John Dwyer of Osees talks to Atwood Magazine about the band’s new album ‘Metamorphosed’ and his experience of being an artist during the pandemic.
Stream: ‘Metamorphosed’ – Osees
I personally love when some vapid blog declares that ‘guitar is dead’. Let them have Bandcamp Mumblecore hip-hop.
Osees are one of the most prolific creative forces of their generation. Heaving with 24 full length records, their discography boasts the kind of career-spanning depth that bands multiple decades older would struggle to put together. They have bridged across several styles, making for a lush ecosystem of moods; lo-fi and well-produced all at once, their sound is a comprehensive exploration, held together under the Osees moniker.
The band has seen a clutch of talented musicians and collaborators, however it’s John Dwyer, the band’s principle songwriter who leads the way. I caught up with John at his Los Angeles home (via Zoom, of course!) to chat about music and the global pandemic. Firstly though, we discussed the latest Osees release, Metamorphosed – already the 2nd full length put out by the group this year.
“I’d like to call it an EP, but at over 45 minutes it’s an LP. You can put as much lipstick on a pig as you want, but it’s still a pig.” Metamorphosed is a record of extremes. It represents a lot of what the band have been about throughout their career, with elements of metal, lo-fi punk, Krautrock and prog. The first three songs are some of the thrashiest pieces Osees have ever put out, flying past in less than five minutes. The final two pieces are much longer, taking up the majority of the album.
Dwyer summed up the new record as a mixed bag – “Half of Metamorphosed came from the Face Stabber sessions, the other half was recorded in Mexico towards the end of last year, just before Protean Threat.” Metamorphosed is an album in its own right, but with no overarching concept to speak of. The lopsided vibe is charming, and intentional. “I’ll freely admit, the record is a bit of a mess. The name is Metamorphosed – It’s hitting you over the head with the metaphor!”
It’s impossible to talk about this year and not discuss the pandemic. Dwyer was unequivocal on his position – “First of all I want to say we believe in it. A third of our country denies that this even exists. It’s amazing how much people’s lives have changed from this, and how little they’ve got back. I know people surviving on $68 a week over here.” As we talked about COVID-19, Dwyer’s characteristic dry wit and sharp delivery dissolved into legitimate compassion. “People miss each other. I feel bad for people who don’t have anybody in their lives to bounce off of right now. To be alone in this has gotta be really tough. We’ve got so much going on politically over here. We’d just love a moment where we’re not waiting for a truck to dump a load of shit on us.”
People miss each other. I feel bad for people who don’t have anybody in their lives to bounce off of right now. To be alone in this has gotta be really tough.
Osees are noted for their raucous, sweat-drenched live shows. Their on stage antics are driven by passion – for their music, for the craft, and for their fans.
All that’s been put on the shelf for now, though. “I really miss playing live and I miss travelling, as do the boys. I miss playing shows, I miss meeting people on the road and having a drink.” When asked about the rest of the band, Dwyer allowed himself a chuckle, “Hopefully they’re all playing drums and guitar, but I really fuckin’ doubt it! I have a feeling there’s a lot of TV watching going on and trying not to get too fat.” Osees will be first out the gate with a new touring schedule when the time is right. The band recently announced a tour of the UK and Ireland in May, something they don’t want to have to push back, but they will if it’s unsafe to play – “We’d like to bring regular danger, rather than airborne danger. A punch in the nose, not a cough in the face.”
For a project with such far-reaching genre touchpoints as Osees, Metamorphosed is probably the closest you’ll get to summing up their post-00s sound in one go. The opening salvo of aggression from the first three tracks is enough to satiate the desire for the loud side of Osees. Saignant is a key point in the album in this regard – A full on psych-metal assault, with screaming demonic chest-rattling energy that somehow clocks in at over a minute. Tim Hellman’s fuzz bass is simply brutal, the focal point of a song that sounds like it came straight from an anarchist squat’s basement party. Electric War is slightly more forgiving; Dwyer’s clean vocals and muddy reverbed guitar chords are orthodox territory for Osees. The manic post chorus and key-shifted outro keep everyone on their toes, serving as a reminder not to get too comfortable – Osees are charting a new path.
The high point of Metamorphosed is The Virologist. Filtering gradually outwards with a classic spacey groove, it’s the first of the album’s closing couple of long tunes. Dwyer oversees the opening, with ghostly wailing guitar soloing that cracks into clarity once the crunch pedal gets stomped on. However it’s Dan Rincon and Paul Quattrone, Osees’ dual drummer partnership that stand out here, sharing responsibility for the driving snare pattern and multitudinal complexity of percussion which underpins the song. There’s so much to explore along the fourteen minute journey, giving value to multiple listens. A single spin of Metamorphosed is a dichotomy of experiences. It’s having your head repeatedly slammed into a wall, then spending close to forty minutes beaming a signal out towards the Andromeda galaxy.
Osees take from many different musical movements, most of which were peaking a few decades ago. This brings a retro edge to their sound. “The kind of music I want to play is inspired by the 60s/70s/80s. I look back on the 90s with disdain, I’m just grossed out by a lot of the music that came out then.” Mainstream popularity isn’t a priority for Dwyer. Osees occupy a neat groove; a sweet spot which allows them to focus on doing the music they like without losing credibility. “I personally love when some vapid blog declares that ‘guitar is dead’. Let them have Bandcamp Mumblecore hip-hop. When I was a kid, I remember metal was really un-hip. And that’s when some of the best metal came out. That’s when there was this crazy underground, and people pushed the envelope.”
When Osees began their life as OCS in 2003, they were a part of the growing lo-fi movement in American guitar music. Those early recordings were scratchy, limited by the medium. But is lo-fi a statement? Is it a response to the loudness wars of the 90s? “A lot of it comes out of necessity. A lot of it comes out of laziness. Early on, we were recording on 4 tracks because I didn’t know what I was doing. But I like embracing that harsh aesthetic. Now I’ve fallen into being pretty OK at recording.” Flash forward to their recent output, and the method has changed. I gave Protean Threat, released earlier this year, as an example of this. “It’s dry. WIth our older stuff, the producer would put tons of roomy reverb on it. We started leaning more towards bone-dry recording. More aggressive, hence the bigger sound.”
Through their evolution, Osees still have a sound which you can instantly recognise as theirs. “Even though we change the face of what we’re doing sometimes, the thread is always there, this commonality. You can always tell it’s one of our records. We use the same instruments, same engineers, the same spaces. I like to think of us as Phillip K Dick, or Stephen King – A different idea approached from the same angle.” Forming a distinct brand across styles, genres and eras – That’s the mark of a truly great band.
What’s next for Osees? More releases, of course! Panther Rotate, a remix album of songs from Protean Threat is out in December. It’s a busy release schedule, but Dwyer isn’t afraid of saturation. “Because of the lockdowns, because people didn’t have their usual distractions and entertainment, we decided to put out a bunch of stuff at once. Just so people know we’re still here.” It seems that even a global pandemic can’t slow the progress of the Osees juggernaut.
You can always tell it’s one of our records. We use the same instruments, same engineers, the same spaces. I like to think of us as Phillip K Dick, or Stephen King – A different idea approached from the same angle.
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