Monday, May 27, 2019

HXR20YR RETROSPECTIVE: HXR020- LEMURIA, "Ozzy" 7"


Oh, so you thought this label only released burly, noisy, weird aggressive music or something?  Yeah, we did a Lemuria 7” too.  I mean, they were such nice people.
Something about a friend of a friend, or something like that, had been telling me I ought to go see this band Lemuria from Buffalo because they were quite special.  They had been playing all over the place, and already had a few records out, and at some point they finally landed in Syracuse, and played someone’s basement.  So I checked it out.  To say I was immediately taken by their music may have been an understatement.  They kind of got lumped in to a pop-punk sort of thing, which I thought was certainly not accurate.  Between the atypical song structures, drumming that chose some very interesting rhythms, lyrical content that got awkward (and definitely went beyond the standard ‘you broke my heart, boo-hoo’ woe-is-me-isms), and guitarist/vocalist Sheena Ozzella’s exceptionally heartwarming and upbeat voice they were definitely doing their own thing.
Pretty soon they got to be regulars around town and beyond.  Many house shows were played, my band at the time played a handful of shows with them, and their growth as a group felt very natural and organic.  It helped that they were a non-stop touring unit, booking it all themselves, often releasing their own records, and just going for it.  Nothing against their music, which was wonderful, but I really think that a lot of their success came from just how kind, friendly, and genuine they have always been as people.  It really goes a long way.  There’s just something about the music of Lemuria, and the people who create it, that gives you the warm-fuzzies.  They make you feel like things are good, even if they’re singing somber tunes.  I’ve never left any of their shows (of the probably dozens of times I’ve seen them) not feeling like my best self.  They truly can bring out the best in people as far as I’m concerned.

So it was at some juncture around the time their first proper full length, “Get Better” came out that I approached them about doing a 7”.  By this time we were all friends and I thought it would be a really fun idea.  However, I wasn’t sure what they would think about doing a record with a label known for releasing a lot of really heavy stuff.  But it’s that local connection- I had lived in Buffalo for a couple years and visited often.  Sheena worked at the best damn diner in all of Western NY (Amy’s Place for those looking for a place to go should you end up in Buffalo) and drummer/vocalist Alex Kerns lived upstairs from it, and I would see them regularly.  Lemuria played all over NY state and myself and friends often went to see them if they were playing anywhere within a two hour radius.  And, as if the point needed to be driven home, they played Syracuse all the time.  They were surprisingly into the idea of doing a record and so, several months later, we started getting ideas together for what became the “Ozzy” 7”.
Maybe I’m just being biased, but of all the various records Lemuria has released (and they have a pretty thick catalog) I think “Ozzy” stands out as one of their best recordings.  That song, in and of itself, stuck around in their set list for years and is one of the most heartfelt songs they ever wrote.  That record also had a great B-side, “Expert Herder”, as well as a third song that was a download-only track that came with the record (“Race the Germ”). 
Since that time Lemuria have released several more records, done a heck of a lot of touring, and have gone through a number of changes.  Right after “Ozzy” came out bassist Jay Draper exited the band, and was replaced for awhile with Canadian nice guy Kyle Patton before he stepped aside to make way for current bassist (and also incredibly nice guy) Max Gregor.  They also added a fourth member in long time contributor Tony Flaminio, who has done some manner of back-ups on various instruments on pretty much all their records, but now he’s officially in the group. The band is spread out all over the US these days with Max down in Austin, Alex out in Las Vegas, and Sheena in Washington DC.  So while it’s a lot tougher for all of them to get together I did manage to catch up with my old pal, and professional dog-mom, Sheena Ozzella about that specific record and stuff happening around that time.

During the time that the “Ozzy” 7” came out what was up with the band?

Oh my god Hex, what was that?  2010?

I think it was 2009?

I remember recording at Watchmen (Studios).  I remember the song “Ozzy”.   I had to look up what the other song was because we have so many fucking seven inches.

It was “Expert Herder”.  I had to look it up too.

(laughs)  That’s very funny.  I couldn’t remember.  So yeah, we were up at Watchmen, a Buffalo studio that everyone has gone to.  Doug White runs it.  He’s been a local gem forever.  He likes to do super-polished, clean recordings.  But he mostly does metal stuff.  Every time we went to him- there’s a lot of his recordings that we really liked- he seemed to lock in the Lemuria sound pretty early on.
But we were also just trying to tour as much as we could at that time as well.  I remember when we released that seven inch, though, I had written “Ozzy” and the lyrics for “Expert Herder”.  But “Ozzy” is one of my favorite songs we ever recorded.



That was a song about your dad, right?

Yeah, I wrote it for my dad.  My dad is still doing well.  My dad adopted me when I was about 6 months old.  Him and my mom started dating when they were 17 and I was 6 months old.  And by the time they were 21 they got married, and they had three kids already, which is insane.  It’s crazy.  And then my dad legally adopted me shortly after he and my mom got married.  I know it was a different time back then, and people did things a lot earlier.  Plus, to adopt a kid that wasn’t even his!  And he was starting a family and all that bullshit.  It really showed me how great and wonderful a person he is.  So I really just wanted to write a song for him.
I know a lot of people lose touch with their parents, I know some people who are very fortunate to have cool parents, and my parents are great people.  So writing a song for them is the least I could do to show that I’m thankful for them.
And my dad is a really simple, pretty normal, small-town man.  He has a mechanic shop, he does everything himself.  He’s a very stereotypical man.  But in that simplicity there was no pressure to write anything prolific.  You know with some people you want to write a love song that’s never been written before.  For my dad it was more of… he’s just a simple guy, he loves whatever I do, and is always very supportive, and it was refreshing to be able to write a song about him that came very easy.  There was no pressure, or anything, I just wanted to show him that I loved him.

It’s not really punk to write a song about liking your parents.

(laughs)  I know!  I’m so not cool!  It’s not very punk.  But, to be fair, I have years of being punk and my dad and I hated each other for about three years.  I cut all my hair off and he was so mad at me.  But then I realized he’s actually a pretty good guy. He deserved the song.

That’s the make-up song.  The ‘I’m sorry for writing angry songs when I was a teenager’ one.

Right!  It’s the ‘I’m sorry for having been a fucking turd for a long time, and I love you’ song.

(laughs) And also at that point everyone in the band was still in Buffalo, right?

Yeah.  I think Jay Draper played on that too, so, yes, we were all in Buffalo.  We were all practicing a couple times a week, we were doing a lot of shows, playing a lot of weekends, we were pretty busy.
At some prom formal thing around 2009 (l to r): me, Lemuria roadie Curtis Guy, drummer Alex Kerns, our friend Dan, bassist Kyle Patton, and guitarist Sheena Ozzella

So not long after that you made the transition to having Kyle Patton play bass, who didn’t stick around too long.  How did he come into the picture?

