Q&A with Michael Martens, drummer of O’Brother

Going to a show and falling in love with the opening band, and I mean the very first opening band, is a pretty rare thing. I can only recall it happening to me once, when I saw O‘Brother open for Manchester Orchestra in April 2010.  I had heard of O’Brother and had listened to their The Death of Day EP, but seeing a band live can often make or break your opinion of them.  Despite being a relatively new band with little touring experience, O’Brother thoroughly impressed me.  I understood why Manchester Orchestra signed O’Brother to their record label, Favorite Gentlemen, and why they took them on the road.  A year later, I saw O’Brother open for Manchester Orchestra again.  The year of relentless touring that had passed had certainly made its mark.  You simply couldn’t dismiss O’Brother this time, you couldn’t ignore them as they filled the venue with an enormous wall of sound.  After that performance I realized that the Atlanta, Georgia experimental rock band had evolved into something far greater than just an opening band with a  20 minute set.  Their first full-length album is slated for a November 2011 release on Triple Crown Records, and it’s shaping up to be one of my favorite releases of the year.   O’Brother are currently on the road opening for Thrice along with Moving Mountains and La Dispute.  You can catch them at the Electric Factory in Philly this Thursday, October 13, and at the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ on Friday, October 14.  Be sure to get there early though–O’Brother and Moving Mountains are alternating for who plays first each night.

O'Brother. Photo by: Christy Parry Photography

I got the amazing opportunity to talk to Michael Martens, O’Brother’s drummer about the band and their new album.

Question: Your debut full length album, Garden Window, will be released on Triple Crown Records next month.  The song you’ve released from it, “Machines Part I” has a truly epic sound.  Does the rest of the album have the same huge feel to it?

Answer: The album is pretty diverse.  There are a lot of huge moments, but there are also a lot of really quiet, intimate moments (and then everything in between).  We wanted to get louder and softer on this record, if this makes sense.

Q:  Tell me about the new album.  It seems like, although O’Brother still has a relatively small fan base, there is a considerable amount of hype concerning the record.  You’ve got to work with some amazing people on it.  I got really excited when I found out that Mike Sapone was going to be mixing it because Brand New’s “The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me” is one of my favorite records of all time and he worked on that, and I’m just a big fan of his work in general.

A:  Working with Sapone was great.  He really was one of the only people we could think of that would be perfect to mix this record.  The tracking process was great.  Robert McDowell [of Manchester Orchestra and Gobotron] did the majority of the record and I worked on things like overdubs, auxiliary percussion, and extra ear candy.  Also, I was able to track the entire last song, “Last Breath.”  It was a huge learning process for all of us.

Micheal Martens

Michael Martens, drummer of O'Brother. Credit: O'Brother's Facebook

Q:  I’ve seen you perform twice with Manchester Orchestra in April of 2010 and again in May 2011, and I noticed a big difference between those two performances.  Partially, I’m sure, because you had a lot more experience and gained more confidence by the time you came around this year, but I also felt like you guys have found your sound.  Would you agree with that?

A:  Completely. You have no choice but to learn a ton when you tour as much as we have been.  We try to take everything that our peers have to say to heart.  There are a lot of people that help us learn from their past mistakes, coupled with us learning from the mistakes that we make on our own.  The past few years have been exciting for us and we are all in a better place because of them.

Q:  At least in terms of where you’re playing in Philadelphia (The Electric Factory vs. the TLA or Trocadero), the tour you’re on now with Thrice is the biggest you’ve done yet.  How does it feel to be playing at these large venues?

A:  Sometimes it’s overwhelming.  However, we have learned to find some level of comfort on these stages.  It was a learning process at first but it’s sick to look out from a stage the size of the ones we have been playing and see so many people hopefully enjoying their evening.

Q:  What are some of your favorite bands to tour with?

A:  Thrice, Manchester [Orchestra], Circa Survive, All Get Out, Dignan, La Dispute, The Features, The Dear Hunter, and Biffy Clyro, just to name a few.  Really, we have yet to tour with a band that we haven’t loved spending time with.  We like to make friends and play music together.

Q:  Do you have any favorite cities to play in, aside from your hometown, Atlanta?  It’s going to be the 3rd time you’ve played in Philly this year–do you like playing here?

A:  Charlotte, Austin, Chicago, Nashville… the list could go on,  but those are definitely in all of our top 10’s.  Philly is great. Gimme dat CHILLY PHEESTEAK! [sic]

Artwork for o'brother's upcomming full length, Garden Window

Artwork for Garden Window.

Q:  What bands inspired you when you were working on Garden Window?

A:  Oceansize, Blonde Redhead, Torche, Radiohead, Sigur Ros, Converge, Harvey Milk, Thrice, Circa Survive, Dignan…  There’s probably about 50 to 60 bands that somehow influenced this record in a major way.

Q:  Do you have any favorite releases of 2011 so far?

A:  Touche Amore‘s Parting The Sea Between Brightness and Me,  Thrice’s Major/Minor, La Dispute’s Wildlife, and TV On The Radio‘s Nine Types of Light.

Q:  I was wondering if dream catchers have any particular meaning to you guys.  You make them and sell them, and they’re also present on some of your other merch.  Is there a deeper meaning behind the association with them?

A:  Really it started off as a joke.  Anton and Johnny [members of the band] are Vietnamese and they kept on getting mistaken for Native American.  One day Aaron [another band member] bought Anton a dream catcher from a gas station and it just sort of evolved in to what it is for us today.  We usually tell people we put them on our amps to filter out the bad notes.

Listen to “Providence” by O’Brother from The Death of Day here:

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About kategasch

I'm an English Major and Journalism Minor at Rowan University. From that you can probably deduce that I love literature and writing, which is absolutely true. I'm passionate about a lot of things, but I think my biggest passion is music. Since I was about 12 or 13, music has been a huge part of my life. I started going to shows when I was around 14 and in the 7 years since then, I've been to more shows than I can recall, at least without the help of my ticket stub diary. I generally don't go to a lot of big shows. I prefer intimate venues--venues so small that the bands have to walk past you to get off and on the stage. Bars and basements where sometimes, if you're lucky, those 200 other people love the band just as much as you do and fill the room with energy that can't be replicated. View all posts by kategasch

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