The members of Ogbert the Nerd seem more shocked about their recent success than anyone else in their orbit. They had humble beginnings to be fair, as the band started off as a side project for a bunch of friends in two different bands who wanted an excuse to keep making music and playing shows together. The group never imagined that in a years time Ian Cohen would be shouting them out on his podcast and that they’d be getting playlist placement from NPR of all places. The band would have been happy enough if Ogbert was just beloved by the group of friends they made in the New Jersey DIY scene when they put out their self titled EP in February 2019. Then something funny happened. The tape reminded anyone who listened of Snowing and Algernon Cadwallader, two massively beloved emo revival bands from the early 2010s who may have had the greatest impact on the scene after they each broke up. Ogbert’s shouty brand of emo sounded like it was tailor made to make a basement explode, and anyone who was lucky enough to see them in person confirmed that it did. That unique sound was coupled with a great sense of humor and even more importantly a sincerity that can just be hard to come by in the emo scene. There really seemed to be actual human people writing these songs and running their social media accounts, real irony poisoned people doing their best to navigate the malaise of living in New Jersey who treated every new fan who shouted them out like they were a writer from Rolling Stone Magazine.
That sincerity is a the heart of the band in every respect. One aspect of the group I wasn’t prepared for going into our two hour Zoom was how thoughtful they were with every detail that went into the record. Almost every line from every song and every image used on the album packaging and roll out has a story from “Ogbert Lore” attached, to the point where they see I Don’t Hate You as a pseudo concept album. This lore consists of mostly real life stories of the the members of the group as well as a whole fictional sci-fi universe that the band has semi-serious plans of flipping into a comic book series. Ogbert are extremely conscious of their place in the emo genre, with the comic book aspirations being inspired by their heroes in My Chemical Romance and Coheed and Cambria, but wanted to use the often negative tropes of the genre to positive ends. Lead singer Madison talked at length about wanting to use their lyrics explore the negative shit going on in their life by turning it inwards and figuring out how they could be a better person going forward, rather than forcing their anger on the unwitting subjects of the songs. It’s a mature perspective on emo music and their place in it in a genre that often doesn’t reward that kind of maturity.
More than anything the members of Ogbert the Nerd are a fun-loving and hilarious group who couldn’t feel more grateful for their success and who want to share it with everyone who helped them along the way. While talking about working with NJ DIY musician and coffee roaster John Cozz on artwork for one of his first roasts, Madison mentioned that they prefer to think of it as DIT rather than DIY – Do It Together. It’s about working with likeminded people you love so everyone gets lifted up, a high tide raises all boats. To that end the group could not have been more generous with their time to the point where I couldn’t possibly have fit all the Ogbert Lore I soaked up into this piece. Parts unfortunately omitted include the outline of the Ogbert Sci-Fi universe I swore to keep under wraps, a story about a particularly raucous show in Denville, their deep love and appreciation for their friends in the band Oolong who Madison called borderline spokespeople for Ogbert, their semi-official sponsorship from Mamoun’s Falafel, the band’s seminal early trips to Albany to visit their friend J, and their desires to resurrect the under-appreciated 80’s band Dakota for a reunion tour (Bill Kelly plz bang Ogbert’s line). However I think thats part of the fun of the band. When you’re as funny, thoughtful, and considerate as this group is with your work there is always some ridiculous story sitting around the corner, and they’ll probably share the whole thing and three more stories with you if you ask nicely. Below is a transcript of our interview edited for length and clarity, with each member of the band noted by their names.
GSC: To Start, what are your names, how do you identify, and who else is in the band other than you two?
MADISON: I am Madison, singer, guitar, and I use they/them.
ROSS: I’m Ross, I play guitar, do back up vocals and I’m he/him.
MADISON: And I think Renzo our drummer is joining at some point, he’s he/him. Shawn is currently at work, he’s the bassist and also uses he/him.
