Neil Osborne takes a bold creative leap with his darkly freaky new musical outlet Niz Wiz, launching a self-titled double album and the video single America Fly — premiering exclusively on Tinnitist.
“The Niz Wiz double album is an expression of feelings and fears around certain themes: America, money, God, artificial intelligence, and a little bit of Canada,” the 54•40 frontman reveals. “Many people have asked me in the past if I would ever consider a ‘solo’ record, but I never felt the need to… 54•40 is the perfect vehicle for me as ‘Neil’ in our themes of fun, unity, thoughtfulness and reflection couched in a three-chord rock combo.
“Then, I came up with A Family Curse with my daughter,” he says, referring to his recent collaborations with singer-songwriter Kandle (and other various relatives that chime in) on songs like the recent single LA Blues. “That band has a real road-ready, renegade, bluesy-folk-roots vibe that’s fun, funny and very cool. It seemed to satisfy my desires to stretch out.
“That all said, somewhere early 2019, I had a sudden inspiration to create a conceptual body of work alone. As a person — as Citizen Niz — I began to sense some kind of disconnect with common sense and outdated or hijacked cultural values. I suppose some of it could be attributed to being around 60 and feeling, as my father used to say, ‘Well, the world is passing me by,’ but… I had this insistent, nagging feeling it was much more than that.”
As for what in particular was plaguing Osborne’s observations, the world’s skyrocketing political partisanship, an increasingly insurmountable wealth gap, and the damaging disconnect caused by social media in its attempts to increase connection were among the top contenders.
“I started to think about the bizarre rules of what money and ‘ownership’ really means, the way many people carry old beliefs and impotent faith as one would have with ‘phantom leg syndrome,’ or how artificial intelligence is infiltrating and defining our very identities and distilling our emotions. I remember pontificating these thoughts in my basement studio before looking up and saying, ‘Hey, am I the only one feeling this?! Am I the only thinking about this change, this undertow of a tide sweeping us all potentially under water, and how we don’t know when we can come up for air?’”
When it came to tangible pieces of inspiration for the album, Osborne looked beyond the endless news cycle to his bookshelf: a copy of Thomas Mann’s 1924 novel The Magic Mountain, and the character Hans Castorp in particular. “That book reflects on the ability and necessity for a person to take on, and try on, as many opposing points of view to keep a healthy perspective and get a taste for certain themes,” Osborne explains. “It encourages to see if you like them and if they’re worthy enough to suit you, all the while allowing respect for individuals who choose ‘this’ or ‘that’ as their point of view. So, on that early spring day in 2019, I covered my studio door with a canvas, grabbed some markers, and wrote down any song title that immediately entered my mind. I ended up with 17, and America Fly was the first.”
The full-length vinyl release is up for pre-sale and set for a limited, 1,000 copy run via El Mocambo Records; each issue will be hand numbered and signed by the artist. Pre-sales of the vinyl include an immediate digital download for America Fly. That it’s the first single is no accident.
“Every track is a stream of consciousness,” Osborne says. “I would adopt a vocal ‘character’ to inhabit and tell the story, and I’d record this directly to the track over and over until I had the right character cadence, words, and personality. I wrote and recorded it all myself, and in consecutive order, before Rave (Dave Ogilvie) mixed and Greg Calbi mastered it. Because it was both written and recorded in order, the intention of this work is to be listened to in consecutive order; moving stylus or skipping cuts isn’t recommended until the story I’ve embedded is familiar. I wanted it to be on vinyl so the listener hears it as I intended. Like the good ol’ days … Even if times are changing quickly.”