OTR’s debut album ‘Lost At Midnight’ is emotionally stirring, journey-filled, and wildly complex [LP Review + Interview]
Ryan Chadwick is the 26-year-old aerospace engineer-turned-producer behind OTR. Chadwick uncovered his passion for music in 2012 when he began tinkering on a dusty, run-down piano in his college dorm lobby. Landing a last-minute overseas internship in 2014, the Ohio-native found himself living in the small town of Kurashiki, Japan with no friends and a major language barrier.
“This was definitely the place that shifted my entire trajectory,” Chadwick told CE in a recent interview. “I not only learned how to produce but I gained a new and improved work ethic and just a broader perspective on life.”
“Japan just has a calm energy about it,” Chadwick continues. “All the craziness from my life in the states was stripped back and I basically had to start from scratch again with knowing how to be a functioning human in society. It was the best time to learn something new since my brain was in overdrive.”
To combat the isolation, he purchased a keyboard and a train pass and spent all his free time making music and traveling to bigger cities. At that time, Chadwick was getting his Master’s in aerospace engineering with a dream of possibly working for Elon Musk one day. Little did he know at that time, the short stint in Japan was laying the foundation for what would become OTR. He bought a MIDI keyboard and began teaching himself electronic composition, tapping into his beginner skills learned on that run-down piano in the dorms.
Upon returning to the University of Cincinnati, Chadwick would find it harder to finish his advanced degree due to a good majority of the professors in his field quitting or going into retirement. “I was left in this weird limbo zone with nobody to sponsor my thesis,” reflects OTR of the transitional period in his life.
But he kept up with his music and began releasing his material under the name OTR – a nod to Over-the-Rhine, a recently revitalized area on the outskirts of downtown Cincinnati. “At the same time my music was starting to gain more traction and I realized it was now or never so I took the plunge and went full time with my music career.”
Now based in Atlanta, he recorded most of his debut album alone in his apartment, slowly uncovering certain signature elements that now define his sound. One could call it electro-pop but with soft edges and emotional textures. At times elated and euphoric, and others turbulent and tumultuous, OTR’s musical stamp seems to exist in an electronic genre of its own. When asked how he would categorize his own music, OTR said the following: “I really don’t know how to answer genre-related questions because that’s not a way I discover music.”
OTR told CE he really loved listening to the sounds of Porter Robinson, ODESZA, Passion Pit, M83, and Empire of the Sun, and those influences are definitely felt in the album. He uses those elements and turns them into something raw and emotionally honest, chill and cinematic, and wildly complex. All of that is exemplified on OTR’s debut studio album, Lost At Midnight, which is out today on Astralwerks. OTR had been working up to this pivotal release since dragging that MIDI controller on a bullet train all across Japan, taking in those beautiful surroundings and translating his own isolation and simultaneous wonder into music.
On its face, Lost At Midnight is a riveting display of OTR’s natural sophistication as a composer and arranger. Chadwick is nothing else if not clean and precise, a skill he no doubt gained from his studies in aerospace engineering over the years. While face value is important, it is underneath his layers of meticulously crafted measures — the substantive layer — where one sees the true Chadwick come into the light. To put it succinctly, he’s emotional and this is emotionally stirring music. The album’s sheer complexity and full range of emotions is something that’s meant to be heard and felt live.
It’s hard for me to express what I’m feeling in words — I always say words are hard but that’s why music is easy.” – OTR
Chadwick has already released half of the LP’s dozen records to build up the project, including “Heart” with Shallou, which has amassed nearly 12 million cumulative streams to date. Then there’s the album’s Ukiyo-assisted track, “Midnight Sun, which calls on the styles of Porter Robinson and Madeon. The collaboration was used in the opening scene of the Netflix Original movie, To All The Boys: P.S I Still Love You, where he says he felt less than comfortable walking the Hollywood red carpet. “[T]hat imposter syndrome was riding high on the front of my mind but I was doing my best to be in the moment,” says OTR.
Imposter syndrome is a very real thing in the music industry, especially for artists who are being charted out for meteoric rise. As OTR experienced the full and sudden thrust into the spotlight, it’s a feeling he remembers having all too well when also stepping into at the iconic Shangri-la studio to record the track “Moon.” Recorded with vocalist Vancouver Sleep Clinic, the song whose graceful overtones and budding builds takes definite cues from ODESZA.
