Last week we caught up with John Dwyer from Osees to talk about the new remix album they’ve announced and everything from their writing and recording approach, attitude towards the critics and the music industry, his label Castle Face, the US election, the pandemic, their recently announced UK tour, and his love of fuzz.
Check out the remix of Gong Of Catastrophe, Gong Experiment, exclusively below.
So, to kick off, let me ask you about the new remix that you’ve just released, Gong Experiment, the remix of Gong Of Catastrophe from Protean Threat. What was the inspiration behind the song?
Well, yeah it’s a remix of the song from the original record and, to be frank, I haven’t even listened to it in while because I’m so sick of listening to it after working on it for a month straight, so I usually take a long break. But, yeah, can’t even remember the lyrics to that song. We don’t perform it live so I think I usually try and leave the meanings to the audience. We leave a lyric sheet in there to give like a little clues and stuff, but our stuff ranges from pretty vague to pretty literal. To be honest, as it’s from the remix of the official album, it’s basically just me sitting down, getting high and trying to make something different using the source material.
Every day we would go into the studio after we’d got the tracking done and we would mix one song for Protean Threat and then we would take a break, go have dinner, and then go back late at night and do a remix. So it’s just breaking the song down piece by piece. That’s what Panther Rotate is. It’s a remix album of Protean Threat.
How did you go about choosing which songs to remix, because they’re not all on the new record?
No, and there’s even stuff on there that’s not on Protean Threat. But we did them all, I did remixes of pretty much every track we did. We had a system where every day we’d do one and one. But not everything worked or, you know, the flow of the record would get gummed up by certain things, so I just sort of orchestrated it to see what worked best next to each other.
On Protean Threat and there are songs on there that are sonically very different, like the difference between Gong Of Catastrophe and something like Terminal Jape. Do you find yourself in different mind-sets when those songs are coming together?
Not really, no. The only rule I had for this album, Protean Threat in particular, was that it would fall into the category of basically being a punk album, like it would be 30 minutes long, or thereabouts, short songs. There’s a couple of mellower tunes, but there’s no long jams. Our previous record was like an hour and half long, this big bloated thing, so this was supposed to be a screwed down ship a bit more. We recorded everything relatively live on this album. As far as the differences between songs, it was just the mode of transport to get there. I don’t really have a reason for that.
I guess it’s more a physical thing in the moment. What works works.
Yeah. It’s such a contentious time all over the world. There’s plenty of art to be made so we were just throwing things around, see what works, see what’s fun to play, fun to work on.
When you’re in the studio at that point of putting the songs down, how much experimentation is there, or do you tend to go in with everything fully formed?
This one I would say like 80% of it was fully formed and then we had a few songs that went on to some other releases. I didn’t want to play them too much before we got them into the studio because I like kind of like leaving them open-ended and not put the cart before the horse. We did bring in some jams to work on and we actually wrote a bit of stuff in the studio. We usually do it that way. I mean sometimes we go in with almost nothing. It depends on the record. This one, we had spent 4 months writing stuff so we did have most of it pretty cemented down. We had some demos and whatnot that I had recorded.
I was listening to a podcast recently where they were discussing bands that make sudden stylistic changes between records or those bands that continue always with the same idea and just get better and better at it. Osees came up and they said that with your records it’s like with every record there’s a 10-degree shift from the previous one, so while there’s a line between the albums, what you’re putting out now is completely different from where you started.
I would agree with that. I think with any album you put on, you know it’s us, most of the time. But also I think it’s important to grow. I mean, we have a thing we do, obviously, and there’s a lot of formulas that we’re trying to break or hold onto depending on how we feel about them. There’s only some bands in the history of music that can get away with making the same record, well, having a formula. Like Iron Maiden. Every fucking record is great because they’re fucking Iron Maiden. I’m not Iron Maiden. I have a pretty short attention span as well, so I like to move around a bit, but we still have the confines of our abilities and our general sound. I’m a bit of cunt when it comes to engineering, so there’s things that I like, with guitar in particular, with drums, that we continue to return to. So you’ll find those same sounds in there, just sort of assembled in a different way.