GSC: I love in the middle of a Zoom a new friend poppin in.
ROSS: Renzo will come in with a good chaos to him.
MADISON: He’ll show up in a hot dog suit type of thing.
GSC: So going back to when you were formed, as I understand Ogbert came together at the end of 2018, you released an EP in the beginning of 2019. How did you guys come together, had you been playing in bands before together, what were those first months like?
MADISON: Should I start with the Goodwill story?
ROSS: Yea start with that.
MADISON: So I knew Ross, we both had different bands in 2016 when we met thanks to DIY circles and Facebook. The reason we started talking was because Shawn worked at a Goodwill and I donated a bunch of clothes there. Some pictures of Ross’ band popped up on Facebook and they were wearing my old shirts. I was like “Where did you get those shirts?” And they were like “Oh the Goodwill on 35.” So that’s how me and Ross started talking, we started playing on each other’s projects for two and a half years when we had our own projects.
ROSS: Yea Shawn was in my band and our original drummer, Danny, was in OK Friends which was Madison’s project.
MADISON: And we were doing that for a while till those projects reached their logical end. Me Shawn and Ross all really liked each other and Danny would also play in the band from time to time. When Ogbert started Danny would play drums but Danny found himself much too busy with the other project he was working on, Polyanna, which is a great band that’s still around.
GSC: Oh yea gotcha wow.
MADISON: Yea I went to high school with those guys so we all knew each other like that. So Ross, Shawn, and I started doing Ogbert stuff in I wanna say summer 2018. That was when we started jamming out those first songs and we managed to sit for long enough to record the EP. At that point we all just wanted to keep playing music, wanted an excuse to play shows, wanted to keep doing what we’d been doing so we put out the EP and people started hitting us up for shows and we were like “oh cool!”
ROSS: Yea originally it was kind of a side project, just before our respective bands reached our natural conclusions me and Madison had been trying to do something together and Ogbert was the result.
GSC: I love that, and that’ll happen too a side project blossoms into something bigger than you ever imagined.
MADISON: Oh my god yea *Laughs* Me and Renzo also played in another band throughout most of Ogbert, a band called Goose Ranger which was our friend Jordan’s band. As college was speeding up for him he decided to call it quits with the project so that’s when Renzo and I committed to doing this full time which was December 2019. There were multiple times where we’d play a Goose show and then play an Ogbert show where we’d be like drained. Yea it was very much a side project for a while till late 2019 into the pandemic it became our main priority. Oh and speaking of Renzo there he is!
GSC: Hows it going!
MADISON: *Sees the shirt I am wearing* I just realized you’re wearing our shirt, hell fucking yea *laughs*
GSC: Oh yea I was gonna bring it up later but I absolutely love this one.
MADISON: That shirt has its own story, everything with the band has a story but that shirt has a particularly funny story.
GSC: I love it, whats the story behind the shirt?
MADISON: It’s a reference to Dude Where’s My Car. I wanted to go with the weird memes from the get go and I drew that on my phone. It was our second shirt, the first one sold out, and we needed another design so I was like “Heeeey we could do this one,” which has kinda how we’ve had things happen. We’ll come up with something so stupid and niche that we’re like “This won’t sell.” So when it does we do a dumber one then a dumber one. The shirt we just did was the the My Chem one, that had been on the back burner since at least October 2019.
ROSS: Yea we have at least a dozen shirt designs on the back burner just waiting.
MADISON: And they’re all just progressively more weird.
GSC: Where did that passion for good merch come from? Are you just funny creative guys who wanna make funny shirts or is there a mantra behind the merch?
ROSS: I think merch is incredibly effective at creating connections with people. If people wanna wear why not keep making more. Like we get this joke where we’re a shirt factory but if people want the shirts then why not? Its not like we’re making some crazy profit on these shirts, like we keep making them because people keep asking us to make more shirts. I think the best shirts straddle the line between like a niche thing and where anyone can appreciate it
MADISON: My main inspo for shirt designs is like pop punk in 2014 where all those touring bands were doing the N64 shirts and coming after one another for who did the rip first.
