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David Rogers

O'Death

 

* The interview was originally published on the 'old' Basement in February 2013.

 

I still bless that day (it was a night actually) that I first ever listened to O'Death. It was in June of 2011, just a couple of days after the release of their fourth album, 'Outside'. I was enjoying my daily 'surf ride' on the electronic musical press, when checking my favourite "Track Of The Day" column of Q Magazine, I stumbled upon 'Bugs' by O'Death. I pushed the 'Play' button and in less than three minutes I found myself totally amazed and stunned. A real gem! I listened to the song three or four times in a row, and then I began digging on the New York band. I checked and admired the magic of 'Outside', I almost danced and cried by myself with the epic 'Down To Rest', a pure masterpiece from their second album 'Head Home' (2007). Well, I couldn't keep experiencing the whole thing alone so I shared my 'findings' with the rest of the Basement team through social networks at the same night, and since then O'Death have become one of our most favourite bands. 'Outside' was found in the upper levels of our members' Top Albums of 2011 lists, while -for me personally- it was number one. So, you easily understand how happy and honoured we feel to present you an interview with O'Death's founding member and drummer David Rogers-Berry... For those of you who are not familiar with the band, have in mind that O'Death is an alternative counrty, folk rock band (genres...so hard to put the band into the whole thing, but anyway) that formed in New York back in 2003. It consists of Greg Jamie (guitar, vocals), David Rogers-Berry (whoop, drums), Gabe Darling (backing vocals, ukulele, guitar, banjo, piano), Bob Pycior (fiddle, guitar, piano), Jesse Newman (bass), and Dan Sager (trombone, euphonium, keys). They have released four studio albums up to now, their self released debut 'Carl Nemelka Family Photographs' (2004), 'Head Home' (2007), 'Broken Hymns, Limbs and Skin' (2008), and 'Outside' (2011). Right now, as you can read below, they are working on their fifth one, which is expected later this year. Well that's all from us, enjoy David's very interesting and illuminating answers and views.

 

 

The Basement: O'Death were formed in 2003. Can you recall how did the whole thing start?

Greg Jamie and Gabe Darling had already written songs and played together in a couple of bands around the time I started hanging out with Greg.  I saw Greg play his solo material at a cafe at Purchase College.  I asked him if he wanted to start a “goth-country” band and he was very enthusiastic about the prospect and insisted that we also needed Gabe.  He was right.

 

 

The Basement: How did you come up with your band name?

The name comes from a traditional folk song.  Old-time mountain music was very influential for our band when we started playing together, and the song “O’death” held special importance to us because there are so many different and quite disparate versions.  We even wrote our own version, “oh death,” early on in our career.

 

 

The Basement: It's been almost ten years that O'Death exist as a band. Could you pick the band's most difficult moments/periods? And what about some highlights?

Wow...  Well, it’s very difficult to get a project like this off the ground.  We felt like we were doing something special, and we thrived on the creative process and getting drunk and having fun, but when we realized that our friends seemed to think it was as special as we did, we began to take it more seriously and try to share it with a larger audience.  We were NOT connected in the music industry, and still aren’t for that matter, so getting people to pay attention and finding the audience that was interested in our music was a bit of a conundrum.  We basically played as many shows as possible and booked our own tours, playing with our friends’ bands around the country.  It is a long and arduous process, but eventually paid off when we started to find people who really connect with our music.  We are still on that road - finding the people who connect to our music.  It’s not easy, and it usually feels like we have to make one fan at a time.
On the other hand, that in itself is the highlight - when we connect with those people across this continent and yours who get what we’re doing and feel passionately about our music, that is just about the only validation we get in this business.

 

 

The Basement: In our opinion, 2011's 'Outside' was a real masterpiece, one of the best releases of that year... Are you satisfied with the acceptance it received by the music press and audience? 

On the business end of things, there were a lot of complications for the release of OUTSIDE.  I’m not going to get into the details - it’s all mundane industry stuff...  But essentially when the album was released it didn’t garner as much attention as we would have liked it to, or that it deserved.  On the other hand, it’s a really imaginative and thoughtful record and a lot of people are still discovering it nearly two years after it’s release.  The work speaks for itself, and I think the audience can really sense the care and time we put into crafting it.  So - I am pleased with the public’s reaction, but it would be nice if it didn’t feel quite so obscure.

 

 

The Basement: Can you pick a favourite out of your 3 albums? Your favourite track?

It’s kind of hard to judge your own work without at least some years to look back on it from - and it’s hard to talk about it without sounding either conceited or constipated - haha!

I do believe OUTSIDE is our most fully realised record.  We spent two months recording and mixing as opposed to the two weeks we put into our two previous records.  And after that experience, I’ll never rush another recording project with this band.  

As for my favorite song:  I don’t really believe “bugs” is necessarily our BEST song but the recording has a delicate simplicity and a subtle drive that I aspire to.

 

 

 

The Basement: 'Outside' somehow differentiated than its predecessors. It sounded more indie and it seemed that your 'punk' elements had gone. Do you agree? And if yes, was it a pre-conceived conscious decision/plan or  'it just happened'...

I love the writing process and I love working in the studio.  o’death has mostly forged our career as a live act, and that’s what we’re known for.  A few years ago, I became conscious of the fact that performing and recording are two very different mediums and that the high-energy live show doesn’t necessarily translate to a satisfying, artful record.  We definitely talked about that before going into the studio, so I’d agree that OUTSIDE shed o’death’s punk sensibilities - but you still get a healthy dose of that cathartic spirit at our shows now.  We didn’t lighten up TOO much!

