It’s an age-old problem for most bands—the struggle to change things up after years of creation. However, for John Dwyer and the Osees, the exact opposite is the case.
Whether you know the band as Osees, or a previous moniker like Thee Oh Sees, Oh Sees, or OCS, there’s no denying that founder John Dwyer’s musical output over the past 20 years has left a mark on the psych/garage rock scene. With more than 25 studio albums under their belt, the band members are returning to Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace on Saturday, March 19.
In 2020, the Osees released a whopping four studio albums and three live albums. In 2021, the band spent the majority of the time touring, and didn’t release a studio album—ending a 17-year streak.
“I guess we did, like, 10 records the year before, so I think I used up all my juice,” Dwyer said during a recent phone interview. “After 2020, 2021 flew by in such a weird way. Basically, my coping mechanism for the past few years has been to smoke weed and constantly be making art, whether it be music or not. I think after one year of smoking weed nonstop, and after 30 years of smoking weed, I feel a little bit of brain damage.
“I can barely remember (2020). It was just like nose to the stone, trying to relax as much as possible and not flip out. We didn’t get to tour, and I think the main focus was just trying to get back on the road, after doing three live streams and putting out records for those. I think the idea of touring, when it became possible, was much more appetizing than getting together to write a record—but we have been working on the new record now, so we’re getting back on the horse.”
The upcoming project from Osees features yet another shift in sound—to, as Dwyer put it, keep things interesting.
“One hint I can give is that it’s harkening back to my teen years, in a weird way,” Dwyer said. “Another weird thing about the pandemic years for me was that I was able to revisit a lot of different kinds of music, because I was listening to so much music and watching so many movies to keep my brain occupied. … I’d listen to jazz for, like, four months straight. Usually, I’m kind of mixing it up a little bit, but I was going through these heavy rabbit holes. Then I started listening to metal, and trying to find a lot of old metal records that I loved when I was a kid. … There was a lot of rabbit-holing on different genres of music, which was totally inspiring for the stuff we’ve been slowly working on.”
The Osees’ stop at Pappy and Harriet’s is part of a mini-run before again heading across the pond to tour Europe.
“I think we’re probably one of the only bands that toured the United States, the U.K. and Europe completely, and made it back without anybody getting sick and the tour not being shut down,” Dwyer said. “I felt pretty energized, and I feel like the band played really well. There’s the cliche that absence makes the heart grow fonder, and I think that’s true with bandmates as well, even after touring so much. … The same goes to the fans; people were psyched. I could tell that the specter of COVID is still hanging over everything, but we were doing a lot of testing on the road, so it was relatively safe—or at least as safe as you can make it.”
While navigating a tour during a pandemic wasn’t easy, Dwyer said he was able to find common ground wherever the band went.
“People seem like they’re pretty burnt out on it everywhere,” Dwyer said. “One thing that people kept asking me when I came back was, like, ‘America is so full of idiots about this; how was it like going where everybody else was not like that?’ I was like, ‘Bullshit.’ I know America’s faults. … I feel like we do get a bad rap for being knuckleheads—because people are knuckleheads everywhere. Everything you see here that you could complain about was pretty much the same everywhere. … It just didn’t feel all that different. I think the shows were great, and I have to say it was probably my favorite European tour ever, which is crazy to say. I’m guessing that’s contextual, because I was gone for so long. It’s like your first meal back after fasting: It’s the best taco ever.”
For Dwyer, 2021 wasn’t just about music. In August and September, Los Angeles’ SADE Gallery hosted Abandoned Outpost, a show of Dwyer’s art.
“I have had art shows before, but not one like this,” said Dwyer. “When I was a kid and would have an art show, I was always a little nervous, so I would always ask somebody to do a group show with me. I just couldn’t pull the trigger on doing a solo show. I did have one solo show at Queen’s Nails Annex in San Francisco years ago, but it had been, like, probably close to a decade since the last time I had a painting show. These (new) paintings were bigger and more elaborate than anything I’d done before. They’re all, like, 6 foot by 4 foot, and really busy. It took three years, because I didn’t have time from touring, but I did have time to finish it up once COVID hit. There were a lot of weird little blessings for me in terms of art with COVID, where, suddenly, the procrastination went right out the fucking window, because the guilt was too much if I literally had nothing to do.”
Dwyer also joined other musicians to release a series of experimental jazz records in 2021. Check out projects like Witch Egg, Gong Splat and Bent Arcana for something completely different.
“People always ask me, ‘How do you find the time?’ I’m like, ‘Dude, there’s nothing but time, because it’s my job,’” Dwyer said. “I’m so blessed, because I don’t have to work a 9-to-5 job anymore. I’m really super lucky that I get to just make art for a living, at least at this point in my life. If I could, I would make more time than I already have. I don’t have any of those editors, or people saying, ‘quality versus quantity.’ That’s horseshit. That’s from some asshole who made one record.”
As Dwyer looks ahead to more busy years, he said he hopes to keep all of his art outlets alive.
“I have a couple of pokers in the fire right now with some interesting people to try to mix it up a little bit more, maybe, or being subtractive even—like trying to make something with no guitar at all, just for a challenge,” Dwyer said. “With art, I’ve been painting and drawing since before I ever picked up a guitar, and I’ll probably do that until the day I die. It’s just another vessel for me to express myself and relax. I am working on a big art project right now that’s pretty ambitious. That was another thing I took on that started during COVID, and I’m nearly there with the main part of it right now. I’ve been working on it for the past couple of weeks again, after Osees finished up working on stuff. I’ll always make time for it as long as I’m healthy and sane.”
The Osees will perform at 7 p.m., Saturday, March 19, at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, in Pioneertown. Tickets are $32 in advance, or $35 at the door, if tickets remain. For tickets or more information, call 760-228-2222, or visit pappyandharriets.com.