TAP Exclusive Interview: O’Brother

By Michel Dussack

O’Brother are all at once an ambient, indie and post-hardcore band that are wrapping up a tour with Moving Mountains, La Dispute and Thrice. The band has also opened for Biffy Clyro and Cage The Elephant. Their live shows are a combination of beautiful quiet moments scattered amount bursts of impossibly loud yet clear songs. I got the chance to sit down with vocalist Tanner Merritt, guitarist Johnny Dang, and drummer Michael Martens after one of their sets on this tour to talk about their upcoming album Garden Window, as well as the tour and future plans. Oh and the zombie apocalypse of course!

Q: Ok so let’s talk about the upcoming album, Garden Window, first, and more specifically the name of the album

Tanner: It was a line from one of the songs, and the whole idea behind it was just like a view of life, like everything from start to finish. Like using a very organic metaphor, life from a different perspective, ya know from an outside perspective, just a view of life as it relates to nature.

Q. Who did the artwork for the album?
Michael: Our guitarist Aaron, and it’s all just line drawings and watercolors and he’s been working on it…he probably started it a little over a year ago actually. Yeah he also did the art for the last EP that we released a couple years ago.

Q: What would you say is your favorite track on the new album?
Tanner: Probably different for every one of us
Michael: Favorite song to play or listen to?

Q: Whichever you’d rather talk about
Tanner: My favorite song to play right now is Poison
Michael: That’s what I was going to say too, mostly that, the second half of it
Johnny: Lay Down
Michael: That would probably be tied, Lay Down and Poison
Johnny: They kind of go into each other so live, and even on the record they’re kind of just one song

Q: Ah ok, yeah on the advance stream they definitely chop them up so I wasn’t sure
Michael: Yeah there’s a couple songs, like Machines Part I and Machines Part II uhm like on record, they were basically one song but we split them into two so we could play them separate. Same thing with Poison and Lay Down, there’s a smooth transition that you can’t hear on the stream

Q: Would you say that there are any significant changes in your sound from the last couple EPs that you’ve released?
Michael: I think you can tell we’ve been touring a lot, and that we grew as a band. One of the things we tried to do a little different with this record was not be so dynamic within each song, but be more dynamic from song to song. Because on a five song EP you don’t really have the ability and the freedom to do that, but when you do 11 songs, or more, or any kind of full length, you’re able to….there’s more breathing room. Your highs can be higher and your lows can be lower. It was nice to be able to kind do whatever we wanted.

Q: Would you say there’s a central theme that ties the whole album together despite it being dynamic?
Tanner: I think it’s kind of true with like any piece of art that’s put together at one period time. It’s whatever you’re thinking about at the time. There was a lot of common themes, and we tried to reference other songs within songs. We wanted the record as a whole to seem like one body of work rather than a collection of songs that were just thrown together. And that’s really important to us, and that’s what we were trying to do. Yeah so we tried, and I hope it comes through

Q: You’ve had some pretty high profile support slots with Biffy Clyro, Cage The Elephant and now Thrice. Do you forsee a headlining tour soon?
Michael: Probably spring or summer, definitely before the middle of next year I would say. But uh there’s a couple plans we have, Anton our bassist is getting married in February. We’ve got a few things we’re working on for late February, early March. Personally I’d like to do one more solid support tour before we go out, because it’s scary. We’ve done like headlining spot dates, but we’ve never done like any headlining tour before, and I just want to make sure it’s solid
Tanner: It’s fucking frightening to think about

Q: You seemed to have gotten a great reaction tonight…
Michael: I do think it will be a very positive experience. You know it’s hard to tell on tours like this because there’s so many different types of fans. There’s the people that absolutely love your music and they come up and tell you that every single time they see you. And then there’s people like me. Like when I go to see bands, bands that I like, I don’t tell them that I like them, like, I don’t tell them that I’ve come to see them a couple times, but I’m there. So I think there’s definitely people that have seen us a couple times that we don’t know about

Q: Do you guys name your guitars?
Michael: I don’t think anybody names their guitars, really we always name our van. Do you guys have any names for your guitars?
Johnny: Nah
Michael: The only experience I’ve ever had is from naming different vehicles-
Tanner: -I think I did but I don’t remember them. At one time maybe…
Michael: Yeah we’ve just done vans…Vangina, and Lt. Van. Forrest Gump’s our favorite movie

Q: You guys have been playing different opening slots throughout this tour…which spot do you prefer?
Tanner: We were just talking about that. I honestly don’t know. Playing second is awesome but you have absolutely no soundcheck and you have 15 minutes from when the first band finishes to when you go on. And you’re doing it in front of people. So, it’s nice to be first and have your soundcheck and leave and then come back and hopefully everything is the same.
Michael: It kind of depends on my stress level for the day
Tanner: Sometimes the second slots have gone well, like if it’s taking a long time for the venue to get people inside the room and there’s like a line outside and sometimes they’re slow about getting people inside then sometimes second can be beneficial
Johnny: Second and third are kind of the same, because third, there’s more people there which is a good thing…
Tanner: …yeah we’ve done all three this tour
Michael: Yeah, it makes it really hard to get into a certain groove or pattern but luckily everyone on this tour has been really easy to work with

Q: What would you say sets you apart from other emerging bands right now?
Michael: Music-
Tanner: Our willingness to kill them to get to the top, we’re not afraid to knock them off
Johnny: I’ve handmade some bow and arrows. I’m gonna snipe everyone on the foodchain
Tanner: Johnny might be a ninja
Johnny: But a true ninja does not reveal his secrets
Tanner: His ninja status?
Johnny: Or his whereabouts…I don’t think a true ninja drinks Budweiser either
Michael: I think the music, ya know, to be an up and coming and emerging band you have to know that you have to bust your ass all the time. So really in that way, hopefully for a lot of other emerging bands we’re the same. We’re always gonna work as hard as we can and hopefully harder than any other band that is in the same ya know group as us or same circumstances

Q: Which one of you would most likely survive a zombie apocalypse the longest?
Johnny: Damn that’s a good question
Michael: Well Tanner can’t run very fast so he’s probably out
Johnny: You don’t know his strategies though!
Tanner: Yeah I would eat the zombie first
Michael: But I’ve seen you in stressful situations and you kind of freak
Johnny: But I mean, listen, I think Tanner would be the one that would actually survive
Tanner: I’m the only one who has experience building bombs
Michael: I lit a driveway on fire once making homemade napalm, so I’ve got that going for me…Johnny’s kind of small so I don’t know that they would be interested in eating bones
Johnny: I’d be the first to go, me or Aaron
Michael: Aaron wouldn’t realize that the zombie apocalypse is happening
Tanner: Actually, I think he’s the answer because he would probably be the one person locked in a room that had no idea what was going on outside
Johnny: He’s snaking on chips
Tanner: He would be that one guy in the movie that wakes up from a coma and the rest of the world is zombies. But he wasn’t in a coma he was just eating chips the whole time.
Michael: We’d probably just all end up dead to be honest

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