When turning off Route 62 onto the aptly named Pioneertown Road, you immediately notice that the road becomes narrower as your speed gets slower. While this slowdown is primarily for your driving safety, it also acts as a welcome of sorts to the leisurely lifestyle that Pioneertown, California (population 350), is known for. That might very well have been the case, until San Francisco’s greatest export Thee Oh Sees took the stage at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace last Friday.
Stuck right in the center of a verified barbeque heaven, the indie-garage-noise-psychedelic-post-punk quartet lead by John Dwyer shattered eardrums as well as any pre-conceived notions about this tiny high-desert town. Set up in a diamond formation with the drums right out in front, Dwyer and co. jumped into a set jam-packed with tracks spanning the entire length of their career as well as a few from their latest release Putrifiers II. After opening with “The Dream” from last year’s Carrion Crawler/The Dream, the crowd was whipped into a frenzy that resulted in several bans from the restaurant and the ceiling eroding onto everyone’s sweaty heads. When the buzzing of amps was replaced by the ringing of ears, the incredibly satisfied audience crawled out to the patio for a blast of icy air and another pitcher of beer.
It was out under these desert stars that FILTER caught up with Thee Oh Sees’ Petey Dammit! about the beginnings of the band, Mama’s Town and Bun E. Carlos. Don’t worry, we realize it all sounds crazy too.
How do you like Pappy and Harriet’s?
I like it a lot. The main thing that I love about it is that I’ve never really been in this area, but I have a sneaking suspicion that nothing ever happens here? I don’t mean that as a bad thing; this place has an awesome thing going for it because there’s a lot of people around, and even if they just come here on a Friday for a steak, they can get turned on to something. Especially kids growing up in this city might not have a clue about things, but then they can come here and learn about all this crazy stuff. Like last time we were here is a great example of that–I saw a flyer that Nick Lowe was playing here. That’s AMAZING! I mean if Nick Lowe would have come to my town when I was growing up, my mind would have been BLOWN!
“City” is a broad term you are using to describe Pioneertown…
Yeah I guess that’s true [laughs]. And that’s the best part! I mean I grew up in an extremely small town and we didn’t have ANYTHING. I grew up in Raytown, Missouri, which you may know as the home of the TV show Mama’s Family. It’s OK if you don’t; you can YouTube it and be embarrassed. I’m not, though. It’s awesome.
Do you guys have Mama’s Family plaques and things?
No, but every summer they would do these kinds of things called “Raytown Roundup Days” which were kind of the town fair. It had really shitty carnival rides and two refrigerator boxes taped together with a hole in it which they used as the kid jail. You literally could pay someone to put on a plastic badge that said “Deputy” and give them a description of someone—like if you were mad at me for some reason, maybe something that I did to you during the school year—and then if you gave them five dollars, this guy in a cowboy outfit would go and find me and put me in these two cardboard refrigerator boxes. A kid would have to be in there for like 20 minutes. For a kid, 20 minutes felt like forever. I’m ranting…anyways, the point was that the cast of Mama’s Family would come and sign autographs.
Man, five dollars to jail someone? That’s a great deal.
I KNOW! And it was probably less than five dollars; maybe it was like eight tickets or something?
The monetary value never really seems as important as “ride vs. cardboard box jail”…
Yeah, when you’re 8 years old, you just want to make sure you have enough money or tickets to send your friend to jail.
Now we are both ranting. Let’s talk about music! How did you get involved with Thee Oh Sees?
I think it started out when I met John [Dwyer] a little bit after 2000. We both had moved to San Francisco around the same time, both played shows and stuff. When I moved to 16th and Mission, I would play shows around there and John would come. I think it was around 2004, I opened up for OCS on tour when it was just John and Patrick [Mullins]; that was the first time I went on like a month long tour. At the end of it, I was still happy and didn’t want to kill myself, so in late 2005 he asked me if I wanted to just start playing with them.
What is the dynamic of Thee Oh Sees right now musically? Is it democratic or more of a dictatorship?
I think you just nailed this interview with that answer.
Yeah! Screw you, Pitchfork! Uh-oh, now we are going to get 2 stars… but getting back to the real question, I think that it’s a little bit of everything. Sometimes John will have an idea, and then we all kind of add and make a stew with it, but other times John will have more of a full idea of what he wants the song to sound like. Then there are other times when he just kind of records at home. Some of our entire albums are like that. Maybe he’ll call one of us to record something for it, but there are a few records where I had zero part of.
Are you on the new album [Putrifiers II]?
I am not actually, but I still loved playing the songs like “Lupine Dominus” tonight.
I notice that you play with your guitar placed up very high on your chest. Why?
Because that’s what all the cool kids do! All of the musicians that have influenced me did. That was just the style and the way to play. Then in the 70s, the thing was to go as low as you could with your guitar strap and I just can’t look at someone doing that. It just looks like they are wanking!
What’s your favorite song to play live?
Whoa, that’s a good question. We’ve played all of our songs so many times that I don’t know if I really can decide. Actually I’ll say that my favorite song to play is “The Dream” because that’s always the first one; that is where all of the energy comes from. That song is like a kick in my balls! We produce so much energy at our shows and I’m just so fucking old now so I really need to get energized. I spend all day staring at the wall and doing nothing just so I can have enough energy to make it through a show. I think I need to start doing more Wii Fit or something…
Do you really do that? I thought everyone stopped that?
What the hell man! I still do it. I do it because especially living in San Francisco what am I going to do? Go do yoga? I can’t fucking do that. Sit in a room of a bunch of twats who are all self righteous? No way man, and with Wii Fit I get the same benefits more or less. The lady won’t be mean to me if I’m staring at her boobs while I’m doing it, and I can take a smoke break.
Yoga with a smoke break. That should be Wii Fit’s motto.
Exactly. They would sell so much more.
To cap this conversation off, I heard that you have some incredibly legitimate tattoos.
Do you mean legitimately dumb? Or legitimately awesome? Because I have tons of both.
You’ve got to tell me about the Cheap Trick one. Why in God’s name would you have Cheap Trick’s drummer [Bun E. Carlos] tattooed on your arm?
Because he’s fucking awesome! There is no one like him. In their heyday he would sit there with a carton of cigarettes and two two-liters of Mountain Dew and he would just not stop smoking through an entire show. And when he had a chance, he would just CHUG Mountain Dew. Who else does that? That dude fucking rules. F
Taken from FILTER Magazine. Published November 7, 2012.