ROSS: I think the next wave is like 2009 EDM shirts with the neon colors and big font.
GSC: So you’re all from Jersey, which always seems to have a particularly good emo/pop punk underground scene. Grandmasophiascookies.com literally mistook your band with Teenage Halloween the other day.
ROSS: No it didn’t! I was worried, I’m gonna laugh I was google searching Ogbert images and I think it was just a combination of the algorithm putting the most relevant image with the words searched, I didn’t want it to seem like you guys messed up.
GSC: No worries at all, I got a kick out of that.
MADISON: We posted it too because I used to play in Teenage Halloween, we’re all buddies. As soon as I saw it I was crying laughing, that made my night.
GSC: And to that point why do you think Jersey is such a good breeding ground for this type of music and who are your favorite contemporaries? Teenage Halloween I’d imagine is at the top of the list.
ROSS: I mean Jersey is fucking depressing *all laugh* Its either super cold or hot, smells like shit everywhere, everyone sucks, and we have a strong music culture so people sing about what they see.
RENZO: We’re the armpit of New York too.
ROSS: Don’t get me wrong I love New Jersey.
ROSS: Its just a harsh place to live in a lot of ways.
MADISON: It’s a lot of situational things where everyone I know in Jersey wants to be somewhere else but we’re all here so let’s all yell at each other about how frustrated we are. Emo wise I am trying to think of other bands we mesh with. American Beauty they rule.
ROSS: Just as far as Jersey emo I mean My Chem is really number one, emo band ever even they’re the Jersey mecha.
GSC: My next question was gonna be who are the Jersey bands who first got you into DIY or made you wanna make music and I am guessing that My Chem is at the top of the list.
MADISON: My Chem yea. Me Ross and Shawn have spent many hours bonding over Coheed.
ROSS: Almost New Jersey, almost.
MADISON: I am pretty sure they have multiple live albums at Starland, they’re Jersey enough.
ROSS: Its not New Jersey but what really got me into DIY/emo was Snowing, I didn’t know music could sound like that. I was into classic rock and whatever Tony Hawk soundtrack music.
GSC: Snowing is obviously a seminal influence and I think a band you’re often compared to. Were they a big influence on this record? Who else was?
RENZO: The band that shall not be named.
ROSS: What band?
MADISON: Renzo was radicalized by Algernon Cadwallader.
ROSS: Yea Renzo talk about Algernon.
RENZO: Yea I really love them. With my involvement with DIY, I wasn’t supposed to be in DIY, I kinda accidentally fell into place here. One of my friends took me to a show maybe last year, like I am a baby to this still. In high school I had no idea that DIY was a thing I was just listening to dad rock and grunge and started getting into jazz. I am a big jazz guy I actually study jazz drums at Mason Gross at Rutgers. So I was just very taken a back and surprised at all this music that was just happening in DIY. Probably the two bands that got me into emo specifically were American Football and Algernon. Me being a drummer I got into American Football with the cool time signatures, Steve Lamos is just such a creative drummer so it was cool seeing rock based music with these complexities to it. With Algernon I just think they’re hilarious at times. There is really nothing I can compare the music to, its really earnest but it doesn’t take itself too seriously, they’re just really fun.
GSC: Tank is a hell of a drummer too man. I forget what song it is where he’s like “my drumstick broke” at the end, and I’m just like “That makes sense.”
RENZO: Since I’ve been doing more DIY stuff I’ve been having to buy sticks like crazy. I’ll play a show with Ogbert and some brand new sticks will just be chewed up and I’m like guess I gotta drop another $10 on some sticks.
MADISON: You went HAM on the record, Renzo just went feral on the record.
ROSS: I think the jazz drumming comes through too, the influence really shows up.