I think we met through shows.  Lemuria played Canada a couple times, since the border is right there.  So I think it was natural.  We knew who he was, and he liked the band.  And honestly, when he did join the band Alex and I had the idea that whoever was playing bass, or not, we were going to do Lemuria anyway.  We were the main songwriters and we still very much wanted to play music with one another.  So when Kyle joined the band we set it up where it wasn’t necessary for him to write with us, we just needed someone to play the songs with us.  Even the record that Kyle did play on Alex and I would write the parts.  We were also a little afraid to let someone in permanently.  Playing with Kyle was really great though, and we were really grateful that he wanted to play with us.  It allowed us to tour and do a lot of stuff that we wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.  But we were really stubborn about letting someone join the band after Jay left.  Eventually we eased up.  It sounds stupid, but we opened our relationship to Kyle, and that then allowed Max to end up playing with us.  Max had roadied for us on a tour Kyle played on, which is how he came in. 
I think Alex and I would both say that Max ended up becoming something, obviously-

Yeah, for sure.  Max is definitely the third member.  He has his own voice.

Yes.  For sure.  We all love him.  Max is very much part of Lemuria and whatever we do after this break we’re on.  I don’t think any of us are really sure what’s going on, we just need a break.  But I recently went out to Las Vegas and hung out with Alex for a whole week.  Max is busy taking care of stuff on his own in Austin.  But there’s no weird drama.  The break definitely feels more like a break than a break-up.

So around that time of the 7” how was the writing being handled?  How was it being decided about who would be doing vocals, since you and Alex both were writing parts and lyrics.

For that 7” specifically, I brought in “Ozzy” as it was with the music and lyrics and vocals.  We then brought in bass and drums.  For “Expert Herder” the riff was a part I brought in on guitar, and then we played it with drums and bass.  But typically with Lemuria we don’t write vocals, or lyrics, until after the music is completed, and that’s for pretty much all our stuff.  There are some songs where Alex has written vocals, guitar parts, and bass altogether.  He’s one of those annoying people that knows how to play and do everything.  But for that 7” specifically, it worked in the way that we had the music before we put the vocals down, and then basically if there’s a song that I wanted to write lyrics to- “Ozzy” was the song I wanted to write lyrics to- we would sit down together and arrange how that would go.  “Expert Herder” we did together to figure out how the melody would go and how the lyrics would fit the melody.
The numerous variations of color and packaging this record had

How did Ben Sears get roped into doing the artwork?

We met him on tour.  And we know he was a person who did art, and we had seen some of the art he had done, and we just asked him to do this. I think it was real simple.  We just asked him if he had any art that we could use for this seven inch we were doing, and then we picked that image out of some random stuff he had.

His art has changed drastically since then.

Yeah!  And he has done a lot of stuff for Lemuria over the years and it’s quite a bit different than a lot of the other stuff we have released over the years, but it’s very cool and it worked.  I like how it was screenprinted (ed.- only the first pressing), and it’s striking, and very aesthetically pleasing.

So at what point was everyone starting to move to different places?  It seemed to kind of start with Kyle, since he was in Canada, but when Max entered he was in Pittsburgh, right?

Kyle ended up having some border problems, so that kind of put an end to that.  Max was a friend who had been on tour with us as a roadie while Kyle was in the band.  It was pretty natural.  We knew he played bass.  He was in Pittsburgh, and pretty desperate to leave, but with the idea that he would still have a place to live when he got back because it’s cheap there.  He ended up moving to Buffalo pretty soon after that though because we were touring a lot, and the band was the main priority at that time.  But pretty soon after that, maybe after a year or two, he moved back to Austin.  And then I lived in New York for awhile, and then I moved back, and now I live in DC.  But Alex is the only one who consistently lived in Buffalo for the majority of the time.  Now he lives in Vegas, but he was in Buffalo for a long time.

Did it make it where you couldn’t do weekends anymore, just tours?  Or did it feel as if it wasn’t too affected?

We have to do super-concentrated stuff.  So when we recorded “The Distance Is So Big” and “Recreational Hate” we would spend weeks together, typically in DC because they could work from home.  They were typically a little more flexible with their work life.  But we would spend weeks in a garage, or a pie shop.  We spent a long time in Austin just renting space.
We couldn’t really do weekends anymore, unless it was a special occasion, like if we were playing a festival or something.  That would pay for us to all get to the same place.  So touring was really the only way we could do it.  So that’s how we did it.  There were a few shows where we didn’t have a chance to practice together beforehand and it showed! (laughs)
But yeah, we had to hammer down when we have plans to do stuff and we just lock ourselves in our room for 8 to 10 hours and that’s all we do.  And that’s how it happens.
I don’t think it’s my preferred way to do it, personally, but I think Max and Alex love it. They can spend all day in a dark room with no windows just looking at each other.  Some people really like it, but other people need a break every couple hours.

 At Westcott Community Center, Syracuse in 2014
What’s been the best thing about the band and what’s been the worst?

The favorite things have been the crazy-ass places we have been.  I can’t believe some of the places we have been!  International touring, and the ability to do that is such a privilege.  It’s something any of us take for granted.  We travel really well together and I think we all really appreciate that outlet, and being able to do it for so many years.
The worst part being in Lemuria? I guess the amount of time you have to be away sometimes.  It’s kind of a double-edged sword.  When you start getting older I feel like it’s hard…  I don’t know.  We started Lemuria when we were all in our early 20’s and we said ‘fuck it’ all the time and we would really just play anywhere, any time, and that was fun and awesome.  But 15 years later you start to get really cranky after 6 weeks on the road.

Yeah, I can imagine so.

But it’s hard because it’s a privilege to go on tour, so I want to tread lightly on complaining about not getting good sleep for a little while.  But it gets hard and then you take a break.

So, in the last few years I have released the rights to "Ozzy" back to the band because, to be completely honest, I just didn't feel like repressing it anymore.  So it has never been up on my bandcamp page, nor will you find any digital platforms hosting it under my banner, and the physical version is way out of print.  So they own it and can do whatever they want with it.  However, for this week only,  it's up on the bandcamp page and it will be a fundraiser where 100% of the sales will go to Planned Parenthood because it's a good cause.  So you can get the 7", plus the bonus track and put some money towards a good thing all at once.  DO IT.  We are all better for having a little Lemuria in our life.

