John Dwyer of Osees On Livestreaming Shows and New Remix Album “Panther Rotate” | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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John Dwyer of Osees On Livestreaming Shows and New Remix Album “Panther Rotate”

Taking It Well

Dec 11, 2020 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

John Dwyer, frontman of the California psych-garage band Osees, has had a particularly busy year, even by his own standards. This year, Dwyer has put out releases with Bent Arcana and Damaged Bug and is nearing on his third 2020 LP with Osees, Panther Rotate, out today via Castle Face (we premiered the stream of the album yesterday). The band’s latest record is a full remix of September’s dizzying punk storm Protean Threat. In true Osees fashion, the band is also delivering on their famous live shows with a livestreamed performance from The Henry Miller Memorial Library in Big Sur, California. Under the Radar caught up with Dwyer to discuss the livestream, Panther Rotate, video games, and Dungeons and Dragons.

Caleb Campbell (Under the Radar): Osees are pretty famous as a live force. How has COVID been in that respect? Has it been difficult not being able to tour?

John Dwyer: Weirdly, I’ve been taking it okay. I’ve been touring every year for 23, 24 years now so it’s been fucking weird. I’m also the kind of person who has to be working, hence all these releases. I think I’ve managed to fill the hole with something else, but it is getting a little weird. I love touring, I love traveling, I love seeing friends of ours, I love meeting new people, I love playing shows. Half of what we do is just live shows like you said. That’s been a little weird, so these streams have helped keep the wolf from the door. But I am ready to go back on the road anytime now. I’m raring.

I think my girlfriend put it perfectly. She was just looking at me and said, “You’ve been taking this really well.” She was just fucking surprised that I wasn’t chewing through the walls. So, it may have been time to take a year off. I would never do it voluntarily, because I feel like people have very short attention spans and I really like traveling. It’s been a very odd and long fucking year for everybody I think.

Yeah, that’s absolutely true. So you think that’s been a factor in you being particularly busy with your output this year?

Yeah, absolutely. I had a lot of projects, like all these improv records I’m doing with Bent Arcana. All of that was stuff that I was working on before this shit happened, so I had a lot of stuff essentially laying around unfinished. The Damaged Bug project for example. I just happened to be working on getting it to tape right before this happened. I’ve just finished a lot of projects. Now I’m taking on a very ambitious project that’s slightly out of my wheelhouse and comfort zone, so that’s been interesting.

But I have to stay busy. I’m not the kind of person who can sit around. Every now and then I can get myself to play video games for a few hours. Until my eyes bleed. But even that, I feel guilty if I’m not working. It’s not necessarily for output or records, that’s a byproduct of what I do, but it’s for my own mental health to be writing and having an outlet.

What games have you been playing to relax?

I have a weird rule with video games. I love old school video games, but honestly, I’m really into new school video games. I won’t play anything that has shit that I can do in real life. I have friends that are like “I’m farming!” and I’m just like fuck off. Then go grow a goddamn garden. [Laughs] To me I want to be able to shoot somebody in the head from two miles away in a game or fight a monster or battle a robot. It’s really fantastical stuff for me. So I really liked Last of Us Part II. I thought all the griping about it was stupid. Once I got in there and played it, I was like, “Man fuck all these haters who are mad because there’s a trans character.” It’s just so stupid.

I kind of lean towards violent games. I like the new Doom games a lot. I like that run-and-gun style. I’ve been playing the new Call of Duty which I would describe as clunky, but kind of fun. I really liked Titanfall 2, which is a couple years old, but I played it this year and it was really fun. Also, the Wolfenstein games. Just shooting all the cyberpunk Nazis is pretty fun. I’m also looking forward to Cyberpunk 2077, but we’ll see. I’m really curious to see how that goes. It looks fucking great though. I’m not a big fan of cutscenes. I feel like games that have too much movie in them, I’d rather just watch a fucking movie. I don’t ever want to just sit with a controller in my hands when I could actually be playing the game, you know.

I’ve also been playing Dungeons and Dragons online with some buddies. I haven’t played it in nearly two decades, and now I’m online with a bunch of nerds playing a half orc. That’s actually been really fun. And I missed that quite a bit, I never had time for it before while I was touring, so now I actually have time for all these stupid, nerdy things I like doing.

