Oh Sees and Damaged Bug’s John Dwyer: “You should make as much of your work and art as you can. You’re only here for a short amount of time!”

Photos by Gimmie; handmade collage B.

Los Angeles-based musician John Dwyer likes to make stuff, he keeps busy making inventive and interesting records as well as outta this world paintings. Gimmie’s editor recently spoke to John for her forthcoming book speaking with underground musicians on creativity, DIY, navigating life as a creative and life in general—coming soon! We wanted to share a little of the chat with you.

JOHN DWYER: I’m with my girlfriend down in Joshua Tree, rather Twentynine Palms, it’s hot as fuck and we’re sitting in the shade by the pool.

Nice! Are you just having a little holiday?

JD: Yeah. It’s a two-hour drive from where we live. We’ve obviously been at home quite a bit, so we had our friend Shannon come over and watch the dog, and just rented a small little house down here with a pool for three days… just to take a break from being around each other constantly in a different environment.

Touring is such a huge part of what you do; how do you feel about not being able to tour right now?

JD: I think it’s shit [laughs], but there’s also not much that can be done about it. It’s a big part of our income, luckily we toured so much last year that everybody is well set for a minute. I think the band is collecting unemployment as we speak; it’s for freelance workers and that’s essentially what they are. I 1099’d them meaning, they’re contractors for my band.

Mostly it’s just the psychic bruise of not being able to travel. I love playing shows, I love travelling. I love going to all the same places; we play the same places because I love them, it’s nothing outside of, we play the same clubs because we like the people that work there. We like going to the same cities, eating at the same joints and seeing friends—everything seems very distant right now. It seems like things are getting worse, so we’ll see if there’s any sort of light at the end of tunnel for music. It’s a real fucked time to be a performer.

Why is music and art important to you?

JD: It’s all that I want to do. I don’t surf or anything. I don’t have anything else. It’s what I wanted to do since I was kid, outside of drugs, it was my first real interest. Watching other people create their own show spaces and doing whatever the fuck they wanted with music meant that I could very much do the same and I followed in their footsteps. Then you work together with other people in DIY scenarios and it becomes a network or dare I even say, a scene. I love it, I still love it. I love writing. Right now I’m writing a ton of music! I have so much shit coming out this year it’s going to be nauseating to anybody who likes to complain about that aspect of my career.

I don’t know why people would want to complain, it’s as easy as, if you don’t like it, don’t listen. It’s so weird to me that people fixate on things they don’t like.

JD: Oh, yeah, I tell people to fuck off all of the time. Lots of areas of the internet are just a psychic toilet. That being said, I catch myself all of the time wanting to talk shit, and constantly have to reprimand myself in my head. I’m trying not to do that more and more as I get older because it’s just exactly it, it’s worthless. The world is so fucked up right now we don’t need any more of that shit.

This year I’ve had a really high output of interviews/work and I feel that some “friends” rather than support and encourage me they kind of give me a hard time and try to make me feel guilty for being so productive. I like being busy.

JD: Oh, Bianca, fuck ‘em! The classics are always right: haters are always gonna hate. I learned at a very young age, which I think you’ll agree, is just to live well. Don’t take the bait on shit like that. The more work you do the better. You’re doing it to keep the wolf from the door [laughs]. It’s good. You should make as much of your work and art as you can. You’re only here for a short amount of time!

My girlfriend yesterday just heard the old cliché phrase: opinions are like assholes, everybody has one. [Laughs]. It’s absolutely true!

After making music for so long; what still makes it interesting and enjoyable for you?

JD: Growth and change. Oh Sees in particular are always interested in innovating on our own sound, or trying new stuff, not necessarily genre-flipping or that; moving more where we are uncomfortable or outside of our wheelhouse.

I’ve been watching a lot of tutorials on guitar playing, with all the shit that’s been happening I’ve finally had all the time to do the dumb shit that I’ve always liked to do but never get around too, like watching guitar tutorials on YouTube. One of them was John Abercrombie, a jazz guitarist. He’s really sick, I love his playing. Him and John McLaughlin, are the greats of improve ‘70s era freakout guitar. Jazz guitar is tough for me, I don’t like a lot of it. These two guys were interesting to me. I was watching him and he was a very uncomfortable character and the way that he talked about it, it’s an hour long interview of him talking about improv but really the gist of it is—don’t play anything that you always play. [Laughs] …which I really took to heart!

