Music

OM Collective are brilliantly brave, obtusely reworking a Taylor Swift song for their debut single I Didn’t Know I Was Trouble

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As a pink-loving, sloth-adoring, Taylor Swift-obsessed folk musician, it might seem inevitable that you would be a solo artist. Sydney performer Tim Ferson is all that and more as the man behind OM Collective, who has burst onto the scene with an astoundingly beautiful and courageous cover of Taylor Swift’s I Knew You Were Trouble. His debut single, I Didn’t Know I Was Trouble, featuring Jacob Pearson and Maia Jelavic, is out now and it is a thing of unheralded beauty.

OM Collectove I Didn’t Know I Was Trouble

Picking blueberries, inventing new animals, and loving Taylor Swift, OM Collective might be the most interesting new artist you come across this year.

Perhaps ‘burst’ isn’t the right word, for OM Collective has been years in the making and the intricate, ornate craftsmanship shown in I Didn’t Know I Was Trouble isn’t something that came overnight. Ferson spoke about the time and effort that went into making the track.

“With previous bands repeatedly falling apart, I decided I could only share the light of that experience with the world by retreating into the solo-bedroom-artist nest. I spent a few years dedicating my time to acquiring/making, learning, and recording the instruments I envisioned for OM Collective’s sound.”

It’s a creation that immediately sounds worldy and timeless, and this is no coincidence either, with Ferson saying OM Collective is “A collaboration of all things that emanate el sonido sagrado – the sacred sound. So, that Japanese piano maker; the Indian guy selling you flutes for $1.50 in Hampi; an Ecuadorian shaman; Gandhi; Alan Watts; your Mexican Aunt and niece; they’re all in OM Collective.”

After spending the better part of four years working on a debut album, Ferson decided to undertake the brave endeavour of doing a cover for his single release, and not just any cover, a cover of Tay Tay, one of the most renowned pop stars in the world. But it was never going to be anyone else, Ferson admitting he’s obsessed with the starlet.

“One of my friends still didn’t believe me after I showed him my iPod with her albums on it, so he quizzed me about song names, bonus points for naming feature artists. It finally hit him and the look on his face is one major reason for my obsession with her. It’s a surprise. I like that. I remember sitting on a bus getting totally lost in 22 full blast and laughing at myself. It surprised me. I like challenging people’s ideas of what they think they know.”

A more personal reason is also at the core of his decision to use Swift for inspiration, Ferson elaborated on how her music has helped him. “She came into my life during some serious breakup heaviness, with her album Red, and I totally clung onto the heartbreak-filled sentiments on basically every track on that album.”

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I Didn’t Know I Was Trouble is a truly touching reimagining of the original, making tender and poignant everything Swift made coarse. Slowing down everything she hurried over, lingering in the moments, even if they are hurtful. It’s been said before that sadness is the key to happiness and OM Collective doesn’t shy away from this on the track, instead he’s burying himself inside of it, seeking understanding and comprehension; the only way one can begin to heal. This is definitely not a traditional cover, it’s very much OM Collective’s own song. Ferson even switched up the lyrics, particularly in the chorus, and there’s a very specific and mature reason for that, as he explains.

“I couldn’t understand why I was treated the way I was, so I turned the lyrics upside-down and began writing from the perspective of the ‘trouble-maker’. I got inside the girl’s head, heart and life and totally empathised with where she was at. I left my self at some point in the writing, and started getting confused as to who was who. When I came out of it, I was so at peace with the situation. The song ended up being a crazy intense exercise in forgiveness.”

This type of reflection can only be gained over time, time for thought and contemplation, not just time. As Ferson explained what he’d been doing for the past month and the way he was listening to music, it becomes apparent that he has a perfect base for deep musing and intense creative productivity.

“I’ve been pretty exclusively listening to big names on my iPod while picking blueberries for the last month, but on the 10 hour drive up, the CD player in the car was spinning Jacob’s EP, Maia’s EP, some Direwolf, Rainee Lyleson, Matt Baker, Deborah Kline Iantorno, and Gregorian chant from [checks CD cover] the monks of Downside Abbey.”

It sounds like a hard life, one a lot of musicians can probably relate to, but damn it’s a romantic image, as is the one brought to mind as we entered the funnier part of the interview. Ferson gleefully accepted the challenge to describe his act if it were an animal.

“A sloth riding a flamingcock. I am aware that is two animals. I am also aware that we are yet to cross-breed a flamingo and a peacock. I have also become aware of how preposterous that sentence looks after seeing it in writing. Apparently I could also call it a Peaningo, but I’m going to stick with flamingcock. Obviously pronounced fluh-ming-kok.” It sounds like the type of program that should be government funded. One can only imagine the glamour of such an animal.

Jokes aside, listening to the incredibly charming opening of I Didn’t Know I Was Trouble and then four minutes later the devastatingly melancholic finale makes us hungry for more, and knowing an album has been four years in the making, we can hardly wait. Luckily the delay won’t last much longer with Ferson saying he’s hoping to release his full-length debut early in 2016. Based on his Tay Tay rendition and his also mentioned love for poetry, it promises to be something pretty, and I mean that literally, special.

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