Meet ONONO, the New Zealand Project With an Escapist-Pop Edge [Q&A]

Just in time for summer (for those of us in the Southern Hemisphere), Jono Nott, often addressed by ONONO, reminds us what the season of good vibes truly means by way of cinematic pop that coaxes you into letting loose and daydreaming. Sharpening his skills while playing drums for BROODS and countless other bands, Jono shifts listeners into another world with his latest solo creation.

Arriving as a collection full of rich tunes and escapist anthems, the Wellington artist's self-titled album, ONONO, captures the nature of his luminescent sound. Flaunting tunes with notes of soothing beats, punchy percussive, ambient content and an overall buoyant feel, ONONO is an act best experienced for yourself.

Despite its origins, ONONO is not always a singular affair, enlisting friends Katelin, Sam, and Leo to join his creative venture and liven up the dynamics. During live shows, it's a combination of passion, focus, and spontaneity that altogether seamlessly rope listeners in. Like the music, Jono is motivated, laid-back and all too incredible. Pouring his heart and soul into his work, ONONO is a steadily rising project ready to make its way into the world.

Speaking with Jono in the comfort of our respective homes and through the all too familiar meidum of Zoom, we discuss his recipe for a great live show, how his personal project has evolved throughout the years, and the influences that has sculpt ONONO to this day.

Ones To Watch: Tell us about yourself! What's ONONO all about?

ONONO: Well, I'm Jono, I live in Wellington, New Zealand and my project's called ONONO. The project kind of started out as sort of a solo project of my own. Just recording songs by myself and playing in a bunch of other bands. I wanted to sort of find a home for the ideas that I have come up with that didn’t fit into those other projects. I started this and then eventually started playing live with some friends.

You said you're a part of a four-piece band. How did that start?

I'm sort of at the helm, singing vocals playing guitar and keys. My friend Katelin plays synths, and she sings with me as well. Then we have my friend Leo who’s playing synth bass guitar. Then our friend Sam, who plays drums and quite often, if Sam's too busy, we have our other friend Olivia playing drums as well, so it’s kind of interchangeable set up.

What's the dynamic like between you all?

I think on stage we're all pretty focused because the nature of the songs is kind of complex and bitsy. We're very much in the zone, It's a pretty energetic show. It’s not like a crazy rock show or anything. It's the kind of thing that you could dance hard if you wanted to or you could close your eyes and sort of float away.

What's your rulebook to putting on a good show?

I think for us, because of our setup, we end up being quite stationary because there's a lot of stuff on stage. So, I think a cool lighting show and some cool visuals is great. I've been to so many shows with such great content, and it’s so fun to sort of match up with the music and step into it further.

What do you guys do to get the crowd excited?

For me, when we actually end up playing the show, the reaction sort of speaks for itself. I feel it’s hard to just plan around it. It’s mainly more spontaneous or you just feed off the crowd and they feed off you as well.

Definitely, giving that energy back is a must. Do you often get really nervous on stage?

Yeah, at the start. But recently, we've started feeling a lot more confident, because we've just played the songs a lot more. We also tested out lots of different environments. But I definitely still get nervous (laughter).

How would you describe your music?  

I would like to describe it as sort of soundscapey, super cinematic, or escapist pop. You listen to it, and it takes you out of your zone that you might be in. Yeah, it’s definitely sort of produced pop, but played by the band, which is important to me.

Why's that?

I'm not personally interested in being an artist who performs with just a backing track. There's a sweet spot between the studio and the live environment. I've worked lots on my production the last few years and have been playing with bunch of different bands playing different genres. This has been super helpful in informing the sound of ONONO.

What song would best describe this feeling then?

There's one song called "Holographic Friend" which we did as part of a 48-hour songwriting challenge last year. It was really fun!

48 hours to do a song? That's putting yourself under some pressure.  

Yeah, totally. I mean, I don’t know if I’m quite able to replicate it the same way, but the song turned out really cool. It’s like sort of three songs in one.

Tell us about your songwriting process.

I basically write most of it myself. I’ve always been a huge fan of Tame Impala and Kevin Parker. I try to get into his headspace and how he he sort of approaches spending a lot of time by himself. Quite often, I’ll be working on one song and then and then get distracted with a particular aspect and end up creating something else and next thing you know, I have a whole EP.

Do you experience a lot of writer's block?

Time to time. It comes in waves, but I’m lucky enough to have a cool spot near my house so, it’s super accessible for me to be able to come in and basically work when I want when I’m not working elsewhere. Sometimes I'd spend a week in here and next thing I know I haven't eaten anything (laughter)! I just build it up slowly, but some ideas are sometimes half-baked or ones that I haven't touched for ages.

Who has influenced you in your music career?

I definitely think I went through this huge phase of listening to Toro Y Moi. He writes it all himself and he obviously collaborates a lot with other people, but he’s obviously got quite a clear idea of what he wants to make at the time. His albums are really cool and different; it can change quite a lot. One minutes it's this really bandy album, next it's trap beats, or really vibey, and then next it's a dance album. I listened to a lot of rock music and played rock when I was younger, so I think a lot of heavier music also influenced me.

Is there an album you've listened to from start to finish?

I listened to the Marlin's Dreaming album the other day. Another Kiwi band - very sophisticated.

What's the last thing that made you feel alive?

Just a moment ago when my mechanic was coming to fix my car, but then I realised that I had this interview and I thought they were going to arrive when we were going to Zoom. My heart was racing (laughter)!

That's great! Is there anything you want to leave us of with?

Stay true to yourself. Nah (laughter)! These are rules that my bandmates came up with and introduced to the audience. The first rule is stay in tune, second rule is stay hydrated, and the third rule is be yourself. I honestly don't know if that's all of them or if they're in the right order (laughter).

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