Monday, May 20, 2019

HXR20YR RETROSPECTIVE: HXR019- NIGHT OWLS, s/t EP


            There isn’t a great big story to tell about Night Owls really.  It was more of a chance to do something for people who I’d admired as creative people for a long time.  Without even hearing them I pretty much knew that whatever they created would be something I would enjoy.
            As a bit of history, I had previously been in The Funeral with Grant and Tony.  And before that I had released a record for Grant’s old band Spark Lights the Friction.  So working with those guys was old hat.  John had been in No Idols with me and was now living in Syracuse instead of Rochester.  And John Davis?  Well, I’d never done a band with him, or released a record from his band, but I booked his band Another Breath on several occasions.  And by the time Rachel Bass joined up with the band I was well-acquainted with the bands she had been in around town that ran the gamut from math-y indie rock to full-on punk-hardcore groups.  It was close-knit Syracuse people existing in our little bubble.  It was a good thing that I found the music of Night Owls to be engaging, fun, and unique to our scene.  I thought they demo they released was really, really good and I thought it deserved a proper release.  But I didn’t want to re-release something that was already out.
            After some time I had understood that they would be recording again and this was a good opportunity to approach the band about releasing something proper.  At the same time a newer label around town, Barbarossa Records, was putting some stuff out here and there and also asked Night Owls about doing a record.  We all came to a decision- Barbarossa Records would release the new material as a 7” and I would do a CD version of all their material to date, which was the demo, the 7”, as well as a live set the band had recorded.
            As things moved along we hit some stumbling blocks:  the art was delayed quite a bit, and there were some financial concerns associated with it.  I ended up doing most of the layout on my own.  The CD packages were printed overseas and took awhile to get to me due to international shipping and customs (it was a pretty unique style of package I haven’t seen used since).  Josh, who ran Barbarossa, asked if I would be the liaison between him and the pressing plant in regards to getting  the 7” pressed as he was going to be on tour for awhile.  I agreed, but many issues with that came up including the covers being printed on the wrong type of paper and having to be totally redone, as well as three rounds of test pressings that all skipped.  It was kind of a nightmare, but moreso for the 7” version and not the CD version, which had just a few minor hiccups.
            I’d like to think the Night Owls project was one in which I didn’t feel totally overwhelmed by costs, and knew full well they wouldn’t be touring on the release.  So if I lost a few bucks it wasn’t a big deal at all.  I just wanted that music out there because it was really cool.  And that CD version looked really cool too.
            Night Owls is a band that didn’t stick around too long, and they don’t have any huge catalog to fall back on.  But what they did do was really exceptional and remains another check in a long list of very exceptional Syracuse-area bands.  To talk about this band, and this release, I caught up with my old friend Grant Johnson, who played guitar and sang in the band, while I was visiting Syracuse over the Spring at Recess Coffee, the same place where Night Owls played some of their first shows.


Night Owls was not terribly long-lived.

And we weren’t terrible either.

(laughs) Not terrible either!

Actually, that’s not entirely true.  We were around for about four years.  It was not a consistent four years of doing anything.  It was on-off, dictated by various factors.  It was one of the longer-tenured bands that I have been in.

So starting backwards a bit, The Funeral broke up and you moved to California.  What made you want to move out there in the first place?

I think at the time I was with Rachel Bass, who ended up being the second, and final, bass player in Night Owls, and we were both just looking for something new.  Neither of us had ever lived anywhere else, at least in our adult-ish lives, and we took a vacation to California- Long Beach specifically- and thought, ‘this place is cool, let’s move here.’
It was almost that spontaneous.  Plus, you know, the winters here (in Syracuse) wear on you.  I think it was just the allure of living somewhere sunny all year was too strong to turn down.  When we moved out there it was an experiment.
Rachel moved back after a year, and we split up, and I stuck around for another year and a half.  I did a lot of the same things.  I was playing in three bands.  My living situation changed and that’s what resulted in me deciding to move back to Syracuse.  It was either go through all the headaches of trying to find a new apartment, and buying furniture, yadda, yadda, yadda, and I wasn’t doing anything aside from playing in three bands.  I was just scraping by.  I had some friends, but I felt it was time to leave.
So I landed again here in Syracuse in the safety of my parent’s house.
The bands I played in were cool, but the quality of life was just not what I wanted it to be, and I was just sort of aimless.  I was around 26, working a ho-hum job, playing in bands, and I didn’t feel like it was going anywhere for me.  And again, the change in my living situation, felt like a good excuse to leave.  It was a really hard choice, and I was legitimately heartbroken to leave California.  It’s still a very significant experience for me, and I still have friends from there, and it was very formative leaving Syracuse and trying something new, and it’s OK that it didn’t work out.

Yeah.  Did you have any feelings of failure, or being upset, that you came back here?  Or were you totally OK with just giving it a shot and it not working out?

I talked to a few friends both here and in New York City.  I have a lot of friends from New York, and friends from college that moved down there after school, and are still there.  That was my original plan.  Syracuse was only going to be a stopping point and I was going to move down to New York.  But that didn’t happen for a couple reasons.  First off, I met someone, who I ended up dating for almost three years.  That caused me to choose to stay here.
But I also went down there (to NYC) to hang out and get a feel for things and thought, ‘well, maybe I don’t want to be here.’
Again, there was this aimlessness, and uncertainty, about what I really wanted to be doing.  And maybe if I had moved down there we wouldn’t be sitting here, having this conversation. You never know.
So I decided to stay here, went back to the same job I had before I left for California- at the sign shop where I lost my fingertip- and that was supposed to be temporary.  But I stayed there for another year.  I had become a manager, and the next step was to murder the shop supervisor and take his job.  But I didn’t want to do that so I went to grad school.



So between the time you came back and when you started Night Owls there was a few years you weren’t doing anything, right?

I jammed with a couple people.  I jammed with Ted (Niccoli, from No Idols and Oak and Bone) and one of the songs we worked on ended up becoming a Night Owls song.  But the way we were playing was not Night Owls-y at all.  I got together with him once, but nothing really came of that.
I was sort of just tooling around at home and I believe it was Tony Tornabene (drummer, Night Owls, The Funeral) who called me up and said we should jam.  It’s a challenge to remember when the first time we got together to jam, but it was me and him, and John Twentyfive (first Night Owls bassist, original No Idols bassist).  I think the three of us jammed once before we looped in John Davis (guitarist, Another Breath).
But you’re right, I moved back in July of 2006 and it was a good year and half before Tony and I started playing together.

I remember hearing that you were moving back and right away I started thinking, ‘great!  I can’t wait to see what kind of band he starts!’, automatically assuming that’s what you would do.  And I remember it seeming a little weird that for awhile after you moved back that you didn’t have a band.

So my question is, when you did move back did you have an idea that you wanted to start a band, or a band like this?

Yes and no.  An idea did come to mind in a way.  When I lived in California I worked at a record store.  I’ve always been a rabid consumer of music.  And living in California I was exposed to a ton of new music.  Where a lot of people might get into a new genre of music and immediately try to emulate that I know I have limitations in terms of ability and creativity.  And I listen to a lot of different types of music, but I wasn’t about to go out and start an old timey jazz band, or a Japanese-style noise band, or some lo-fi black metal band, or whatever I was into at the time.  It’s the curse of being someone who plays music- there is a compulsion to always be doing it.  I’m always writing stuff that just sort of goes into a mental storage and a lot of it gets lost.  But some ideas stick and I had a set of riffs, or songs, that were sort of inspired by old California punk like Agent Orange, or Dangerhouse Records stuff.  I think that was the stuff that I first presented to Tony and John Twentyfive.  And I said, ‘what do you think of this?’, and they said it was cool, so I thought, ‘OK, I guess this is what we’re doing.’
I actually remember making them- Tony, John, and John- a CD with a bunch of stuff like Agent Orange, Rockbottom Spies, and a bunch of other inspirational stuff that I was aiming to do.  But I’m not the type of person to do a band that directly apes another band.

Let’s take some ideas from this and insert it into our own thing.

Yeah, like, let’s just play and see what happens.  That’s often when the most interesting things happen.  Bands are always the sum of their parts.  People have certain strengths that will make a band sound a certain way.  Any band that Tony is in, he is a very rock solid, precision, metronomic drummer.  That adds a certain quality to the songs that is different from, say, Jeff Walters who plays with me now in Difficult and is a very different kind of drummer.  People’s different approaches to music help form a band.
I may have come into Night Owls with these ideas that are inspired by this thing, but when put through that blender of different people’s strengths it comes out sounding totally different.  So I guess we ended up sounding more Hot Snakes-y?  It wasn’t super intentional, but some of our stuff did sound kind of like that.
Night Owls was also the first band I’d ever sung in, so that was a whole other dimension that was unique.  But I hate my voice, and no one else was going to do it, so we made it work.

