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. We caught up with bassist/organist Ian Douglas-Moore for a brief chat in advance of his band's CD-release show this weekend.
Westword: There's a looseness and spontaneity to 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.
Ian Douglas-Moore: I'd agree, yeah. 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.
Why do you like pushing things?
It's a lot of fun. Overall, I don't really like music that sticks consciously to a particular style or genre. But we do try to rein it in a bit so that it's not so, you know, self-indulgent [laughs].
That's a fine line to walk sometimes. With all that tinkering with traditional sounds, have you guys ever had a hostile audience?
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We'll play with bands that 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 dance-y 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.
For many years, "Americana" 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?
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.