One of the most exciting shows I’ve ever seen was the Oh Sees concert in August of last year at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace.The hour and a half spent in the mosh pit was one of the most frantic, fun and sweaty experiences of my life.
A little more than a year later, the band returned to Pappy and Harriet’s for another show … but as you probably guessed, COVID-19 forced this concert to be presented differently.
The Osees—the “h” and the space are on hiatus, in the latest name tweak by the band—recently announced a partnership with the Austin-based music festival Levitation to perform a multi-camera, full-length live show as part of Levitation’s new online concert series, known as the Levitation Sessions. The band recorded a full set of music at Pappy and Harriet’s, and the show will premiere at 5 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 26; it will remain available for streaming through Oct. 8.
“Everybody is making do,” said Osees founder John Dwyer. “We’ve accepted that we’re not going to be playing any shows this year. I’m one of those people who refuses to cancel anything earlier than it needs to be canceled, but I’m also realistic. I’m not super-interested in playing socially distanced shows. I’d rather just wait it out, but obviously, a big part of our band is playing live.
“This is the first year in 24 years that I haven’t toured. Overall, it’s been a pretty wretched year worldwide. The only thing that anybody with a reasonable heart and mind has in common right now is that it’s been a trying year for everybody.”
Dwyer is known for his love of creating, and he’s already released several albums this year, including Protean Threat, the 23rd studio album by the Osees.
“We’re putting out so much this year that by the time we come back around to playing shows, people will be sick of us,” said Dwyer. “That being said, I’m happy to try to do some virtual stuff. We’ve done a handful of things already, and this one we just did at Pappy and Harriet’s will be one of the first ones—a little pay-per-view thing. The band needed to get paid after doing a bunch of free, charity-related stuff, so we gave it a try. The band jumped at the opportunity to get together, and we did four days of rehearsals beforehand to learn a bunch of new material. It almost felt like we were doing covers, because we’ve never played these songs before.
“We go way back with Levitation. We’ve been playing there for years through all our different variations and name changes. They’re cool and really square as far as treatment goes, which I really like. They offered us a deal with them to promote it and gave us a budget to shoot it. We jumped at it, because the band has mostly been just sitting around, but everyone is keeping themselves busy, taking on other projects or taking classes online. I’ve been insanely busy, but that’s just to keep the wolf from the door. Staying busy right now is the best way for me to deal with trying to not be depressed from the way things are.”
Rob Fitzpatrick, the co-founder of Levitation, explained how the new series of sessions came about.
“The idea was to figure out a way to salvage the album cycles for some bands on our label that we’ve been working with for many years,” Fitzpatrick said. “We also wanted to figure out a way to pivot as a business and a music community and still be able to create some commerce, which is needed for art. I started this very DIY and never had any support other than what we can dream up and sell. That’s really my approach with Levitation, and when we’ve had hard times before, it’s been about thinking how we can make it work and rethink it.
“I’ve seen other folks doing livestreams, and there’s definitely an element of artists performing in their pajamas—and through some friends, I heard that some of those were making some money. We’ve looked into doing proper livestreams for the festival, but we were always busy with the task of putting on the in-person event, and never really put much into it. A lot of the groundwork has been there for a long time, and my original background is in web development, so I’ve been looking at how to do this in an interesting way from that perspective. That’s how we came up with the idea for limited-edition merchandise, which will benefit both us and the artist.”
Fitzpatrick and his team wanted to make sure that they were producing a quality show, so they decided to pre-record the sessions.
“As time has gone on, more and more artists are doing fuller productions for their pre-recorded stuff,” said Fitzpatrick. “Part of us wanting to do a pre-recorded show comes with the fact that the sound is incredibly important to the presentation. Doing livestreams with all these guitar pedals and stuff is pretty tricky. … We wanted to be able to invite bands from all over to do this, and some aren’t even able to be in the same room, so these really had to be pre-recorded. There’s also some creative opportunities. … You can take it a little further with some interesting intros and segues. We’re essentially commissioning a film from artists. … Some artists are filming in their practice space; some are filming outside, like the Osees are; someone’s working on doing one in an old church, and another one’s working on doing one on a mountain. My dream would be to develop this to have a budget to commission a band to do their own Live at Pompeii, and see what that would look like.”
