Download: Thee Oh Sees ‘Ghost In The Trees’
This interview by Jen Snyder.
So S.F. is a weird city, different than L.A. and New York as far as music and the arts go, and I think it’s partially because of our lack of a big MTV, model or movie scene going on here. How has that made your experience as serious musicians better or worse?
John Dwyer (Thee Oh Sees): The hype issue that you’re talking about as far as in places like in New York—and I don’t know about L.A.—but it’s like a lot of bands are disappointing, you know? I don’t know if it’s because they’re getting hyped too soon or what the fuck, but I feel like a lot of good bands here get overlooked. Maybe it’s giving them more time to grow, but a lot of bands are pretty good right out the gate here and I actually think we’re kinda lucky in that respect because there’s not all that bullshit clouding over. Of course, everybody is broke because of it.
Gabe Ramos (NRSZ): It’s almost more real because you’re not getting smoke blown up your ass all the time and you’re constantly struggling for it. I think it’s a little less pretentious. I mean, it’s not hard to find pretentious people anywhere…
J: Ok, yeah. They’re everywhere.
G: But it also kinda breeds a ‘non-presence’ of having to hustle super hard.
J: Yeah, I feel like people here don’t have to make something other than whatever they’re making. Whereas other places you have to gear your music it towards or something.
G: Yeah, I guess we’re really lucky because I feel like I’m constantly seeing bands that get really, really hyped that are just the same disco dance music. And I just get really bored when that’s the most prominent thing is see ALL the time. And I don’t see that a lot here.
J: Maybe it’s just more sparse. The point is that because it’s so small and no one makes any fucking money the scene somehow just stays a little more tight knit. Like we all go to each other’s shows a lot.
True. And here and even outside of the city both NRSZ and Thee Oh Sees have been really well received. Do you think you guys are giving a pretty accurate picture of what goes on here?
J: Not really though, because there’s so much shit going on. There’s a lot in common with bands and it’s definitely a little incestual. There’s bands coming from all over the spectrum. Like I’ll meet someone on Myspace who digs my stuff or whatever and they’ll be like, ‘Check out our band!’ And they’ll be so far away from what we’re doing like a hip-hop-surf-band, which sounds super terrible, and we’ll play together even though we’re not at all similar and it ends up being amazing.
G: I really enjoy going to eclectic shows too but for some reason—maybe it’s because I’m conditioned that way—I always see a common thread. Even if it’s like a garage band and some super loud shredder band. Even if it’s super mellow and really loud, I like the dichotomy.
What are some records I could find in this awesome house that I wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else?
J: I think a lot of it’s just local stuff that people will hit me up for after I play it for them, especially when we’re on the road. Like the Sic Alps for instance, where people in Europe are emailing me asking me where the fuck did I get it? I don’t know if S.F. has poor distribution or what, but it’s almost like we’re underground by accident. People change so much here, too. I mean bands will happen and disappear overnight.
G: Yeah I’ve found that to be a bummer before. You can talk to someone in a really rad band a week after a show and they’ll be like, ‘Oh no, we broke up.’
J: Or bands that have NO aspiration to tour. Like Fuck Wolf—they were great and just sort of fell apart and they were like, ‘eh.’ It just wasn’t on their list of stuff to do.
G: And also here a lot of people are just fuckin’ lazy!
J: It’s the subway to fame here. Not a rocket…
But you guys tour. Both of your bands toured together in March through the US and to Mexico and Canada. Gimme some highlights and lowlights. I saw on NRSZ myspace there was an album called ‘The SXSW Disaster Tour’ or something?
G: Yeah… well, it was definitely the first tour that we were seriously hit hard and actually lost money. Which we kindof expected, so that wasn’t surprising. But what we did not expect to happen was being arrested at the Canadian Border and getting put in jail for 5 days.
J: Nobody expected the Canadian Inquisition!
