by: Thomas D. Mooney
We recently caught up with Taylor Young and John Pedigo, the two who make up Dallas-based band The O’s. The duo is currently just a week away from releasing their third record Thunderdog–which so happens to also be the name of Young’s thundering kick drum.
The band’s third album seems to be a calculated and definite step up from their previous two albums. The band, as stated by Young and Pedigo both, has been a continuing work in progress where they’re just exploring more about what they’re wanting The O’s sound to be. Thunderdog really finds the band in perfect stride.
It has a more refined, focused sound while not ever sounding recycled or stale. There’s plenty of moments in which the band seem to be blazing their own trail out in the folk-pop wilderness.
The O’s will play at The Blue Light tonight (Thursday, July 18) along with Rodney Parker & The 50 Peso Reward.
New Slang: Thunderdog is getting its’ national release this coming week.
Taylor Young: Yeah. July 23, it comes out all across the nation.
NS: What are you guys expecting? I know it’s already been made available in Dallas-Ft. Worth and a few other places, but this will be the “official” release.
TY: Yeah. Well we released it early in Dallas-Ft. Worth area just to kind of give our fans here who have supported us from the beginning a little bit of a head start on the entire situation and to kind of get some of these songs out in the open before the rest of the nation gets to grab hold of it. You know, we’re about to start touring a lot. We’re lining this up with a lot of touring.
NS: You recorded the record over at Sonic Ranch in Tornillo [Texas]. That place has had a bunch of great records recorded over there. How was that experience?
John Pedigo: Well it was beyond magical. You arrive and, I don’t know how many acres there are, but you’re on the border of Mexico and surrounded by pecan trees. Every morning, these lovely ladies make you either huevos rancheros or breakfast burritos. Then you spend day and night recording. Then you wake up and do it over again. It’s a very efficient machine they have. And just the nicest people there.
TY: Yeah. From the girls who are cooking for you to Tony who owns the place to all the assistants there, they’re all such a pleasure to work with. It’s too easy and a lot of fun to be out there.
JP: Yeah, and we got to hang out with Hanson who was recording out there at the same time.
NS: [Laughs]. I was going to ask if there were any “famous faces” out there recording while you were out there. So I take it that there’s now a collab in the works as we speak. An EP of songs with Hanson.
TY: Oh of course. And Gogol Bordello was there too so we’re thinking of just forming a brand new band of gypsy-folk-punk-pop-bluegrass-Americana. How does that sound to you?
NS: Oh yeah. Sounds perfect [laughs]. Getting back to Sonic Ranch, what are some of the things musically that you guys did differently on Thunderdog that you didn’t do on your previous two records?
TY: The thing that I liked the most was that we started working on the album and continue working and creating until you leave the place. The other two albums that we recorded in Dallas, it’s kind of one of those things you do where you wake up wherever you live and you go in and record for eight-to-ten-to-however many hours. Then you go back home. It’s kind of like a weird reset. Out there, you’re in the element 100 percent of the time. It was an inspiring place to be and you didn’t leave that inspiring place or mindset.
NS: Did you guys do any little experimenting that was different that you hadn’t tried before or anything?
JP: I think we kind of stayed with what we know. As we go, we’re kind of figuring out what we’re doing in the O’s sound and I think this one really embodies what we’ve been going for for three albums now. I would say, about Sonic Ranch, one of the coolest things there, directly next to where we were, they have this giant gutted house called The Echo House. Everything was kind of tapped into that. So we could run our reverb and basically echo through that house and we’d have mics set up on either end. I did a vocal track for “You Are the Light” in there. Did some harmonicas in there. It was really cool and kind of creepy in there because you’re in there at like one in the morning.
TY: [Directed to John] The harmonica tracks were for “Secrets” right?
JP: It is. We did it for “Secrets” and something else. I can’t think of which song–oh, for “Levee Breaks.” Anyways, it kind of gave us this cool echo sound and most of the reverb was from that.
TY: We also used some cool tape delay on this album. That’s something we hadn’t used before.
