The birth of Onokio

Zach Williams is an experimental storyteller who has spent the last six years recording and performing under the moniker Zooanzoo. His new album ‘Entity Upload Entry’ marks a new chapter for the artist with his first record as Onokio.

‘Entity Upload Entry’ will be your first release as Onokio. Before we get into the new record can you tell me about the decision behind transitioning to a new name and what that experience has been like?

Sounds so cliche, but I really did wake up in the middle of the night from a dream and had “Onokio” in my head and knew that was the name. I had changed long ago, just was waiting for everything else around me to catch up. 

Do you feel this album is in any ways more honest or accurate to your artistry, with or without being compared to your previous work as Zooanzoo?

This album feels like the most cohesive musical expression I’ve ever released, no mirrors in the way, just existing for the sound this time and on.  Less ego noise or fads or any of that shit, really letting go and trying to create something that sounded unique and fulfilling to me. 

‘Entity Upload Entry’ feels quite different than anything you’ve done before. Can you walk me through the making of this record and the ideas and concepts that went into it?

I initially began experimenting with electronics, it’s funny, most people think it always was me screaming on a mic and jumping around, my first recordings ever on a computer were my own version of techno, if anything it’s a return to the “essence” or the source of what got me into electronic music, hard to tack a name onto that, but yeah, no one has heard of that early stuff… and they never will… Hah.

I went into producing Entity Upload Entry naturally, I don’t like sticking in one place for too long sonically, I become moved by new discoveries easily and everything is constantly shifting anyways. The album feels a bit like a creature to me, or a specific place, I can’t express it with words, it’s an entity to me, living in a weird way.  There are a lot of sounds I’ve packed in that are deeply close to my being, I don’t want to explain it too much, I want everyone to find their own meaning, or don’t and just enjoy it for sounds as they are, that’s enough really, in the end, sound is enough. 

While you’ve always had electronic elements in your music, this album appears to be the first release in which you fully embrace these elements as the lead driving force behind the songs. Would you say your focus on methods of songwriting / production shifted at all during this time?

I tried to just let everything flow freely without reference, some tracks sound like someone turning the dial through some non-existent radio frequencies before moving onto a “dance” section, before jolting into another direction.  Before I would naively edit myself into a corner and then spout my ego onto it, but I’m just not there anymore, I want to explore synthesis and music, which is so very endless, until I am gone from this place. 

Another noticeable change with this album is the absence of your vocals, a voice that has been a very prominent force on past albums. Was this an intentional decision when making the record, perhaps a reflection on the new era that is Onokio?

Funny enough I think my voice is actually on every single track on the album besides maybe the last, it’s just hidden (ooo-la la easter egg hunt).  I definitely didn’t sit down and write an executive order, it’s just where I’ve naturally evolved into, but yes, less sad-boy lyrics, more sound exploration. 

A strong voice still resonates throughout the album and evokes plenty of emotion and feelings. I think a large part of this is due to how precise your sample placement is. Can you talk a little about some of the major vocal samples used and what they mean to you and the overall meaning and feeling of the songs?

Sometimes I listen and feel like everyone I know is on this album, sometimes disguised, sometimes used as percussion, goes back to the entity thing I mentioned. My niece makes prominent appearances on most all my tracks, that’s more just for her when she gets older, maybe listen through to find her former self.  I’m constantly taking voice memos (like us all), collecting those entities, those living moments, it feels very alive, some tracks even having entire narratives to me.  I tend to see heavy visuals and scenes when I record/find sounds, everything  is connected in that way, it’s that constant transmission. 

Were there any particular musical influences and or life events that were used as fuel during the making of ‘Entity Upload Entry’?

Nothing in particular, just the human and non-human things we all experience, but through my lens.  Feel like that’s such a dodge of that question, but the music I’ll listen to in one sitting shifts so drastically sometimes, it’s just all over the place. Most of the tracks were produced before the spiritual apocalypse that’s transforming our reality, but some carry that weight.  Music is just the only thing that has ever made any sense. 

The opening track “add_slacking;” is a warm and playful drum and bass track of cinematic proportions. It feels completely new to your work on many levels. The track immediately evokes a sense of joy and the few times I’ve listened to it I can’t help but smile. To me the song feels as if it is saying “Everything is going to be Okay.” What does this track mean to you?

