Published Apr 22, 2013Thee Oh Sees are an obscenely prolific band, and Floating Coffin is their seventh full-length since 2007, not including a barrage of singles and rarities. That's not to say they've changed — John Dwyer's yelps and guitar lines still meld perfectly with Brigid Dawson's sweet backing vocals and organ, while drummers Mike Shoun and Lars Finberg stay busy alongside Petey Dammit's wild baritone bass lines. The songwriting hasn't changed much either, with compositions ranging from sweaty garage stompers to slowed down psych sludge and tracks that do both. The band aren't even close to running out of good ideas.
Do you have to be strategic about how often you play in San Francisco? Do you treat it like a tour stop or do you play petty often at home?
Petey Dammit: We try to do it as much as possible. We still have a lot of friends here. We're on tour so much that it's sometimes the only time we get to see our friends. A lot of the times the shows we play here end up being like that, that we have friends who need help with a benefit or something. We'll do stuff for local charities here as much as we can.
What did you do before you were in Thee Oh Sees?
Before Thee Oh Sees I think one of the things that helped me get into the band was, in 2004, I was playing some solo acoustic guitar stuff. Kind of like John Fahey stuff. I had been friends with John [Dwyer] for many years, but when I started doing that he liked it so he asked me to open up for OCS when it was just him and Patrick Mullens, when it was a two-piece. I did a tour with them, and there were a lot of shows where there were two people there, and we made zero money and were hungry and cold and tired. I think after that month of having kind of a crappy tour, he was like "You're still smiling at the end of this. Obviously you're good at touring." After that happened, I took a little bit of time off from playing music but then he asked me. I lived across the street from him, and they practiced at their house, so he asked me. This was right after, maybe a year after he asked Brigitte to join too. He was looking for a more expanded sound so he asked me to join.
When you joined, were you instantly contributing ideas or did you start as just a touring member? How has your role evolved over the years?
When I first started, I was just learning his songs. He kinda suggested maybe do this or that. Once I got settled in I could change it up and write my own parts for it. I was just surprised that he asked me and so happy and excited to do it. I was like I'll do anything.
Is the band entirely collaborative now?
Sometimes it is, sometimes it's not. It kind of depends on the songs. Especially lately, we haven't had a whole lot of free time. Sometimes when we are home for a week or something like that we might write a couple songs. Then there are other times where John will record an entire album himself. There are other times where we have a little bit more free time, we can all get in our practice space and he'll play his parts and we'll all add stuff together. So it's kind of half and half.
What about on the newest album?
That one was all of us together. We kind of wrote our own separate parts and put them together as a band.
You guys record so much stuff all the time. How do you keep it fresh?
I don't know. I think one of the things that helps is that we tour so much. So we might play a song maybe ten or 20 times in practice and kind of have a loose idea of what we want to do, but then we'll go on the road and start playing these new songs that we don't really know that well. That kind of keeps us on our toes — if you're going to change anything you've got to do it right. But then after a tour, we'll have played it 30 nights in a row and then you kind of have a better idea of what you want to do with a song. There are songs that we've been playing for six or seven years that still change every night in the live show.
You have such an energetic live show. Do you have to turn something on to accomplish that or does it just flow naturally? What about when you're tired on tour?
I think it's pretty natural, really. Obviously sometimes you're tired. No matter what job you have, sometimes you're like "Oh man, I don't know if I can do this." But as soon as you step on stage and the people are in the crowd and they're looking at you and they're all excited, no matter how tired I am that switch turns on and I'm like "Alright! Let's go!"
For the new album, did you guys do anything for the recording? Do you have a recording ritual that you follow?
A little bit of a ritual that we follow, because we use the same guy all the time and the same studio. We know what kind of set-up they have there and we know what sounds best for it. But then we experiment a lot by adding different instruments. Kelly Stoltz came in and played the harpsichord on one song, and our friend Dylan played a bunch of strings on a couple songs. We're trying to expand the sound a little bit but still keep it within the sound we're used to.
Why did you guys decide to start experimenting now?
I think now, just because we can kind of. We're familiar enough with the studio and the producer and the engineer that we can get set up and get everything done really quickly. Just by spending an extra day in the studio, everything will already be done really quickly, so by having that extra day we can experiment and go "Oh, this might sound good on the song. Let's try it out." We'll have that time now.
Would you say that you're very economical with your time because you're so busy?
Yeah I guess so. We try to cram as much in as possible. I've only been home from SXSW for maybe two weeks now, but I haven't even had a chance to just sit on the couch and veg out because even non-Oh Sees related things have been so busy. One of these days I'll just turn everything off and it'll be good, but until that happens it's all about coffee.
How many days did you take to record this album, then?
This is one of the first times we used quite a long time, so I think it was maybe five days.
Five days is a long time?
Yeah, that was an incredibly long time. Especially for me — I think I had recorded everything by day two and a half or something, so there was an extra few days where we were just sitting there and trying out new stuff and adding the strings and kind of hanging out and having Kelly do a couple things on the record, maybe some guitar overdubs. With the full band though, it only really takes about two days.
You guys track everything live then?
Yeah, definitely. That seems to be the best way for us, and it kind of recreates the experience of the live show, and we can work off each other and catch those nuances that you probably wouldn't be able to get by doing single tracking.
Can you see Thee Oh Sees going on how it is now for a long time to come or do you feel like you guys might be starting to get tired?
I really hope to keep doing it for as long as people will let us, basically. And I think we'll definitely try. There are a couple of things that every now and then will get talked about that kind of seem like they might change what's going on with it. Kind of those things that come up once a year and you kind of get scared that things will maybe be over. Just kind of personal things, nothing negative whatsoever, just kind of personal things like maybe a band member wants to get married and settle down, and then they won't have time to tour, then I kind of get scared and say "Oh no, is it over?" But it's one of those things that pops up once a year and then you get scared for a little bit, but then we're still doing it.
Do you have other plans already for recording or anything?
We've got a lot of tours booked and we're trying to catch up with our friends at home. I've been mixing another album that I recorded with a separate band about ten years ago, so I've been trying to take care of that. We're just trying to stay busy because busy is always better than being bored.
Tell me a little bit about that other band.
That was a band called Big Techno Werewolves. It was kind of a noise band. Basically, I think the best review I ever heard of that band was "It's four different dudes playing four different songs that do not go together." It was a really fun band. We always wore costumes; we'd mask the shittiness of the music with the costumes. We also got as extremely drunk as we possibly could before we played so even if the music was terrible it was still an entertaining trainwreck. Hearing these songs after ten years, I'm kind of surprised at how good we actually were. I never thought we were good, and we didn't think we were good. That was kind of the point. But now that I hear these recordings we were not too bad. That was also a band that had Eric Bauer who does a lot of recording for Ty Segall and Mikal Cronin and stuff like that. He's got a studio in Chinatown now. He played guitar in that. And Mike Donovan from Sic Alps was in it and Noel von Harmonson from Comets on Fire [also of Sic Alps] was in it a couple times. It was kind of a fun thing that we did back in the day that we kind of shelved for a long time. Now we're kind of forcing ourselves to mix it and get it out there. That went on from 2000 to 2004. It was just a trainwreck.
Do you have any idea of when it will be out or who's going to release it for you?
I'm not sure at all. We're just mixing it right now. I think Ty Segall might have expressed some interest in putting it out. I'm not sure but I think that might be what's going on. If not, we'll just kind of throw it at some labels and see if anyone picks it up.