Nnamdi Ogbonnaya, 23, drums in Para-Medics, Itto, Pisces at the Animal Fair, and My Dad; he plays bass in Water House and Nervous Passenger; raps in the Sooper Swag Project; and releases avantpop solo albums under the name Nnamdi’s Sooper-Dooper Secret Side Project. He also studies electrical engineering at UIC and is part of the Swerp Records collective, a group of DIY musicians and artists that originated in the south suburbs.
Interview by Leor Galil
Photographs by Ryan Lowry
I was in band in middle school and high school, symphonic marching band and jazz band. I wasn’t very good in jazz band. I think if people in high school would see me play now they would be like, “What happened? He was kind of bad.”
I hated taking lessons. I never practiced what they wanted me to practice, which shows in my playing ’cause I don’t really have the technique you would if you had studied classically or in jazz. I just kind of mix everything I’ve seen in videos or watching other people.
Every drummer has pretty much seen every Gospel Chop video. I really like watching gospel drummers ’cause the fills they do are so crisp. Even their rolls—their double rolls are just perfect. I feel like gospel music incorporates every genre of music. Like, those are like punk beats they play in church in breakdowns, and they play jazzy things. I feel like gospel has taught me not be scared to try everything.
When I first started it was just something to do, but now it’s like an addiction and I don’t know how to do anything else that well. I feel like I’m slowly getting somewhere. I still don’t feel like I’m good at drums but I know that I have my own thing going on.
I was born in California, then I moved to Ohio, and then I moved to the suburbs of Chicago. I just moved to Chicago a year and a half ago. I was commuting from the burbs to go to school and it was the worst thing. Trying to do homework or anything on the train for an hour and a half—especially on the Red Line, ’cause you get these crazy-ass people fuckin’ smokin’, old dudes yellin’, and people shittin’ and peein’ in corners. There’s a special place in hell for people of the Red Line.
I have a year left at UIC, hopefully—electrical engineering. I wanted to do something I didn’t think I could do, and that seemed to be one of the hardest things that was also interesting to me. I have a lot of friends that teach music and every time I brought up that I wanted to switch to music they’re like, “No, you have your own style. Don’t try to learn other people’s styles. Learn something else practical.” I listened to them. When I’m done with school I am gonna focus 100 percent on music. School is the only thing stopping me from trying to do all the things that I want to do musically. But I’m not mad about it ’cause I really want to get this degree.
I want to tour a lot more. I want to get my solo band going. I played two solo shows. They were all right. People liked them but I personally didn’t think they lived up to their potential. I want to do, like, extravagant, Justin Timberlake-level shit. I don’t wanna be on this bottom tier forever. I love DIY touring and staying at people’s houses, but I want to get to a point where I can make money.
My dad is insanely smart. He went to school in California, Claremont University. He came from Nigeria to the states, got two PhDs, and was valedictorian of his college, which is insane to think about and is another reason why I want to do something difficult. My dad came from not having much. If he can do it I think I can do it. We have the same blood.
I have a lot of songs that start off on guitar only because it’s a quieter instrument; I can play it at night. That’s why a lot of my solo stuff isn’t super drum-heavy or interesting drumwise, because I can’t play that whenever I want. I get the most creative when it’s 4 AM and I should be sleeping.
Para-Medics was my first band and I’m still in it, me and my buddy Dylan [Piskula]. Itto and Pisces [at the Animal Fair] knew about Para-Medics, and I saw Pisces play with an older drummer before I was in the band. They contacted me when their drummer went to college. They said, “Hey, you wanna play?” I said, “Sure.”
You’re automatically gonna compare someone to an artist based on similarities, but I don’t think I’m like anybody else. That’s why I’m in so many bands. I can’t just play one type of thing—it’s so boring. I feel like I’m weird, but I also feel like a lot of other people are weird and they’re trying to be normal. That’s why I wrote on my wall the other day, “You’re not normal, so why are you trying to be?” ●