RENZO: On “Snail” and the new tune we have “Malkmus” I’m really inspired by a lot of Latin drumming, especially Brazilian stuff. So I tried recontextualizing what I really like about those styles into this punk, emo music. But I think I try to blend it so its not obviously me trying to play a latin groove but there are hints of it in there.
ROSS: Madison you must have some influences you’d wanna say.
MADISON: Guiltily a lot of pop punk. I came up in the Tumblr pop punk sphere. My first DIY bands that brought me into the scene were those pop punk and early twinkly emo bands. One in particular is Pilots in Orbit, my buddy Adrian from Fire is Motion that was his first band and I got really into DIY by stalking their myspace and then my buddy Kyle whose in Steve got me into stuff. For the record in terms of influences I’ve been listening to a lot of Joyce Manor, like straightforward punk. I always say the shorter the better, and that’s how I try to write most Ogbert stuff is as directly as possible.
GSC: I love the specificity of your lyrics.
MADISON: The only way I know how to write is to spit it out. I always got in trouble in school for writing conversationally instead of MLA, I’ve always been direct and to the point with everything.
ROSS: I think Madison’s lyrics really are what are the sticking point. For a lot of people I think the instrumentals don’t matter as much if the lyrics hit.
MADISON: I mean the songs rip. The only reason I play guitar is to hold me down because if I don’t have it when we play shows I’ll just fling around.
ROSS: No Madison you have a very important role in the sonic landscape, your rhythm playing 100% does.
MADISON: To be completely honest this band just wouldn’t work minus any one person, I don’t think we could do what we do if it wasn’t for this exact group of people doing what they do.
ROSS: Shawn too is such an incredible bassist and is just such a calming presence.
GSC: I Don’t Hate You just a great emo name for a record. Is that about someone specific or just more of a general sentiment?
MADISON: Okay so I’m the lyric person. So there have been events in my life that influenced my writing however I’ve made a conscious effort to write vaguely, or when it’s about someone or something specific I really try to focus it back inward. Focusing more on how I could improve in that situation because I feel like in emo it is a very emotional genre and you might not approach it in a very mature way. I know that is a staple of emo but its sometimes an excuse for emo and as for me personally dealing with my issues I find that unacceptable to drag other people into a situation, when it is mostly about how you’re reacting to it. So the name of the record comes from a line in the first song which is dealing with a situation that isn’t going exactly how its planned and in the dream scenario where this person doesn’t want anything to do with you anymore the dream scenario is, “I don’t hate you, we just don’t talk that much anymore.” Just like getting the closure to hear from them, “I don’t hate you,, BUT.”
GSC: That’s a very mature prespective too I really like that reflection on the genre and where you stand in it and what you wanna say about it. Renzo I got a quick one for you, one of the songs whose title immediately caught my eye was “Matthew Renzo Versus the Hoboken Parking Authority”. First of all its impossible to find parking in Hoboken, Good Lord. It’s harder to park in Hoboken than it is in Manhattan. But what is the story behind that?
RENZO: I feel like this is more of a question for Madison because I am the namesake but I don’t know how that happened. *All laugh*
ROSS: Well I am sure you’ve had parking struggles.
RENZO: I have had parking struggles, I’ve got a good amount of parking tickets. I mean I can tell you some tales about Hoboken, some tall tales.
ROSS: Whats the pizza place with the massive slices Renzo?
RENZO: Oh that’s Benny Tudino’s, its not bad just don’t go on Wednesdays because that’s when all the Steven’s kids go to get their meal exchanges at Benny’s so the quality drops significantly. I used to go to Steven’s for engineering but I realized I didn’t wanna do that which is why I am in school for music now, still studying math though, so that’s cool. But yea Hoboken parking is definitely rough. For an entire summer I was taking summer classes and I think I just parked at Stevens for the entire summer without a pass, and I think I was able to come out of the summer unscathed. My biggest word of advice for anyone trying to go to Hoboken, is if you go to Hoboken on a weekend or after 6 PM you can park at River Terrace for free, so Hoboken parking pro tip from Ogbert the Nerd.
