Updated: May 26
Words and images by Tiah Bullock
Last Thursday, I met with Otto for a rather impromptu shoot around the CBD. Being my first, self-quested ‘gig’ with The Underground, I tried to maintain some sense of competency. Unfortunately, and in an ‘oh, of course this’d happen’ moment, after hours of shooting, I wound my film (or so I thought), opened the back of my AE-1 and found the negatives in a heaped mess. I had no photos. Mortified, I apologised over and over for wasting Otto’s time. He didn’t care, having worked with film before, and instead nodded along as I rehashed its fickle reputation. Between my groans, I noted I had no flash, the sun was setting and the only thing I had left was a reel of 200 ISO (so, not ideal). In one shrug and a quick exchange of looks, Otto and I said, ‘Fuck it. Let’s see what happens’.
Don’t let the ‘casual, cool kid’ tone of these photos fool you, what ensued was an undoubted rat race. We sprinted through alleys, cutting heel and ripping head at any peripheral catch of light, naturally, receiving the many glares of 9-5ers who just wanted to get home. We didn’t care. We continued, high on the mania of an ever-closing window. That was, until a rather concerned lady, upon seeing me, pancaked on the Adelaide metro floor, attempting to get a ‘nice angle’, had assumed I’d fainted and asked if I was okay. Here, I realised how immune I’d become to my surroundings, and thought it time to wrap things up.
Context certainly made for a strange first encounter. Though, I think it catalysed a rather accurate impression of Otto. To which, if I had to describe it with a single word, would have to be passionate. As much of a ‘bleh’ copout that seems, it feels earnest enough to say. Bear in mind that the kid is also 14, pursuing art, and I say art rather comprehensively, to a semi-professional extent. In one afternoon, I got to know him as a designer, musician, performer, photographer and importantly, a niche consumer of Spaghetti Western, Polish posters (Otto would like to mention, if you find the book on this, you purchase it, so that he may purchase it from you for double the price). I’m sure the list grows further then I or either he is aware of, but it’s impressive all the same. If you’d like to get to know Otto a little better, amidst our din, we were able to sit for a good ten minutes and talk all things creative. Here’s a quick transcript of our conversation:
Tiah: What influences underpin your work, if any? ,
Otto: Oh, well you know, those Polish posters, certainly (laughs). No, but really, I’m a big fan of Polish design. It’s very block and simple, but also covers these really extensive and emotive themes. I feel like that’s what Otto Lastname sort of does. It’s a lot of dead pan lyrics, trying to convey some bigger themes.
Tiah: You’re a really big fan of Ruby Fields, yeah?
Tiah: I asked, because I think that some of her lyric’s ‘act’ in a similar sort of way. That’s kind of what I get from your music.
Otto: Yeah, I like how, straight forward it is.
Tiah: So, do you feel you create by the way in which you consume? I guess that kind of answers it a bit.
Otto: Absolutely not! I consume very differently to my output. I really hate making things that I hear. The media I enjoy, is very drastic to the sort of aesthetic I like myself to be.
Tiah: I guess that means that your stuff is really pure then, which is awesome.
What are some adjectives you ascribe to your style? If you feel that you have one or have one that you would like to adopt?
Otto: I don’t want to go back to deadpan ‘cause I’ve said that five times already (laughs), but that’s what it is. It’s sort of ... just sort of that, I guess.
Tiah: What role do you think Adelaide and the art scene more generally is playing in relieving the current devastations that are plaguing our nation? So, topically, the bushfires, and the events helping to relieve them.
Otto: Adelaide’s music scene is so unique. It’s very different in the way that it supports artists. I’ve been part of different music scenes, and a lot of them are very ‘gatekeepy’. It’s a lot of ‘oh, new person in the scene means, it’s a competition’. But, when you’re in Adelaide it’s sort of, ‘oh, a new person to play with’, and I think that support translates onto a much bigger scale to, you know? No one is self-absorbed here.
Tiah: I think that might come with Adelaide not being the central hub of the arts. We’re all trying to do our best, and everyone understands that.
Otto: To be honest, I reckon Adelaide is an art hub. Melbourne’s got a lot of art because it’s had an art scene for a long time. But Adelaide is the perfect, sort of terrarium for an art scene. It’s small, it’s dense, the community is really tightly wound. Give it five, ten years, it’s going to be insane.
Tiah: What are your current prospects for music and design?
Otto: I like that you put design in there ... I don’t know. I don’t know if I’d like to work in music. I’d like to work with music and musicians and in the scene. I don’t know. I’d like to take a step back and move into something new.
Tiah: Do you feel like you constantly need to evolve then?
Otto: Yeah. I’ve always really struggled when making music. I’ve always made an output really quickly, and Otto Lastname’s been the longest project that I’ve committed to. A lot of the time it’ll be like ‘I’m gonna buy this harmonica and write these ten songs this week, and then the next week I’ll do something different’. It was just really fast, get as much stuff out as possible. I’ve stepped away from that, but in turn I’ve sort of just gotten bored. If I want to start something, I’ll start something else.
Tiah: Is there any upcoming work, we’ll be seeing in the future then?
Otto: Oh, there’s always Lastname stuff coming out. You just have to look. Every week there will be a little project coming out. Next Song? Aim mid-year. But, there’s always a little creative project, if you follow my socials, you’ll see a ‘hey, I did thing. I did a design. I did a sticker. Please buy a sticker. Buy a video. Do whatever you want’.
Tonight, Otto is second to play in part two of ‘The Australian Underground’s, Fire Fundraiser’. Be sure to head down to The Metro at 8pm, to watch him and the rest of the line-up play a rather rad gig, details here.
And for your ears, check out what Otto’s been up to here.