It’s really interesting to not go to your typical standbys for things that you always do, because with guitar playing in particular that’s really easy to do, to just fall into the same formula, patterns that work for you. I’ve been trying to follow his very basic rule of exploring new territory intentionally. Letting go a little bit too… very fluid and strange so it was very interesting to hear that from him.

What do you value as a creator?

JD: Lately I’ve been doing a lot of improvisational stuff with players that I’ve brought together. It’s nice to be inspired by people, all the time that happens, we wear it on our sleeves pretty hard. For instance, I heard a guy down the street playing drums when I was out for a run two months ago. I’d heard him a couple of times but I stopped to listen and he was this really strange frenetic jazz drummer. I left a note on his car. I’ve never met him, I don’t know him, and I’ve never even seen what he looks like. He hit me back and I had him send me some tracks and brought in all these players one at a time into my studio and just had them do one take with their instrument over this drum track. We started with bass, then I did keyboards, then I did saxophone, and I ended up doing some of my own shit at the end.

It’s really interesting though that right now, I really particularly at this point in my life, appreciate people’s ability to run with an idea without thinking about it too much. I’ve been, and can really dig, surrounding myself with people that can do that and work fast.

I brought in Laena from Fields to play violin on some of my stuff, a record I have coming out soon. She was great! There was also a French guy I brought in to play saxophone. With the two of them we smoked that much weed in the studio that… I mean, I smoke weed pretty much every day, these two smoked so much dope I can’t understand how they were formulating sounds, it was perfect! I really love that right now. I’ve been searching for people that fall into that category, relaxed and quickly inspired and moving forward. There could be so many different answers for your question but that was what was just in my head right now.

Do you smoke weed mostly to relax or is it just for fun or something else? Does it help your creativity?

JD: Right now, it’s to keep from being depressed, honestly. I don’t really consider myself someone who gets depressed, I have pretty primal east coast America emotions [laughs]. Right now it’s a really tough time for the whole world. Regardless of anybody’s bulldog front they put up in this shit, it’s really exhausting and grating, it wears you down right now.

A good approach for a healthy psyche is to stay busy, throwing yourself into work is pretty typical. Music and art – I’ve been painting a lot too – that kind of stuff has its own natural high. When I was a kid, my parents were happy that I was playing guitar and painting, which they thought would keep me out of trouble. I think it kind of did.

Do you ever surprise yourself with the songs you make?

JD: Occasionally. I’m used to myself, I’m bored of myself completely at this point but, every now and then we’ll hit some new stride. With the new Oh Sees record [Protean Threat] it takes a sort of a left turn, I think it’s a bit different to the direction we’ve been heading in, while maintaining some semblance of the same sound. We’ve got some new ground gained this year, this was all done before everything thing went down, so it will be interesting to see how this sits afterwards.

You’ve recently released a new Damaged Bug record Bug On Yonkers which is you covering songs by musician Michael Yonkers. I know that you met him; what was it like?

JD: He’s great, he’s a real cool cat. I met him actually years ago and we stayed in touch but, I’ve only met him three times. I saw him play in Seattle, we played with him. He’s an incredibly positive person, especially with all of the shit that’s gone on in his life, his story is insane. He’s a genuinely nice guy. In my opinion, I hold him in really high regard in terms of his innovation and creativity and his creation out of nothingness, he even makes his own instruments. He was so great the night we saw him play.

Did any of his positivity rub off on you?

JD: Always. When you know someone like that… it’s always great to have people in your life like that. I have incredibly negative friends too, people I love that are just like dark clouds, y’know, that have a very pessimistic view of the world. You have to balance your whole life. I also think it’s ludicrous to be positive all of the time! I have some friends that are so positive that I think there must be something wrong with their brain [laughs]; a dopamine serge or a serotonin overload, that’s not realistic to me. We need a balance. I envy people that can maintain a positive outlook all the time though. I don’t think Yonkers is one of those people that is insanely positive all of the time though, he’s a genuinely nice person, which I can’t really say that for myself. It’s cool to meet someone you look up to and them be fucking cool and not a dirt bag! Although I do like some dirt bags too, it’s a real mixed bag [laughs]. Yonkers is a good guy, there’s a lot of power packed into that strange mind of his.