“Tim [Vancouver Sleep Clinic] and I were both going through a bit of imposter syndrome while working at that studio,” Chadwick recalls. “I remember him saying ‘I don’t really know why I’m here man’ – which is something I think we both felt (haha). We ended up not using the high-end equipment at the studio and reconstructed a setup similar to what we both have at home in a smaller recording room. From there we were able to create something that sounded like us.
A few more powerfully produced singles already released from the LP include and “Stay” with ODESZA collaborator WYNNE and “Broken” with Caribbean pop singer Au/Ra, whose eloquent pop-style musings explore the dark nature of humanity. The song captures the emotional seesaw of wanting to be open to love yet fearing heartbreak, something we’ve all grappled with at some point.
Lost at Midnight also features collaborations with Saint Sinner, LOWES, and Emerson Leif. Featuring the soaring vocals of UK pop artist LOWES, “Rebel” is catchy pop number rife with colorful chords, soothing tones, and cinematic atmospheres. Hopeful and inspiring are two words that capture the song’s vibration.
The Emerson Leif collaboration, “Best,” offers a contrasting mood, providing a different window paine into viewing OTR’s more sorrowful side. A sad boy song to be sure, the song’s emo lyrics and lo-fi-tinged vocoder vocals portray a protagonist longing for someone so deeply they cannot hold onto them. Equipped with harmonic chords, low fidelity tones, emotive strings, and a steady beat drum kit, the song feels a bit like Illenium at times, but wholly OTR’s own.
“The End” is an aptly-titled Saint Sinner-assisted to close out Lost At Midnight. Clocking in at a mere two minutes, the song is a quick come down to an album that feels journey-filled, precisely planned, and emotionally riveting. Previously working with Tycho on the chart-topping 2019 album Weather, Saint Sinner was a flawless artistic choice for inclusion to the album. “I think I got extremely lucky with the collaborators that agreed to work on the project,” says OTR.
Lucky indeed, especially insofar as Saint Sinner’s soothing vocals solidify the precise sound that OTR is attempting to lay down for himself on the full-length. The closing line, “I’ll make it home,” is the perfect lyrical thesis to an LP cataloging OTR’s journey overseas and back to the US where he picks up a completely new career and lifestyle.
Every piece is a snapshot of how I felt at the time that I wrote it,” says Chadwick. “So I hope that when people hear it, it’ll bring them back to a specific time in their own lives, and maybe help them to reflect on what it means to them.”
“The End” also provides the perfect juxtapositional bookend to the opening track, “Lost,” which catapults the album’s thematic feelings of loneliness and isolation front-and-center. Certainly, the track sets this whole journey into motion. Speaking to “Lost” as his favorite track at the moment, OTR says, “It’s about the isolation I felt in Japan which right now is more relevant than I hoped it’d be. For me, though it’s been a huge help dealing with the current situation and being on lockdown.”
Of course, any artist will tell you a project will never truly feel finished. Rather, it provides a snapshot into their larger journey. OTR agrees with this sentiment whole-heartedly. “No, it never will feel ‘finished’ but I think that just allows me to continue my story with new music,” says OTR.
All in all, Lost At Midnight acts as a spotlight into the singular sonic identity OTR first discovered during a life-changing stint in Japan. Moreso, the album offers a mesmerizing introduction to OTR’s emotionally potent electronic-pop. The album abounds in elegantly sculpted beats and unearthly synth tones, along with poignant piano melodies that cut right to the heart, demonstrating how someone as calculated as an aerospace engineer can have a natural knack for musical artforms.
Nostalgic, uplifting, sad and emotional, and simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking are some words OTR uses to describe his debut full-length. When asked how his music works more broadly to raise the vibrations of his audience, OTR suggests one must look to the yin-and-yang of life’s triumphs and struggles to truly ascend through his music:
“I think my music will help people combine all the good and bad moments in their life into one medium. That’s what my music does for me – which allows me to gain a form of acceptance and motivation to move forward with life from a new perspective.”
Read on to hear about the many topics OTR touches on in our interview — from his former life in grad school and Japan to making the plunge into the music industry and working with a highly respected label in Astralwerks to constructing his debut album and what’s on the horizon for his future.
Stream OTR’s Lost At Midnight below.