So you said Tony reached out to you to get things started.  Did you have the others guys in mind when you started?

No.  I didn’t know John Davis before I moved to California.  I met him after I moved back.  He was doing Another Breath at the time.  We hung out in groups and I think, at the time, John Twentyfive lived upstairs from him, which is how he got into the mix.


That’s when John Twentyfive was living in Syracuse, not Rochester.

Right.  He moved here after I got back.  That, I think helped, our situation.  We needed a bass player so let’s get this guy that I’ve already known for 10 years.  And I know John (Twentyfive) was into punk and hardcore, but other stuff too.  He’s a very specific kind of player.
But once Tony asked me I think it quickly fell into place.  I think after our first practice was when we got John Davis.  He’s a pretty phenomenal musician and I think he can pretty much adapt to anything, and pick anything up quick.  I had never played with John Twentyfive before either.  We had played a million shows together with different bands, but never in the same band.  It was pretty easy to play with him, but not knowing John Davis at all it was just something where it could have been strange but it came together very naturally.  And now he and I have been playing in bands together for over 10 years.


An early Night Owls show with John 25 on bass

So Twentyfive didn’t around for too long.  So what happened there, and what was the process for Rachel come into being part of the band?

I can’t quite recall if John stopped playing with us because he was moving to Seattle, or if it was before that.  I do remember that when we knew he was leaving and we weren’t sure what to do.  You get to a certain age where you don’t want to just play with a bunch of randos.  So we were thinking, ‘who do we know that is someone we want to play with.’  The first person we actually thought of was Scott Mayo, from Another Breath, but he just wasn’t interested. 
So then I was with Rachel at Strong Hearts (CafĂ©), and I said, ‘hey, we need a bass player, would you be interested in playing with us’ and said ‘yeah’ right away.  She’s also a phenomenal musician who picks things up and you never have to tell her what to play.

She’s easily one of the most talented musicians in town.

Without question.  And she knew Tony and John, so once we knew she was interested it was fine.  Plus, Rachel and I had been in a band before called AWOL, playing bass, before we moved to California.  So I knew she could play bass in a punk-style band, and I knew she liked some of that music, so she wasn’t the first choice, but it worked out really well.

So once the band got moving along there had to be the discussion of whether or not to be a touring band and Night Owls was decidedly not a touring band.  I think you all only played outside of Syracuse on a few occasions?

Yeah, we played once or twice in Ithaca.  And that might have honestly been it.  I don’t know if we even played in Rochester?  But I think that was a function of Tony having three kids, and I was going to grad school.  I wasn’t even living here really.  I was in Ithaca and coming back here on weekends to practice, and keep writing.  So there was never going to be a situation where we would be able to tour.
To be honest, I can't recall if this show actually happened or not


Was there anybody in the band who wanted that?

John (Davis) was in grad school.  Tony was working.  Rachel was working.  Everyone was busy.  I think we all, to varying extents, had done the touring thing.  Even  now sometimes I think, ‘wouldn’t that be nice?’  And I think, ‘Nah, not really.’  I wish I had done more of it back in my heyday of playing in bands, but at the time it was totally fine with me that we weren’t going to tour. 
If you were to list our resume of all the bands we had all been in it’s a pretty long list.  But it’s a lot of bands that not a lot of people weren’t super familiar with outside of this region.  Also, most of those bands did not sound, sonically, like what we were doing with Night Owls.  We didn’t sound like Another Breath, or Another Victim, or The Funeral, or AWOL.  It was something totally different.  We didn’t want to be an ex-members type band.  So it would have been difficult getting shows.  It would be like starting over.  That would have been fine if we were five, or ten, years younger. It wasn’t in the cards for us to tour.

Eventually it came time for you all to record.  Did you end up going to Moresound?

No.  We did our demo and our seven inch in Josh Coy’s attic, and bedroom, a couple houses down from where I live now (Wayne Manor Studios).  We were happy with that.  I’m not as into the recording on the 7” as I am with the demo, but there were some other challenges with that, as far as the mastering goes.  But he was cheap, and we didn’t have any money, we didn’t make merch really so there wasn’t any money being generated by the band, so that was the avenue that made sense at the time.


Talk a bit about the problems you had with the 7” version of the record, which I did not release (I did the CD version with the demo, 7”, and a live set).

Right.  The test pressings kept coming back where there was a problem with the vinyl master and I think that was just a function of not being properly mastered.  We went back and forth with a couple bad test pressings.

I believe there were three rounds of test pressings.

Yeah, it got to the point where I suggested to Josh Smith, who released the 7” version, that he just abandon it.  I told him, ‘you are just wasting money at this point and you are never going to get your money back from this.  If I were you I’d just cut your losses.’  But he wanted to keep at it, so I think we had Jocko (Moresound Studios) do a vinyl master and then it was fine.
So that all went through and the 7” came out, and we sold 4 or 5 copies.  I don’t have one of my own any more.
Night Owls at the Hex Records 10 year anniversary show..  which was 10 years ago


I have one.  As well as some of the CDs.

Oh yeah, sorry about that.  I’m very grateful you put that out.  But Night Owls is not a band that comes up very often in conversation.  I sometimes think about picking up some of those and just giving them to people, but I already have way too many Spark Lights the Friction full length CDs that I cannot get rid of.  I can’t bring myself to landfill them, or donate them, they’re fucking worthless.

Would you say, though, that with that CD- with the 7”, demo, and live set combined- you are pleased with how it turned out?

You have a conflict of interest with that question.  I’m not sure I can answer that.


It’s more of a ‘is there something you would change about it, or things that stand out to you?'

Yes, overall I like it.  One of the things I’ve always had trouble with, though, with most bands I’ve been in is cover art.  And that band was no different.  A friend of ours had put together that cover and we thought it was fine.  And then after he had already given it to us he tried to demand a bunch of money from us.  Generally, you ask for money up front.  But he waited until after he had already given it to us, there was never a conversation about that.

Yeah.  My understanding is that he volunteered that art.

Yeah.  At the time it led to an uncomfortable situation.  We ended up paying him, but not what he had asked.  I didn’t want it to be like that.  He did put effort into it.  I’m not one of those people that is good at telling people what sort of art I want from them.  I’m more like, ‘show me something and I’ll either accept it or reject it.’
With the last Funeral record I had an idea in mind.  With the Difficult full length the art for that was an idea I had, very simple, and it was executed perfectly.  But very rarely do I have that idea.  And with Night Owls I had no idea.  I thought, ‘what makes sense for this band?’
But with that CD I’m happy it exists because there is sort of a change in our songs between the recordings.  I think some of that has to do with Rachel singing on some of the songs, especially our final stuff, which was the “Rapture” EP we self-released.  But I think the stuff you put out was like Night Owls, Mach 1.  It documents the early part of the band.  That was a fun time for the band, and the Syracuse scene in general.  Things are always with ebbs and flows and at the time Oak and Bone was coming up, and it was always awesome to play with them.  And there were a couple other goods bands, shows were generally still good, people were still coming out to shows.  I wouldn’t really say that now.  There are virtually no good bands here.  You can print that, I don’t give a fuck.  Very few people come to shows and I think that sucks.  But like I said, there are ebbs and flows, and that particular time was pretty good.
That live set (on the CD) was a memorial show for a kid named Zach who had passed away, and I remember it being a great show.  And I think of that time, how we played a lot, and we played in the basement of Recess here with Oak and Bone, and Bad Cops.  I have a lot of positive memories associated with that band and first year or two of that band, and that CD documents that.
Bad Cops, Night Owls, and Oak and Bone is a coffee shop basement

Why did the band end up splitting?