Is there something you’d really love to make but haven’t yet?

JD: I would love to do animation. I have a lot of ideas for animation, I think it would be within my grasp to do it. It seems very time consuming. I have a thing I wrote which is an episodic feature length animation that’s based on all of the stuff form when I was kid that I’d love to do. We’ll see if it’s in the cards.

Do you feel like you’re doing your best work now?

JD: I’m always doing my best work now, I don’t give a shit about my old records, I don’t care about my old bands… I have very fond memories and I’m glad I did them but… I’ve done Coachwhips reunion trips and stuff and it’s just boring to me at this point. We have fans now that really like that stuff but for me it will always be about the people that were actually standing there in front of it when it was happening. I always want to move forward and I’ve always been looking forward to the next thing.

You’ve been working on painting inspired by sci-fi novel covers you loved when you were a kid for an art show?

JD: Yeah, I’m about two paintings away from being done for the show that I’ve been working on for three years. They’re really big intricate paintings. The problem now is that there probably won’t be anywhere to show them so I’ll just keep painting [laughs]. They’re inspired by sci-fi pulp covers and are very colourful. They’re 6ft by 4ft, about the size of me. I’m very close to being done with the run of specific paintings I wanted to do.

Have you been working on anything else?

JD: I’m tying up a bunch of records I’ve been working on. I have a whole other Damaged Bug record that’s just sitting there waiting to be finished, which I’ve been procrastinating on forever; it’s all my own songs not covers. Then there’s about three records full of improv stuff I’ve done in my studio with all kinds of different players, more jazz, instrumented stuff. I have one I’m working on now with Nick Murray my old drummer, everything is recorded, I’m just editing it, because it’s improv there’s a lot of material to go through. Then there’s the record I finished with that guy that I met down the street, that’s getting mastered next week, I’m putting together the artwork for that.

I’m just trying to stay fit too. I’ve been doing a lot exercising and I’ve been hanging out with my dog and girlfriend. We’ve been growing a lot of marijuana. The guy who grows my favourite weed gave me a bunch of his plants because he’s going to stop growing. I’ve been growing them and cloning them and keeping the strain alive. They’re doing so well because Los Angeles is so fucking sunny! [laughs]. Lots of gardening.

With your Damaged Bug songs I understand that at the end of last year you had about 40 songs but couldn’t finish them?

JD: Yeah, I had a huge pile of songs… that’s why I did a covers album. It was a little break from the actual record. I have 40 songs all on tape, spooled up—I’ll get there! It’ll be done before the end of this year. We still have shows booked in September through December. I refuse to cancel anything early. We’ll see. I’ll just keep chipping away at my projects, there’s no reason to stop. Once a week I’ll take a day off and do absolutely nothing, just sit on my ass and enjoy the day. I try to be in the studio as much as possible though.

Please check out: OH SEES. DAMAGED BUG. CASTLE FACE RECORDS.

Cal from Post-Punk band Liquid Face: “Playing music is a good way to let the devil out”

Original photo by Dougal Gorman, courtesy of Liquid Face. Handmade collage by B.

Northern New South Wales band Liquid Face’s sets are hectic, chaotically energetic and in your face; if anger is an energy, guitarist-vocalist Cal’s performance may have enough to power the entire world! Their recordings are gut-wrenchingly emotional yet at times defensively apathetic. Aggressive and abrasive yet melodic with quirky synth lines and unnatural bleeps, bloops and effects taking the band beyond your traditional thrashy punk band into a futuristic slipstream where they’re riding their own wave; their wall of noise is impressive, you can’t help but feel compelled to climb, taking it in. We interviewed Cal to get an insight into Liquid Face.

CAL: Playing music is a good way to let the devil out [laughs].

I noticed when I was dialling your number that you have 666 in it!

CAL: [Laughs] Yeah, I guess it’s meant to be!

What have you been listening to lately?

CAL: A lot of Billy Childish stuff. I just came out of a late set Slayer phase after going to their show at the end of last year which was pretty inspiring haha.

In what way?

CAL: The fucking power of the riffs, the fucking huge energy haha! In a way It’s sort of what I try to channel in Liquid Face, just being as expressive as you can and letting as much out as you can in playing.

