Title be damned, Thee Oh Sees' new album, The Master's Bedroom Is Worth Spending a Night In, finds the band bursting out of the boudoir. All but gone are the folky, lo-fi lullabies that defined past incarnations of this musical project.
The change was inevitable. Frontman John Dwyer's résumé of raucousness is a mile long, as he's projected enough sweat and noise in bands like Pink & Brown and the Coachwhips to last a lifetime. Art-damaged, trashy garage rock may just be his natural state, and a state in which the current Oh Sees lineup — Dwyer (guitar and vocals), Brigid Dawson (vocals), Petey Dammit (guitar), and Mike Shoun (drums) — increasingly finds itself.
But Thee Oh Sees' sound comprises more than that. Sandwiched between the blues-based garage rockers are songs like the Fall-inspired "Adult Acid," complete with contrapuntal vocal lines; the Pixies-reminiscent "Maria Stacks," all persistent eighth notes and irresistible melody; or the gorgeous "Graveyard Drug Party," with Dawson's breathy backing vocals and Mellotron from TV on the Radio's Dave Sitek, who recorded three tracks (the rest were captured by S.F.'s own Chris Woodhouse).
Thee Oh Sees are truly at the top of their game, and what better way to recognize that than by going through their shit? SF Weekly went to the band's room in SOMA's Moss Street Studios to dig for revealing detritus. We presented select items to Dwyer — a man with a sophisticated sense of smell and a love of trash that goes well beyond the murk of his music — for his response to our findings.
Reverb at ten
"Yeah, always on ten. It's weird: I think after time the reverb starts to die. I even try and twist it further than ten."
Burns Double Six
"I got that from Dave Sitek. It's actually scary to me; I used it on only a little bit of the recording at first. It's the only guitar I put back in the case in between songs when I'm not using it, because I'm just afraid it'll knock over and break. I love that thing so much. I'm trying not to write all the songs with it."
"That was a trash score. It was in a pile of garbage with a bunch of baby stuff. It smells like — did you have any baby brothers or sisters? The smell of when they have a plush toy that they suck on all the time, and then it dries? You're a kid watching TV, you pick it up, and it's like the worst smell ever. Sour-boob-milk smell."
DazzleJazz bike pad
"That was from a little girl's bike that I found on the street, and I used to rock it on my hi-hat when I first started playing with Sword and Sandals [another of Dwyer's many bands]. That also stinks, actually. I'm very big on sniffing shit, especially when I find it in the trash. I want to make sure that it doesn't have sputum or puke on it or something."
Tascam four-track recorder
"My stepdad gave me that. Recently, he gave me a flute, a ukulele, two clarinets, and a snare drum. He's a big fleamarket and yard sale guy — he will fully cut off five lanes of traffic if he sees something. He doesn't give a fuck. He's like the Jedi of bargaining and haggling. I can't wait to start using the flute [in Thee Oh Sees]."
Duct-tape "THANKS" on back of guitar
"That [idea] is from Hank Williams and Jimmie Rodgers and all those cats. They all had mother-of-pearl [inlays of "Thanks"]. You see a lot of photos with them — they'd just flip their guitar over when people were clapping and flip 'em back over and keep playing."