Because John moved to Seattle.  It’s that simple.

Sorry, that makes two Johns who moved to Seattle.

Right.  John Davis moved to Seattle as well.  So we had already recorded, and released, the “Rapture” EP and he had already announced that he was moving to Seattle.  But when he eventually moved back we started Difficult and used a couple Night Owls songs we never recorded as a jumping off point for that band.  Also, by the end of Night Owls John had begun taking on more vocal duties in the band, along with Rachel and I and we were not going to try and replace him.

A question I have been asking pretty much everyone I do these interviews with is what was the best and worst thing about the band.  But I feel like it almost doesn’t apply to Night Owls because most of the people were younger and more brash during their band’s tenure and made decisions that led to bad- but often funny in hindsight- situations.  Everyone in Night Owls was pretty grown up by the time the band started and finished.

You know, my favorite thing about Night Owls, which is my favorite thing about my current band Difficult, is that it’s with people that I’ve known for a very long time.  I’ve known John for over 10 years now.  I’ve known Rachel for close to 20 years at this point.  It’s a lot of hanging out and playing with people who you just have a language and understanding with that is a lot different than playing with people when you’re younger.  I think your priorities are different.  I think Night Owls was like that.  There was no pressure with that band.  We could just do whatever we wanted at our own pace.
But as far as least favorite things that’s tough.  There really aren’t any with Night Owls.  In bands in the past I’ve been in I may look back and wish we had done some things differently, but with Night Owls not so much.  I wish more people had been able to hear the song “Rapture” from our last EP.  I think it’s a fantastic song.  It’s not that I want money from it or anything, I just want to share.  That’s really all I get out of music these days anyway.  I just want to share it.  If you like it, cool, if not that’s OK too.  The ship has sailed a long time ago.  I’m never going to make money off of music and I don’t give a shit about that, but writing stuff and thinking, ‘hey, we all believe in this, check it out’ doesn’t really help if no one hears it.  So all of our stuff sort of just languishes on bandcamp.  People from around here remember it, but maybe since we didn’t get the chance to play out much that might be a bit of a regret.  But that’s alright we’re all still friends.  We might not see Tony as much, but three of us are still in a band together and that’s fun.


Here's that song "Rapture" from their last release.  It IS a great song.

So yeah, Night Owls haven't been in a band in quite awhile.  But you can still get their self-titled CD for just $4 this week and the digital download for $3 HERE.  It's good stuff.  And if you want to check into what they're all doing now check out Difficult (featuring John, Grant, and Rachel) and The Flashing Astonishers, which is Tony's primary band these days.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

REVIEWS TO GET YOU AN EARLY START ON SUMMER

I feel like it's been sort of a slow year in terms of stuff that's really kicking my ass, but that's changing with some of the releases that have just come around.  But maybe I'm out of the loop.  I have been a little preoccupied with putting out a bunch of records (seriously, get those Great Falls/Great Sabatini splits, the Funeral discography, and that new one from USA Nails already!) and went out on a little tour with Dialysis in the Northwest after a couple Northeast shows...  so I've been busy to say the least.
But I'm making time for you, the reader, to fill your eyes with words, and expose your ears to sounds that clearly you never asked for.  I do it because I care.

AUSTERITY PROGRAM, THE, “Bible Songs 1” EP
Every few years the duo known as The Austerity Program emerges from their dad caves and decides to unleash more fresh hell upon the dozens of fans they have across the world in the form of total Big Black worship and absolutely perfectionist tones.  The pair scrutinize every iota of sound they write and record and dial in their drum machine so accurately it takes a team of NASA scientists to check their work for any hint of error (maybe that’s why it takes them awhile to put out new records?).  This new batch, “Bible Songs 1” is six tracks of punishing industrial (and by that I mean they use a drum machine that sounds like a drum machine)/noise rock bile.  With mountains of guitar cabs, aluminum neck guitars, and computers at their disposal they begin the record by lurching through the slow plod of “Isaiah 63: 2-6” before blasting into the freak-ish death ride of “Ezekiel 39: 17-20”.  Things come to a head on “Numbers 31: 13-18” (if you haven’t guessed, all the songs are named after Bible passages) with it’s tweaking jittery vocals/guitar intro that breaks into some crazy squealing/samples before closing with some apocalyptic crushing destruction.  It doesn’t get much weirder and uncomfortable than that but the last two tracks certainly try.  The band has a number of releases under their belt at this point, all of which pine similar territory, and pine it well they do.  This is a perfectly good place to start if you’re unfamiliar (Controlled Burn)
 

EX-HEX, “It’s Real”
It’s been about 5 years I think since Ex-Hex dropped their debut LP “Rips”.  In that time they toured a bunch, then laid dormant while bassist (now second guitarist?) Betsy Wright did some work with her similar-sounding duo Bat Fangs, and now here we are with “It’s Real” and it’s a worthy follow up.  Total bad-ass catchy rock n’ roll happening here.  To give a visual idea of what their music sounds like the group has a live backdrop consisting of a silver curtain with a giant, real-deal neon ‘EX HEX’ sign behind them.  Add some fog machine and Judas Priest t-shirts and let your imagination do the rest.  Or you could just listen to their records.  As opposed to their debut it feels like primary vocalist/guitarist Mary Timony is sharing the vocals and leads more with Wright on this one.  They have also transformed into a 4-piece in the live setting, whereas before they were a trio (though it seems they mostly continue as a trio on record).  Fans of 80’s bands like early Pretenders, Runaways, Cheap Trick take note, which may not mean much to regular readers here, but that’s why I’m mentioning.  Expand your frickin’ horizons.  It may show up early on in the record but “Rainbow Shiner” is the official badass jam of the summer, especially if you’re planning on getting into trouble.  (Merge)