G: For real! I mean it was a weird witch hunt-y inquisition fully commandeered by this fucking prick, Sergeant Johnson, who was the worst human on the face of the planet. He put this weird cop hold on me when we were handcuffed where he was on the verge of breaking my thumbs.
J: Oh really? He hurt your thumbs?
G: Yeah, he was like leading me into a cell like I was gonna be a big problem. Like I’d run for the border or something…
J: That would be hilarious.
G: He was asking me about John and Thee Oh Sees and thought it was this band called Infestation…
J: Which I’m thinking about starting!
G: They knew he was from Rhode Island and were googling him.
J: But Canadian Google doesn’t work so good, though. Like we’re going to Rhode Island, me and you. Let’s go fly in my Oompa Loompa plane and go find that guy’s mom.
G: But it was ridiculous and followed by the most mundane four days in jail. I felt really bad for all the smokers in jail.
J: Which is a really weird thing to say. You’re such a nice guy. ‘I just feel bad for all those Hondurans who love cigarettes!’
G: Well, they couldn’t speak English and the only time they’d talk was when we’d get our disgusting breakfast and they’d be like, ‘Please, one cigarette.’ And we were just like God… it was horrible!
And Thee Oh Sees just did their first tour in Europe?
J: Yeah. It was fun. It was long. The guy who booked the shows got us good stuff. I think it was a financial disaster for Tomlab—it was really tough to tour us in the van without any guarantees for the shows. A lot of people go over there and drive themselves and borrow gear and I’m not really inclined to do that. And borrowing gear is hard for us. I mean, we’re really particular about our gear. We sing through amps, I have a space echo, and we have so many things where levels have to be where they need to be. And it was tiring. I’ve toured the U.S. so many times, but over there we didn’t know where to stay every night and so every night I’m figuring out something new. Which is great but after 26 shows in a row, sometimes two in a day! I mean, some bands tour for nine weeks which is great but—fuck that
G: And you meet tons of people and make a lot of friends which is rad.
J: Yeah. But there’s nothing like tour that makes you never want to own a cat. Like if I smell cat pee one more time, something’s gonna end up dead. You go to sleep when it’s dark and you wake up in cat litter that’s spilling over the cat-box like, ‘Uuughh!’ But that’s diggin’ in right there. That’s life.
You guys weirded anyone out lately? Freaked anyone out?
J: I think the last guy I weirded out was the guy at the Independent because he put his finger in my loogie and said ‘next time,’ like I shouldn’t spit on stage next time. I just laughed at him like we’d play there again. I’m not too fond of the bigger venues, and this guy was really pissed with a smile on. He was a big ass vagina.
That’s all you got?
J: Tell her about the time you weirded yourself out. It’s more like me getting Gabe to weird people out.
G: Yeah, I’m the man with a thousand faces. I totally weirded myself out giggling and ‘oooohing’ the other night.
J: I convinced him that people were selling beer in the bathroom and he went in there like questioning eveyone.
G: I thought the five guys in one bathroom stall were in there buying beers like, ‘Hey guys, can I get one of those?’ Actually I think the weirdest people are walking around outside our stoop here. The biggest retards walk by. It blows my mind that these people are out walking about in our neighborhood all concentrated. If you have a beer in your hand on the stoop everyone wants to hang out.
J: He’s getting good at telling them no. Like, no. Go away. Go away. No—don’t come up here, no. Like the more you don’t want them to come near you the closer they get like zombies.
Ok, Gabe. How come NRSZ thinks they can play with only two people? How come you don’t need anyone else?
G: We don’t think that! We’ve tried but it always deteriorates really rapidly.
J: You guys are such a unit though. You’d have to be a real animal to step up to bat at that plate.
G: It’s always someone who just can’t play or plays something really random.
J: Like, ‘I play nose-flute.’ They’re a lonely couple of guys.
G: People just don’t gel with us. We don’t play flowery-stoner type of stuff.
John, you and Thee Oh Sees are really independent. Except for your Europe tour, you book all your shows and you put our all your own music with Castle Face, the label you run with Brian Lee Hughes. How come you guys don’t ask for help?
