Oaf released their debut platter ‘botheration’ this year to some acclaim (check out this amusingly written review at thrashhits.com for an example) and are currently amusing themselves, and anyone with a taste for the unusual, playing various concerts around the country, not least at the Miller in London as guests of General Paulus and The Resonance Association alongside Final Coil and Greg(o)rian. Unusual in the fact they are a two-piece who unleash a sludgy wave of humorously titled punk noise they actually recall in places the sheer genius of Mclusky and fud-u-like filtered through Devin Townsend’s ever-shifting brain into the amplifiers at a Swans gig…or maybe that’s just pseudo-journalistic hyperbole and they just sound like an unidentifiable, occasionally terrifying feral blast of energy. Either way, the resulting adrenalin charge of tracks like ‘giant ball bag’ (which features a guest appearance from Justin Hawkins on guitar) is likely to have you either cowering behind your sofa pillows or leaping around the room with joy and anyway it’s unlikely the band give a shit which you do as long as they get a reaction. With all that in mind, we’re proud to present this brief interview with bassist/singer Dom Lawson whose dulcet tones have the dual purpose of stripping paint from walls as well as causing a giant grin to appear when you least expect it. Welcome to the world of OAF.
- How did Oaf form?
Like a thick layer of black shit round the inner lip of a toilet bowl? No, maybe that’s a bit too unpleasant. The remarkably dull story is that James and I have known each other for 25 years and we were in our first band together when we were 15/16. The band was called The Shatners and we were ridiculous but great…shambolic punk rock with a hint of ghastliness thrown in. I moved to Brighton in 1994 and James lived in London for ages, but a few years ago he moved down to the seaside and since I was planning to start a new band anyway, I figured it would be much more fun to do it with my best friend. I’d been in a bass-only band in Brighton before (called No Legs), so I knew the format worked. The only difference is that this time it’s just one bass guitar and there’s no third person to ruin the whole thing.
- Your use of pseudonyms (he who strums and shouts / he who hits things) – a throwback to the dwarves?
Not really. That was just something daft to imply anonymity while we were getting our shit together. Now we’ve got an album and a vague idea what we’re doing, we’re Dom and James again.
- Your set up – bass/drums/vocals…no guitars? Why?
Firstly, why not? We make a horrendous and fairly vast racket, and I’ve long known that I can make more than enough noise on my own to compensate for a lack of other instruments. The other main reason is that we don’t want anyone else to ruin our fun. A lot of guitarists are egomaniacs and a bit self-serving…in Oaf, it’s all about the tunes and I’d rather keep it as just the two of us. We’re ferociously tight as a duo, and another person would damage that, I think.
- Is it more difficult to write songs that hold the listener’s attention when you’re dealing with only the bass?
I honestly don’t think about that. I just write the songs in the only way I know how. I don’t think the lack of guitars or keyboards makes any difference to how catchy the tunes are…in fact, if anything I make a point of ensuring that we have hooks and memorable vocal lines, because the core of the music is so filthy and aggressive. There’s a surprising amount of melody in what we do, it’s just that I nearly always sabotage the melodies by doing something horrible immediately afterwards. It’s that contrast that makes it work, I think. Also, there’s a lot of black humour in what we do and that grabs people’s attention as much as anything. Or maybe it doesn’t. I don’t really care.
- Your influences range from crazy prog to Swans (I’m guessing from what I’ve heard you mean early, fist-biting Swans) surely such a wide range of influences entail the compromise you sought to avoid by working only as a duo?
Not at all. We don’t compromise on any level. My influences aren’t necessarily audible in the songs anyway…as far as the Swans thing goes, it’s more a case of being influenced by that ethos of battering people with volume and hostility. We temper that with a fair amount of silliness and punk rock melody, but it’s definitely in there. The prog thing is fairly well hidden too, I think, although it’s as big an influence on my songwriting as anything else. Ultimately, we’re a punk rock band that listens to prog, jazz, country and metal, so it all gets swallowed up and spat out in one form or another.
- Who does your artwork? The Botheration cover is sweet!
The artwork was done by Mike Bryson, a brilliant illustrator who also used to be the bass player in a band called Bogshed. They were a great favourite of John Peel during the mid 80s, and Mike always designed their album covers and I’m a huge fan of his stuff. I managed to hunt him down online and asked him if he fancied doing an album cover for us. He very kindly agreed and did it for a ludicrously small fee, bless him. I fully intend to bully him into doing the next one for us. He’s a genius.
- Having read your gig from hell feature it would seem that Oaf have been in the same situation as so many bands – showing up to find your audience comprises elderly respectable types unlikely to enjoy a hefty dose of Sonic Youth inspired feedback or, more worryingly, a cave filled with troglodytes as likely to remove your body parts than enjoy your low-frequency rumblings – to what extent do you think that helps to build the character and live abilities of a band as opposed to scaring them off the road forever?
I think young bands today have entirely different expectations than we did back when we started playing live. We didn’t know what was going to happen and we could just as easily walk into a nightmare as a room full of cheering, bright-eyed kids. That toughens you up a little bit. These days, the internet has given bands the false impression that they’re entitled to be popular because a few thousand people have clicked on a YouTube link. It doesn’t really work like that, and if you’re doing this for any reason other than the love of your music, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment, especially now that the music industry is steadily eating itself. Oaf exists to please James and I and to stop us from becoming morose and embittered. There is no plan to achieve anything in particular. Lower your expectations and everything that happens is a pleasant surprise.
- Justin Hawkins. Seriously? Surely that could be seen as shoe-horning in a celebrity mate for the sake of it?
I couldn’t give a flying fuck how it could be seen! Justin’s a mate. I wanted someone to do a solo on Giant Ballbag and he was the obvious choice because he’s a fantastic guitarist and a Cardiacs fan. The solo totally fits the song. Job done. The next album will feature Brian May and Charlotte Church.
- Do you find that your work as a music journalist makes you expect more or less from your band in terms of the reception that you get or are you beyond caring?
In some ways I’d prefer people not to know that I’m a music journalist, in much the same way that I’d prefer people didn’t know that I have a swastika tattooed on my nutsack, but at the same time it’s quite nice that people can see that some of us can actually play instruments and have the balls to get out there and be creative on both sides of the fence. I was a musician before I was a music journalist, but I guess some people will dismiss Oaf because of what I do. Fuck ‘em.
- Seeing as this interview is in aid of the gig with TRA etc on Nov 19th (notice the neat plug there?!) what can we expect from Oaf as live band?
You can expect a horrible racket performed by a large, hairy metal bloke playing a 5-string Fender Jazz and a much smaller and better dressed drummer with a shiny Gretsch drum kit. The songs will touch upon genital deformity, existential terror and Peter Hammill. There will be idiotic banter and no hugging.
- What would your dream line up be for a gig with Oaf in a starring role?
We’d open, followed by Cardiacs, Dead Kennedys (with Jello Biafra, natch), Bogshed, Van Der Graaf Generator, Nomeansno, Gang Of Four and Neil Diamond (but not in that order…haven’t really thought this through!).
- Where do you aim to go from Botheration?
Back to Kettering to make another album with Russ Russell in 2011. It’s mostly written already and it’s going to be horrid. Our sound will remain the same, but there will be a bit more variety on this one, I reckon. The lyrics are much stronger on the new songs, I think, and the music is generally a bit more fucked up, but there’s more straightforward punk stuff on there too. I’m rambling now. Adios!
Oaf play The Miller in London with General Paulus, The Resonance Association, Final Coil and Greg(o)rian on November 19th. Miss it and cry.