When we’ve seen you play, we totally felt that! What else have you been listening to?

CAL: Still a lot of Lumpy & The Dumpers. Still on The Coneheads as well, that really kicked off the Liquid Face stuff for me. Still all the classics too like Gary Numan and Devo. A bit of the Radiators.

Do you have any particular songs that you listen to when you want to cheer yourself up?

CAL: [Laughs] Cheer myself up, ‘ey? I’m not too good at that [laughs]. Usually I just channel it into a riff or something.

Is there a band that you listen to when you want to indulge your bad mood?

CAL: Warthog is a good one, it really brings that out [laughs]… more Lumpy! Stuff like Sonic Youth, the real early stuff where it’s not afraid to be a super ugly recording.

Photo by Nat Collins, courtesy of Liquid Face.

Who or what was one of your first musical influences?

CAL: Probably seeing Unknown Pleasures [by Joy Division] in my dad’s CD collection; my dad introduced me to that and Warsaw. That was my first introduction into something really cool with a lot happening.

What attracted you to making music yourself?

CAL: I guess, just wanting to play and having a way to express yourself creatively. It’s pretty tempting. And I’m pretty much a recluse and an isolationist! So it’s a good way to fill your time. [laughs]. I like figuring shit out myself. When I was a kid I used to plug out of the back of my guitar amp and plug that into the headphone jack of the computer and make some fuck up recordings. That progressed into getting a bit of a set-up and trying to actually write songs.

How did you come up with the idea for Liquid Face?

CAL: I was playing in the bands DRAGGS and Gee Tee for a bit, there was a lot of music happening in the house I was living in at the time, so it just kinda happened naturally. I was going through a bit of a fucked up phase in my life and I had a lot of shit to get out! [laughs]. Had my drum kit n’ amps in my room and that turned into Liquid Face.

Drums would be a good instrument to get lots of stuff out on!

CAL: Yeah, it’s my favourite instrument for that. There’s nothing like the feeling of beating on the tubs! My parents bought me a drum kit when I was a kid, they got rid of it soon after getting it [laughs], that really sparked my interest in making music though. I got a guitar a bit after that.

When you started Liquid Face I know you did demos yourself and you started doing it using voice memos on your phone…

CAL: Yeah, I did. Then it went into Garageband from that. I tried to do the first recording on tape and I put it in a tape recorder and it just spat the thing out everywhere, then I was kind of done with that format for a bit [laughs]. I’ve been living in the digital age now.

When you started it was just you by yourself, then you had a line-up with two drummers, when I saw you play you had one drummer and now you’re back to recording by yourself again, right?

CAL: Yeah, we’ve had a bit of roller coaster ride of members in Liquid Face. It’s been a pleasure with everyone but it changes quite a bit and now I’m living out in Mullumbimby where I haven’t found people play a similar kind of music, so I’m just going to do it all myself for now.

Nice! That’s kind of cool though because you can do absolutely anything you want.

CAL: Absolutely! We were meant to start jamming for new recordings with our drummer Lachie but then all of this [Coronavirus] shit happened and we can’t get through the borders, so it’s just me again.

You recently just dropped a new song ‘Animosity’; what was inspiring that?

CAL: A lot of bad feelings [laughs]. Sometimes I use making music as a way to not have to think about stuff, I guess. It’s a bit of a mix of everything really, disillusionment, I don’t know what the fuck is going on with anything in my life really. I just got fucking fired, all the good stuff. It’s pretty much record how I’m feeling or a life of crime! [laughs].

You also released the track ‘Teen Man’ recently too.

CAL: Similar stuff inspired that one but it’s almost like a self-review, aging but without the maturity and never feeling satisfied with anything that you do. I’d like to be a lot more mature and have my shit under control but, that’s not really the way things are going.

How did you record those songs?

CAL: I’m just recording them all at my house right now, just going into the old laptop. I put down a bass guide first then put drums over the top and then layer everything else over that. Vocals are done last.

One thing I’ve always loved about Liquid Face is your guitar tone, it just cuts through everything.

CAL: It’s a good representation of the feelings we’re trying to convey that it just kind of stabs ya! [laughs]. I’m really obsessed with gear, I’m a bit of a gear hoarder. The kind of gear that I was using, really bright guitars and amp, Jazzmasters, Music Man Amps, just trying to tap into that really fucking harsh sound—reminiscent of Sonic Youth and Roland S. Howard I guess.

