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Interview: OTR on his origins, inspirations, and upcoming tour

Electronic artist OTR has traversed boundaries of genre, geography, and education over the past few years. Educated and trained as an aerospace engineer, he relocated to Japan in 2014 for an internship. It was there, in an environment of both culture shock and possibility, that OTR was truly born. Forgoing his degree path to peruse his passion for music, the producer – born Ryan Chadwick – found his true calling.

When Chadwick returned to the U.S., music had gone from a casual hobby to a serious pursuit. Signing to renowned indie and electronic label Astralwerks, he focused on honing his skills and creating music that millions of listeners would soon discover. With more than 200 million global streams, OTR has reached new heights on his latest project. His sophomore album, album Be Quiet, They’re Listening was released on July 28 to mass praise for its adventurous explosions of dreamy sounds, its scope of emotion, and its meticulous attention to detail.

We spoke with OTR about his transition into music, what electronic music means to him, and his upcoming North American tour. Read our conversation below.

As an introduction for our readers, firstly where does your name OTR come from?

OTR is a neighborhood in Cincinnati where I got my start in writing music. I had just gotten back from my stint in Japan and was living there while feeling the effects of reverse culture shock and a new outlook on my own life.

How would you describe your sound to anyone who hasn’t heard your music?

I would say it’s cinematic indie music with some house-y moments at times but it all really depends on the track / album. I really like the idea of writing full complete albums that have several different types of tracks throughout that consist of a blend of feelings.

You originally began your career as an aerospace engineer. What made you pivot into music? What was the timeline like for this jump?

I was getting my master’s in aerospace engineering when a large percentage of the faculty that worked in my desired field ended up quitting or retiring. So I was unable to really move forward with it because I couldn’t complete a master’s thesis under one of these professors. This was sometime around 2016-2017. When the dean for my program retired (he had been there for decades) I was like “ok this is really just all going to hell” and in 2017 I moved to Atlanta and focused on music full time.

How do you find similarities between engineering and music production?

They both involve sitting in front of your computer for endless periods of time. In all seriousness, engineering really is just the method of trying to find the best solution to a problem then optimizing around that solution. You can always approach a problem in different ways – sometimes endless ways. Music is sort of similar. There are basically infinite sounds and samples and potential ideas.

You started out producing independently, then signed to Astralwerks in 2019. How do you reflect on this time, while so much was going on in the world? 

It was a crazy time period if I’m honest. I was flying all over the country in 2018 trying to wrap up last minute sessions and get as much written for the label before officially signing with them. We decided to partner up in 2019 and start releasing music. In February of 2020 we released a track with Ukiyo titled “Midnight Sun” because it was featured in a Netflix film, then 2 weeks after that the world fell apart. Nothing I accomplished would have happened even just half a year later and it just made me think how many artists were snuffed out. I feel incredibly fortunate but have a little survivor’s guilt around it all.

What about electronic music inspires you? Do you listen to any specific artists or other genres?

Electronic music is inspiring to me because it is a combination of classical composition with modern instruments, sounds, and techniques. At first I was very into Dustin O’halloran but very quickly moved onto Four Tet, Burial, Jon Hopkins. Later, when I lived in Japan Porter Robinson dropped his Worlds album which just fueled the fire.

You’ve had music featured in a Netflix soundtrack and even a Super Bowl commercial which is a huge feat, especially for a new artist. What are your goals in music? Are there any specific achievements you’re working towards? 

Well, it helped that I have a badass team that will take what I write and show it off to the right people. But as for goals, it’s hard to place any one goal in writing. My goal every day is to just write the best possible music I can and hope everything else will come after that. I lost sight of that a few times and the music suffered. I would like to continue to develop and grow my live show though, because creatively that has just been so much fun.

Your sophomore album Be Quiet, They’re Listening came out July 28. What was this creation process like? 

This album was a bit of a sprint because of the nature of “you have your whole life to write your first album, but only two years to write your second”. It didn’t help that the first half of the creative process was during Covid, so it was unorthodox to say the least. But pushing through that was worth it. I was able to travel to London and lived in LA for a little over a month to write with some amazingly talented artists. That experience alone helped erase whatever fog I had left over from the pandemic and propel me forward.

What inspired this project and its title?

The initial concept came from a feeling of isolation along with the pressure of writing a second project during a period of unrest. But I think the overall arc is supposed to have a final conclusion of togetherness.

How did it compare to the creation of your debut album, Lost at Midnight, in 2020?

I think during Lost at Midnight I was still battling my identity as an artist having freshly quit engineering. There was anxiety basically all throughout that writing journey, not knowing if any of that would be worth it. This time around the anxiety was from just needing to perform but not around the idea of “should I be doing this?”. Creating a second follow up album to a well-received first album has its pressure and was not something I anticipated.

Since you mastered production first, how do you approach songwriting?

Songwriting is actually something I underestimated in myself. Being an engineer, words were not my background or strength. But even in grade school I would try and guess the next word to a song I was hearing for the first time. Finding the right feeling and emotion in the moment and expressing that is something I think came naturally for whatever reason. It’s almost like therapy sessions for things you can’t say out loud. My main approach though is to not rush it. If an artist and I get a solid phrase, I will revisit the idea over and over again until something clicks.

On your new album, you have features from artists including Bipolar Sunshine, Uffie, Lizzy Land, JONES, Devault and Kacy Hill. How do your collaborations come about? 

I had been following most for quite some time but ultimately my label and team asked for people I’d like to work with when I traveled to London and LA and they made it happen.

In September, you’re kicking off your North American tour. What are you most looking forward to on this run? How does performing live compare to music production for you? 

At this moment I’ve just put together the set and started rehearsing. I’m so excited that the music is sounding familiar but elevated and I’ll be able to sort of deliver that to fans who have been messaging me for years about wanting to see those tracks live.

Are there any new tracks you are most excited to debut live? 

“In The Summer” and a few mashup ID’s have a really good live feel to them.

OTR will support Be Quiet, They’re Listening with a fall North American headline tour, kicking off September 14 in Vancouver, BC and ending September 30 in New York City. Tickets are available here.

OTR Online: Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | TikTok | Spotify | Apple Music

About Emma Furrier

Boston-based music writer and reviewer. Passionate about rock and roll, vinyl collecting, and any dog I’ve ever met.

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