Thee Oh Sees: John Dwyer anwers our questions
John Dwyer is one of the most prolific musicians at work, having been in 13 bands since 1997. Now with Thee Oh Sees, he talks to Siobhan Kane
John Dwyer is one of the most prolific musicians at work,having been in 13 bands since 1997, including Pink and Brown and Coachwhips, but it is really Thee Oh Sees who have captured the imagination. Since the band’s line-up settled following Brigid Dawson’s joining in 2006, they have become a vital presence, filtering elements of krautrock, psychedelia, garage and noise into heady, demented brilliance on records such as 2011’s Castlemania and this year’s Floating Coffin .
You have been making music for many years. How did your own journey begin?
I can thank my Mom and my old friend Robbie. My Mom’s record collection was always there, like a piece of furniture. It wasn’t long before I started digging through it, and realising that my Mom was into some off-the-beaten-path kinda stuff. I still have my copies of Electric Ladyland and Trout Mask Replica that I pilfered from her. Robbie first played me bands like Can, Iron Butterfly, and even metal like Celtic Frost. He had a huge collection of stoner’s-delight-style music and I just dove in.
You used to listen to 45s on your parents’ record player, such as Mighty Mouse and Donald Duck the Milkman , and became obsessed with the cassette player, the 2-XL.Those influences seem to have crept in to your work
Definitely. I still love old cartoons. I have all the Looney Tunes on DVD; that was my world on Sunday mornings – that and creature double-features. I still watch horror and sci-fi stuff. I was a dork! I love Dungeons and Dragons – it was all a launch pad for creativity for me. The 2-XL was cool as hell; I had a monster-themed eight-track for it, and a Kiss-themed game for it. I think I’m gonna buy one on eBay.
Your records have featured many different people, including Kyp Malone of TV on the Radio
I love bringing friends in on recording, and I’ve known Kyp for years. He was one of the first people I met in San Francisco. We have such a cast of artists and musicians working with us that I can barely keep count: Kelley Stoltz, Dave Sitek, Ty Segall, Heidi Alexander . . . the list goes on, because I’ll say yes to almost anything! San Francisco is the best; I am so content to be in the Bay Area with all the artists that call it home. The music community is pretty tight; there’s a lot of sharing members and ideas,but with a broad mix of styles.
Creating Castlemania led into another space that allowed Putrifiers II and Floating Coffin to emerge.How does the songwriting work?
Castlemania was a few months in the making, and was done between my bedroom and Bauer Mansion in Chinatown here in San Francisco. I prefer to let each set of recordings take on their own life and energy. We’ve done every sort of preparatory build-up to recording, whether that be holing up and writing to just jamming in a full band environment. I love all these methods.
Your music reveals a black kind of humour. Floating Coffin mingles an upbeat sensibility with a dark undertone.
I think that describes it perfectly. If you were to let the weight of the present day sit on you,it would surely crush your spirit. I love comics who speak to that: The Marx Brothers, Peter Sellers, Dylan Moran, Steve Coogan, Louie CK, Amy Sedaris, Chaplin, Pryor . . . all the greats.
On your recent record, there is a song called I Come From the Mountain , and I recalled one of your favourite bands, Los Dug Dug, and Armando Nava going up to the mountains, composing Smog and then coming back and teaching the band the work
Actually, it’s based on the idea behind a David Shrigley piece. A man comes home and says, “I return from the mountain.” Then he rests for several frames. Then he leaves to return to the mountain.I can relate to that because that is what touring and constant travel are like to me.
You have talked of struggling to keep going, and worked in sandwich shops, sold acid and painted houses to get by; but music was your anchor. Was it difficult to start your label?
It was a slow climb to get where we are today. Slow and steady wins the race! Everything
fell into place just this year when I realised I wanted to do our own releases from now on. The label was initially funded by our friend and partner Brian Lee Hughes, a filmmaker from LA. I feel I have gotten a taste of both sides of the business working this way and it’s not such a hassle anymore.
So if we are approached by someone who comes off like an asshole, then we tell them no thanks!
Thee Oh Sees play Whelan’s on Saturday, May 4th. Floating Coffin is out on Castle Face Records. theeohsees.com