Q&A with the Overcasters

It's been a while since we've come across a flier that struck us as cool enough to post in Pole Position. That said, we think this one touting the Overcaster's CD release party this Saturday night at the Falcon more than qualifies. And while we're on the subject of the band, here's the transcript from Tom Murphy's recent conversation with the band, excerpts of which are running in the November 6 issue of the paper. -- Dave Herrera

Westword (Tom Murphy): How did you come up with the name Overcasters?

Erin Tidwell: Kurt came up with the name before the band even started.

Kurt Ottaway: I just liked the name. But originally I had this crappy Fender guitar. It was supposed to be a Telecaster, and my roommate at the time came in and asked, “What the hell is that guitar you’re playing?” And I said, “It’s actually an Overcaster.” He said, “No, seriously.” It’s basically a Tele made from parts that somebody loaned to me.

John Nichols: I think the name doesn’t paint us into any particular corner.

KO: We’re definitely a rain band. Some days you get up and the sun is shining and the day changes. It’s right at that time the day changes and moves into something different, that’s sort of the message of the band. It could be clouds covering the sun.

WW: When you started the band, you said that the music was going to be driven by love instead of some of the other emotions that seemed to inform the music of some of your other bands, Kurt. Why is that?

KO: I just don’t believe in inflicting the damage of my damaged psyche on the world anymore. I would rather convey a message of hope than one of despair. There’s enough negativity around me and I’ve embraced that for long enough. Not that I don’t have negative moments in my life, but I don’t like to dwell on them. I don’t like to embrace them for the sake of trying to purge. I don’t need it anymore.

JN: When you get away from the lyrics, in the arrangements of the music, there’s always an element of being triumphant. If it explodes, it’s something over on the beautiful side of things rather than on making it worse. The stuff I’ve always done is to paint things as they should be rather than be observant of things as they are. There’s enough of that out there, and I’d rather have a little bit of an imaginative, hopeful content to the music rather than purely document the ugliness — which is what a lot of music does. I don’t have a lot of interest in doing that at all. I never have.

KO: No one else’s agenda, no one else’s time frame. Is it modern? Is it ancient? Is it “psychedelic New Wave”? Who gives a damn? It’s just an expression of all the things we love from the past and present. And the fact that we’re just genuinely appreciative that we get to play together. I couldn’t have made this record if I didn’t have a great love for the people in this band because it pushed me to do things that I normally would have never been able to express because they gave me an environment to just thrive.

WW: Is there a rhyme and reason to your use of projections during the live show?

JN: You gotta put on a show.

ET Anyone can get up on stage in their jeans and a t-shirt and play their rock music. But I think there’s a reason for the visuals. There’s thought put into every single one of them. They don’t go directly with the lyrics all the time, but they do go with the song.

JN: They can support or put forward what’s going on with the song. Shane Williams did a lot of hard work to get things that jibe with what we feel the songs are about. There’s no reason not to put on a performance. You need to remove people from their immediate surroundings. Our particular thing is a really loud, psychedelic rock trip thing.

KO: For me, there are so many bands in the world, and they get up on stage and play their instruments – most of them look like guitars. Most of them sit behind drum kits. Most of them stand behind microphones. You could be a metal band. You could be an Americana band. You could be something in between. You could be Britney Spears, whatever. Why do what someone else is doing? Why not, instead of just appealing to those few senses, try to appeal to as many senses as you can. Because, then, people won’t just be coming to see your band performing on stage; they’ll be coming to see an experience.

JN: It puts us into that experience. Sometimes even during rehearsal, we have that stuff going on. Sure, it may look like we’re in some bad Julien Temple video, but at the time, it feels great; it pulls you up; it leaves a stronger impression. I’m into that situationist flash of something that pulls you somewhere else.

KO: When Shane throws that stuff against the wall, it feels like you’re inside of it. And when you’re playing music inside of it, it’s like being seven- or eight-years-old and your parents say, “Hey, we’re going to Elitch’s,” and you say, “Alright!” I want this band to be like you have cotton candy in one hand and popcorn in the other and we’re on Mr. Twister. We’re just going ballistic with all the senses because it’s fun.

JN: I had been playing and stopped, particularly because I was so tired of what playing out in a local band feels like. Sitting at the bar, talking with the other bands until it’s your turn to go up for an abbreviated sound check, poorly attended set with a terrible mix, and then go right back to the bar with your drink tickets.

That has nothing to do with what we do now. I was very trepidatious about coming back into playing but so far it’s been fun, like when you’re a kid imagining what it’s like to be in a band, like that movie Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains. Can we do that and not worry about what other people are doing with their bands?

It always has this playhouse mentality. We come to practice and occasionally do it in public. I have as much fun as rehearsals as I do playing live. Maybe I play a little harder live. Rehearsals are not fluorescent affairs either; it’s vibe intensive, which is nice. It’s a break from other things.