Live I’ve seen you use a circuit bent baby doll thing! I’d never see anything like that before.

CAL: Yeah, it’s pretty cool, huh?!  Baby’s Gone to Sleep For Now. So im just using little Korg things to make some fucked up noise.

I love the weird, interesting sound you layer over the top of the guitars.

CAL: It’s hard for me to keep things simple and really not clutter I all because it’s me just writing it and I’ve never been really very good at denying myself any little pleasures. Any little bleep bloops and shit I can put on their on do!

What’s one of the most fun pieces of equipment you use?

CAL: Still the Jazzmasters, I’m really enjoying them. The trem on them! Dipping into notes and shit like that and going fucking ham on it! Good Gats. But just converted my Mustang to a 12 string. That’s pretty fun. [laughs].

Photo by Nat Collins, courtesy of Liquid Face.

Last year you release your debut LP; can you tell us a little bit about it?

CAL: It was the amalgamation, we wrote the songs two years before we put them out. We hesitated on it hell hard. We weren’t sure about the recorded sound but just though, fuck it! It is what it is, a D.I.Y. thing. We recorded at our old drummer’s jam space, I mixed it myself. Sat on it for a bit and finally put it out.

How do you feel about the LP having it out in the world for about a year now?

CAL: I’m happy with it as a statement. It was a real learning curve because it was the first full length release I’ve mixed myself. It could have been done better but it’s the intent of the sound that matters most.

Did you teach yourself to mix?

CAL: I went to Griffith Uni and TAFE in Brisbane but just dropped out of both when I learnt all that I needed it know.

So many people I know that have done courses like that usually end up dropping out, hating making music or when they do make it they just compress the fuck out of it until all the soul and fire and feeling is gone.

CAL: Yeah. All the industry shit is so twisted! It feels really dirty.

Totally! It’s so gross how the music industry operates a lot of the time. The most interesting music to me is always usually outside of the industry on the fringes.

CAL: I totally agree.

We’re big fans of your song ‘Isolate’; can tell us about making it?

CAL: Again It was inspired by the gear. I was using bass strings on a fucked up guitar with a weird tuning for writing that song. It was just about that recluse life [laughs]. The sound and the beat is what got it started; the drum beat, just getting pumped up off of that!

You do Liquid Face’s art as well?

CAL: Yeah all apart from apart from the cover of S/T. Sarah our keyboardist did that.

Did you study art or do you just like to draw?

CAL: I was really into it before I got my hands on a guitar, I filled up my time with drawing. I stopped all of that when music came along. Now I’ve started it up again so I have some thing to put on covers.

Do you have any favourite artists?

CAL: not really, I like Raymond Pettibon. Monochrome shit. album art work, that probably inspires me more than anything.

You screen print all your own merch too? Is that self-taught?

CAL: Yeah I do. My parents actually taught me to do it, they’ve been doing a little side hustle for years. keepin shit D.I.Y [laughs].. It just feels right to be doing everything yourself, especially for the music we play.

Is there anything else creative that you haven’t tried yet but would love to?

CAL: Maybe doing a bit more creative writing with other people in the future would be cool, but I’m too much of a control freak right now to give it up [laughs].

What are you working on right now?

CAL: This morning I’ve been working on the next song we’re going to release. We’re sitting on a bit of a stockpile of demos right now! The plan is with all this isolation shit is to just keep locked indoors and keep recording. I’d love to put them all together into a physical release, the plan is just to keep sprinkling them out there for the time being, give people time to digest them and think about them.

Is it the same kinds of themes you’ve been writing about it the past that’s been shaping the new songs?

CAL: Yeah pretty much, indulgence, anger, impending doom, confusion, finding your place in the world. I’ve pretty much done all of the instrumentation for the next batch and now I’ve painted myself into a corner where I have to figure out lyrics for them now.

Why is music important to you?

CAL: Music gives you a feeling like nothing else. It makes me excited when nothing else does. It’s something that I can always get stoked about!

Please check out: LIQUID FACE. Liquid Face on Instagram. LF’s song ‘Animosity’ features in cassette compilation A Long Time Alone out on Blow Blood Records – get it here.