GSC: Madison, how much of the record would you say is inspired by real people and events versus metaphor or talking about something more abstract?
MADISON: I would say 75% being real 25% being metaphor and hyperbole. Like I said I try to take real shit and point inward with my lyrics, where if it has to do with one of my friends or something they can probably pick it up. Like the line about Flemington is about someone specific. Then there’s like allusions, like the car crash is more of a metaphor for something failing than an actual car crash.
ROSS: I like to imagine its real. *laughs*
MADISON: Yea nothing more surreal that writing a song about dying in a fictional car crash and having everyone shout the words back to you. *laughs* Yea being in an emo band that people enjoy is kinda surreal because I’ll write these horrible things about myself and then have people smiling and shouting them back and I’m like “Yea this is sick.” That’s really why I try not to write too specifically because when it hits too hard, ah man. There is one song in particular, the closer, that is tough for me, I have a feeling it might catch but I secretly hope it doesn’t catch because I really don’t want people shouting that back at me.
GSC: You guys have a love of repurposing images and even sounds, where did that love of repurposing come from?
ROSS: I think with the sounds like it’s from older emo releases who’d do that. Growing up you hear a lot of samples in emo music, but there are no samples on the LP. We were debating it but-
MADISON: But we couldn’t get the rights to play the full Family Guy theme song before the album. As for the visual component a lot of it has to do with nostalgia for me. I handle a lot of the visual aspects for the album’s cover image was from a hunter’s guide I found at an antique store years ago. I’ve always loved those line art aesthetics. The EP cover actually comes from a book, hold on… So here is the book we got the EP cover from, and I found it in a used book store in Connecticut about three weeks before we put the EP out.
ROSS: Why don’t you go and read three sentences from a random page.
MADISON: This book is fucking miserable, it’s just like one of those old fashioned pulps about like, guys stationed in London in battle by day chasing girls by night. “A path to London was one of the brighter sights for the men in the 8th Air Combat Register…” Man why are you making me do this. *All laugh*
GSC: I love how you gave a description of the book and found a passage that immediately confirmed everything you said.
MADISON: Yea it’s a terrible book but the art always interested me, and the Hunter’s Guide I believe is called “You Lost in the Maine Woods” and is all about being lost in Maine in the woods and how to properly prepare yourself for that but it’s all done in this old black and white style where all the elements of the album have to do with that. And I think it really ties into the idea of being lost in a situation that you don’t know how to navigate.
RENZO: A situation I can’t get out of!
GSC: I love how fully fleshed and how everything ties into one another in a way you wouldn’t guess without further looking.
ROSS: I feel like we really did put a lot of consideration into the visual aesthetics.
GSC: Even the shade of green I love.
ROSS: There was a lot of deliberation on that.
MADISON: There was!
GSC: Was it always gonna be green?
MADISON: There was brown for a little bit. I think the color for the “Elio” single was going to be the cover art at some point.
ROSS: We knocked out red, yellow, and blue. Had to bring the primary colors home.
RENZO: Ross remember you’re whole thing on how all the colors are presenting something?
ROSS: Oh it does. 100%… and I’ll leave that for the readers to figure out!
RENZO: I wanted that to call back on the original Pokémon games so I got my wish in the end.
GSC: Damn I can’t wait for the Silver EP leading into the Gold album.
ROSS: That’s a brilliant idea honestly.
MADISON: We might steal that.
GSC: So you all have good senses of humor and don’t take yourselves too seriously, and that shines through in your social media which has kinda become an important way to round out a band now a days. What do you think makes good band social media versus a bad one?
ROSS: I think being personable, not acting like you’re only tryna sell your music.