FULL OF HELL, “Weeping Choir”
I am by no means an authority on this band and their voluminous output.  I’ve listened to random releases from them over the years, but never delved deep into their material.  However, I know they’ve always played around with various extreme subgenres and this record is no exception.  Somehow they manage to make powerviolence, death metal, grindcore, power electronics, and even a little black metal blend seamlessly into one ridiculously aggressive stew and it works.  And in 26 short minutes (one of the songs is nearly 7 minutes long) they cram all that business into 11 tracks and about 10,000 blast beats.  Some of it feels a little throwaway to me- “Rainbow Coil” is essentially three minutes of junk falling down a staircase recorded through Radio Shack mics, but it ends with a machine gun-like industrial beat that connects into “Aria Of Jeweled Tears”, one of the most blastingly satisfying tracks on the whole record that also closes with those same industrial machine gun repetitions. “Angels Gather Here” more successfully blends that mixture of noise, industrial, and doom-y sludge into a whopper of an end-of-the-world style melee.  But for my money, I guess the more straightforward death metal approach of “Thundering Hammers” is the safe bet insofar as the likelihood of maniacs beating the pulp out of one another being in the 100% range.  Is this a worthy follow up to their multitude of other releases?  You be the judge of that.  As someone giving them some undivided attention for the first time, as opposed to cursory listens, I’d say it’s pretty tight and does a great job of mashing various influences together in a way that somehow makes sense among the chaos.  (Relapse)


HELMS ALEE, “Noctiluca”
At this point Helms Alee are totally their own thing.  Not much has changed with their sound, but they’re incredibly consistent at delivering really good records filled with equal parts huge, powerful sludge and harmonized weird melodies.  I’m partial to the creepy, chunky thud of “Beat Up”, while “Be Rad Tomorrow” focuses on big, swirling bliss.  I suppose the band continues to make strides towards building riffs and songs around their individual voices (all three members take turns singing, sometimes separately, sometimes in unison), as opposed to throwing down a massive riff and adding vocals on top of it.  So in that respect their songwriting takes on more angles and dimensions, which are already pretty unique to begin with.  Helms Alee have always had a wonderful way of taking creepy, serpentine melodies and making them beautiful and super heavy at the same time.  While those gargantuan riffs from ultra-loud amps still exist it feels as if the band isn’t out to prove anything anymore with just how loud and distorted they can get because, well, you already know it.  So while “Noctiluca” isn’t anything new for the Helms Alee trio it’s a perfectly fine addition to their already stellar catalog.  (Sargent House)


LOW DOSE, s/t
Listening to the debut from Philly’s Low Dose is a bit of a mixed bag.  It opens and closes with heart wrenching ballads, and what’s crammed in-between is a feast of wild, chaotic noise rock.  Low Dose is made up of all of Fight Amp (who split up a couple years ago), plus vocalist/guitarist Itarya Rosenberg, previously of the way-too-short-lived Legendary Divorce.  So a lot of this sounds like someone else singing Fight Amp songs, or Legendary Divorce songs that never got their proper due.  To fresh ears it works, but having been very familiar with all parties involved and their previous endeavors there’s some clear distinctions over who was probably writing what parts.  Whatever the case, after having those heartstrings pulled, you get a couple of rippers in the form of “Right On” and “For Sure” to tear the rest of them out and put them through a meat grinder. “Away” lurches through a Jesus Lizard-esque dirge with Rosenburg screaming her guts out.  But I think “Otherworldly Motives” is the most interesting song on the record because it sounds like any of the members previous outfits really and acts as sort of mid-point coda/anthem (even though it falls later on in the record), and really emphasizes the vocals over the beefy riffs that beat you over the head on most of the record.  It’s a twist that I hope the group takes some inspiration from going forward.  All in all it’s a solid debut that certainly pays tribute to what the individuals here have done in the past, and I certainly hope they continue to grow going forward.  (Knife Hits/ Brutal Panda)


MANDATE OF HEAVEN, “Least Concern”
In the top slot for ‘band that should have been huge but never quite made it’ category Mandate Of Heaven will win each time.  The prime musical outlet for Syracuse stalwart Greg Pier, and backed by a cast of various people over the last 15 plus years, but most often by solid-beyond-solid drummer Bob Kane and Chuck Gwynn on the thunderous, yet study, low end, has released a treasure trove of albums pretty much all self-released.  While the output was more prolific years ago life, kids, jobs, and other adult matters have kept the group from creating a new full length in almost five years.  But here we are in 2019 and “Least Concern” is easily one of the best efforts Mandate Of Heaven has ever released.  It’s hard to nail down the MofH sound exactly outside of it just being really good rock music.  When they’re more aggressive it translates to an early 90’s grungy Northwest sound, like album opener “County Seat Syndrome”, which might be one of the ‘heaviest’ songs the band has made since way back in the “Real Devil Music” days.  But often, Mandate create slower songs that can flow between wistful stoner rock to breezy, beautiful ballads.  “Double Negative” goes in that sort of slower, kinda heavy direction while “Hey Headbanger” takes another MofH twist into melodic, yet sardonic and wry wit about having to suffer through heavy metal cover bands as the only outlet in town that people consistently plop down money to see (it’s true).  But I want to discuss the mid-way highlights on this record, two songs which I feel are some of the best material they have ever done.  Starting with “Human Ashtray” (another rally against the dumpiness and depression that can emerge from Syracuse and it’s chorus of “You’re just another human ashtray, dying on the North side.”) and it’s alternating from slow to mid-tempo it has a strong Jason Farrell (Swiz, Bluetip, Retisonic, Red Hare) vibe in terms of the guitar lead and overall feel for the first half.  It’s just a great song.  Next is “Nummenuff”, one of the prettiest ballads the band has ever created.  It moves slowly and breezily and meanders into one of the best damn bridges ever as Pier almost whispers the lyrics and into a sort of Zeppelin-esque kind of solo.  I mean, just sit out in a park, or take a walk through a field on a really nice day and listen to this song.  You’ll understand.  The album closes with a couple rippers- “Turned Table” (a speedy song carried by a heavyweight bass tone) and “Who Comes At Night To Steal” (if tuned a couple steps lower it could be a Torche B-side).  I’d say the only track on this whole record I’m not totally feeling is “Shutdown Man” just because it runs pretty long and it’s not even a bad song.  Honestly, if you want one of the best rock records you’ll hear all year this is a worthy contender.  (Neon Witch)


PILE, “Green and Grey”
Six albums into their career and Pile finally does a double LP.  Although, to be fair, I doubt they were intent on making a double LP.  I’m guessing the run time ran just a couple minutes long of what would fit on a regular LP.  That’s really not important though.  This is really the first Pile record to feature some new musicians ever since there was a band to go along with ringleader Rick Maguire’s musical project.  Touring guitarist Chappy Hull (of the wildly complicated Gnarwhal) has officially joined up and long time bassist Matt Connery has left the fold.  However, the foundation of primary songwriter/guitarist/vocalist Rick Maguire and drummer Kris Kuss remains to make a Pile album that still definitively sounds like Pile.  And just like every other Pile record out there it’s impossible to pin down exactly what they sound like because no one quite sounds like them, and it’s very good.  I hate to state, though, it’s really tough for them to top what I feel was a near perfect record on their last outing “Hairshirt of Purpose.”  “Green and Grey” feels a bit more esoteric and meandering in a lot of places, both musically and lyrically and takes several listens to really sink in.  “Bruxist Grin” is an excellent song that may be the closest thing to a direct 4/4 style stomper, while “The Soft Hands Of Stephen Miller” creates no mysteries about the nature of it’s lyrics and “My Employer” is a pretty frank declaration of how being a working musician on the road can sever relationships.  The rest though?  I really like it.  It’s just a lot to take in, both in the back-and-forth with the band bouncing off Maguire’s unique sing-drawl, shifting the melodies of the music to his timbre and the more aggressive tendencies where they are coming at you fast, hard, and shouting (“On a Bigger Screen”).  I don’t tend to label Pile as a band that mixes politics in their music, but it feels as if there are more than a few songs on this that indirectly nod towards a feeling of unease and outright disgust in America post-2016.  But maybe I’m reading too deep into their stuff.  Either way, as a long time Pile fan this is certainly a worthy addition to their catalog.  But if you’re just wading these waters and are looking for a record to start off with may I suggest either “Dripping” or “Hairshirt Of Purpose”.  This one’s a little more labyrinthe than others.  (Exploding In Sound)