What has your experience been like with livestreaming shows thus far this year?

Honestly, at first I kind of scoffed at the idea. I didn’t think we’d still be here nine months later. And then I was like, “Well, I’m fucking wrong.” So our last one, it was basically because of Levitation that we were even there at all. Those guys have been really square with me, they’re awesome. And they do a really good job. They approached me and said, “We’ll give you a little bit of money up front and pay for recording and filming it.”

We have sort of an in-house crew for all of our recording, we work with the same engineers and producers. Brian Lee Hughes and Brandon Kelly are two guys that I work with a lot. Brian Lee Hughs shot our Hounds of Foggy Notion DVD years ago so me and him have been working together for years. So it was easy to pull everybody together and everybody was ready to play some music, because it had been months.

So, we’d got together and rehearsed for four days and then we went out to Joshua Tree and shot out in the parking lot of Pappy and Harriet’s in Pioneertown. That was really fun, and it was outside so it was relatively safe. And now, we decided to do another one that we’re doing ourselves.

We did it through Panache and (((folkYEAH!))) and we went up to the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur. So it was basically just a reason for us to get together and play some music. Keep the machine oiled and go on a little trip together. We got there the first night and spent the night in a hotel. We had some drinks and dinner and the next day we went over to Henry Miller and shot outside. We set up lights and shot into the evening there. It was this amphitheater surrounded by redwood trees.

It sounds really good there. It sounds like the forest. It has a black metal record sound that’s hard to describe—vacuous, trees sucking up all the noise. It was really fun and was much needed for everybody’s mental health. I came home and edited everything on the audio end, Brian and Brandon edited it all on video. There’s also a couple of surprises in there too that I won’t disclose in this interview.

How did you go about picking songs for the livestream? You obviously have hundreds in your back catalog.

Yeah and there’s a lot of shit that we’ve never played live, so that’s been an allure for people to come to it since we’ve definitely flooded the market as a band. We’ve been out on the road a lot over the years. People are familiar with us, people might even be sick of us. So the way we keep people interested is we keep doing things like doing half of a set of songs that basically have never been played live.

There’s a lot of material that I’ve recorded over the years that just didn’t work live with whoever I was playing with at the time. But now I have this ringer band who can make anything sound like the record if I want them to. We went back in the catalog and found a bunch of songs that were punky to keep it upbeat for this set. We found a bunch of material that we could actually make sound good in person. About half of the set has never been performed live before, so that’s a treat. And a bunch of old shit, mixed with some new shit. We get a lot of complaints on the road that we don’t play enough old material since the stuff we tend to be well-trained in when we’re hitting the road is the stuff that we’ve just recorded.

We also just premiered the video for the live version of “Gelatinous Cube” on the website. Out of curiosity, is the title a reference to the DnD creature?

It is, yeah. [Laughs] For me, it’s a bottomless well of inspiration, all the people who put their time into this role-playing game and into this universe. It’s like Phillip K. Dick or Frank Herbert or anything else I’ve taken to heart, that sci-fi or fantastical shit from when I was a kid. One of my favorite things in Dungeons and Dragons when I was a kid was just flipping through the Monster Manual, mostly based on the art and a titular fascination with things.

I felt like a lot of the monsters in Dungeons and Dragons are the perfect example of someone who had the name before they had the idea. Like the Gelatinous Cube. It’s a cube that fills a hallway and there’s swords and skulls floating in it. Just cool shit. It’s just imagination run amok and I really like that. Though I’ve never fought a Gelatinous Cube in the game, I’ve always wanted to. I’m going to hint at that to my DM soon.

Moving on to your upcoming record, Panther Rotate, what made you want to remix the songs from Protean Threat for the record?

That was an idea mostly based on the fact that I finally had the time to do something special like that. And the drugs to make it entertaining for a month straight. Basically what we were doing in the studio was the band was there and laid down the tracking then Tim [Hellman] stayed an extra day and did some auxiliary bass lines through different amps. Then Tom [Dolas] stayed with me and we did some synthesizers and shit. After, it was just me and my engineers and my producers hanging out in a room.

