We at Middle Boop have been ever supporting of the influx of bands creating the fascinating new wave of Psychedelic/Lo-Fi sounds that has been gripping the underground scene over the past few months. None more so than San Francisco's Thee Oh Sees who with their ever expanding back catalogue including one of our favourite albums of this year so far 'Warm Slime' have gained a cult following across the world.
I, Freddy Rothman caught up with John Dwyer from the band before their sold out gig at London's Luminaire venue for a chat about their latest sound, junk food, The Fall and of course his current band.
Firstly, its nice to have you over in the UK.
How’s the European tour been so far? Any shows that have stood out at all?
God there has been a bunch of good ones. Playing All Tomorrows Parties was really fun, we got to meet a lot of cool people. Meeting James Chance was great. Matt Groening was awesome. There were a lot of great bands, that and the sound there was really good and really enjoyable. Just lots of great bands, Spiritualized who I’m not really a huge fan of were something else. Venice was great, we got to play on a boat in the Lagoon which was absolutely ridiculous, a really wasted night. Err…fuck, what else. Leeds was actually really great last night which was cool. It was like a million degrees but really fun.
You’ve just released your 11th LP ‘Warm Slime’ which I noticed the sound has evolved in a more Lo-fi and experimental direction during the last couple of records. How would you rank this alongside your previous work?
To be honest a lot of the rock records we don’t really listen to them because we play them live. It's more the softer stuff that I’ve gone back to a couple of times and listen to because it’s so different. I like how this one sounds, because we did it live. We did it in like 8 hours. Set up and played like if we would at a show, so we rented a club. We played on a stage mind you but we set up in the middle. We had an open bar, it was just really relaxed. We had our friends there. Mike from Sic Alps played on it with us, it was just really fun. So hopefully that comes across on the record. I feel I like a lot of the records more than the actual sound of them and the orchestration sort of reminds me of the moment they were recorded in my life, so ive got a little bit of a memory, so every one (album) is a little bit different. We try to move locations, like I’ll see a spot and if I like this spot I find the owner of the place and im like “Hey man, can I rent this for a day?” then he’ll be like (low voice) “why?”, then I’ll get freaked out and be like “it's just my band, I’ll bring everything at 10am then at 10 at night I will be ready to leave”, so I think we’ll be leaning in that live direction a little bit more.
I’ve noticed a surge recently of bands that have started experimenting in this whole Lo-fi/Psychedelic sound. Why do you think this fusion of sound has got more and more popular?
Well I think because it's accessible to everybody, like anybody can just sit down and record at home, whether it be digital or (analog). Like in San Francisco everybody has been buying these 3-88’s. This one particular machine, because it’s so user friendly. Im an idiot when it comes to that sort of stuff but I bought one of these and I cant stop recording. It's super fun to use, its like it was made by Play School or a toy company for adults that just wanna sit around, smoke weed and record songs. But yeah, I just think anybody can do it, regardless on whether you wanna gain a lo-fi aesthetic or not. The actual reality of lo-fi is that it means that its cheap and easily done. Anybody can do it, so its attractive to anybody who wants to write songs. Especially digital. Man I don’t really use digital myself, ‘cause I haven’t been able to make it sound good for me, but I can like check email and that’s about the extent of it. But it's cool, y‘know. It’s making more bands, and there’s a lot of people out there that wouldn’t normally be recording if it was otherwise.
Would you even say that the music scene in California has influenced your sound in any way, as well?
Yeah, California has always been great for music, man. Like I think the fact that its getting props now, is maybe the only fluke in the situation. When I moved out there, I loved so many of the bands I saw that never even made it out of the city, and broke up or whatever. But you know, the history of San Francisco and in particular LA is so incredible musically. San Francisco is just a weird and isolated place to live because it doesn’t have the money to hype up stuff so much. So the fact that its getting recognised is because its getting out into the world so much I think more than from home hyped up. Like these bands are all touring now and people want to do this suddenly
*Thee Oh See’s tour manager walks in*
Yeah definitely, the whole California thing has definitely kind of kicked on in the last few years hasn’t it? Especially in this country, bands such as Wavves and No Age etc have kinda transferred this Lo-Fi sound into the UK recently.
Yeah, I mean No Age is based on a club in Los Angeles which was a great spot to play for a long time. But, y’know, it's cool. It still definitely has a family vibe for a lot of it as well.
Going back to the new album. ‘Warm Slime’ is a very interesting title. Tell us a bit about that. How did that name come about?
I honestly don’t remember how that come about. The song is obviously just a repetition of summertime. We wanted to do a pretty summery, fun record that’s not so like, I’ll put a boom box on my bike when I ride to the beach, which is often. For me a summertime record is a poppy thing that makes me feel good on a sunny day, like the most recent thing ive been digging out is ‘Every Picture Tells a Story’ by Rod Stewart. I’ve been loving that record so much, but I don’t know why. My mom always loved it when I was a kid but I hated it, but now it's suddenly come into the light. So now im trying to do something… not LIKE that, but sort of has that same vibe. Light hearted and catchy, y’know.