RINGWORM, “Death Becomes My Voice”
Ringworm just slowly gets more metal with each release.  They were already pretty metal to begin with, but this just moves the needle a little further into just saying ‘fuck it’ to retaining a semblance of being a hardcore band.  If you have always liked Ringworm you won’t be disappointed because they are a band that generally remains consistent.  Human Furnace still sounds just as pissed as ever and the rest of the band is firing on all cylinders to make for a well-seasoned metal record.  I sort of feel like a band such as this is a little too ‘safe’ for Relapse, who tend to deal with a wide variety of extreme bands, but each are generally pushing the envelope in their respective sound.  Nothing against Ringworm, but they’re not really pushing things in any new sort of direction.  They just remain as heavy and (slightly more) metal as ever.  So yeah, you can’t go wrong with them if you liked them before, just don’t expect as many breakdowns.  (Relapse)

Monday, May 13, 2019

HXR20YR RETROSPECTIVE: HXR018- OAK AND BONE 7"


Another year goes by and another changing of the guard takes place.  Things keep moving along.  As more established bands of the Syracuse area either split up, or got more serious about their touring, new bands rose up to fill the gaps. 
In 2005 I had become involved with a collective of people who were working to establish a new venue in the area.  My role seemed to be to give some perspective, a little guidance, and design a couple logos.  There was a wellspring of interest from a group of kids who came out of the Cicero (North of Syracuse) area whom I’d never met before.  All these kids were starting their first bands and many of them played in this little hole in the wall space we had running for the entirety of about one summer before it was shut down.
I made sure to keep tabs on what these kids were up to because in them I definitely saw the next wave of people who would make a significant impact upon the Syracuse scene.  A myriad of short-lived bands sprang up and eventually some of those groups disbanded and distilled into what became Oak and Bone.  Having an idea of where the members had come from previously, and talking with their singer Weston Czerkies (who I could see was very interested in booking shows, making zines, and essentially just making shit happen- all very admirable qualities) about some of the sounds his new band was going for I pretty much knew right from the get-go, before even hearing them, that I would probably be game for what they were planning.
I ended up booking the band’s debut show, opening for Young Widows in 2008.  They were well received and began playing out frequently.  Their guitarist, Jon Sorber, had a wild set up and an almost natural inclination for getting crazy guitar tones and maximum riffage.  Drummer Drew Fitzgerald kind of surprised everyone because it seemed as if no one knew that some John Bonham type kid was wailing away furiously without a band until now.  Those two made a great team for mixing wild riffs with crazy drumming and bassist Chris Putzer holding down a sludgy/fuzzy low-end.  What the group came up with was music that had as much to do with riffy-sludge metal as it did crusty punk and the ideals of a straight up hardcore band.  It was a great mixture and they did it really well.
Their singer Weston eventually moved into the house I was renting with about 5 or 6 other people.  The band had been going for several months at this point.  I distinctly remember one night while we were both separately making some late night dinner in the kitchen and plainly stating, “I should do a record for Oak and Bone”.  Weston seemed surprised, but open to the idea.  And that was about that.
They went ahead and recorded their first 7”, which had 4 songs on the physical version, and a download including a 5th secret track.  The guys gave me this wild painting they found at a garage sale to use for the cover.  Our man (and Black Sheep Squadron vocalist) Chuck Hickey drew a logo for the band that evoked the Beatles “Rubber Soul” logo, but in more of a hippie-death cult sort of way and I slapped the whole thing together with laying out an insert and a neat inside cover image.  And that’s how Oak and Bone got started.
But to really get into detail, especially about the beginnings of this band that burned short and bright, I caught up with professional grown-up Jon Sorber about all that crazy noise he helped make.

What was it like growing up in the area that you and when did you start getting into heavier music?

Well, unfortunately, my first taste of that was Christian rock.  Not Christian ‘rock’, but like Norma Jean and The Chariot.  Stuff like that.  It kind of evolved from there.  I found Botch, Breather Resist, and stuff like that was pretty awesome at the time.  It still is awesome.
When I first heard bands like Torche that really stuck with me because I had never heard stuff like that before.  It really influenced me in terms of my writing.  That whole vibe of big, open chords, and crushing sounds behind them was great.  But I also really liked rock n’ roll stuff like Queens Of the Stone Age, and that really stuck out for me.  Plus, being friends with people like you and Ted (Niccoli, second bassist for Oak and Bone) definitely exposed me to a lot of great music.
As far as growing up I didn’t really have any great taste in music, so I’m glad I found people who could influence me in the right way insofar as music goes.

Did you find it easy to seek that stuff out?

Oh yeah, and back then, there were a lot of shows at the Westcott Community Center and The Furnace.  A lot of great touring bands would come through.  My early, early influences were metalcore and it kind of just progressed from there.  Smoking weed opened up my eyes to a lot!  (laughs)

(laughs) As it did many people.

I’m trying to think of some early influences for that first 7”.  Definitely Queens Of the Stone Age, Torche, that was kind of the vibe that we were going for.  But it definitely came from hardcore with the vocals.


All the guys came from different parts of town.  How did you all end up meeting each other?

I’ve known Drew (Fitzgerald, drums) forever.  I knew Drew and Chris (Putzer, bass) from church.  I grew up with Drew.


But Drew is from Brewerton and you were out in Camillus, pretty far apart.

We went to school together at Faith Heritage.

OK, so you were both sent out to Catholic School.

Yup.  And me and Drew really started to connect in seventh grade when we found out what punk rock was and we both rebelled at the same time. (laughs)  So the private school didn’t ask us to come back the next year because we were too much to handle (laughs).  So then I started to go to public school at West Genesee, and flourished, because I was just like a normal kid at a public school instead of a punk rock kid at a Catholic school.
 The band in various states of rest (clockwise from top left):  Drew, Chris, Weston, Jon

And how did Weston (Czerkies, vocals) come into the picture?

I met Weston through going to shows at VFWs all over the place.  I think we went to OCC (Onondaga Community College) at the same time possibly?  But I always enjoyed him.  I think the first time I met him was probably through our friends Bill Crate and Shawn O’Brien (Batlord) out in the Central Square area.  Shawn used to have shows in his barn and The Moth Leads the Empire, which was like pre-Oak and Bone, played there.

I forgot about that band!  I was going to bring up your old band Seagrave instead.

Oh yeah, I forgot about Seagrave! (laughs)  When I was playing with Seagrave my harsh sound developed into more of a different style of heavy music.  It was a little more composed, a little less sporadic.  The Moth Leads the Empire was more of a noise thing, but it was fun.

