Omori’s joy in the process comes across as unpretentious; he isn’t making music for the sake of it, that much is clear from the sheer pleasure in his voice as he talks about working on the new album. “I am not into the idea of just polishing a turd, you know? I won’t sit there and compose a chord progression and just put a bunch of shit on it. I know that’s what some bands do and some bands are very successful doing that, but that’s something I was never really into.” He doesn’t think of himself as a poet either, despite the poignancy of his lyrics. “I read somewhere that Elliot Smith would write his lyrics before he put any music to it,” he says. “I couldn’t do that. I don’t know why. I mean, I like to write lyrics but I don’t consider myself a pseudo-poet or anything like that. I’m not gonna cram ten-dollar words in just because I wanna make it sound like I’m smart.”
So how do you write the lyrics then?
“There will be a certain kind of rhythm to whatever the melody is, and maybe, like a kind of stream-of-consciousness trying to figure out words from it. For example, the ‘tastes like sin/cinnamon’ part [from the track ‘Cinnamon’] was just something that came from the cadence of singing that melody when I was writing the song.”
Cullen is genuinely passionate about the business of being a musician, in the making of the work, rather than the acclaim of being a recording artist. “I like the writing process much more than I like promoting a record or touring a record,” he says. “If I could just write I would do that.” Unfortunately – and I get the sense that Omori is savvy enough to know this – his exquisite face makes a behind-the-scenes career unlikely.
Of all the artists I’ve ever spoken to, Omori thinks the most about his audience. He is acutely aware that he writes music for listeners; that the artistic process engenders a two-way relationship, which he describes as a collaboration of sorts. “I feel like you are constantly trying to make something that other musicians can listen to,” he explains. “Not just other popular musicians, but other people who play guitar. I would like if someone likes the songs and happens to play guitar, that they can sit down and play the songs – just the chords and sing the vocals.” You get the sense that this is how he started out, all those years ago, a young teenager playing guitar in the basement, just jamming with the music, yet to make an impact with his high school band. “I want it still to be an experience that’s almost relatable to the song,” he says. “Not the same, but kind of a shared experience – that I created and it moves them to playing it on their own. I always think that’s a really cool thing to have with a song.”
Despite his ambivalence towards the performance element of releasing an album, and the inevitable attention it brings, Omori is fascinated to the point of obsession with accessibility. While he is clear that his musical influences include obscure bands and artists, he is also heavily influenced by what he calls “Top 40”. “I wanted to make something that was accessible,” he enthuses, “something that wasn’t hard to grasp. The thing I like about super-popular music is that it’s alright for a seven-year-old girl to listen to it, but also a 50-year-old man – Adele is like that – and that’s such a funny, cool thing.” Accessibility is what he hopes will set his solo work apart from what he achieved with the Smith Westerns. “That accessibility is a really cool thing to play with and something that as a musician I feel that I’ve never had. Everything I’ve done has always been critically received very well, and always points to music history more than accessibility, so I wanted to play around and try something like that.”
All the signs point to ‘New Misery’ being very well received. Early reviews swing between positive and glowing, and he is especially excited about the European response, and looking forward to playing the UK in May. Most of all though, he is clear that he needs to make that step away from his Smith Westerns’ accomplishments and create something new. “I don’t want to look back like, ‘I did this and it was great this one time in my life, and everything else after that is whatever,’” He says. “I’d rather look at it like [Smith Westerns] is something that I’ll be remembered for but not the thing that I’m remembered for. And keeping that mind-set, it’s hard – especially when you’re living through it. But for me, especially now I’ve put the record out and done some touring and stuff, I feel I can buy into it more.” He stubs out a final cigarette and shrugs. “I mean, we’ll see how it does – but to turn it around and put something out and get on just as good a label, in my opinion a better label, and not get destroyed in the reviews, people still liking what I put out critically – I think I’m very fortunate for that.’ He pulls those full lips into a half-smile. “Yeah.”