John Dwyer of Thee Oh Sees

Blake Gillespie

john dwyer of thee oh sees

John Dwyer took time away from writing thirty songs a day to speak with us on San Francisco, extended jams, old tattoos, and deep throating microphones.

Do you feel like your
microphone is sexually frustrated because you only put the tip in your mouth?

Oh, I’ve swallowed the whole thing. I’ve broken all my teeth
on it. I’ve finally bought a burlier one recently. I don’t know. It hasn’t
given me any vibes. I have blown through many of them over the years. I’ve
started buying a warranty with them because the store would never believe me
that it broke within 10 minutes of buying it.

SM57s are supposed to be the tanks of microphones and I’ll fucking
ruin one of those in a heartbeat. I’ve got to start watching it with the teeth
though. I chipped my teeth three times at SXSW this year. I don’t want to start
looking like Darby Crash. Maybe I’ll just get all metal chompers and do it
right.

What’s your favorite
place to get Mexican food in San Francisco?

Tragically, today I went by and I think they fucking closed.
It’s a spot I used to take my friends called Taco Window. I’ve been going there
for years. It’s just a window on a house next to a restaurant. They had an
awning over the window and you’d order right there. Tacos were a buck fifty and
they sold every part of every animal. Their fish tacos were pretty banging, but
they even sold ojo tacos, the cow’s eyes which I never partook in. That spot
was the jam. A nice little summertime spot where you could go to the store next
door, buy a couple beers, sit out front and eat tacos.

I think they might be remodeling it, but there was nothing
in the window. There was a sign in Spanish, which I don’t speak so I have no
clue. I don’t know what the hell is going on. I rode all the way there only to
find out and feel like fuck. If it re-opens those tacos will be $2.50 next
time.

If it re-opens do you
think you’ll go bold and eat some cow eyes?

Perhaps maybe in some weird celebration. The only dude I
ever saw eat those was some big Mexican hescher dude in a fucking old school Trans Am blasting “Girls, Girls, Girls” by Motley Crue. I looked at my friend
like, “This is happening right now. He
just ordered two eye tacos and he’s driving in that car with that music.”

That man is living
life to the fullest. I feel “ojo tacos” could be the next Thee Oh Sees album
title.

Dos tacos de ojo. Con frijoles for here. Two tacos with the
eyes looking at you.

Well I’m really
digging the new record. When was the last time you recorded with Chris Woodhouse.

We did that Quadrospazzed 12” with him. We rented this hip
hop club in downtown San Francisco for the day called Club Six. Did it live
with an 8-track and he came down and engineered it. He played tambourine and a
bunch of shit on it. Mike Donovan from Sic Alps was with us playing guitar. We
all just sat around drinking all day and it was really fun. It was a good way
to do it and hopefully we can do that next time we record if that club is still
open. I used to work there so I have an in with them. It’s a weird joint. It
has bad mojo club-wise, but for a room it’s a spectacular recording space.

Well that satisfies
my curiosity there because listening to the record I felt as though I were at
an Oh Sees show.

Yeah, the room has an old school hardwood floor, there’s a
big copper bar, super high ceilings with rafters. It’s pretty much an ideal setting
for us for recording. There’s not a single over-dub on this record. Even the
stuff with the tambourine is live that’s why we brought extra people down.

I really enjoyed the
use of the flute on Help. Do you
think you might bring that back into the recordings?

My mom and my step dad are avid yard sale-ists. They realized
a couple years ago that this is what I was going to be doing. I told them if
they’re going to send me some shit, make it instruments and stuff- anything
that looks groovy. They sent me a flute, a clarinet and just today they sent me
a trumpet.

I fucked around with that. I cleaned it because it smelled
hella bad. It was a stinky ass old trumpet full of some kid’s spit that’s been
drying for twenty years in somebody’s basement. It was pretty gnarly.

I’ll be listening in
for it to make an appearance on an Oh Sees record.

I’m planning on learning how to use it, so far it sounds
terrible, but we’ll see. The flute I learned pretty quickly. I’ve always liked
flute. I don’t know why. The flute in “Wild Thing” and stuff like that. Canned
Heat, I always loved that shit. Even Jethro Tull.

“Cross-Eyed Mary.”
Can’t go wrong there.

Have you ever seen the footage of them playing on Rolling
Stones Rock and Roll Circus? It’s pretty fucking awesome. That dude was a
freak. He was a very Renaissance fair motherfucker. You’d expect to see him
eating some meat from like a turkey drumstick.
There’s that move where he kicks up his leg and bends it on his other
knee… I call that the figure four flute lock.

I always thought it
was more of a flamingo stance.

Yeah, the crane.

So one song takes up
side A of Warm Slime. Care to go into
the thought process there?

