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Artists in their own words: Elizabeth O’Neil

Who: Elizabeth O’Neil

What: DJ

Where: Lower Garden District

Artist’s chosen location for interview: Backspace Bar – two glasses of bubbly (to start) and literary references surrounding us

Q: What is the purpose of obsession?

A: It’s mainly about self-gratification, right? When you feel obsessed with something it’s like an addiction. You have to feed it, and it can take over. It can knock you flat off your feet. It’s one thing to have passion and to have love –deep burning love — but obsession borders on the negative. It’s fascination gone bad.

But some people can’t live without some sort of obsession. I’m not a psychiatrist, but I’m guessing that people give into obsession because it’s easier than facing a truth. If you give into your obsession then you can fantasize, worry, and fret, but none of it is real. That keeps you from looking at yourself. You can obsess over everything. You can obsess over the injustices of history, but that doesn’t change it. It just makes you cra-cra.

I think I have definitely come very close to having an obsession. You just have to always step away, look at your situation, and make sure that you’re not being taken over. Because obsession is exceptionally hard for the object of your affection. If it’s a dog or a person, then your obsession comes with a lot of expectations and work; however, if it is an obsession over shoes [laughing] then that’s okay.

Shoes you just walk in.

Q: Whose voice would you want to hear in the morning?

A: Joe Williams. I love his voice. It’s this beautiful, rich voice. He knows how to express a lyric, and it’s genius. He could sing to me all day long.

Of course, morning is a different time for me everyday [laughing]. Sometimes morning isn’t until two in the afternoon, but I’m positive that Joe Williams can make you feel good any time of the day.

Q: How do you like to organize?

A: It really depends on what I’m organizing. I’m a scorpio, so I have this sense of space. When I sort books for our rummage sale at church, I am the best packer that they have. I can see where things fit.

It’s all like a puzzle, and I am the same way at home. Bowls are tucked inside of bowls, and everything is within reach. I don’t have to bend down too much. I know where everything is, I grab it, and then I put it right back.

Now, I do have some disorganized spaces as well. Don’t open a closet in my house cause you might be killed. All those Mardi Gras costumes. I have so many boxes full of Mardi Gras costumes, and then I have all these old hats in hat boxes. They are everywhere.

Last year I went to the MOM’s ball, and I wore a kaftan. That’s what the ladies used to wear when they were lounging around the house. It’s a one-piece tunic that goes down to the ground. This one I got was silk and hand painted in Australia. It was the sea, shells, and fish. Because I ride with Nyx, I had this giant headpiece, and I wore all of that to the ball.

Q: What is the best time to play your favorite song?

A: I play music all day long. From the minute I wake up in the morning, when I’m in the shower, and when I’m getting ready there is music on constantly. Sometimes I play the piano as well, but — believe me — music is on all the time.

In my car I’m always listening to the radio. WWOZ. Although, now that I have a new car I’ve been listening to the jazz station on Sirius FM. I have that free three-month trial, so I’m gorging on the music because I’m not going to pay for that. It feels a little sacrilegious to pay for a jazz station on Sirius. I mean, we have WWOZ.

And I love all different kinds of music. It’s funny, I just joined a drumming circle. I took the class at the Jazz and Heritage Foundation. I signed up and I am drumming away with all these kids. I saw a drum at a shop when I was up in New York, but there was no way I could get that drum home on the plane. I had to let it go. The class provides drums for you, but I was thinking I need one of my own.

There are just certain sounds and songs I can hear over and over again, and drumming is one of them. And sometimes all I want to hear is Oscar Peterson play Django. There’s a couple of old classics that I just can’t get enough of. I want to listen to the song over and over again. Of course, I don’t because the next song that comes up is equally great.

Q: What is your favorite studio ritual?

A: You know, I’m so sorry to burst a bubble [laughing], but I don’t have a ritual. With all the buttons, the lights going up and down, and everything happening, I was always flying by the seat of my pants.

When there was a lull they told me to gab, but I just can’t. I mean, I can gab, but the situation is that if I start then I can’t stop.

I do have rituals to prep for shows. I do my research and plan my program before going into the studio. For me, it’s just fun to play music. As far as being clever or creative, that wasn’t really what I signed on for. I just wanted to share some music. That was all I wanted to do.

And if there’s one piece of music I could share with everyone, it would be…whoa, this is actually really tough to decide on…but, I think I would choose Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” It’s one of my favorites, and I have the original recording with Oscar Levant with the Philadelphia Orchestra. It’s fabulous. I’ve listened to that piece all my life. My father had so much vinyl, and I had this tiny little record player when I was a kid, and I would spin the records on that as well.

The first 45 I ever bought was Stevie Wonder’s Fingertips Part I and Part II. Although, I could also listen to Walter Wolfman Washington all day long. And, sometimes, I do.


You can hear Elizabeth O’Neil on both WWOZ (90.7) and WRBH (88.3) either spinning music or reading books.



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