CE: Thanks so much for agreeing to this interview, Ryan. Before we get started, I wanted to tell you a little about CE‘s mission: to create and foster channels for consciousness-raising in the dance music world. So my first question for you is this: What ways do you see your music raising the vibrations of your audience, whether at home or live in the crowd? It seems music itself is the ultimate conscious medium that brings people out of the material world and into this spiritual realm of feeling, togetherness, ascendance from “real life” pressures, etc. Thoughts?
OTR: I think my music will help people combine all the good and bad moments in their life into one medium. That’s what my music does for me – which allows me to gain a form of acceptance and motivation to move forward with life from a new perspective.
CE: So to follow-up on that, how do you see this reverberate across your online audiences, if at all? Are you still working on building up this audience? I know some artists have a masterful way of building cult-like followings by interacting with them regularly online – have you thought about this?
OTR: I can only go off of what I’ve seen so far and people have been reacting similarly to what I described before. I’ve read countless messages about people having a heavy reaction to the music. I have thought about building up my audience through meaningful interaction. I’ve been hosting weekly online livestream sessions where I interact with everyone in a more intimate setting.
CE: You’re a former aerospace engineer – that’s insane – why would you want to quit such an awesome profession? Did you give it all up for music? Tell us all about this transition. Career shifts can be scary and exciting all at once. How did you muster up the courage?
OTR: I never really thought about quitting until I was put into a tough spot while I was completing my master’s degree. I couldn’t finish the degree because a majority of the professors in my field had quit/retired so I was left in this weird limbo zone with nobody to sponsor my thesis. At the same time my music was starting to gain more traction and I realized it was now or never so I took the plunge and went full time with my music career.
Learning how to make money while still being creative is tough but luckily I have a great management team behind me that helped me figure it out. I’m lucky that I wasn’t really given a choice but to start this thing full time. Without the universe telling me I had to do this, I don’t think I ever would have taken the plunge.
CE: So this internship of yours in Japan… You essentially taught yourself production while abroad. What about the place inspired you to start in with this hobby (besides loneliness)? What was the exact moment that clicked for you? Was this the place that shifted your entire career trajectory? Tell us a story.
OTR: Japan just has a calm energy about it – at least the area where I lived. All the craziness from my life in the states was stripped back and I basically had to start from scratch again with knowing how to be a functioning human in society. It was the best time to learn something new since my brain was in overdrive.
This was definitely the place that shifted my entire trajectory. I not only learned how to produce but I gained a new and improved work ethic and just a broader perspective on life.
CE: So we’ve called you the “darling of Astralwerks” before in print. How do you feel about this label? What’s it like having such a renowned label behind you?
OTR: That’s so sweet of you guys. I didn’t know much about the label at first before signing, but even then I was already interested in several of the artists that had released there (Porter Robinson / Empire of the Sun). Their taste in music is refreshing and the way they have let me just be me has been great. Having them backing this album has been a dream so far.
CE: So for the aspiring producers out there who are looking to get a strong company behind them, tell them what the day-to-day is like working with your team.
OTR: Day to day, I think a lot still is on the artist. You have to show everyone what your taste in music is, who you’re listening to, what you’re currently writing, and what branding you think suits you the best. They’re great listeners but if you want something to feel like “you”, then you have to make sure you’re starting the initial points of the conversation and that’s something I do basically day-to-day.
CE: Your music is highly expressive, poetic, and gentle. It’s almost like I’m listening to a Lane 8 journey. Who were some of your musical inspirations in dance music and beyond?
OTR: Historically, I’ve loved Porter Robinson, ODESZA, Passion Pit, M83, and Empire of the Sun but currently I actually am quite a big fan of Lane 8 too! I’ve always been fascinated with making dance music that gives more to the audience and allows room for a bit more feeling.
CE: Ok I know this is always a dreaded question, but how would you categorize your music if you had to? It does seem to exist in an electronic genre of its own, but what are some genres you pull on for inspiration?
OTR: Ahhh that is a tough one. I really don’t know how to answer genre-related questions because that’s not a way I discover music. I know lately, I’ve been trying to pull from indie/rock and electronic at the same time.
CE: Favorite non-musical activities that you draw inspiration from and go.
OTR: Hiking is top of the list, then cooking and working out. Anything that takes me out of my comfort zone and allows me to grow.
