First known as Oblio Duo and then Oblio Duo + the Archers, the newly christened Oblio's Arrow makes music as mercurial as its name. Over the past few years, the ever-shifting outfit -- which revolves around singer-songwriters William Duncan and Steven Lee Lawson -- has crafted a body of work that embodies Americana as much as it transcends it.
Restless, fragmented and hauntingly panoramic, the band's new album, aptly titled Plain Old American Mess, evokes everything from Townes Van Zandt to Harry Nilsson to the late Alex Chilton in its quest for damaged songcraft and dark grace. In advance of the group's CD-release party at the Larimer Lounge this Saturday with Brothers O'Hair , Bridget Law and Sage T. Cook, we caught up with bassist/organist Ian Douglas-Moore and asked him about his band's hot sauce and why it should not be considered as "alt-country."
Westword (Jason Heller): Oblio has gone through a lot of incarnations over the past few years. When did the current lineup solidify?
Ian Douglas-Moore: I've known Will for almost 15 years and Steve for a little bit less than that. I played in a band with Will in high school. I've been seeing those guys play together for a long time. Just over two years is when Andy [Wild] and Vaughn [McPherson] quit the band. Steve asked me to play bass and Jason Fox to play slide guitar. Jason is also someone we've all been friends with for a long time; he was in the old band with Will and I. Bryce [McPherson] stuck around from the previous incarnation, and then Will's stepbrother Brendan [Heberton] came in around the same time on banjo.
WW: And you have a lot of auxiliary members, too, right?
IDM: Yeah, but it's really just been for the recording that we've had more people. As far as live shows, it's pretty much been the same six of us.
WW: How have the group's songs changed since the new lineup came aboard? Do you think you guys brought a fresh chemistry?
IDM: A lot of the songs that are on the new record had already been written before we joined. The current lineup is only now beginning to affect the songwriting. Part of that comes from Will switching over to writing on guitar. The stuff on the record has more to do with the arrangements we came up with. Because some of us have been playing with Will and Steve for so long, there's a certain musical trust, knowing each other's tendencies. There's a looseness where we're able to improvise together spontaneously.
WW: That looseness and spontaneity is really apparent on American Mess. The band has always had the tendency to sound a bit disjointed, but there's even more of a friction now between traditional songwriting and self-deconstruction.
IDM: I'd agree, yeah. I know Andy and Vaughn weren't as comfortable with that, and that's fine. There's nothing wrong with that. But I think they wanted things to be more set. With the new version of the band, one cool thing is we're able to take these forms, keep them referenced so that they don't fall apart, but play with them and push against them a little bit.
WW: Why do you like pushing things?
IDM: It's a lot of fun. Overall, I don't really like music that sticks consciously to a particular style or genre. I like when it tries to do something interesting with that. Being in a rhythm section with Will, I just kind of enjoy fucking around with songs. In rehearsal we'll just get ridiculous and go way out there. I think that informs the way we play live and on the recording. But we do try to rein it in a bit so that it's not so, you know, self-indulgent [laughs.]
WW: That's a fine line to walk sometimes. With all that tinkering with traditional sounds, have you guys ever had a hostile audience?
IDM: We'll play with bands are similar in style to us, as far as Americana or whatever you want to call it goes. They take one facet of Americana and do it really well, and audiences seem to respond to that more easily. And then we'll play--for instance, we'll be playing a song that has a real dancey part that people can get into, and they'll start moving around--and we'll go off on a left turn, and they won't know what to do. Which is fine. It's just interesting to watch.
WW: Like a train going off the rails?
IDM: Yeah [laughs.] I've played the song a million times, and I know what's going to happen. It feels normal to me. It's interesting to watch people who are hearing the song for the first time. I know that for some people, improvisation in rock music isn't even considered. They think it shouldn't even be a part of it. To me, improvisation has always been important. I don't think I'd enjoy playing music that didn't have an aspect of improvisation. That doesn't necessarily have anything to do with what the audience wants. It's an interesting theory: What we get out of music compared to what the listener gets out of it.
WW: You mention the genre of Americana, and for many years it's been a euphemism for alt-country. But on your MySpace page, it clearly states that the band is "NOT alt-country." Why did you guys feel the need to make that distinction?
IDM: It's more about the fact that we just don't know what to call our music. We're not too concerned about that, but at the same time, when someone comes up to us and asks, "What kind of music do you play?", we usually say something like "psychedelic country." I enjoy a lot of country music, but it's not something I regularly listen to, and I don't want to be strict about interpreting it. But there are other people in the band who are more into country, like Steven. A lot of his songs are definitely from that perspective. There are all these different points of view in the band. I like that tension.
WW: It's been a while since Oblio released a CD, but in September of last year you had a hot-sauce release party. What was that all about?
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IDM: Steve works at a hot-sauce factory, Danny Cash Hot Sauce. They supply the hot sauce to WaterCourse and a lot of places. They do custom bottling, where someone can say, "I want my name on a bottle of hot sauce," and they'll just slap a label on it. Once Steve started working there he brought bottles of hot sauce to practice, and we were like, "Yeah, let's get some made for the band."
WW: How did the release party go down?
IDM: We played and sold a bunch of hot sauce. We definitely sold more hot sauce than we sold records [laughs].