We jammed three or four songs that are sort of open ended
like that. They were ones we’d been doing a lot live, especially the bigger
shows where we can go for an hour. Most of our pop short stuff lasts about a
half an hour tops. So we have a song we can end the set on that can be a half
an hour long. People in the crowd can
grab percussion and play along if they want to and it seemed like people were
digging it.

When I was a kid all those longer songs like “When The Music’s
Over” by The Doors, “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”
and fucking “Yoo Doo Right” by Can like… in my teen years taking acid and
stuff, I always wanted songs that would last for a really long time. A two
minute song would fly by and bum me out. I wanted something you could put on,
lay back and stare at the ceiling for half an hour and it would take on a
little bit of a trip. I’ve always wanted
to do songs like that. Not to say I’m touching on any of that, but it
definitely plays a big role in our longer songs for sure.

If it’s going well,
it’s great live. It sounds like shit you’re just standing there wanking off.
When it goes good, it makes it worth it for all the shitty times you did it. I’m
also all about drum solos, which we’ll be doing more of now. I want everybody
to loosen up a bit.

I was reading a
previous interview you’d done around the time you had found the band members
that would become Thee Oh Sees and now that you’ve taken off with this band how
are you feeling as far as the longevity of it?

When I was younger I would get sick of stuff pretty quick.
Two or three years into it, it would start petering out. I feel like we’ve
actually progressed in a weird way. It’s changed enough over time that it’s
still interesting to me and I really enjoy the people I’m playing with. Mike,
Petey and Bridgette are great and they really add their own elements to it. We
get a long fairly well on tour. I’ll keep doing it until it doesn’t work
anymore, but I have a feeling this one is going to be it for me for awhile.

What’s the status on
your side band The Drums?

Me and Anthony Petrovic were doing that for awhile. It was
such a trial live. Every time we did it, I felt like I was about to have a
goddamned heart attack when it was over.

It wouldn’t be so bad if it was just drumming or just
singing, but drumming and singing… anybody who does that, kudos to them. If you’re
a smoker though it’s just brutal. My body would be like what the fuck every
time we played, like it was ready for a total shut down. I always felt like I
was going to throw up a little bit. There was some
cool spots we played. There was a Black Panther art benefit show we played on 6th
and Market, which is a pretty off color spot where there’s a lot of crack
dealers and shit. I was thinking, “this ought to be interesting,” but everybody
got into it. It was 10 o’clock on a Saturday and people were dancing in front
of us. That was the show I thought “I’m happy if this is over.”

I still play the drums every day. It’s my main instrument
that I use in a therapeutic way and for exercise. I’ve been playing drums
longer than I’ve played guitar. I play with some horn dudes here and one dude
out of New York occasionally. Just some improv stuff with drums for a good two
minutes is self-satisfying.

It’s your chance to
get some meditation in. I dig it. One of the editors was curious about the
tattoo on your chest that just says “SONG.” Why did you get that?

That’s a reference to old style tattoo to having a song in
your heart. My roommate got one and I sort of ripped off my roommate. He’s
pretty covered. The tattoo is pretty dumb. I don’t know why the fuck I’ve gone
the way I have. I’m not a huge tattoo person, but enjoy getting tattoos. That
was an alright one for being an honest and basic tattoo.

I was in Palm Springs once and some old guy came up to me
and said, “Song huh? What do you write songs?” I thought he was going to call
me a fag, but he totally sat down with me and talked with me for an hour. He
was an old military guy. He wanted to know why I got tattoos because all his buddies
used to get tattoos in World War II. He was like 90 years old.

He blatantly stared at the girl I was with the whole time,
which was pretty funny. He was one of those guys that was so old he didn’t give
a fuck anymore. It wasn’t rude. You could just tell he was like “what are you
going to do? Kill me? I’m fucking 90.” It was interesting to talk to a guy from
an era that the modern tattoos are referencing.

So the San Francisco
scene is operating in a prolific manner and your band is a part of that. What’s
going on out in The Bay that allows for such high volume?

Everybody here, it’s like music is the only thing we want to
do. A lot of us hang out with each other, so you’ve got Ty [Segall], The
Fresh & Onlys, and there’s this band
I’m about to do record for that I really
love called Bare Wires. Creativity spawns creativity.

My rent is really low out here. I have rent control from
ages ago. I got lucky in that way that I don’t have to work much. So, when I’m
home I can just relax from tours and sit around and write stuff as much as I
want.

So there’s no secret
advice you have?

Keep writing and get lucky I guess. I’m sort of living a
poor man’s dream. It’s all I really wanted to do, so I guess I’m here. You can
do the minimal amount of work you don’t want to do to get by and do the work
you do want to do.

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