I feel like Seagrave was a bit more metallic, but when Oak and Bone started it was really it’s own thing.  There was nothing like that around town.  So was your intention to completely try to do a different thing, or did it just grow naturally?

It definitely grew naturally.  I had been playing with Drew for so long.  My chemistry with him, to this day, is very natural.  We haven’t played together in a couple years, but I’m sure we would pick up right where we left off in terms of anticipating where the other one is going to go with a riff or a progression.  So me, Drew, and Chris started jamming up in Cicero.  Somehow Weston came into the picture.  Our first practice space was in Chris’ basement, and our first show was with Harbor, Setauket, and Young Widows.  That was a cool first show, especially having been a huge fan of Breather Resist, and getting to see the next step of that band.  Young Widows, for sure, influenced me in writing some of the Oak and Bone stuff.  Definitely them, Queens Of the Stone Age, and Torche mashed up what was I was going for.  And with Drew’s crazy beats behind it I thought it came out cool.  And it just got better from there.  But we did end up having to ask Chris to leave the band.

The first Oak and Bone show

Yeah, what happened there?

We asked him to leave.  It was a band decision that we came to.  We just didn’t really like where it was going with him I guess.  I don’t want to talk crap on him, he didn’t do anything wrong.  He’s a super nice guy, but it just wasn’t working out.  And we wanted to try someone else.

I think Ted was a really good fit as a replacement.

Uncle Ted came into the picture (laughs)

It’s funny you’re calling him Uncle Ted when he’s so much younger than me.  Now I feel super old.  Moving on, I wanted to ask about how you all always seemed to have really shitty luck on the road.

Well, I think our first tour, which was with Chris, we never got stranded anywhere.  That’s good.  But I feel like the shows were decent.  But I think as a group of 18 and 19 year olds out for the first time you’re going to have your poorly promoted shows, and poorly attended shows.  Even to this day that still happens!
We never fought with each other, we had a lot of fun, that’s for sure.  But I think the worst part was when our van broke down in Tampa.  That was our second tour, which was after the full length came out.
We did a bunch of weekends, we did shows with The Helm.  We went up to Burlington in January.  It was so cold.  So cold.
But the worst thing was breaking down in Tampa and having to scrap the van.  And then we got it appraised to see what we could get for it and we only got, like, $300 for it.  So that happened because Drew drove the van from Syracuse to probably Binghamton in second gear, which pretty much fucked the van.  We had issues with it throughout the whole tour.  We sold the van.  Luckily we were at Ted’s grandparents house, who lived down there, while we figured out what to do.  So we went to the beach and swam in his grandparents community pool at their retirement home.  So we hung out there.  Ted ended up flying home.  Weston took a bus.  Drew and I used the money we made from selling the van to rent a U-Haul box truck, because their vans don’t have trailer hitches, and we needed to hitch our trailer with our gear to get it home.  We drove 24 hours straight back home.  We got stuck in a ditch halfway back because we pulled over on the side of the road to get some sleep in Virginia or somewhere and we had to call a tow truck to get us out.  That was pretty wild.  So that’s that.  Success.
One of our most notorious shows, I guess, was in Buffalo at Sugar City where Ted drank too much and forgot how to play bass.  It was a rough night.  He got in a fight and had to go to the hospital.  So we all waited in the ER for him.  He was fine.  He got a little banged up.  And then we went to Denny’s and he threw it all up. (laughs)
I think that was sort of the fall of Oak and Bone.  Not too long after that Ted decided to move to Portland and we got Rob Button to play bass for us for a little while, for a handful of shows, before we split.  We did a weekend with him and Drew and I got arrested.  Did you ever hear about that?


Yes I did.  You were all traveling in different vehicles, right?

Yeah.  We were headed back to where we were staying and I had beer in the car and the cops pulled us over.  And they then arrested us.

What was recording the 7” like?  You took a song or two off the demo, re-recorded them, and threw a couple new ones on there too.

Yeah.  We recorded with Josh Coy at Wayne Manor Studios.  He was really into Batman.

AKA, his apartment attic.

Yeah.  I think I recorded guitars in his dining room.  He lived on Miles Ave.  But I think we were recording while I was going to OCC, so we recorded when we weren’t in class.  I don’t think it took very long.  It was a lot of fun though.  I don’t think I’d ever done something like that up to that point.  I never cut an actual record.  And the support you gave us was huge, that meant a lot.  And then we did the little incense packages-

I forgot about those!

(laughs) Yeah, single use incense packages with each record purchased!  I heard that someone had one, and the incense deteriorated, and the oils from the incense ruined the record, or something like that.


The different versions of the 7" and the inside cover

That was funny.  I forgot about that.  And that was all you guys, I had nothing to do with that.  It was like a record release show thing, right?

Yeah, you don’t remember us hanging out on your porch making them?  When you and Weston lived at that big house on Highland?

Yeah, it looked as if you guys were making drug baggies on my porch.  But I had forgot about it until you just brought it up.

I think we made about 40 of them.  A little drug bag action.

So where did the name Oak and Bone come from?

Shawn O’Brien thought of it.  The original name that Shawn thought of was The Staff Of Oak and Bone.  Weston and him were hanging out and Weston said, ‘how about just Oak and Bone’.  And now I feel like if we named the band that it would sound like some kind of tapas and cocktail bar.  Or a men’s clothing company.  Everyone is ‘something and something’ now.

(laughs)  But The Staff Of Oak and Bone would make people think you were a band of wizards, or something.

Yeah.  We like mythical witchcraft too.

That sounds like a very Shawn O’Brien thing to think of, and he wasn’t even in the band.

No, but he went on a bunch of weekends with us as a roadie.  He was always around.  He was a really nice dude too.

So what would you say was your favorite thing about that band, and what was your least favorite thing?

My favorite thing about doing Oak and Bone was the band itself.  It was all fun.  But putting the 7” out, and then the split with Like Wolves and then the full length, just being able to tour and play cities at that age was so cool.  And have label support too!  That was so cool.  That was the best part.  Being a part of that band, as a Syracuse thing, and being from here, I was proud of that. 
I regret none of it…  except getting arrested in Bethleham, Pennsylvania.  That was probably the worst part of the band.
Funny story- when I had to go back to Bethlehem to go to court the judge was talking to everybody in the courtroom and some random guy in the courtroom saw me and said, ‘yo, you’re the guitarist from Oak and Bone!’

Oh, the places you meet people!

Right!  In the courtroom!  So I said, ‘yeah man, I am!’  That was the best part of Oak and Bone actually.  But it was just an appearance, and I jumped through all the hoops for that stuff and it’s all behind me now.

So several weeks or months go by after this arrest and a random guy in court in a different city recognizes you from your band?  That’s staying power.

I guess so.

That guy is in a jail cell right now listening to your records.

He probably just broke our record so he could try and stab somebody with it.

Yes.  So, job well done.  That’s the legacy of Oak and Bone.

Glad I could influence someone’s life in a positive way. (laughs)
 The 7" record release show flyer

So that 7" is long out of print at this point, but you can always get the digital tracks via bandcamp.  AND you can get it all for only $3 this week. AND just to sweeten the deal, I'll randomly pick a person who buys the digital version and send them a test press copy of the 7".  So go do that now.