Ah! I’m so happy to hear you felt that way from it.  I had this weird dream as I was testing a mix for that track, and it’s just a bunch of friends flying down a hill of snow and crying together, blissfully smiling, but headed down. But that’s not the only dream I’ve had to that one, or visual, it means so many different things, but yeah, sort of soaring hopeful is good. 

You’ve released a stunning music video for the song as well. The video starts off with 3d animation of a character moving towards a light coming from a crack in a wall. As we peer through the light, we enter a world that is honestly quite unlike anything I’ve seen before, both visually and technically.  What was the concept behind this video and how in the world was it made?

“add_slacking” contains two sections with entirely different processes; some involving the hacking of particular image synthesis and deep neural network resources online to automate the processing of frames and others using simple keyframe rendering. With AI becoming more widely tapped into, it’s interesting to see how these cyber entities interpret our reality based on what we reveal to the system, which I sort of resonate with/can relate to in a weird way.  A lot of the results are entirely unpredictable, which makes them feel alive in a way. That feedback loop of learning between humankind and machine intrigues me a lot, I think the character in the end finds they don’t need anything but the source.

This will be your second album released this year. How much has changed for you in the time between?

Oh damn, will it be? It’s so odd, because that first release this year had much older tracks. A lot has changed, our entire reality has shifted in a way.  The simultaneous feeling of everything moving too slow and too fast is a constant, right now I think there is a real struggle for people to maintain their reality when things fall apart, there is this constant battle to hold onto a simulated sense of grounding, instead of embracing the sense of groundlessness we all feel. 

Regarding releases, I recently read an article about Spotify’s CEO saying “you can’t record every three to four years and think that’s going to be enough.” What are your thoughts on this quote?

First, Spotify’s CEO needs to cough up more $$$ per stream, but I think that’s a movement in general; the industry is this black hole, this void, but music is everlasting and larger than any streaming service or form of profitability.  People like that CEO see music as a business vessel, while that is practical, it’s so far removed from recognizing the person or people behind music, it’s dehumanizing really to demand creation out of someone like that.  I have plenty of albums worth of music stored away… doesn’t mean I’m going to release it to make some quota, that’s irrational to expect that from anyone. 

Writing, recording, releasing, promoting, social media, the list goes on… How do you find balance in all of it?

It’s a constant struggle, the other noise outside of actually getting lost in sound, none of that makes sense to me and I understand now why people try to get signed or hire managers or something.  It’s just part of the game, the matrix. 

Do you feel the need to stay “relevant” could or has tainted the beauty of the art?

Idk what’s relevant really, I’m so behind on everything. Somedays I feel like I could fade away into a frozen pocket of space and create music in there forever, but it’s nice to share it with others, especially live shows, which I miss like so many others.  That open channel to probe people with your sound is the best feeling, especially when it works, and also when it doesn’t. 

What advice would you give to the artist that feels like the time and energy they’ve put into something will be or has been overlooked?

Oh if producing music for recognition you’re in the wrong business.  Focus on the sounds, people will find it, I truly believe it can grow organically in that way, but also be realistic and slowly build trustworthy bonds with others in order to spread your music that you believe in.  The oversaturation of artists can be so overwhelming, but on the other side, it’s really the beauty of it all. 

I can’t end the interview without mentioning Terry Turtle, a true one-of-a-kind artist and musician that pursued art without limits. Would you mind talking a little about your relationship with Terry and what lessons he left with us to learn from.

I think about TT often, I think about his ceaseless spirit to create, he always seemed to be rolling, his mind producing all kinds of art because it’s a mode of existing, it’s how he and others try to make sense or non-sense of reality. But beside his art he loved so deeply, lived so deeply, just look at his art/listen to his music, there’s no better way to cherish his creations than to experience them.  Billy Brett of Buck Gooter and Terry’s long time friend (really family member) set up an exclusive community on bandcamp that only costs $20 (a STEAL) where he shares special pieces of artwork/musical pieces from an immense archive that you can only access through that portal. The link is here:

Interview by Frenchpressley

December 2020

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