I wanted to ask you about your guitar sound because I absolutely love the sound of good fuzz pedal.
Me too mate. Absolutely. I have so many fuzz pedals that if they fell on me they’d probably fucking kill me. They’d find me under a fucking pile of fuzz pedals. I have a rich man’s problem. “He was killed by his obscene pedal collection.” The Death By Audio stuff. Live you can’t beat the Fuzz War pedal they made. It’s like the loudest, most versatile, oppressive fuzz pedal. When you step on fuzz, it should get louder There are a lot of fuzzes that a sort of compressed in a weird way and get quiet. I love the Supersonic Fuzz Gun, highly versatile. I like Z Vex fuzz, they’re pretty cool.
But really, on this record we were listening to a lot of Crass, or at least I was, so I really wanted to get that kind of direct to the amp, no pedal, fuzz sound like Crass had. So a lot of the guitar sound is emulating that. We were talking about it with a friend and he was laughing about it. He was like, “I know that you love Crass’ guitar sound, but the reality is that it wasn’t some cool pedal. It was like art school kids using like gear that was just shit. That’s why it sounds so cool because they were playing through just like a practice space amp that’s probably not theirs.” Necessity dictated Crass’ awesome sound. But for me, it was a pedal. I played it through a nice amp, but just crushed the shit out of it through some effects.
Going more into that idea that you have your sounds and some formulas, do you every reject an idea for sounding ‘too Osees’?
We’ve definitely bucked over the years at the idea of garage rock, just because I did it to death. I love pop and rock, obviously. I wouldn’t say we’ve thrown anything away, but we’ve avoided to be like straight party rock. Just because of time we’ve got better at playing maybe. I mean, a lot of that stuff was also necessity. Coachwhips was a very primitive band because half the people in the band had never played music before. Now we have people like Tom and Paul in the band. I mean, everybody in the band can play whatever you throw at them. They’re all kind of ringers, so we can go with it as far as we want. I still can’t read music. I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing. I’m like the one idiot in the band, honestly.
We definitely have songs that we work on. People think that we release everything because we release a lot. We’re really just working all the time. We have tons of shit that we haven’t put out because it’s just garbage, in my opinion. I’ll stop working on a song halfway through. Sometimes you write a song in 5 minutes, sometimes you spend 4 months working on a song and then after 4 months you’re like, “This is shit!” and that happens to us like all the time. The longer we spend on something, the shitter it usually is. If something just doesn’t flow through you like energy, there’s a reason for it.
Yeah, I think if you get that moment when you pick up a guitar and get the song in 5 minutes, those songs rarely change. It’s like “There it is.”
Yeah. I mean occasionally you get the breakthroughs if you press it, and that’s what makes it worth it. Or if somebody else in the band, like if I’ve got a guitar line say and the drummer comes up with something, it can completely change my view on what I was doing. The band is often jamming and we’ll jam ideas to death and sometimes that’ll make fruit come.
The word ‘prolific’ gets branded about a lot when people write about Osees, but I think what you’re doing is just not following the typical idea of the album cycle of put out an album, tour it for two years, another album, tour it.
Totally. We have our own label, I manage the band. We do whatever the fuck we want. So this is it. If we want to put out 8 records, we’ll put out 8 records. The critics can be damned. But, that being said, I think we take a bit of pride in that, that we can put out a record in December which is a no-no, or stack two records on top of each other. I’ve always liked it when bands do that kind of shit. To me, if you’re a fan, because what we do is for our fans and if you get new people along the way, fantastic, but, you know, right now with Covid and all this shit it’s important to give people a little bit of an escape because it’s just fucking rough out there for everybody. The more the merrier.
A few months ago the CEO of Spotify came out and said that artists need to break this idea of the album cycle and create more content. But he’s obviously coming at it from a totally commercial perspective of wanting to make money.
Right, of course. I wish they would pay more, I think Bandcamp has set the high bar for streaming shit. I mean Bandcamp is like weirdly on the band side at times. I’m like suspect of who’s running it because it seems like it’s too good to be true. Places like Spotify and YouTube, all the streaming services, they really under pay, but there’s also no point in fighting it unless everybody’s going to band together. It’s just how it is and it’s how the future is going to be. Music is getting cheaper by the moment.