J: Aside from when I was working with Narnack, who threw a lot of money at us, it’s not helpful. I’ve tried to work with bookers before but I feel like that the scene that I enjoy playing in has a real DIY vibe. And a lot of the clubs don’t offer that feeling. I prefer setting up shows with kids who actually enjoy the music and can throw on a rad local band, and that’s really exciting. I mean, we don’t make a lot of money because of that, but I’d rather have the memory of a good tour. I mean, money would be awesome, I gladly take money to do stuff, but I’ve learned that because of what kind of music we’re making, we have to be more independent. The other thing is that I’ve been doing it for such a long time that people help out a great deal from knowing you.
And both of your record live?
J: I’m incapable of doing it any other way.
G: Me too.
J: If I asked Mike [Shoun, thee Oh Sees drummer] to record without guitar, it would be hilarious. And I can’t sing overdub at all. The foundation of what we do is supposed to sort of match up with the live shows. I mean, you can make musical recordings interesting without having to record a million tracks. It’s like you go to a show and get what you see. Like, take tonight home.
G: All our stuff is pretty loose, so it’s hard to tack that down. We recorded at our friends’ studio where that band Los Tigres Del Norte recorded.
J: That Taco-Tuba band?
G: Ha, yeah. It’s all digital and we just didn’t get it. We were in different rooms wearing headphones but it was weird. There was no bleed at all.
J: The rooms just don’t sound like what music sounds like to the human ear. The bleed is so important.
G: Our live recordings sound way better. It might not sound the “best” but otherwise it’s just way stale.
As music diplomats for San Francisco, who should people be looking out for up here?
J: Fuck, MTV should be looking at Master Slash Slave. Those guys have a sound that could go really far. I’ve listened to that record nonstop, and it’s so pop, I could easily see a lot of people liking it.
G: I’m actually really surprised that it’s not more popular.
J: The Fresh and Onlies, the new TL stuff, Traditional Fools, the Mayyors, Ty Segall… And then there’s the all these awesome venues that people should come check out.
G: The Eagle is the best place to play in San Francisco for loud music.
J: The Hemlock is always the safety net but there are so many other places to play that can be even better. Even Edinburg Castle, ATA, 21 Grand in Oakland. There’s a lot of venues that out of town bands don’t even know about somehow.
G: Plus it’s always nice to play a one-act-only place, like playing at RVCA or an art show. There’s no pressure and you can kind of make it your space and your own thing.
J: Like playing a briss. That’s the heaviest shit you’ll ever see. You could just go mic the baby and loop and harmonize its crying. Waaahhhh!!
G: It’s a girl!
What’s on the horizon for NRSZ? What’s your next move?
J: Gonna get wasted.
G: John actually gave me the number for Chris Woodhouse, who records Thee Oh Sees, who’s fucking amazing. But yeah we’re making a record. We’re recording.
John, you guys just got back from tour with The Master’s Bedroom is Worth Spending a Night In—now what? Anything planned for the fall?
J: Yup we’re doing a US tour, going out to play Gonerfest in Memphis. And I’m really excited about that because that label’s great, they’ve put out and promoted so much good stuff.
Anything else you wanna tell L.A.?
J: Tell The Smell to give us all shows there, ever. And then L.A. bands should come up here more often. So many bands could easily come up here. Like that band Color Wheel who was amazing and broke up… come take a backwards step and hang out with us!
THEE OH SEES WITH SIC ALPS AND TY SEGALL ON TUE., SEPT. 16, AT THE SMELL, 247 S. MAIN ST., DOWNTOWN. 9 PM / $5 / ALL AGES. THESMELL.ORG. THEE OH SEES’ THE MASTER’S BEDROOM IS WORTH SPENDING A NIGHT IN IS OUT NOW ON TOMLAB. VISIT THEE OH SEES AT MYSPACE.COM/THEEOHSEES. VISIT NRSZ AT MYSPACE.COM/NURSESREHEARSES.