O’Brother is my favorite band. There, I said it. They have been for sometime now. Sure, I’ve had many favorite bands in my day. I won’t deny it. To be completely honest, my tastes have shifted so many times over the course of my lifetime that you would find some of my other favorites rather silly. Some I won’t even bother mentioning for fear of being ridiculed. All that is besides the point because O’Brother is my favorite.
When the Atlanta-based band released their sophomore LP, Disillusion in 2013, I had the opportunity to catch up with a few of the members and ask them some questions. In the introduction to that interview, I made some pretty bold claims.
I said that the guys in O’Brother are on the path to greatness, that sonically, no other band compares to what they are doing, and that they have yet to see their ultimate potential. Hell, I even compared them to the likes of a young Radiohead. All that still holds true. O’Brother is my favorite band.
On March 25th, O’Brother released their third LP, Endless Light. Even though I am obviously a huge, dingus fanboy, I decided to go into listening very cautiously. I took it all in, listened through multiple times before forming solid opinions. The first listen through I was driving in my car listening as loud as my speakers would handle. I will be the first to admit that I wasn’t immediately floored. It didn’t grab me by the naughty bits right off the bat, it just isn’t that kind of record. But a few songs in and you bet your ass, I was hooked. I was in it. I was caught up in the rhythms, and found myself drumming on the steering wheel. Before I knew it, the damned record was over, and I wanted more. It is phenomenal. It is completely atmospheric and haunting, in the way that only this band is capable. O’Brother is still my favorite band.
I absolutely had to get in touch with O’Brother and discuss the new record. I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to talk with singer/guitarist Tanner Merritt and ask about the making of Endless Light, as well as hit super hot takes on Star Wars: The Force Awakens!
Tanner: All-encompassing, transcendental, out of body space travel. Psychonaut shit.
I have had the opportunity to listen to Endless Light in it’s entirety. I feel like it is both stripped down and amped up compared to the previous album, Disillusion. Both vocally and musically. What were some of the basic sound design ideas you had going into the writing of this record?
The main thing we were obsessed with was the utilization of empty space. The sound between sounds. To create implied instrumentation.
As with a good amount of previous material this album is very bass and drum heavy, perhaps even more so. It’s kind of the driving force of the record. Was this intentional?
Yes. In previous efforts we have tended to stack layers and layers of guitars on one another. On Endless Light we all agreed we wanted guitars to be a little more minimal. To let the rhythm section and central melody shine through.
When I talked with Anton (Dang, bassist) at a show here in Salt Lake City, he described the writing process for Disillusion as somewhat rushed while on tour and that you guys were looking forward to a more relaxed and focused approach for this record. Do you guys feel like you were able to achieve that while writing Endless Light?
We still would have liked more time. Ha. But we always will. Because we are slow.
In our last interview you mentioned that O’brother likes to write albums as a whole and have a cohesive piece of art. Is there an overarching theme, or concept lyrically throughout Endless Light? Or is it just in soundscape and melody?
The approach to this record was a little different. On the first two LP’s and DOD EP, we set out to write albums as a whole piece. And while we set out this time to also make a single cohesive piece, we focused way more on the individual songs. We wanted to stretch ourselves as song-writers and make each piece of the greater puzzle beautiful and unique and listenable on its own. Lyrically, the songs are different stories, from different perspectives, connected by a central over-arching theme.
You guys are close with Manchester Orchestra and Favorite Gentlemen, and Andy Hull, Robert McDowell, and Brad Fisher all had a hand in producing this record. What did these guys bring to the table that wouldn’t have been there otherwise?
Robert co-produced Garden Window but this time he just did some additional engineering. Andy and Brad were the ones co-producing Endless Light. We’ve worked with them all before so it was a very natural experience. Like adding two members to the band for that time. We wanted a no-bullshit, concise approach to these songs and we conveyed that perspective early on. Andy is the perfect dude for that. Maybe because he’s ADD as fuck. But I think that’s a quality in his song writing that makes it as captivating as it is. No chance to get bored. We definitely needed that. Brad was the dude who made sure everything fit properly melodically and tonally. It made for a great team.
You guys have been able to embark on some headlining tours over the course of the last couple years. How has you live show been able to evolve from both longer sets and playing for more people who are there to see O’Brother specifically?
Just different approaches. We like it all. Playing to people who already love the band or trying to impress new people. We just do us and hope they dig it.
It seems as though a few of the bands based in Atlanta are pretty tight-knit. How has evolving in that scene, amongst bands and artists like Manchester Orchestra and others influenced O’Brother as a whole?
I think it just taught us how to treat other bands in general. It SHOULD be communal across the board. We’re all trying to do the same thing so let’s help one another out.
Recently, the last couple of O’Brother band members were married off. How have things like being married, living in different cities, and having lives outside of O’Brother changed the dynamic of the band?
Eh. No real change really. We’ve always been the type to just do whatever it takes to make it work.
I know that a couple of you have side projects that you work on. Aside from your solo work and Jordan in Hades, does anyone else have any projects in any shape or form that we can keep an ear/eye out for?
Anton’s working on a solo bass record. Bass only. Not really, but it would be cool.
So, it isn’t any secret that O’Brother’s sound is pretty moody and ominous. Do you guys ever get together while jamming out and play some supper poppy shit? Like, what is the go-to song if so?
Nah not really. More the opposite. We jam on really boring droned out shit.
In talking with you gentlemen in the past, it seems as though you are always listening to some killer tunes. What should we be listening to?
Revenant soundtrack, FKA twigs, Massive Attack, Swans, Norman Westberg, New Kendrick Lamar… I can’t think of much right now
These next two tours have no SLC dates…. You are gonna make your way back right?… Right?
Absolutely! Love SLC
Lastly, let’s talk Star Wars… Did you like Force Awakens? How many times did you see it? Who is Rey, really? I can’t believe that Leia dissed Chewbacca like that.
Twice. Loved it. Darth Vader reincarnate. The universe has given him another chance to choose the Light.
I had nothing to offer anyone but my own confusion.