Ian and Winn O’Donnell Emerge with Premium Fantasy
By Kyle Eustice
Photo credit: Vannie Kezirian
Brothers Ian and Winn O’Donnell have been immersed in music essentially since the day they escaped the womb. Children of musical parents, their education began immediately. Born and raised in Omaha, they witnessed first hand the Saddle Creek Records boom, consistently frequented the legendary Antiquarium bookstore and held jobs at Homer’s Records and Tapes. By all accounts, the O’Donnell brothers lived and breathed music in any form.
“We’ve always been around music,” Ian says. “Our mother is classically trained on piano, our father taught music at Swoboda music in Omaha and has been a professional musician most of his life. Our parents bought us records and tapes in the ‘80s of Joan Jett, Beastie Boys, Prince, and Public Enemy. Then we got into CDs via Columbia House where they’d mail you CDs. Then we found Homers, the Antiquarium and Drastic Plastic. We’ve just kind of always been immersed in music our whole life. We are very lucky in that sense. So we just kind of ended up making music together.”
It seemed a natural step in their musical evolution. Their tastes jump all over the place and bore a hole into the music they started to make. Self-professed “multi-genre people,” one moment they could be listening to ‘90s indie rock or drum-n-bass then jump to classic hip-hop or instrumental techno, a genre Winn would eventually experiment with in a live setting as he began DJing at local spots. Many people don’t realize Omaha has always had a rich history in music and the arts. Those fortunate enough to be involved with the scene recognize its infinite value.
“We we’re so lucky to have been there and are very proud to have grown up there,” Winn says. “Between the two of us and our groups of friends, we ended up kind of having our ears & hands in almost the entire spectrum of the Omaha scene. We grew up around all different people who rubbed off on us.”
Most notably, their father played piano and guitar with local jazz legend Luigi Waites. Then when Winn was 10 and Ian was 14, their neighbor Wayne Brekke would let them jam with his various musical projects. Around that time, a cousin started playing stuff like Dinosaur Jr. and Fugazi to the then impressionable young kids. Soon they discovered The Cog Factory where they were exposed to local bands like Blenny, Mousetrap, The Faint, Cursive, Revilo, and Fromanhole. It was on from there. Ian eventually played with Son, Ambulance, Satchel Grande, The Family Radio (with Nik Fackler and Dereck Higgins), John Klemmensen, and Microphone Jones. Winn was also DJ’ing huge raves and was a part of the massive underground dance scene.
“We’d go to Antiquarium, Homers and Drastic Plastic to talk to Chris Harding who sold Winn his first DFA record,” Ian recalls. “Winn was into mixing all of that kind of stuff with vinyl he’d get online and at these local stores. I remember going to the Antiquarium regularly and once [owner] Dave Sink once told me I had impeccable taste, having bought a Fugazi album and a Creedence Clearwater Revival record. Omaha was and still is this little gem; a place where music and art and writing and film have kind of slowly grown into these industries just because some kids wanted to follow their dreams and make amazing stuff with their buddies. All in all Omaha was an amazing place to grow up. All of our friends and peers were musicians, artists or writers, and that influence will always be with us.”
Early in the new millennium, Ian and Winn began the Depressed Billionaires, their version of the electronic music they are drawn to. They love the “experiential escapism of beautiful electronic music.” The name Depressed Billionaires is a nod to their senses of humor. In fact, Winn studied at Amy Poehler’s Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York.
“Humor is the best free resource available to mankind,” Ian says. “It’s better than music in that you don’t need instruments to create it. Humor kind of seeps out of everything we do even in song names, but not necessarily full on jokes. We’ve always been super into comedy. We used to always joke about a depressed billionaire being a kind of person. Like people who have all of the resources they need to be happy, but are still miserable. It’s so funny. So it was an ongoing joke for a long time and then became our band name. It usually gets a laugh still, as an absurd name.”
Although Ian is now based in Northern California and Winn is in New York City, they still managed to create their brilliant new album, Premium Fantasy. The roughly 45-minute effort flows in a way that is delicate to the ears, but still effervescent enough to remain intriguing. Songs such as “Nectar,” “Peaks and Valleys” and “Sunset Blvd.” shine and evoke comparisons to groups like Daft Punk and LCD Soundsystem. The accompanying album art is as sophisticated as the sounds within. It seems this is just the beginning for Depressed Billionaires.
“We honestly just want to attract some more listeners who like our music and expose our sound to a wider audience,” he says. “If a genie in a bottle asked us to choose between having a few thousand dollars each or having a million people hear our album while going for a walk, we’d probably choose the listeners. We’ll do another album soon. We are super happy and proud of Premium Fantasy, but we’re already talking about the next record, hopefully with some more vocal stuff. We’ve talked to a few Omaha folks about singing like Jake Bellows, Jenna Morrison and a few friends from New York. So we’ll see. This is definitely a new creative chapter for us. We want to just keep making music that we enjoy and our fans enjoy as much we do.”
To check out the album, visit www.soundcloud.com/depressedbillionaires. Album available now on all major digital retailers and streaming services.