CE: Ok, let’s shift to the album… So you’ve just released your debut album, ‘Lost At Midnight.’ Tell us about it — from conception to piecing it all together to postproduction to release. Will it ever really feel done to you?
OTR: The conception of the first few pieces formed around that time period when I was struggling to figure out the path between music and aerospace engineering. As I made more music-related decisions, the music just came to me a lot more organically. Then I think I got extremely luckily the collaborators that agreed to work on the project. No, it never will feel “finished” but I think that just allows me to continue my story with new music.
CE: Follow-up: Five words/emotions you feel are oozing from the LP.
OTR: It’s hard for me to express what I’m feeling in words — I always say words are hard but that’s why music is easy. If I had to I’d say nostalgic, uplifting, sad, emotional(?), heart-warming/breaking.
CE: Let’s talk about recording the track “Moon” at the iconic Shangri-la studio. What was that like? What was going on inside your head?
OTR: Tim and I were both going through a bit of imposter syndrome while working at that studio. I remember him saying “I don’t really know why I’m here man” – which is something I think we both felt (haha). We ended up not using the high-end equipment at the studio and reconstructed a setup similar to what we both have at home in a smaller recording room. From there we were able to create something that sounded like us. It was honestly a great day and now that we’re all locked up, I wish I could have shed myself from the anxiety caused by that imposter syndrome and enjoyed the moment.
CE: Also want to ask about “Midnight Sun” being included in the movie soundtrack for To All The Boys: P.S I Still Love You. What a huge honor! How was walking the red carpet? Was that your ‘I feel like I’ve made it’ moment?
OTR: Physically walking down the red carpet was so weird. Again that imposter syndrome was riding high on the front of my mind but I was doing my best to be in the moment. It’s funny because during the premiere I didn’t know when the song was going to play. I started to hear the beginning of it in the film but right as the loudest part played, the lead character showed up on screen and everyone started SCREAAAMING. So nobody really got to hear it – including me (haha).
CE: Favorite song on the album, if you had to choose.
OTR: It’s changed a few times but right now it’s “Lost.” It’s about the isolation I felt in Japan which right now is more relevant than I hoped it’d be. For me, though it’s been a huge help dealing with the current situation and being on lockdown.
CE: Let’s talk about the album-accompanying headline tour. What sort of things can we expect from the live show? Any cities you are particularly excited to play?
OTR: Right now we actually got done talked with the video team and putting together the final budget so I’m really excited for all the visuals accompanying the music – which in itself will be a bit more heightened so it has a more lively feel. The city I’m most excited about is NYC at rough trade. That’s where I saw Petit Biscuit play his first US headline tour after I released an official remix of his track “Sunset Lover.” It was the first time I started thinking about my own live show.
CE: Well are you worried at all about COVID-19 rearing its ugly head into summer? Overall, how do you feel about all this panic and uncertainty on a wider level? What do you think it all means?
OTR: I’d be a liar if I said I wasn’t worried. I think it’s possible that Covid-19 will disrupt things – but at the same time I really just want people to stay safe and make sure they’re taking care of themselves. I think this is a serious disease and people should take it seriously by socially distancing themselves. I just hope we learn from all of this and build a better society when things can go back to normal. Periods of hardship are always opportunities for growth – and that goes for both society as a whole and for the individual.
CE: Hypothetical / Just for fun: You’re at the peak of your music career and Elon asks you to quit and work for Space X. No master’s degree needed. Plus, you get to help him create the rave cave at the Berlin headquarters. What do you do? 😀
OTR: I’ve actually thought of this. I guess it depends on what he asks me to do. Can I help build the control systems piloting his rockets? Maybe. I really really really miss control theory. It’s like music in that it’s a little messy at first but can be refined into something special.
CE: Anything you want to touch on that we may have missed? Any noteworthy collabs on the horizon? How about dream collabs?
OTR: There is a collaboration on the horizon that I think will be quite exciting and another remix probably out this May, but nothing is set in stone yet! I’d keep a lookout for post-album announcements but you heard it here first – there is definitely more music on the way.
CE: Thanks for chatting with us! Looking forward to seeing your responses. Apologies for the lengthiness – I actually had more if you can believe it.
OTR: This was a fun one! Thank you for the great questions!
Information seeker. Dog dad. PhD drop out. Avid collector of pashminas, plants, and experiences. College professor by day, EDM photographer by night.