WW: Kurt, in the past your lyrics have had a literary quality to them as though they’re mini-short stories rather than strictly poetry. Is this something you’ve continued with Overcasters?

KO: Yeah, there are stories. I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say anything I’ve ever done is poetry. As for a literary quality, I guess, at this point, I’ll go ahead and crucify myself and say that I’m just trying to convey the honesty of how I live life and how I feel about the things that touch me. Affairs of the heart, to be sure, but there’s still some of that old crackle and burn there.

Unfortunately, for the listener, a lot of times, the musician feels that he needs to challenge himself, and that always means change. And when you love a band the way that it already is and it changes, it might be an improvement for you the listener or it might be something boring. I don’t want to sit here and write a bunch of self-absorbed, melancholy extensions of my personality without a story behind it.

I sing what I feel, and I think that’s all anyone should do if they’re in a band based on emotion. John’s said this so many times and it’s true: There’s so many bands that are emotionally unspecific in any way. They don’t convey any feeling except, “We’re up here and we’re rocking out!” And that’s great. There’s plenty of room for that.

WW: Are there any themes on your new record?

KO: There’s songs about hope and electrocution, betrayal, disapproval, love -- any emotion you can stir up.

ET: How about hate?

KO: Not that one. I think I’ve mentioned hate on every album I’ve ever done, but I don’t think I mention it once on this one.

WW: You recorded this album entirely at your home studio. How long of a process has that been, and what are the good sides of recording that way instead of a more traditional studio? Are there any limitations you experienced?

JN: Some of it was probably budget-related, but it had to be scalable and controllable because we’re a band full of control freaks. Because we very much know what we want to do, and we figured we could pull it off ourselves, and it probably came from the idea that we could record some practices. We drew some comparisons to live sounding records, for me that would be [Echo and the Bunnymen’s 1984 album] Ocean Rain. It sounds like an amphitheater with a couple of mikes to capture the band. It’s not stacked, hi-fi modern, compress-the-bejeezus-out-of-it-huge bass, everything quadruple tracked. We figured we would get a live feel for the record. I would do the record that way again, and I wouldn’t want to work with outside people either.

KO: Greg Sage. I love all those Wipers records because it’s like you hear this groove that they laid down on the drum kit that sounds incredibly live. And you know that Greg Sage is sitting there engineering the thing and doing the vocals. All those Wipers records are a huge deal to me and the approach to their recordings … I’d listen to it and think about what it is about those recordings -- they’re kind of washy. The cymbal kind of stands out, but it sounds like I’m in the room with them and it’s a fairly large room, and Greg Sage is just on the mike and his vocals are a little wet. That really made me want to get a studio that I could work with.

JN: Letting things bleed over on top of things. We have a summed sound rather than a discrete, aggregate, sum total of all guitar parts. That’s better addressed in the room where we’re used to rehearsing.

KO: Here’s the bad thing about having your own studio: You ultimately have to decide “yes” or “no” on everything, and you become so insulated that it’s hard to have the objectivity of the outside world engaged. With this, it’s just based on experience; it’s based on what you like to hear. By the time you get to that point, if you don’t have some friends you can lay that stuff on, it’ll drive you crazy. But I think it’s a lot more fun and it’s a cool learning curve.

WW: Your band is fairly particular about the equipment you use. What informed the choices in guitars, bass, drums and amps?

JN: The early stages of the band was about finding a sound that worked together. We played around a lot. Erin ended up changing drum sets; Jeremy ended up playing louder. I ended up playing five different amps. It’s an ongoing process. We try not to step on each other’s territory, sonically speaking. Kurt and I have very different sounding guitar rigs and we play in different registers. We tend not to cover the drums up so much with low end. Jeremy does not play a five-string bass. Everyone has a distinct space.

KO: We have a drummer that has the sensitivity to a drum kit that Erin has and the sound was designed around that. Erin is the engine and everything that comes around that.

JN: When we first started, we brought in amps that had kind of a small sound and we realized that Erin was a big platform for the band. So it went from being kind of medium to being very loud because we have a big rhythm section that can afford the dynamics that we have. Kurt and I have consciously chosen not to play similar-sounding guitars. I’ve gotten away from playing hollow bodies.

KO: I’ll play in a different tuning from John.

JN: We get a lot of textural fun from doing that, where Kurt is playing a different tuning and I’m playing a standard E, and there’s a nice warmth that comes from that. I have a stereo rig with an amp that, by itself, would sound god awful, but it just sounds right in that configuration. I’ve never played in a band that listens as closely as this band.

WW: What do you hope someone coming to one of your shows or listens to your record gets out of it, if anything?

KO: The biggest compliment that I ever got from a fan was a smile that lasts for hours. If it’s silent in the room and people are smiling, I’ve done my job.

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Dave Herrera
Contact: Dave Herrera