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18 Jul 2019

The Name Game: Oh Sees Bring a Carefree Attitude and 20-Plus Years of Experimental Rock to Pappy and Harriet's

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Oh Sees. Oh Sees. amdophoto

You may know the band as Oh Sees, Thee Oh Sees, OCS or one of several other names that have changed along with the lineup over the last two-plus decades.

However, one thing has remained constant: founding-member John Dwyer’s blistering guitar and crunchy vocals. Oh Sees, as we’ll call the band today, puts on one of the best live shows around—meaning that the group’s Friday, Aug. 9, show at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace is not to be missed … that is, if you can get tickets, because it is currently listed as sold out via the venue.

During a recent phone interview, I asked Dwyer—who said proceeds from the show would be donated to an as-yet-undetermined local charity—whether he thought the band’s name was important to its success.

“No. In fact, if anything, now we just change the name to irritate reviewers and journalists, because they took such umbrage to it being moved around a couple of times,” he said. “I started my own label (Castle Face Records) so I could do whatever the fuck I want, because with personnel and tone changes, we’d change the name around a lot. I’d talk to PR people, and they’d ask, ‘How are people going to know it’s the same band?’ I say that if somebody’s enough of an idiot to not know that this is the same band, then I don’t want them watching our band. That being said, our fans are smart enough to follow the lead. I don’t know if it’s been a detriment or not, but honestly, I don’t really care. It’s such a nonstory to me that it became a point of humor for us to slightly change the name to irk Pitchfork.”

OCS was at first Dwyer’s solo project, started while he was in other bands with names such as Pink and Brown, Zeigenbock Kopf and Coachwhips. I was curious whether it was hard to turn his solo project into a full band.

“The very first (OCS) record is really long, almost three LPs into one record, and most of it is just improvisational noise stuff,” Dwyer said. “It wasn’t hard at all to change it into something else, because it was always this amorphous, shifting, protean thing. I don’t know why I kept the name—that would be a better question, because nobody knew who the hell OCS was anyway, but it just sort of fell into place.

“It started when I brought in a guy named Patrick Mullins. He started playing drums for me. … Then he just started writing with me, and that planted the seed that it could be a full band. Twenty years later, it is what it is now, but we just got stuck with the name. People ask me what the name means, and I have no fucking idea. … I grew to like it. It took me 20 years to get there, though.”

Since 2003, Dwyer’s band has released a whopping 22 albums.

“It’s all I do. I don’t have a job anymore, because this is my job, but I really enjoy it,” Dwyer said. “I’m very lucky to have made this happen. We have slowed down, though. People always throw around the word ‘prolific.’ It’s almost a detrimental tag—prolific, as in these guys put out a ton of garbage.

“The thing is that everybody works at different rates. For a long time, though, with more drug consumption, we were working a lot more. Now that I’ve gotten older, we spend a little more time, and there’s more of a cooperative element to the songwriting process. It’s takes a little longer, because I’m not alone writing. I prefer it this way, because it’s more fun, and it makes it more diverse.”

Dwyer said he rarely encounters writer’s block; instead, he distances himself from projects when he begins to struggle. He cited a solo project under yet another name, Damaged Bug, as an example.

“I’ve been working on a new Damaged Bug record for about two years now, which is pretty unusual for me, but it’s not so much writer’s block,” he said. “I’ve written 30 to 40 songs, but they’re just not done, so I’ve taken a break and switched gears onto a different project. It’s important to take breaks. Our band takes breaks from each other for vacations or for other side projects, and then we come back.”

Dwyer said he’s constantly on the lookout for bands to add to Castle Face Records.

“I always try to watch every band I play with,” he said. “Before I had the label, I always watched for bands to play with, write with or just meet. I have the easy job at the label. There’s a guy named Matt Jones who’s my partner at the label, a 50-50 kind of deal, and he does a lot of the heavy lifting with the bureaucracy of it—all the bullshit that I don’t want to deal with. I have the job of going around the world, playing shows and meeting bands. People send me shit all time, and we go through demos. I listen to everything people send us.”

One of the bigger names on the label is Ty Segall, who just performed at Coachella.

“Me and Ty are very good friends, but I don’t see any collaborations happening in the future,” Dwyer said. “If anything, I would provoke him to play further out into black space. … That dude is on his own trip—heavily. I do love his collaboration with Tim Presley, though.”

Oh Sees will perform with Earth Girl Helen Brown and DYNASTY HANDBAG at 8 p.m., Friday, Aug. 9, at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, in Pioneertown. Tickets are $30-$35, but are currently listed as sold out. For more information, call 760-365-5956, or visit pappyandharriets.com.

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