Yeah, its funny how you see things in a different light when you get older isn’t it?
Haha, yeah. I didn’t like hamburgers when I was a kid, and now I’m like ‘what the fuck have I been missing out on?’
Yeah yeah, I didn’t like Pizza until the age of about 15 (both in agreement with this discussion).
Yeah I also wanted to talk about the cover art for your records. The graphic design in your album artwork is fascinating, but seems to rapidly vary with each release. Would you say that Artwork is an important part of Thee Oh Sees aesthetic?
Absolutely. I hate nothing more than when a great band does a great record and then they have shit artwork. I feel like sometimes people are like “ok, that’s good”, and then they stop focussing. You know, because it's so much work to get a record together. Not us in particular because we’re like *click click*. Like im lazy and impatient when it comes to recording. Im just like “its done! Its good!” And I’ll do a couple of final touches. But some people spend so much time on their records. The Fresh and Onlys (fellow San Franciscan band) in particular spend so much time recording and getting it right, and they’ll re-record the whole record, which frankly I would never do unless it really sucked.
To me when you see a record on the wall, like there’s been a few records that I’ve bought based on the cover. I have no idea what it is. You see it and your like ‘wow what the fuck is this?’ and you asked the guy at the store “is this good?” he’s like “ah, it's fucking great!”. Also a lot of stuff is us showcasing friends of ours. The new record ‘Warm Slime’ was done by my roommate. He’s a painter and he’s amazing and I really liked that painting in particular, so I asked if I could use it and he was like “yeah I guess”, so its often people we know.
'Warm Slime' cover art.
It's like that with me also. If there’s an album im thinking about buying, and if the artwork is awesome that just swings it for me.
Yeah, especially on a 12” vinyl, and also a pretty record y’know. All the way deep into the heart of the actual product, its nice. The underground of vinyl is even making a comeback as well. We work with a company called Pirates Press in San Francisco that I love, that does anything. They get excited if you throw something at them that they can’t do, because then they’ll ask themselves ‘lets figure out how to make this work’, with the etchings, centre pressed stuff, holograms and weird shit. They love trying to do something weird. So, it's mighty fun.
Awesome. You have the habit of constantly releasing new material. What is it that inspires you to continuously record new music?
Everything around us. Other bands. Music. Art. I don’t really have too much to do outside that either, so I’m constantly writing and if the band latches onto something, then we’ll record it. I dunno, I don’t have any problems with releasing. Plus we move really quickly as a band. Our set turns over live so much, that if I were to pace myself more like somebody who was actually spending a lot of time on stuff then we’d be far behind in a live situation. Like the record would be coming out and there will be so much we haven’t played in 2 years, you know. So I always try and work with companies that have a quick turnover, who say they can get it out in a month, instead of saying it may take half a year and they will want to do some promo. That just wont work for me. And by then I’ll have another record out. I am trying to slow down a bit now.
That’s cool though, I like that. I like it when bands keep releasing stuff. I mean, a lot of bands just fuck around, spending years and years trying to perfect things, although in a way that can be good.
Exactly. We’re not My Bloody Valentine. We wont spend 5 solid years in a studio, that’s not what where we’re at. I respect that as well but it’s a very different aesthetic to what we have personally.
Yeah, I do like it when there is more stuff and you can constantly get into and keep listening to it. Where as some bands release an album, and you listen to it continuously for about 2 years, then you’re just waiting for the next record to come out. But with Thee Oh See’s I like that you release a new record and you don’t get stuck with it for too long.
Yeah. Plus, go get that money!
Haha. Yeah that’s another thing too. Ok, my last question for the readers of Middle Boop. What have you guys been listening to at the moment. What should we be listening to based on your current tastes?
This band Bare Wires. They’re great. They’re from our town and I don’t just want to talk about our town, but Bare Wires’ new record is phenomenal. It's not out yet but it will be soon. They’re just a really really great pop band. What else we been listening to? Mostly older stuff, honestly. It’s been a lot of Jay Reatard. (Turns and asks their tour manager) Kristen, What else have we been listening to a lot of? It’s been a varied selection.
Kristen: The Fall… oh and The Tear Garden.
Fuck yeah. The Tear Garden who are Edward Ka-Spel and Skinny Puppy’s band, The Tear Garden are fucking great, but theres been a lot of stuff like country music too.
The Fall you can never get tired of. They just peoduce so much stuff don't they?
Yeah! I almost hate that guy for being so easy to listen to.
Yeah, the whole of your life you can constantly discover a new album. Another band actually like yourselves in that respect.
Curious Oranj. His middle era has been really kicking in for us lately…
*The conversation develops into a frank and fruitful discussion of various Fall albums, including current LP ‘Your Future Our Clutter’. As well as the amazing essence of Mark E.Smith for several minutes before the interview closes. Then John and the rest of the band go off to get some food.*
Words & Questions: Freddy Rothman