1 May 2021

25 years of OMC's How Bizarre

From Music 101, 5:15 pm on 1 May 2021

It has been 25 years since the release of OMC's only album How Bizarre. To celebrate the anniversary of the phenomenally successful record, it's been remastered and released on vinyl for the first time.

OMC was the project of Pauly Fuemana, who died from a neurological disease in 2010 at the age of 40.

The two men most closely involved in making music with Fuemana were Simon Grigg, who ran Huh! Records, and Alan Jansson, who produced the album.

To celebrate the anniversary, Music 101 talked to Grigg at his home in Thailand, and Jansson at his Auckland studio. Here's some of that conversation:

Simon Grigg: "I used to say to him, Alan, whenever you do something important I want to release it, because I had a record label - and he'd agreed. He started making Polynesian stuff, working with Philip Fuemana and others, making South Auckland hip hop records, putting together a [compilation] album called Proud.  

"It was one of the most interesting records I'd ever hear, probably one of the most important New Zealand records, because it was that whole Pasifika thing that was happening.

Alan Jansson: "The beauty of what was going on was there were all these suburbs out there... they all had their own sound going on, which surprised the hell out of me, [I thought] 'this is quite interesting, it's quite deep what's happening here, I really like it'.  And I started to really take an interest in it.

"And Philip was telling me 'I've got this band, you have to come and check it out, it's called House Party. Once this urban pacific thing started taking off he came into town and started doing more gigs around town.

"One day he played me this record that was really trancey, and I said 'wow, Phil, this is really good mate, if you put raps on this, this could work', and ... he turned up with Pauly, his brother and they did this thing, and it was O to the M to the C.

"I said 'jeepers, I really love your brother's stuff - really cool'. ...And I thought the only time I'd ever heard anything like what Pauly was doing was Cypress Hill.  I thought Pauly had a more distinctive trumpety sound."

Simon Grigg: "He put Proud out, and I said to him, anything else you're doing Alan, I want in."

Pauly Fuemana

Pauly Fuemana Photo: Deborah Smith / Courtesy of Simon Grigg.

Alan Jansson: "So I didn't see much of Pauly for a while, and all of a sudden I got a knock on the door, and he ...wanted to go to art school, he had his heart set on Elam... and his art wasn't bad, I thought his music was better. And I said to him give it three years in music and if it doesn't work out then jump into Elam.

"Andrew Penhallow got hold of me from over in Australia, he had his own label, called Volition Records, and he said 'would OMC and other acts from Proud be interested in coming to Australia and doing the Big Day Out tour?  

"We got to Sydney, and shivers - he cooked with gas: Pauly was amazing, he was incredible. He just went out there and grabbed the audience, and some of the audience were Samoan, and he talked to them in Samoan, he talked really fluently, and he talked in Māori to some of the Māoris, and it was really cool, they really loved him.

"We got back to Sydney, and this guy said 'I really want to interview him', and [it was the] head of Rolling Stone Australia, over here.'

"So, he took Pauly and I out for brunch.... and he said 'I think you guys are just great... and I loved that... Lou Reedy- sort- of song', which later became How Bizarre.

"I strummed the guitar, played him the chords of How Bizarre, and he started singing 'Every time I look around..."

Simon Grigg: "He rang me up and said 'I'm working with this young guy, called "Paul, and I want you to hear something... I walked into the studio and there was Pauly.  And I knew Pauly reasonably well because he used to come to my club all the time. I knew his brother, and his sister quite well. His sister used to sing in bands at Cause Celebre, and Phil was just part of the scene and very important.  

"Pauly was always the best dressed guy in the club, he always used to come on down in these amazing jackets, and they were kind of op shop clothes, but he looked like a million bucks. He was the guy that when he walked into the club everyone looked, because he always looked amazing.

Alan Jansson: "He was pretty styley... he could walk into a Salvation Army shop and he'd come out in an Armani suit or something like that, it was unbelievable."

Simon Grigg: "So I knew that he had something special.  When you take that charisma and that personality and that style that he had, and you match it with the music that he was making with Alan, it became quite an awesome package.

