San Francisco psych-garage band Thee Oh Sees have helped cultivate the low-fi rebellion that has crept from our basements and warehouses and into stadiums and network television.
Their shows are like the swimming pool in Cocoon: youthful, reckless and free. Petey Dammit took a break from the band’s Canadian tour to discuss his undying love for Beach House, life on the road and being tucked in at night. Thee Oh Sees perform at The New Parish in Oakland on October 27.
You just played the Treasure Island Music Festival. How was that? Did you catch any other groups that you were into?
Treasure Island was a lot of fun. It was really nice to play a festival in our hometown. Being a huge Pavement fan for many years, it was an absolute pleasure to see Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks. But in my personal opinion, Beach House was the highlight of the day; they were incredible! Lars and I were watching backstage with smiles and goose bumps the entire set. They are pretty much all I listen to on my headphones during long drives on tour.
It seems like you guys play a fair amount of festivals, including Austin’s Fun Fun Fun Fest, which you will hit in early November. How well do you think your music translates to a larger crowd where the acts are typically so separated from the audience? Any festival survivor tips for bands new to the process?
It is a little surreal and intimidating for us to play large festivals, but over the last few years, I’ve noticed that the crowds seem to have as good of a time watching us as the smaller venue crowds. This makes me think that it translates about the same and makes it a little less scary, haha. Although, we do still prefer the smaller stages and the connection to a crowd of drunken kids going bonkers while we play.
I prefer to do a little research at festivals and know what I want to see before we arrive. A good spot in the crowd can make a huge difference. There’s nothing worse than seeing a band like Slayer from so far away they appear to be an inch tall.
What have the past five, or so, years been like for The Oh Sees? You have obviously gained a lot of notoriety through your high-intensity live shows and have developed a pretty rabid fan base, but you are also partly responsible for the revitalization of the psych-garage revival scene that has taken the Bay Area by storm. How has this affected you as a band, if at all?
The past five years have been a whirlwind. We’ve been through a lot of both the bad and the good, playing shows for 10 people, and playing shows for 1,000. We all feel really fortunate that we can continue to play shows and have a great time!!
I’m not sure that it has affected us at all. We don’t consciously think of what has been going on in the Bay Area lately as a scene so much as just good times with our friends. We all hang out and support each other and party. Seeing a good friend like Ty Segall make a club explode with frenzy is more important to me than seeing a commercially popular band play an arena. Maybe in 10 or 20y years I’ll be able to look at what is happening now as something more, but right now it’s really just people creating stuff and hanging out together.
Singer Brigid Dawson certainly has a very melodic sensibility and has been called “the silver lining” and “the secret weapon” of Thee Oh Sees. How do you feel about having a silver weapon in the band?
Brigid is not only a silver lining and a secret weapon, but she is also a heart of pure gold, and a blanket of love keeping us all out of trouble and tucked in at night.
Locally, Thee Oh Sees played The Eagle Tavern frequently, often citing it as the best venue to play in San Francisco. What are your thoughts around the closure of this historic venue? Do you feel like the city is in danger of losing more and more art and performance spaces to corporate greed and commercial development? Are there any spaces you favor now that we should know about and support?
We are incredibly saddened by the closing of The Eagle Tavern. I can’t think of any place that could ever replace it. I also can’t express enough gratitude for Doug Hillsinger and how much he supported local musicians in this city, and for being such a nice guy.
The Eagle Tavern will be greatly missed, but I do not think that this city is in any danger of losing out to corporations and development. Every time someplace closes, a new place will pop up, it just takes some time. San Francisco is really good about that, every time I hear someone saying that they are bored and nothing is going on here I tell them, “Just wait a few months, it’s going to be awesome again really soon!” The intimacy and the over pouring of shots at the Eagle will be hard to replace though.
There are still a lot of great spaces in the bay. We had a blast playing at Brick and Mortar recently, and places like the Knockout and El Rio will always be fun. There are also a lot of great things happening in Oakland right now with spots like The Uptown and The New Parish.
After your show at The New Parish, you embark on a five-week tour of the U.S. What are some cities that you are particularly looking forward to? What is a typical day like?
We’re looking forward to pretty much all of them. We generally are on tour almost ten months out of the year, and being away from home so much there is nothing else like rolling into a town knowing you are going to see old friends and make new ones. Friends are the closest things you can have to a home while you are on tour.
A typical day involves waking up around 9am, maybe getting some breakfast or at least a decent cup of coffee. Then it’s a five to eight hour (sometimes more) drive in the van. An early sound check will happen before grabbing diner and then it’s the waiting game before we play around 11 or 12 o’clock. Shows will be over and we’re back to wherever we are staying as early as 2am for some sleep. Then repeat for five weeks. It’s a lot of sitting around waiting, and your biggest decision of the day is usually, “What am I going to eat today at Denny’s?”
What will 2012 look like for Thee Oh Sees?
We have an Australian tour in mid-January, immediately land in Florida from that for the second annual Bruise Cruise Festival. March will be a western tour for SXSW. May we’ll be back in Europe. And some more shows sprinkled in during all of that.
Thee Oh Sees play The New Parish in Oakland on October 27th. Doors are at 8pm and tickets are $12-$15.