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Interview: Osees - Treefort 2022 Pick of the Day

24 March 2022

Osees frontman John Dwyer

The 10th anniversary edition of Boise’s annual Treefort Music Fest kicked into gear relatively smoothly on Thursday with shoegaze legends Mercury Rev leading a laidback afternoon lineup on the Main Stage amid picture-perfect weather (70 degrees, no wind).

Later on, the first concert in more than two years by red-hot Matador Records signee Snail Mail (Lindsey Jordan) fell short of expectations due to sound problems on the Main Stage. But Winnipeg’s JayWood (Jeremy Haywood-Smith) drew a strong response at the Linen Building, and Guided by Voices — one of Matador’s tentpole indie-rock bands decades ago — carried the night at the El Korah Shrine a couple of blocks away.

GbV will revisit the festival Thursday with an hourlong set on the Main Stage. In the same league as that show will be high-profile gigs by Deafheaven at the Egyptian Theatre and Osees (a.k.a. the Oh Sees, Thee Oh Sees, Thee Osees, etc.) on the Main Stage.

The Big Takeover previously caught up with Deafheaven and GbV ahead of their Treefort appearances — but had its most animated pre-festival chat with hyperactive Osees frontman Jon Dwyer during a white-streak of a phone conversation before he arrived in Boise.

The self-proclaimed “psych-punk psychic warrior” and “ear-worm farmer” shared his enthusiasm about returning to Treefort after his band’s breakthrough show there in 2016, taking the Main Stage torch from GbV and playing on a lineup as sprawling as his own catalog.

Are you eager to return to Treefort? Do you recall playing Boise?

JOHN O’DWYER: We get excited as it gets closer to the date. I saw the list and it was too many bands to focus on who’s playing. Lemme see, Kim Gordon … Guided by Voices! I adore that band, man. Seriously, they’re a litmus [test] for me. If I have friends who are punkers and say, “I don’t really like them,” I’ll say, “Fuck you.” It’s like saying you don’t like the Beatles.

First of all, I don’t think anyone would say they didn’t like them if they had never seen them live, because they’re so great. It’s hit after hit after hit. It’s one of those shows, like going to see Journey, where’re you’re like, “I know every one of these songs.” It’s just wall-to-wall hits, man.

They’ve got a longer club gig the night before they play the Main Stage. You guys got a good slot too — you’re playing for an hour and a half, which is pretty substantial for a festival.

O’DWYER: We will play for a half-hour if a festival will pay to have us do it, but I feel like it’s a waste for us because people have gotten used to our long-form jams. And also, to be honest, we kinda warm up about 40 minutes in. [He laughs.] I’ll look at my drummer Paul [Quattrone], who’s usually closest to me onstage, and we’ll agree, “Yup, we’re there.” But we’re like an old car that you have to warm up in the snow before you drive it. To have us play for anything under an hour, it’s like, “OK, if that’s what you want …” But it’s not the full gist of what we’re about. We’ll cater our set to be an hour and a half that builds and wanes and ebbs and flows.

Do you have a harder time connecting with audiences at festivals?

O’DWYER: Not really. I’d say back in the day, yes, probably. But these days … first of all, our crowd can be really great. A lot of festivals, who you go to see is a gamble, but the come who people to see us are usually super-enthusiastic, and that’s the kind of crowd we can feed off of. It’ll make the show great, and it’s irrelevant if it’s 15,000 or 100 people.

We’ve won over crowds. We’ve played in wine country for a bunch of middle-age moms [at BottleRock Music Festival in 2014]. I remember looking out before we played and thinking, “These people are going to hate us” — and then crushing it and saying, “Man, those ladies knew how to party their asses off.” You never really know.

Was that a daytime show?

O’DWYER: It was. That was a long time ago. That’s when I first moved to L.A. Nick Murray had joined the band, and we were a three-piece at the time, which was only about a year long. And the fucking Spin Doctors played after us!

I’m not a fan, because they’re not my cup of tea, but I will say this: They were amazing. They sounded just like they did on the radio. … As the day wore on, the people — because they were in wine country — were wasted. The guy in the parking log who was helping everyone park was wasted. I was like, “We gotta get out of here.” Those situations can get real hairy. I can only imagine what happened after dark. Lots of infidelities.

On the other end of the spectrum, you guys also Psycho Fest in Las Vegas not long ago.

O’DWYER: Ah, man, that was fun as hell. That’s what I’m talking about: A good festival … I love metal, so I was a pig in shit. And we had our Russian sound girl with us, who had never been to a metal show — and she’s Russian! Every Russian should love metal. That just makes sense to me.

There are a ton of underground metal bands in Russia on Bandcamp. Obviously the situation there right now is really unfortunate and shitty. The thing that’s funny’s though — because the United States has been in this almost identical circumstance before … I remember traveling the world during the Iraq war and Afghanistan, and people being like … essentially getting off the hook because people were like, “I know you’re on the other side of this.” People know it’s the government. It’s the same thing with Russia. I still would really love to go there and meet Russian people. It’s just a shame. I get a lot of emails from Russian kids saying they want us to go there. I know it’d be a wild ride.