Alan Jansson, Simon Grigg, Paulie Fuemana

Left to right, Alan Jansson, Simon Grigg and Pauly Fuemana. Photo: supplied

Alan Jansson: "Simon Grigg said to me, if I give you some money, would you be interested in doing some demos of OMC for me?

Simon Grigg: "They played me a very rough demo of something called Dof it Up, it was what would become How Bizarre, this was late 1994. I found $5,000, and said 'there you are, go and make a record,' and it became Big Top."

Alan Jansson: "It was called Big Top, because it was all about the circus of life, [it was Dof it Up for] only about 10 minutes."

Simon Grigg: Dof it up means to get in a punch up, but Alan and Pauly both knew that wasn't a goer, because you can't start going 'dof it up, dof it up'.

"The song's lyrics has 'lions, acrobats, monkeys, in it, so it has that that circus thing in it ... but it wasn't working ... Alan had always believed since the 80s, that if you're going to have a hit song you've got to have a catchy phrase that people like saying and remember it.  And the song has a litany of bizarre things that are sung about, and then Pauly goes 'how bizarre'.

Alan Jansson: "Pauly would always sing something like 'every time I look around, you're not there', I said:  'I see this song being about media and show, that's always in your face; billboards and bloody Wall Street - every time I look around it's in my face... but we didn't have anything to tie it all together.

"And then he says, 'we always say: how bizarre, how bizarre'... and he went into the vocal booth, and bloody hell - it was all done in 20 minutes."

Simon Grigg: "I signed Pauly to my record label Huh!, and we had a distribution deal with Polygram at that stage. Once we had the Australians on side, to release it in Australia (and they'd promised us it was going to be a hit in Australia), I was able to go to Polygram in New Zealand and say 'we need to do an album'.  

"I'd already funded the single myself, so we needed another 11 tracks, and Polygram came to the party and funded an album. But then in the middle of that, How Bizarre as a single took off.

Alan Jansson: "We got back to Auckland, and there was about 34 to 40 people at the airport, all cheering and shaking Pauly's hand. And unbeknownst to us ... we had the middle pages of Rolling Stone, and he'd said that Pauly was the Marvin Gaye of the Pacific.  It went number one in Australia longer than New Zealand.

Simon Grigg: "First of all it took off in New Zealand, it was number one in early 1996, and it was huge, it was massive.  And [then] it went huge in Australia, and all of a sudden we had these demands from Australia, for people to fly to Australia every couple of weeks to do stuff."

Alan Jansson: "I was making a coffee and then Casey Kasem came on [the radio], saying "Hi you're on America's top 40, and our number one song this week is a band all the way from Ōtara, New Zealand, they're called OMC... it stands for the Ōtara Millionaires Club', and that was the highest point in my life, I can tell you!"  

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Photo: Supplied

Simon Grigg: "The album was being played, and it was getting a little bit frustrating, because it was getting bigger at that stage and needed this album fairly urgently. The Australians were going 'where's the album, where's the album', and then the English decided they were going to go with the single, and we would have to do PR and stuff in the UK as well."

"All the way through there were these things getting in the way of the album.  So whenever Pauly was in town he'd have to do the vocal tracks, or rush in and add whatever he was going to add to the songs or or co-write with Alan.  

"Eventually Pauly and I were in the UK doing the Top of the Pops stuff.  We were there for about five or six weeks in London, and Alan was putting the songs - putting all the parts together, and couriering us mixes, and we'd have to ring him up and go 'that's good, that's not good, change this, change that'. So, it was kind of a trans-global album that was delayed by all the other pressures.

"And Pauly never smiled, his argument was: 'I only ever smile for my bank manager'. And I used to say 'if you smile, your bank manager will be happy'. But he'd go, no, no, I want to look staunch. There was a girl called Wendy from Polydor in the UK, and she was looking after us, and she said 'he has to smile at the camera, people will love it, he's got a great smile'... and he refused to smile.  

"And the song goes on, Pauly walks up, and they go 'this is the biggest hit out of New Zealand ever", and he got up and sang the song, and he looked at the camera, and went 'how bizarre', and he looked at the camera, and he smiled the biggest smile of his life.

"And Wendy looked at me, and said 'you've just sold 40,000 records'. And we did."