Former Cayucas keyboardist Banah Winn’s newest project, Opus Vitae, is an indie rock outfit straight out of Silver Lake. Possessing a delightfully multi-layered and orchestral sound, Opus Vitae is poised to become LA’s latest buzzband. But don’t take my word for it. Their newest tracks hot off the presses have been included below for your judgement/listening pleasure.
I recently had a chance to chat with Winn about starting afresh, what inspires him, and what we can expect next from Opus Vitae.
Describe your musical journey up to this point.
I grew up in Portland and lived in San Francisco for a number of years. I had a running project/moniker, Caught In Motion, that I recorded two records and toured a bunch under. About two years ago, I decided I needed a fresh start and a fresh sound, so I abandoned the name and philosophy behind the project.
I rethought everything and moved to LA. I played in someone else’s band, Cayucas, my first year here while getting this new project and sound together. After splitting with them, I spent the summer writing tunes and putting a full band together. We’ve been playing small shows around town since fall and are finishing up what I guess is an EP. I feel more like they’re demos because I hope to rerecord them someday in a good studio.
Opus Vitae translates to “Life’s Work” in Latin. Seems pretty self-explanatory, but would you care to elaborate? Is there a story behind that?
Yes, it comes from the change of philosophy in the project. I feel like a project or art is what you make of it. With my old project, Caught In Motion, I found myself working really hard but not getting anywhere. I figured if I was going to have a new group and new name, I should name it what I hoped it might become.
How would you describe Opus Vitae’s sound?
Pretentious answer: like thunderstorms in the mountains. Haha, but really, I just want to sound like Grizzly Bear.
In addition to Grizzly Bear, who are your major musical influences? Anyone you’d want to collaborate with?
J. Tillman [Father John Misty] is my hero. Radiohead (always), The National, Local Natives, Muse, The XX, shit, even Bruno Mars. But my roots come from folk, and there will always be some jazz influence in what I play.
I’m a big fan of a number of producers — Phil Ek and Dave Friedman, to name a couple — and would love to collaborate with them.
Describe your songwriting process.
The one thing that’s consistent is that I come up with the instrumental parts first, then basically improvise lyrics and melody over them. I’ve mostly been writing on guitar lately, so I’ll have some chord voicings or a riff and go from there.
A lot the time writing is a very therapeutic process; when I have something I just need to get out, it really helps to put it in song form. Those end up coming together the quickest and being the best songs. My favorite songs really make me feel something, so I try to translate moments into songs that really capture the feeling of it, whatever it is.
How’s the forthcoming demo/EP coming along?
Well, as of now, it’s six songs. Four we just did ourselves and are done — as in, I’m giving up — as of today. The other two are being mixed right now as we speak and should be done within the week. I’m super excited to show them to people because they’re the first real thing we’ve done as a band.
What was your time in Cayucas like?
Overall, it was a great experience. They were my friends for the first year I lived in LA, and I definitely learned a lot from Zach [Yudin], mostly about what not to do or where effort is not necessary. He’s a man of leisure. Going from playing our first show with that band in front of 2 people to playing festivals in Europe 6 months later almost felt like a weird dream, but I never felt like my heart was in it. It was the first time I had played in someone else’s band, and although I thought Zach wrote some cool tunes, they weren’t the right vehicle for my energy.
Do you feel you’re in a better place now?
Yes, definitely. It’s a give/take for sure, but I told myself I’d be much happier playing music I believed in even if I wasn’t playing big shows, and it’s true.
When starting anew, what qualities were you looking for in your bandmates?
I was looking for people who are good musicians, have passion for what they do, and appreciated me as a songwriter. LA is a great place. Lots of people move here because they’re serious about what they do or what they hope to do. I actually got really lucky and got connected to a number of people through a friend. He’s one of those guys who knows everyone and is just great at connecting the right people. I’ve done the whole Craigslist thing, but that’s kind of a crapshoot. Sometimes it works out, but you never find the best people through there.
What are your impressions of LA as a non-native?
Before I moved here, I actually hated it. I think I just visited the wrong parts of town and got this crummy vibe. I think it’s the kind of city you have to really be in to understand. Now that I’m here, I love it. It’s definitely not an easy place to live, but it’s just so rewarding to be here. It’s a giant playground for grownups.
If you weren’t making music, what would you be doing?
Doing yoga all the time. It’s like a drug, really, because it makes you feel better every time you do it. It’s easy to get hooked. I’ve found it really translates to music since performance is sort of a moving meditation, and it’s really about intense concentration and relaxation. Either that or working a desk job that I probably wouldn’t like.
What’s next on the horizon for Opus Vitae?
We’re going to keep playing shows in LA for now, but I’d love to record a proper record with a producer who can help us take things to the next level. And tour, of course. I miss doing that.
Catch Opus Vitae on Friday, March 7th, at M Bar in Hollywood (1253 North Vine Street) at 10PM!
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