INTERVIEW: Petey Dammit of THEE OH SEES talks Floating Coffin, Dead Notes and High Guitars

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Hello Petey Dammit. I am Mikala Taylor. From Vancouver, currently in Toronto, saw you live in San Francisco last year, and I look forward to hanging out with you in Primavera Sound in Barcelona this year. Can I buy you a drink in Spain and if so, what would you like?

Hello Mikala , thank you very much for offering me a drink.  I reckon I would like a beer, a cheap watery one.  I’m drinking for the marathon, not the race, haha.Petey Dammit, Thee Oh Sees, Mikala Taylor/ photo

So Floating Coffin has a fuller and more cohesive sound, plus a very different vibe than Putrifiers II and the long crazy chaos of earlier EPs and stuff like Carrion Crawler. There’s a more consistent pace. Was there a whole different approach to writing this time or did John show up with more integrated concepts?

Putrifiers was written by John himself , he had a few days in the studio with Chris Woodhouse and a few guests to record all of those songs in a vision he had in his mind. Floating Coffin is a collaborative album written with the whole band during practices, tours, and some on the spot in the studio. Coffin was written more with the approach of some of our other albums like Help and Masters Bedroom, I guess that’s what gives it a little bit more consistency?

I always imagine you guys sitting down and committing to/locking down things on the 3rd take of the band all being in the room together. Is it like that or what’s the process?

That’s pretty much what happens. We set up as close together as we can so that we can in the studio so that microphones don’t bleed into each other, press record, and go! Some songs will be done in 3 takes, some in 1.  Some songs will take more than 10, at that point we move on to the next song and come back to it later, haha.  After the initial live track is recorded , we sometimes add other instruments or backing vocals and such. Mostly it is all live, though. For some tracks we’ll have our producer Chris Woodhouse run from the control room as soon as the tape starts and join in with us live on an instrument. He is truly a wizard!

New albums are either shiny new exciting toys to band members or a source of a wee bit of stress – as you’ve got to find your way with the songs on tours and think about the songs in different ways from your old faithfuls. What are you loving most about Floating Coffin so far? Any standouts for you, and why?

I’m liking the finished product of the record a lot, yet also stressing out a little about some of the songs where I can hear a tiny flub or dead note that I played.  It was very cold in the studio and at some points I was either too hopped up on coffee or not enough, haha.  But there has to come to a point with yourself where you realize that only certain people who are dissecting the songs are going to notice your mistakes, and that might be like finding treasure to them.  I think I’m most excited for the song “I Come From The Mountain” because I have a good idea for a video I would like to shoot for it .

The band’s pretty prolific. Soon as I got the release for Floating Coffin I was, like, “already? Another one?” Of course, for a music fan this is terribly exciting but it hardly follows the form of the protracted label release/year-long touring/6 month break/writing/new release cycle. Does that suit you more? Or is the pace chaotic for you too?Thee Oh Sees

It’s a new day and age.  There doesn’t seem to be a reason anymore where a band has to follow the old ways of doing things and get screwed out of money or loose control of their rights to the music they’ve created.   Nowadays, if you spend some time and make some friends, it’s extremely easy for bands to get an album recorded, manufactured, and distributed while still keeping the rights and seeing profit for your own material, plus have the ability to record at whatever pace feels comfortable to the band. We just do what feels right to us , if that becomes three albums in a year then that’s what will happen.  I wouldn’t say it’s chaotic , it’s just natural for what is inside of us.

Live is where Thee Oh Sees completely blow folks away. But it always strikes me that you feed off the crowd most of all. In all your years of touring, what makes a good crowd and a good TOS show in your minds? (And don’t you and John get tired of wearing your guitars so high?)

Haha , I don’t think we’ll ever get tired of wearing our guitars so high, that’s what feels comfortable to us, my arms get really tired and stressed out if I have to play with a guitar really low for some reason.  The crowd is definitely a huge part of what will happen at our show.  If we’re having a good time, then hopefully the crowd will have a good time.  And if the crowd is having a good time, then we will have a great time.  It’s a nice symbiotic relationship.

“Toe Cutter – Thumb Buster” on Floating Coffin reminds me of Sebadoh’s “Flame” in a really great way, and Lou Barlow turned me on to you guys, then I sent him Putrifiers and so on. John’s about to curate Calgary’s Sled Island festival – so what music is currently turning you on and who would you put on your dream festival lineup?

Oh wow , that’s a great honor to hear that Lou likes our music!  It still surprises me to hear about musicians I personally love liking our music.  It makes me incredibly happy to know that someone who influenced me when I was young likes what I’m doing now.  And I certainly hope that there are people watching us in the crowd that will go on to create a band who’s music blows my mind.  I hope that I can compliment them in the future and return the favor some day!
I guess the music that is turning me on must be what I’ve listened to on this tour so far; Guided By Voices – Alien Lanes , Total Control – Henge Beat, Unwound – The Future Of What, The Van Pelt – Sultans Of Sentiment, Sweet And Dandy – Toots and the Maytalls, and Devotion – Beach House.  Creating a dream festival is an overwhelming fantasy for me, I don’t know if I could ever settle on a list of bands without feeling like i’m leaving someone who I really love out. If I could, I’d definitely get Tracy Morgan to do a set of stand up, though.

Petey Dammit, Thee Oh Sees, Mikala Taylor/ photoTell me a secret about each of your bandmates that you’ve learned on tour or in the studio.

Mike is a virtual encyclopedia of knowledge.  John can make a whistle noise with his throat that no one else in the world can do.  And Brigid is a sweetheart.

You’re now at a stage where Thee Oh Sees actually gets a backstage rider. Imagine you’re, like, Beyoncé, and you could have anything in the world on your rider. What would be on it?

Umm…Right now I’m good with what we have.  It’s just some beer, a bottle of wine for Brigid, and some whiskey for getting frisky.  I would like to add a package of socks and clean white t-shirts sized small, please.  Both of those I have to throw away after every show because they get sweaty and disgusting too quickly .
I’ll see you in Barcelona. Let’s get together for that drink, okay?

Okay, sounds good!  See you in Spain!

Oh one more thing; here’s a bonus question: Shayde from the Fresh & Onlys – a friend of mine – wants to know if you have a favourite “Shayde moment.” No idea what he’s on about, but hey.

I love Shayde! He makes bass playing look so easy, I want him to teach me how to do that someday!  I think my favorite Shayde moment isn’t one of the wacky hijinks he’s gotten up to on the road, but actually a time when we were all drinking together after a show and he told Brigid and I a very very personal experience he had when he was younger and growing up in Florida.  It was so personal and sad that I will never forget how real that moment was for us.  The drunken mayhem moments will come and go, but that night I’ll never forget.\m/

Thee Oh Sees new album Floating Coffin is out on April 16 on Castle Face Records.

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