Other than using the recording process and extensive demoing to write the material for OUTSIDE, the only aspect that was pre-conceived, was this constant insistence to let the songs dictate what they needed rather than us trying to push our ideas onto the recordings.  On that level, we made a conscious decision to “just let it happen.”

 

 

The Basement: What inspired 'Outside' in terms of music and lyrics?

Oh man - there’s a lot of us, you know, and everybody brings different elements to the table, so it’s hard to nail it down.  But I will say, spending so many years on the road, the constant touring, leaving our homes, wives, girlfriends - whatever it was for the individuals in the band - starting to notice that we’re getting older and really feeling it in our bones that we’re not reckless kids any more, and finally my successful battle with cancer that took us out of the game and threatened to derail our operation for a little while - those were the things that we brought to this record.

 

 

The Basement: Song 'Down To Rest' is one of Basement's all time favourites. Could you please recall and describe for us the writing process of that song? What's the story behind it?

At the time, we were writing and rehearsing at my loft in the South Bronx.  I think we used to see every new song as a chance to challenge ourselves to do something we had not already done - and on “Down To Rest” that meant simplifying, rather than complicating.  It was meant to be a fun party song, and the singalong chorus reflects that.

 

 

The Basement: We believe that your music and attitude is one of a kind. O'death cannot be easily classified into any music genre and any... expected rock band lifestyle. True or false?

I think that’s absolutely true.  I work with a lot of different musicians around New York City, and it’s easy to see that o’death operates in a much different way than I see anyone else around here working.  We’re super loyal to each other, almost to a fault.  And these days, we run a pretty tight ship when we’re out on the road or doing sessions.  It’s ironic, because o’death started out as a drunken mess that was all chaos, raw energy, and emotion.  But we’ve been fortunate to tour with some great artists like Les Claypool and Murder By Death, and when we first started touring in Europe, the shows and festivals we were playing were considerably bigger than our club gigs in the States.  From those experiences we learned how to conduct our business with courtesy and professionalism.  Those virtues combined with our artistic integrity and imagination are the reason promoters, agents, and labels continue to work with us when we’re not a big selling act.

 

 

The Basement: Which bands/artists do you consider as your major influences?

Neil Young, Pixies, Doc Boggs, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Vic Chesnutt, Tom Waits, Nick Cave.  Those are the most obvious.  As a collective - we have super eclectic taste that are always evolving.  There have been periods when a lot of attention was paid to Michael Hurley, Morphine, Devendra Banhart, The Ramones and The Misfits and Bad Brains, Ralph Stanley (also early Stanley Brothers recordings), Dirt by Alice In Chains, Tindersticks, The Microphones, Buck Owens, ESG, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Os Mutantes, Kronos Quartet....  And that’s mostly just the rock and country stuff.  The list could go on and on.

 

The Basement: You just finished touring. 23 shows within a month... Exhausted? Which things/persons do you miss the most when touring?

This is a very personal question.  The first thing for most of the guys is surely significant others.  But we don’t all have those....  so?  There are large pockets of the U.S. where it is very difficult to get descent food or drink.

 

The Basement: Could you pick a moment from your live shows that you will never forget?

Sure - there’s plenty.

There was a free outdoor festival we played in Nuremberg under a huge bridge.  There was one conspicuous dread-locked fellow weeping and wailing through our whole set.  He was loving it, but the tears were streaming freely down his face.  We all assumed he was under the influence of psychotropic drugs.

On our second domestic national tour we were at Dante’s in Portland, OR, and I threw a cymbal for dramatic effect.  Sparks flew and we quickly realized I’d cleanly severed the power cable to Gabe’s amp in the middle of our set.  I used to break a lot more stuff on stage than I do these days.

At the end of last summer, we played an outdoor festival in Eastern Tennessee.  We performed directly after Dr. Ralph Stanley and His Clinch Mountain Boys.  We were standing behind the stage when Dr. Stanley sang his acappella version of “O’Death.”  That was a profound moment that affected us much more than I anticipated.  It brought us home and was a poignant reminder of why we started doing this

 

 

The Basement: We know it's harder for a six piece band to tour in small countries like Greece, but is there any chance that you  ever come to Greece?

We would absolutely love to come to Greece!  Can you guys help make that happen??  Unfortunately, these kind of endeavors come down to simple finances - we have to find gigs that can pay enough to get us there and back - we’re not asking a lot, we just have to cover our costs.

We won’t be coming back to Europe until we finish our next record.

 

The Basement: What are your plans for 2013? Any new songs? When should we expect a new album?

YES - we are writing.  This weekend, we have a writing session.  And next month we are going on a writing retreat.  It’s a lot more complicated than it used to be because we are all spread out these days.  Greg, our lead singer, lives up in Portland, ME, and even here in the city, it is difficult to get together.  We’re all over the place - but we do intend to make another record this year.  I think it may be a little more rambunctious than our last effort.

 

The Basement2012 is almost gone, which albums did you like the most from this year?

Let’s see - I spent a lot of time with Vic Chesnutt’s entire discography this year.  I know - that’s not current!  Um, we toured with Brown Bird early in 2012 - and I loved getting to know them and their music.  There’s a band from New Orleans called Why Are We Building Such A Big Ship? and their lead singer, Walt, put out a new record a few months ago under the name Lonesome Leash.  He’s a one man band, handling vocals, accordion, trumpet, and drums all on his own.  A very cool project.

 

 

The Basement: We love lists in The Basement. We would be more than happy if you could share with us your ten favourite arists/bands of all time. 

 

Lou Harrison

Marc Ribot

Tindersticks

Talking Heads

Will Oldham

Maurice Ravel

Towns Van Zandt

Phil Elvrum

Jackie Wilson

 

 

 

THANK YOU O'DEATH!

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