STUDIO TO STREET: O’Brother

O'Brother
Photo by Christy Parry

With the release of their debut full-length, Garden Window, Atlanta’s O’Brother held nothing back. The eleven-song effort is a big statement album rich in detail, atmosphere and texture. It’s also a ferociously aggressive record that trades heavily in tar-thick sludge and melodic post-hardcore. With its complex song structures and dense layering, it’s difficult to think of a more ambitious local record released last year, but it was this balance between the beautiful and the brutal, the experimental and the primordial, that made it one of the most effective as well.

When I recently came up with the idea for Studio to Street—a column that would talk to local artists about their upcoming releases as well as some of their favorite things about Atlanta—O’Brother were the first group I wanted to involve. But with such little time left before their release show (tonight at the Masquerade), I wasn’t sure if it could happen. Fortunately, frontman Tanner Merritt graciously took some time out his busy schedule to answer some questions about the recording of O’Brother’s new album, not to mention revealing his favorite places to grub when he’s home.

Since the release of The Death of Day EP there’s been a significant niche in the punk/hardcore/rock community that’s been ready to declare you guys the next big thing. And then you guys churn out this mammoth thematic album that’s long, diverse and complex. Did you guys feel any pressure to “go big” with your first full-length or was this just what naturally spilled out during writing sessions?

Definitely. This being our first full-length release we wanted to go all out. Especially since we had toured on The Death of Day EP for two years with no new material we wanted to give people something substantial to listen to.

Garden Window is a very involved record that sounds like it was laborious to produce. Aside from its length there are some epic song structures and, overall, it’s very dense with a lot of layers. Can you give us some insight into the recording process—the time you put in, the number of tracks used, the difficulty you had achieving the right sounds, etc?

Tracking was spread out over the course of about six months. We weren’t recording consistently all that time. We had a few short tours spread out in that time and we were also working around Robert’s and Andy’s (McDowell and Hull, respectively, of Manchester Orchestra) schedules, who were wrapping up Simple Math during our first few months of recording. While at the time it felt a bit annoying to not be able to do it all at once, it gave us the opportunity to sit with the songs and really think about parts and tones and structures and then go back and change the things we weren’t happy with.

We took a different approach to each song. Some songs we felt we needed to go back and add tons of extra textural guitar or rhythm tracks, and some songs remain pretty true to the way they are in a live scenario. It was definitely a learning experience for everyone so there was a great deal of trial and error getting the sounds we wanted. We just took our time and worked on things until we were happy with them.

Talk to me about recording with Andy Hull and Robert McDowell at the production helm. What did they contribute to Garden Window?

It was wonderful. We have an amazing friendship and working relationship with those dudes. We’ve played somewhere in the neighborhood of 75 shows with them so we were all pretty comfortable bouncing ideas off each other. It wasn’t like working with a producer who has a set way of doing everything. They would listen to all our ideas and we would listen to all of theirs, and we would either agree or disagree, but we always ended up with something everyone was happy with. It was more like having two extra members in O’Brother for those months. I know now that we really needed those dudes to reel us in where we would have had a tendency to go way overboard.

Is there anything you guys feel you failed to achieve with the new record or is the final product everything that you wanted it to be?

I don’t think we failed to achieve anything. I think the songs themselves were exactly what they needed to be. However, there are always things I would change in hindsight. But there always will be. I don’t think songs are ever really finished—by being recorded they just become frozen. Their particles slow down and become less malleable and although it may (visibly) seem to stay the same there are so many moving parts that are evolving and changing over time.

You guys are on the road a lot every year playing hundreds of shows all over the country. What’s the thing you miss the most about Atlanta when you’re gone?

All of our wonderful friends here. My girlfriend, our little apartment, cooking and Harvey my cat.

After getting back in town from a long tour, what’s the first place you try to hit up for some grub?

Elmyr. Give me that BBQ chicken burrito every day of my life. Some honorable mentions: La Fonda, the Earl, Manuel’s, Thumbs Up.

We’re in the very first days of 2012. Who are some Atlanta bands that we should be listening for this year? Who’s going to break out from the ATL?

Our good friends Big Jesus, Nigredo and Death On Two Wheels.

O’Brother celebrates the release of Garden Window tonight at the Masquerade. Supporting them will be Nigredo, Big Jesus and Manray. Doors open at 7pm. $12 gets you in.

More Info:
Web: www.beneathyourgardenwindow.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/obrothermusic
Twitter: www.twitter.com/obrothermusic