NS: I was going to ask you guys about songwriting. Obviously a song has to originate from one of you first. But how often does it become something that’s genuinely a collaborative songwriting effort–not necessarily where it’s like 50/50 or something. But where it’s not exactly a “John song” or a “Taylor Song.” It’s more of a blurred line.
JP: I think that any song that Taylor or I birth ourselves, we’ll usually get together and work the arrangements so it’s never really 10-90 or anything. It’s usually more 60-40 or something. You know what I mean? It’s pretty close. We’ve always kind of collaborated. Sometimes we won’t have the third verse yet or something so we’ll know where it’s going, but need help with the arrangement. Once we play it out loud together, it’s a lot different from if you’re at home and my dogs are listening. My dogs are pretty easy-going [laughs]. They just don’t give me much constructive criticism.
TY: [Laughs]. And I think on this album, this is the first time–we’ve done some swapping between who sings the chorus and who sings the verses on the previous album. But I think this is the first time, one the song “Lighten the Load,” I sing verse one and two and John sings verse three. That’s the first time we’ve done something like that before. We’re kind of learning more and more album by album and it gets to be more of a collaborative effort each time.
NS: Have you guys found that you have distinct writing styles and processes that end up clashing from time to time? Anything where one of you just doesn’t get what the other is trying to do in a song presented?
TY: I don’t really think that’s happened before.
JP: No. The good thing about having two dudes writing songs in the band, essentially you have to look at it like we each need to write six good songs. So when we come to the table with 10 each, it’s pretty obvious which six of those 10 make sense for our band. It’s never been where one of us is like “I don’t like that.” We’ve never had to force anything. It’s been pretty obvious which songs are going to make it.
TY: Yeah and that kind of relates to when we were talking about earlier about songwriting arrangements. When we’re throwing ideas back and forth to each other about certain songs, if I can’t find a bridge that I like and John comes to me with a bridge that works really well, it’s immediately obvious that’s what it should be.
JP: We’ve been pretty lucky. I don’t like to use the term organic, but it’s been pretty organic [laughs].
TY: Organic without it being overpriced [laughs].
NS: That’s a great quote. Great way to put it [laughs]. I was going to ask you guys about some specific songs. On “Levee Breaks,” I think it’s in the second or third verse, it’s like you step away from the microphone while singing. You know what part I’m talking about?
JP: I do. When we were recording that song, if there’s two guys, you have to build songs a certain way. So we don’t always play live. That one though, I did a whole take doing banjo and vocals with just one mic. You don’t normally do that just because of the isolation issues. With that one, the producer Frenchie, he was freaking out about it. He thought we really needed to leave that as is in the song. He was very excited about it.
NS: In a way, when you’re listening, if you’re doing some other stuff and it’s on, it grabs your attention. It makes you pay attention and really listen to what you’re singing.
JP: Well that’s good. Usually in the third verse of a song, I say usually, but typically I like to do something different just to change up the verse structure.
NS: I’d say that you guys write really great pop songs. Not pop in a bad way, but in a good way. With that, a lot of these songs are upbeat. I don’t want to say light, but they’re more fresh and bright. Except when you come the song “Kitty.” It has much dark tones in it. It’s really different from the majority of the record.
TY: Yeah. We were trying to find a place to put that song because it does introduce a couple new things in our band. One being the electric distorted banjo. A lot of people think that a guitar, but that’s psychedelic distorted banjo. That and I wanted to write a song in drop D. And I know the subject matter in that song is a lot different from the other songs which have to do more with positivity and love. But it’s a fun one to play and thought we’d freak people out a little too much if we dropped it in the middle of the album. It’s the last one for that reason.
JP: Or perhaps you could say it’s more classical than any of the music considering it tells the tale of oldest profession on earth. Right?
TY: That’s right [laughs].
JP: Classic tale.
TY: And the last two tracks on the album, they have drums on them. When we did our release show in Dallas–this is a fun fact for you since we know you’re a huge fan of Old 97’s–when we did our release show, on the second to last song, “Rearranged,” we had a drum kit come out and Phillip Peeples of Old 97’s played drums on that song. And then with “Kitty,” Jason Garner of Polyphonic Spree played drums on that song. That was a fun little thing that we did.