MADISON: Never leave it at a like. That’s my policy, I always go that one step forward. I love talking to people I love goofing around on the internet, and that’s not limited to the band stuff I love people tagging us in random shit and I can’t stand when bands who pride themselves on their DIY aesthetic give canned responses online. Like admittedly we’ve gotten to a point where with our engagement I need to turn the notifications off for my phone to run correctly but like I’m always checking in, I just have a very old phone.
GSC: And you’re right its treating people like people, which I think permeates into the music.
ROSS: I think treating people like people is actually a bit of a common problem that people in DIY/emo have.
MADISON: No 100%.
ROSS: Using people as objects to write songs or potential listeners, it goes back to Madison’s points about emo earlier.
GSC: And I love how conscious y’all are about that and how the same ethics permeate into every aspect of the band.
MADISON: We’re all very consistent people who very much are committed to our morals.
RENZO: Yes, our morals.
MADISON: You know what I mean. Not Renzo, he’s a degenerate.
ROSS: Renzo is chaotic evil.
GSC: The last question I had was what books/movies/video games/content have helped keep you sane through COVID?
ROSS: I play a lot of video games. I just started Death Stranding. Playing video games and watching movies, I had a big movie binge in the spring when everything started.
GSC: Any highlights from the binge?
ROSS: I watched Drive like four times. Another movie I watched in quarantine that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about is Good Time. I just watched Dog Day Afternoon, and have been reading a good amount of theory, reading some leftist stuff. Its tough being a person right now but hopefully things go back to normal soon.
MADISON: I watched a lot of tv at the beginning of quarantine. I watched all of Seinfeld and Fraiser I just started Third Rock from the Sun.
ROSS: You gotta watch 30 Rock! Not Third Rock from the Sun.
MADISON: I got another decade before I get there. I went a really long time not owning a TV so now that I have a place of my own I’ve been watching TV, jamming with my roommates, and cooking a lot I really like cooking. I keep it to TV shows I have a hard time paying attention period so I can pick it up and go. I watched Sleepaway Camp with my friend J and I watched Home Alone 3 for the first time last night.
RENZO: That’s the crazy one.
ROSS: That’s not Macauley Culkin right?
MADISON: No it’s a different kid. It’s not even a good Christmas movie, but it’s a good like January movie.
GSC: You know whats good for getting you in the Christmas spirit are the old Nickelodeon Christmas specials. The Fairly Odd Parents one, the Hey Arnold one.
RENZO: I just watched a Spongebob one recently.
ROSS: The Ed Edd and Eddy one. What about you Renzo?
RENZO: I am a bad person to ask because I don’t watch movies and tv willingly, like I’ll watch something if someone else is watching it but my knowledge is really bad. I watched the original Spiderman trilogy over quarantine. It was a homework assignment to watch those movies because we are the number one Toby McGuire Spiderman emo band and the biggest Willem DaFoe Green Goblin fans on BandCamp.
ROSS: When I was eight I got a Sony Walkman and the Spiderman 2 soundtrack and the first song was “Vindicated” by Dashboard Confessional which was the first emo song I heard, blew my fucking mind.
GSC: It’s so random, like these little things where you find music. I remember I discovered LCD Soundsystem playing SSX On Tour for the PSP and I don’t know how I would have discovered them otherwise but not at age 10.
ROSS: Even like the Madden and NBA games like had pretty good soundtracks that expanded my knowledge. I’ve been playing a lot of multiplayer games with friends online.
GSC: What do you play?
ROSS: It’s cringe but I play a lot of Fortnite. Warzone too. I wanna play Among Us, I’d like to get a game going.
RENZO: That’d be fun with all of Ogbert.
ROSS: Have you played Among Us?
RENZO: I’ve played it like once or twice.
MADISON: I haven’t
ROSS: What about you Brendan?
GSC: I haven’t but you guys gotta get a Twitch going.
ROSS: Dude I legitimately wanna start twitch streaming with Ogbert, you might be watching the birth of something here.