Digital music is essentially free. We post everything to YouTube right after we release a record now just solely so that somebody else won’t do it. I mean, I wouldn’t ideally do that, but I’m okay with it, I’ve come to terms with it. I accept the future and am not going to waste my time spinning wheels. But, that being said, I think some people write really slowly and others really fast. There was always that famous comparison between Monet and Picasso. Like one would fart out like three paintings in a day. Picasso was a really ‘prolific’ painter. But that’s my life. Writing is all I do, it’s my life. I enjoy it and if I didn’t have it, I’d probably be a horrible person. So I’m really glad that I found it. I think that the word ‘prolific’ has sometime been given a derogatory slant from critics. They’re like “Again?” Fuck off then, don’t listen to it. I’m not shoving it down anybody’s throat. If they don’t like it, they can go fuck themselves. As a band we enjoy that we have a really high output and that’s who I care more about.
Do you think that current situation with Covid we’ve gone back to appreciating more the concept of ‘the album’ now that we have time to sit down and really listen again?
Yeah. I can’t speak for everybody, but for music has played a huge part in my life right now, as well as film and fucking everything. I’ve always watched movies. I watch them while I paint, I’ll play the guitar while watching TV. I was brought up in the 70s and there was always this noise in the house. It drives my girlfriend crazy, but at the same time I think, for me, music has been very helpful. It’s like a balm. I’ve been listening to tons of records. I have a pretty big collection and when I was painting I would go through the alphabet. So one day, while painting, I’d just listen to records from the A section, and then the next day from the B section. That way I’m actually going through my collection and will actually be surprised by something, or will nearly buy something and then realise that I already own it, because I’m an idiot. You know, I feel like now is a good time to soak up art. Art is the opposite of what’s happening in our world right now. Creativity and love are against this mindlessness of social media and bigotry. It’s a rough time for the human race.
What’s it felt like over there since the election then?
Well, I think there’s been a light shone on all the problems we have that everybody kind of already knew were there. Now it’s like definitively out there. It’s horrid that like half of our country actually want what’s going on. I don’t understand how anyone could actually want this, but obviously I have my own leanings. But seeing how everything has broken down in our country over the last four years and essentially being an embarrassment to ourselves and having other countries leaning in and being like “Are you guys okay?” I have French friends asking if everything’s okay and am like “Jesus, I have French friends asking if I’m okay because of our asshole president!” I know you guys have your work cut out as well, but we have really set some new standards for shitiness. That being said, there’s hope, always hope. I don’t think Biden’s great to be honest, but I’ll fucking vote for him in a heartbeat to get rid of this man we’ve had in the White House for four years, but, you know, there’s this big battle going on now and I’m amazed at people’s addiction to hate and ignorance sometimes. It just blows my mind. I don’t think it’s particularly an American thing, but we do it really well.
With your label, Castle Face, you’ve set it up similar to Factory Records in that you split the money 50/50 with the bands and they keep all the rights.
I didn’t know that’s how Factory did it. We’ve been implementing a few changes to make it more profitable, but I started to label because to me the precedent that a label, and some labels that are bigger, would own your music in perpetuity is fucking ridiculous. I don’t even know how we got there. I can’t even imagine how many people got screwed back in that day by labels owning their songs and they’re old people eventually not making music and they never saw a dime, or only got money up front. I hate the idea of an advance frankly. I’ve had labels offer me advances. We recently had somebody come to me asking to buy my whole catalogue for $100,000, which is funny because it seems like a lot of money. When you see that, you think “Wow, that’s a lot of money,” but not really because I’ve written like 500 fucking songs and sold them a bunch of times. The possibility, it’s just fucking absurd.
You should own your own art and I’ve always thought that way. This is probably the only thing that me and Taylor Swift will agree upon, but I’m proud of her for fighting it. I was like “I hate your fucking music, but well done lady.” You should own your own songs. That’s her money, especially if she’s written any of it herself. This is important to me, that people own their own art, but it also means that sometimes records go nowhere. Obviously some labels that have ownership of records have more money to spend on publishing licensing songs out and getting them into TV shows and whatnot. We have a pretty great crew on our end, but they’re definitely giving us buddy deals all the time, you know? We have a fairly punk sentiment, I think.