Fitzpatrick promises that the Osees show will be nothing short of amazing.
“John is such a great dude, and he’s the biggest artist that we’ve done this with so far,” Fitzpatrick said. “For him to take a leap of faith with us is huge. It’s a big icebreaker for other conversations. Osees have been a headliner for so many of our festivals and events that we’ve presented. It’s a very big deal to have Osees as part of this from all angles. I’m a big fan of the music and of the guy. John has never changed. He’s the same dude and has an insane work ethic. It’s a joy to work with someone like that.
“It’s such a special set that John and the band put together. He didn’t want to do something that wasn’t going to be unique.”
I was curious why Dwyer and the gang chose Pappy and Harriet’s as the venue.
“We love that joint,” Dwyer said. “We’ve played there a few times, and they’re always real cool with us. They’re like Levitation—the barbecue and venue version of the festival filled with people we’re familiar with and that we like working with. Also, for location, we figured we could shoot right out in the dirt in the parking lot with the sunset behind us, and we went from dusk ’til nighttime.
“When we got there, it was 107 degrees, and we set up a bunch of umbrellas over our gear. Right when we were ready to start sound-checking, the power went out. We had to hire a tow-behind generator off of some guy, and he drove the generator up to us. As soon as he got there, the power came back on, so it was just one of those classic interesting desert days. Nobody panicked when it happened; we thought, ’Well, fuck, the entirety of Yucca Valley is without power right now,’ and everyone else was drinking a beer in the shade, saying, ’Don’t worry; we got a guy.’ Pappy and Harriet’s is probably one of those spots that has a guy for everything.
“We hadn’t played in so long, so after we drove back to L.A. and unloaded everything, I felt like I had gone to a festival, gotten drunk, sobered up, played a set and everything—when really, I was just cooked from being in the heat all day. I slept like a baby that night.”
Osees fans will be interested to know that the show includes seven songs never before performed live, along with some live staples.
“I’m planning to do something else down the road with another set of songs that we haven’t played live,” Dwyer said. “I think that’s the key—to mix up the set with stuff people want to hear, stuff they’ve never heard, and stuff we’ve never done live. We have so much material that we’ve never done live, and I get emails from people complaining that we don’t play any old material, so I’ve been dipping back into the catalog and relearning songs that just didn’t work live. With this new band I have, they can play anything I throw at them, and everything we tried to play for this thing, we nailed.
“I get it if someone who’s familiar with us doesn’t want to pay to see this thing, but there’s material they’ve never seen live that may add some extra oomph to get them interested. The other thing that’s kind of nice about the virtual thing is that the ticket is only $4. And who knows? Maybe this thing will end up free at some point. YouTube is a pirate ship, and I’m up there playing whack-a-mole with people who’ve posted full albums of ours.”
To add to Dwyer’s already impressive 2020 discography, a new release by the Osees is set to debut Oct. 16. Metamorphosed contains some leftovers from the band’s 2019 album, Face Stabber.
“That album (Face Stabber) is just such a behemoth, and was too much to listen to for some people,” Dwyer said. “It was The Deer Hunter of records. There’s a lot of material that wasn’t throwaways, but just didn’t fit with the aesthetic of the record. I saved those for another EP, and it took a while to get enough material for it. Then we went down to play a festival in Hermosillo in Mexico, and part of the deal for playing the festival was that we’d get to spend a day at the beach and have a day of studio time there. We went in there and just jammed, and got two pretty great tracks. I brought them home to my studio and did vocals here. It’s three tracks from the Face Stabber session and two tracks from Mexico, broken down into a record. It was supposed to be an EP, but it turned into a 40-minute album. That’s just the way it goes with us; we have constant creation.”
The Osees: Levitation Sessions premieres at 5 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 26, and will be available through Thursday, Oct. 8. Ticket prices vary, including various albums and merchandise, but start at $3.98 plus a fee of 80 cents. For tickets or more information, visit events.seated.com/live.