westerns?

Cullen Omori: Doesn’t this question create a paradox? I only care if people are focusing in on it as the sole narrative. I’ve always been very vocal about having Smith Westerns be a waypoint on a path to somewhere bigger and better.

I loved the acoustic set which at Rough Trade a few weeks ago!

Cullen Omori: Thanks. I was terrified at that show. I don’t consider myself to be a particularly good singer and doing a set with the absence of electric sounds makes me uncomfortable. My live shows are just me reacting to how I feel the crowd is.

How would you describe your sound to someone who never heard “ New Misery”?

Cullen Omori: The best thing you’ve never heard of.

What are you listening at the moment?

Cullen Omori: Van Halen, Morrissey, and Ozzy.

Photographer: Wunmi Onibudo for Something About

Words: Emilia Slupecka

Cullen Omori - Birthdays, London, 24/05/16 | Photo by Wunmi Onib

Cullen Omori - Birthdays, London, 24/05/16 | Photo by Wunmi Onib

Cullen Omori - Birthdays, London, 24/05/16 | Photo by Wunmi Onib

Cullen Omori - Birthdays, London, 24/05/16 | Photo by Wunmi Onib

Cullen Omori - Birthdays, London, 24/05/16 | Photo by Wunmi Onib