Thee Oh Sees emerged from the San Francisco underground nearly a decade ago with a gritty, psychedelic garage rock sound. The band's music is fast, fuzzy, informal, colored with clever and humorous lyrics, inundated with reverb and rough around the edges.
But it has a soft, gooey center. And at that center is Brigid Dawson, the band's keyboard player, who tempers raucous frontman John Dwyer's distorted guitars and intense antics with her smooth piano and organ melodies.
The band's impressive history includes countless shows, 20 or so full-lengths and EPs, and performances atop some of the largest festival stages in the country. On Monday, Nov. 28, Thee Oh Sees will add Flying M Coffeegarage in Nampa to that list.
Dawson recently spoke with Boise Weekly and elaborated on some of that history.
"About 10 years ago or more, John started doing this band, OCS, as kind of a home-recording project," said Dawson. "And so you have the first two albums, which are purely him really, and then you have albums three and four, which is where our old drummer and saw player, Patrick Mullins, joins the band. I joined six years ago when I was playing with Patrick. We changed the name to Thee Oh Sees when [guitarist Petey Dammit] joined the band, which was about a year after I did."
San Francisco plays an integral role in the quintet's history and aesthetic. The city has a storied musical past, no doubt. From quintessential '60s psych bands like The Grateful Dead and Carlos Santana, to the early punk rock of The Dead Kennedys and Alternative Tentacles, the Bay Area's laid-back vibe and openness toward diversity has always provided a fertile milieu for budding artists. This hallowed ground is where Thee Oh Sees forged its sound.
"There's such a great live music scene and so many good musicians in San Francisco--lots of people trying new stuff," said Dawson. "There's also the great wide open vista of the Pacific Ocean right there, beautiful Redwood forests behind you and the Sierra Nevadas, the amazing produce ... all the history, the Beat poets and the entire psychedelic-drug-taking-anarchist-rebel history that's there. That kind of shapes every band that's from our town."
This anarchistic, free-for-all mentality informs Thee Oh Sees' approach to its craft. In the studio, everything is off the cuff.
"We record really quickly, and we record almost everything totally live," said Dawson. "There might be, like, the occasional flute overdub or something like that, but the process is really quick for us."
And this approach pays off. In the last six months, Thee Oh Sees has released two albums--Castlemania and Carrion Crawler/The Dream. Both albums contain the band's hallmarks: retro pop, low-fi haze, distorted vocal harmonies, crunchy guitars and abrasive solos.
"[Castlemania] is mostly just John writing at home and playing all the instruments. Then he took it to the studio to overdub, master and mix it there," said Dawson. "Stylistically it's softer, it's janglier. And then [Carrion Crawler/The Dream] is definitely clearly a full band album that's harder but still really melodic, which is something I like about the album."
The band recorded the entirety of Carrion Crawler/The Dream in less than a week.
"I think we had five days to record, which is the longest we've ever had to record," said Dawson. "We slept there. There's a kitchen there, so we made a couple of really great meals. ... The studio has tons of old organs and beautiful guitars. It's a really great place."
Carrion Crawler/The Dream is not a double LP, and it's not two EPs packaged in one sleeve--it's one album with two names. The first half of the album's name was inspired by a monster, which fits well with Thee Oh Sees' uncanny, often-spooky low-fi vibes.
"When we were kids, we played Dungeons and Dragons, and there's a book called the Fiend Folio, which is amazing," Dawson said. "It's this illustrated book that describes all of the monsters you can use in the game, which is like a role-playing game basically, pre-video games and all of that shit. And Carrion Crawler is a monster from the Fiend Folio."
Aside from its enchantment with Dungeons and Dragons, Thee Oh Sees is known for its monstrous live shows. The band's chunky riffs and dirty guitar solos are delivered loud and clear, with Dawson's superb keyboard playing and backup vocal duties providing an additional layer of charm to the quintet's lofty, in-your-face performance style. The group recently added an extra drummer, giving more weight to its chugging backbeat.
When asked about the band's live performances, Dawson was overly modest, saying only, "I just hope we don't embarrass ourselves."
Whether it's thrilling live shows, D&D, the wide-open Pacific Ocean or the musical history of San Francisco, Thee Oh Sees makes art by absorbing its surroundings and interpreting them with sound.
"Music is such a product of everything that you are," said Dawson. "I don't even know if you can be that clinical about it. Little things that you love will just come out--the things that you are fascinated by right now. I think it's a natural process, a pretty organic thing."[ Video is no longer available. ]