Well it’s needed and always had been. It’s great that bands are getting that fair share.
We’ve dealt with a lot of bands that don’t understand it, like yeah, Population II. They’re fantastic and we were dealing with their manager and he just didn’t seem to understand. I was like “We don’t own their rights.” And he was like “I don’t understand.” “If they sell a song, it’s theirs.” “I don’t understand.” Oh, for the love of God. “Act like I’m not a label and I’m just your buddy. It’s your music.” And he was like, “That’s wonderful.” “Yeah, it’s a great deal. That’s why you’re happy to be here with me.”
We picked up on Population II as well from few months back. It’s such a great record.
They’re so fucking good live as well. They’ve just had two streams. They’re one of the random bands that sent me music out of the blue. Their producer sent me the music and I was like, “Fuck! This is great.” I watched a stream of them and basically their record is just them live. They sound exactly like that. Jamming but pulling off that Amon Düül old school rowdy psych. Fucking great, and really nice kids man.
Are there any other bands that you think we should be on the lookout for, anyone on the label?
We’re doing some reissues for Exek out of Australia. I’m a huge fan of them. Their first two records in particular I think are great, Biased Advice and Ahead Of Two Thoughts. They’re fucking great. Anything Mikey Young ever has to do with, Mikey from Total Control. I just actually bought a fantastic record off that label, Astral Spirits. Everything they do is fucking great. I just bought this record, let me see if I can find it here, by the Luke Stewart Exposure Quintet and it’s just this fantastic jazz improv record, beautiful and melodic but still pretty far out. I was reading the liner notes while listening to it, one of those Covid scenarios where you’re actually reading the liner notes of a record, which I haven’t done in years, and there’s Mikey Young from Total Control. Everything this man puts his hand on is gold. We have a record coming out from a person named Cay. That’s really great. It’s not been announced yet so don’t want to say too much. There’s some cool shit coming up this year for sure.
And finally, you’ve just announced some UK tour dates for next year. How you feeling about that? I imagine there’s a mix of excitement and trepidation.
We’ll see. Good luck with that, right? I mean we’ve rebooked this tour three times. I’m not a fan of cancelling things before it’s absolutely necessary and I feel that there’s no harm no foul if we have something booked and it doesn’t happen. Tickets are always good for the next show and they can get refunds. That being said, I can’t decide if once the vaccine comes out or whatever it takes to get us past this a bit, whether it’s going to be all hands on deck and totally insane or if it’s going to be a slow crawl back to people being comfortable enough. I’m sure that we’ve created some insane germophobia this year.
I hope the hugs and handshakes don’t go out the window because those are two things I really love. I had a buddy here like, “What I really miss is just going to a bar and hugging my friends.” That just breaks my heart because I really feel it. The drunken hug. I know the UK’s a fan of that as well. You fucking love hugging people. We’ve just announced another live stream. We’re going to keep those coming out. If we get over there in May, I’m going to be pleasantly surprised. Our booker was reluctant to book the last three tours we’d planned, but this time he was like “I think we can make this happen.” So blame our French booker if this shit doesn’t happen, but I’ll be the first one off the plane if they let us come over there.
Osees have just announced their UK tour dates for 2021. Here are the dates and links for tickets.
08.05.21 – The Crossing – Birmingham, UK
09.05.21 – Chalk – Brighton, UK
10.05.21 – Junction – Cambridge, UK
11.05.21 – SWX – Bristol, UK
13.05.21 – Button Factory – Dublin, IRE
14.05.21 – Button Factory – Dublin, IRE
15.05.21 – QMU – Glasgow, UK
16.05.21 – Albert Hall – Manchester, UK
18.05.21 – TBA – TBA, UK
19.05.21 – Electric Ballroom – London, UK
20.05.21 – Electric Ballroom – London, UK
The band have also announced a stream event ‘Live at The Henry Miller Library Big Sur.’ Details and tickets/bundles can be found here.
Words by Nathan Whittle. Find his Louder Than War archive here.
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