This year’s POP Montreal Program states that, “Michael O’Connell specializes in playing any instrument that makes a noise, and playing all of them masterfully. He uses this considerable skill to shape the artful melodies that accompany his evocative lyrics. This soft, tender music will let him play your heartstrings too.”
After a few years away from a busy touring schedule with his former band Black Cabbage, the dynamic songwriter created Culture Reject to house his latest body of work. It comes from an interesting path of influences: growing up on a diet of Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, Led Zeppelin and Van Morrison records would provide anyone with a healthy place from which to engage musically in the world… For O’Connell, it created a hunger to seek music beyond the omnipresent classic rock format of Southern Ontario. While spending time on exchange in Africa and more recently hauling his family through rural Cuba, he found himself regularly joining in on spontaneous neighbourhood jam sessions; hearing his own songs accompanied with instruments and infused with rhythms he had yet to consider. These influences and experiences largely form the source of Culture Reject’s infectious, soulful melodies, syncopated guitars and easy grooves.
Aside from touring, O’Connell spends time engineering and producing tracks in the recording studio of Sketch: the working arts for street-involved and homeless youth. Creating beats and opportunities for at-risk youth in Toronto is a transformative process for both the youth and himself. In fact, the Sketch environment proves itself a massive influence on his life and in many ways the thematic basis to many of the songs on his upcoming self-titled release.
Inspired by love and mourning, the trials of good people feeling isolated and life in city chaos, Culture Reject grew from myriad Toronto home recording sessions with O’Connell at the console accompanied by several guitars, a loop pedal, a glockenspiel, and whatever else produced a sound when it was struck. Guests include Jim Guthrie (drums, vocals), Karri North (background vocals), percussion virtuoso Dave Clark and a horn section consisting of Michael Barclay, Bradley Fauteux, and Venezuelan/Canadian saxophone star, Bernardo Padron. Most of the songs were then sent off for further mixing at London, Ontario ’s House Of Miracles by the sure ears of Andy Magoffin (Constantines, Great Lake Swimmers).
On stage, as witnessed at this year’s CMJ Music Marathon in New York City, Culture Reject recreates the songs with an impressive and unique use of a loop pedal and an intricate finger picking style that creates a bed of syncopation and harmony under O’Connell’s powerfully dynamic vocal range. He is sometimes backed up by vocalist Karri North or a thick wall of saxophone and trumpets.
Culture Reject’s debut will be released on White Whale Records in early 2008.