We basically had a system where we would wake up, get in the studio at noon, and then mix one song from Protean Threat. And then we would have dinner, come back, have a drink, get stoned, and just pull the song apart every night. We would take photographs of the mix, because it’s not an automated board, and I would take everything apart. We’d start with drums and bass and do a remix. We would try and make a song out of the components of the existing song and make it as different as possible. Or just make a cool variation of it. The next morning Enrique [Tena Padilla] and Mario [Ramirez] would go back in the studio and reset the board to the photographs. It was really fun.

I’ve never done any remixes, I’ve never used samples all that much. For the most part it’s been innocuous string drags or beat sounds. But never taking somebody’s whole song and using that as my source material. This time it just happened to be my own music. It’s interesting to hear someone remix their own record since usually someone else does the remixing, so I guess it’s a little self-involved. [Laughs] But it was really fun, and I think it stands alone as its own record.

How did you determine the stylistic dividing line between what went on the album and what would be a remix?

Well we did it with everything. I remixed every song. There’s actually some stuff that didn’t make it onto Panther Rotate, some straight techno shit. It just really depended. I didn’t want it to be too far out in terms of orchestration. I didn’t want it to be a genre jerk in between songs. There had to be a common thread, so I just took the songs that worked in the end.

In fact, there’s a couple remixes on Panther Rotate that aren’t on Protean Threat and vice versa. The Protean Threat sessions were the straight version of the record and with Panther Rotate there’s a hard line down the middle between the remixes. There was no flip-flopping between the two versions, it was either on the record or not. I have a catalog of songs that didn’t get used that I did remix. Most of them are pretty cool finished products that just didn’t fit on the record.

I read another interview where you described the fuzz sound of Protean Threat as inspired by Crass. What’s the inspiration behind Panther Rotate?

That’s interesting. I think it’d be people like Holger Czukay from Can who was splicing up tapes or even Eno. A lot of electronic musicians too. It’s not super dancy, but there are some moments on it that lean electronic. Also, bands like Black Dice or Flaccid Mojo, who are an offshoot of them. Eric and Bjorn Copeland, the brothers from Black Dice, do a lot of stuff like this where they use source material from someone else and cut it all up. Or even Warm Drag, my drummer Paul Quattrone’s other band. I enjoy the idea of taking somebody’s material and slowing it down and grinding it up until it’s unrecognizable, then using it as your own.

I don’t know if it’s true or not, but there’s a story about Aphex Twin using a Nine Inch Nails song and speeding it up till it was unrecognizable then using that as the beat in a totally different song. We were just having fun with it and not taking it too seriously. Protean Threat is a pretty aggressive record, Panther Rotate has more hypnotic and repetitious kind of beats. I could list bands all day that I take that inspiration from. Everywhere from The Fall all the way to Container, from the UK. I’ve always been a fan of repetition. That’s probably just the stoner in me.

So do you have another set of songs in the works for 2021? What does 2021 look like now?

We’re just being hopeful with touring, we’ll see what happens. It feels like every day the world has been dumping a bucket of shit over our heads. Maybe with the election getting behind us and with vaccines coming up, things might be drifting back towards where live shows are possible. I definitely have a Damaged Bug record that has maybe 40 songs written for it and I want to use maybe 10 of them by the end. The reason that I did the Damaged Bug Michael Yonkers cover record was because I wanted to take a break from this other one. Over the past three years, I have had all these different crazy ass drummers come in to record beats, so I have 40 tunes of incredible drummers playing with me writing music over them, but it’s been an incredible slog getting lyrics out. But I think I’m ready to write again.

That record is the only one I really have in the works. I have a couple ideas for Osees next year, but honestly I think we’re going to try to focus more on touring than recording because we definitely put out enough material. I feel like if we put out a record next year more blogs will just complain about it. So maybe I’ll just hit the road and we can have some jams. I’m also working on this project right now that’s new for me. I’m learning new stuff so that’s been fun, and a little bit scary and a little bit interesting. So I’m focused on that until this is over. It’s ambitious enough and I’m slow enough that I probably won’t be done with it till the New Year.

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Raman Thakur
December 13th 2020

This year did not go well but I enjoyed a lot of things in this lockdown. I spent enough time with my family. This is a really good thing for me.