By the looks of your tour itinerary, it looks like you’ll be going overseas for at least a bit this year.

O’DWYER: Last year, we actually managed to do a full tour of the U.K. and Europe and the United States. As far as I’m concerned, people want shows again — definitively — regardless of the situation in the world or with COVID. People are ready to get out in the world again.

Did playing gigs feel any different?

O’DWYER: No. By the time we got to the U.K., people were exhausted of their situation. There were precautions, but other than that, no, the fans were the same. People got just as drunk. People danced just as hard. So we were fortunate in that respect.

Do you guys prefer playing outdoors or indoors?

O’DWYER: Not really. The gear we bring with us is the same gear we have in our rehearsal space, so outdoors sounds different. But, frankly, I would play in an ICU right now. I would play in a toilet. I would play on a rooftop. I’m prepared to play wherever.

You have a formidable catalog to pull songs from now. Will there be a theme of some kind to your Treefort set?

O’DWYER: Well, one thing that came out of COVID was … we went back into the catalog and learned a lot of old songs — including ones that were just me, when I was doing the band by myself. So now we have an insane catalog that we can pick from to play. I just put together the setlist yesterday, and it’s a mix of old and new. It’s material from the whole stretch, pretty much — with the exception of the acoustic stuff. And there’s some stuff that may be surprises for people.

Do you ever get tempted to revisit any Coachwhips songs?

O’DWYER: No … Thee Oh Sees has never played Coachwhips songs somehow, which is interesting. Last time I played Coachwhips songs, I was so over it — we did it for a Pitchfork reunion or something — I was so over it. I was like, “It’s funny that we’re doing this for money for the sake of having a fun trip, because I don’t think Pitchfork even liked this band. I don’t know why they want us to do this.” For real. Pitchfork was like, “It sucks. It’s not ‘great.’ It’s not the new Kanye record.” I’m glad we did the reunion, but … that band was very much drug-involved. So it’s not the same. It’d be like seeing a sober version of William Burroughs or something.We were a disgusting band. Now it’s like seeing dad do it.

Did you play remotely a lot during COVID?

O’DWYER: No, we would get together in person. I worked on a lot of stuff here in my home studio, I would bring in jazz musicians to do improv records that were outside the band. Over COVID, I did 10 albums, which was absurd— but that was my coping mechanism for not flipping out for not touring, was to keep myself so inundated with work that I didn’t have time to think. I also smoked an outrageous amount of weed. People were like, “Man, those two years went by.” And I was like, “I barely remember.” I think I might’ve smoked the most dope I’ve ever smoked in my life these two past years. Which is saying a lot, because I’ve been smoking weed for a long time.

During you play on all the records you recorded too or just produce them?

O’DWYER: Oh no, I played. They’re all on Bandcamp under my name. I would fly in guys from New York for improvised projects. One, for example, everybody did it separately — so nobody had met each other even once, and they met after we finished the record. The catalog is even deeper with those now, so it’s just a nightmare for a newcomer, I think. So I say, “Just listen to ‘Tidal Wave,’ that’s all you need to know.”

Is the setlist you drew up for the upcoming shows going to be pretty similar throughout, whether you’re playing a club or at a festival?

O’DWYER: What you see onstage at a festival from us is exactly what we would’ve done in a club. We don’t have a “setlist” set. What we have a master list, and we run with that. So basically, everybody knows all the songs on the list and can run them on the fly, and I’ll just shout out song names, usually. We usually know the bookends going in, but otherwise it’s pretty seat-of-your-pants.

Have you only played Boise once before?

O’DWYER: I think so, and it was years ago. It was a club show. But I loved Treefort and am happy to go back. I actually loved Boise. Good coffee, good people.

Any bands you’re looking forward to seeing?

O’DWYER: Let’s check out the schedule … the Gender Tender Experiment sounds interesting, but I don’t know what it is. “3-D Printing Workshop” [a class] sounds hella fun too. [He laughs.] They’re like, “He just made a bomb!” “You can’t take that on a plane, dude!” Yeah, I don’t know any of these bands. But I’m also getting old, though, which means there’s just — it’s strictly because I’m old. I’m sure a lot of these bands kick ass.

My favorites are newbies and old timers. I’ll run into someone who saw Hendrix and talk to him for a half-hour.

Oh, fuck, Guided by Voices is playing on the Main Stage before us, I’ll definitely be there for that. There’s a band called Boot Juice I’m that I’m potentially interested in, even if it’s just based on a titular curiosity. Boot Juice. If you have a name that good, you better kick ass.

Check back with the Big Takeover each day through Sunday to read our fresh interviews with the other bands we are most stoked to see at Treefort 2022.