Sean “Oreo” Jones has become a household name within the Indianapolis hip-hop community - both as a rapper and as the founder of the annual hip-hop music festival Chreece. So some Indianapolis music fans were surprised this year when Jones decided to temporarily step away from his work in rap to focus on a new project titled Michael Raintree.
Jones describes the music of Michael Raintree as “experimental R&B." He’s created a unique soundscape for the project, featuring distorted layers of synthesizers and drum machines with Jones’ own heavily-processed vocals.
According to Jones, the development of the Michael Raintree concept was rooted more in therapeutic concerns than aesthetics. He says the project was born out of a tough period in his life, a time that saw Jones struggling with depression and mental health issues.
"I was at a time in my life where I felt compelled to create to help myself get through a difficult time," Jones said. "I essentially locked myself in a room and this is what came out. It was almost like my therapy. I think that's important for artists that are dealing with mental health issues and trying to do some self-care. That was my way of doing it."
Michael Raintree is the latest in a succession of assumed identities Jones has developed. There’s also Black Fabio, the star of Jones’ 2011 mixtape with producer/DJ Ben “Action” Jackson, and of course Jones’ main project Oreo Jones.
Jones says he isn't sure why he’s attracted to creating music under invented identities.
"I feel like it's taken on life organically," Jones reflected. "It might be another thing I'm dealing with subconsciously as an individual, having these personas and trying to think through a different mindset. Or it could be that I'm schizophrenic and I just didn't know about it." [laughs]
Jones has established himself as a rapper, he’s experimented with avant-garde R&B vocals as Michael Raintree, and he’s performed as an instrumentalist with the rock band White Moms.
"I think the main catalyst to all these projects I do is just a natural synergy," Jones says. "I don't mess with a project unless I 150% feel good about it, and I get to bring people together."
Jones’ emphasis on developing creative collaborations was evident during his Small Studio session. The Michael Raintree band featured local electronic music luminaries like David "Moose" Adamson and Mark Tester.
"I love collaborating with people all over the city," Jones shared. "There are so many unique and amazing artists here, and I feel blessed to be able to collaborate with those folks."
Michael Raintree’s debut album Through the Depths of Hell I Picked up the Phone is out now. Jones says he’s working on a follow up to that project while also continuing work on his next rap record.
Small Studio is supported in part by Sun King Brewing.