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O'Brother's Johnny Dang on the Band's Sound, Thrice, and "Cleanse Me"

O'Brother's Johnny Dang on the Band's Sound, Thrice, and "Cleanse Me"
Christy Parry

Atlanta's O'Brother may seem like a real life version of The Soggy Bottom Boys from O Brother, Where Art Thou? (just Google the band's name), but name and hometown are the only things the band and film have in common. O'Brother uses three intricate guitars to play a combination of sludge, progressive, and ambient rock with melodic vocals along the lines of Thrice's recent experimental material. Not surprisingly, O'Brother cites Thrice as a major influence and recently hit the road with them.

We recently caught up with guitarist Johnny Dang to discuss O'Brother's sound, "Cleanse Me", and what it's like to tour with Thrice.

O'Brother is scheduled to perform Wednesday, March 7, at The Underground in Mesa.

Up On The Sun: How is your tour going so far?

Johnny Dang: This tour's been awesome. It's our first co-headlining tour, or any sort of headlining tour and the response has been overwhelmingly awesome. We didn't know it was going to go this well. A lot of people are coming out and showing their support and singing the songs. It's kind of something we're not used to because we've been supporting so many big acts. This is our first headlining tour where we can see the response of the record and how the previous tours have been, so the progression's awesome and this tour is really good for us.

One thing I'd like to talk about is the variety you have in your sound. When I first heard you guys, I always almost expecting a sludge/stoner rock sort of thing because I heard the really heavy guitars, and then I heard the vocals, which are a bit more melodic and you even have some post rock hooks. Is this variety something you set out to make from the beginning, or did it naturally work out that way? It was definitely a natural thing. We didn't really try to sound like any specific genre or anything like that. We all draw influences from different things whether it be bands, or music, or movies, or scores.

Whenever we started sitting down and writing together as this line up, which is...it really wasn't always the same line up. We lost our old singer and added two new members, our new singer Tanner [Merritt] and Aaron [Wamack] contributed a lot to our new sound, but the foundation was always the same. But yeah, I think the heaviness is what we were trying to go for, but we really like all the ambient stuff like Brian Eno. Tanner definitely brought a whole new element to our band melodically and vocally. It wasn't something we planned on doing, to answer your question.

 

When I first heard O'Brother, I thought of Thrice, and low and behold, you've gone on tour with them. What was that experience like? It was amazing. I know Anton [Dang] and I knew [of Thrice] since high school, so it's been quite a few years. We've drawn influence from them and it just fit together really well and it was awesome because they're the most humble guys that we know. Their attitude is amazing and their music is exceptional. It's just great touring with a band that is so humble and makes great music.

What was it like working with Andy Hull and Robert McDowell from Manchester Orchestra?

Working with them was great because they have the same mindset as we do. We've known them for six or seven years and they've always been supportive of the band and we've been great friends for awhile. Working with them was like having two extra members in the band during the recording process. Yeah, it flowed really well just having them there and drawing from their influences and them helping us out in tones and sounds.

I'd like to hear about what went into making the song "Cleanse Me." Did you set out to make a 14 minute song, or did it just kind of work out that way? It began as a 20 minute song, we cut it down.

What got cut? Just repetitious parts that were way longer than we wanted it to be. There weren't any specific parts that we cut out, we just kind of shortened it and made it concise and to the point, even though it's a 14 minute song, it started out a little longer than that.

Is that something you would play live, or is that too long of a track? We have played it live at our record release show back in January in Atlanta, but it's something we don't really plan on playing live unless we do a headlining tour in the future. That's still up in the air, we're not even definite that we're going to play it. We'd have to talk about it for sure.

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