O’Brother’s film fans build a cinematic soundscape
Anton Dang has become used to people making incorrect assumptions about his band. Reached on the road in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the bassist for O’Brother says that the Atlanta, Georgia–based five-piece has a name that leads some to categorize it before they ever hear it: “They tell us that they’re looking for music on-line or something and they see our band name and they’re like, ‘I thought you guys were an indie folk or bluegrass band for so long, and then I actually listened to you guys, and it’s a completely different story.’”
It is indeed. Don’t come to an O’Brother show hoping to sing along to “Man of Constant Sorrow”. The group’s music is hard to categorize, but it sure as hell ain’t bluegrass. On the new album, Disillusion, O’Brother showcases a knack for stirring everything from spirit-of-’91 grunge and hammer-of-the-gods metal to brain-candy post-rock into one seriously intense whole. Thus the slow-grinding head-banger “Perilous Love” sits naturally alongside the sent-from-on-high vocal harmonies of “Path of Folly. For every passage of distortion-scorched catharsis, count on just as many moments of mood-building atmosphere.
It’s no surprise, then, to learn that O’Brother has an impressively wide range of influences, with the band’s members citing such strange bedfellows as Alice in Chains, Sigur Rós, and Brian Eno. The group is inspired by films as well, and not just the musical scores, as Dang explains.
“When we’re trying to write a record we watch a lot of movies and stuff like that,” the bassist says. “We try to kind of re-create something that sticks out in a specific scene.”
It’s unusual for a rock musician to claim cinematic sound design as an inspiration, but it seems that if Dang weren’t busy touring with O’Brother, he might be inclined to pursue a career as a Foley artist. “It would be one of the coolest jobs to be able to sit in a studio and just play with things—throw things on the floor and splash water on things and record it.”
And, in case you were curious, yes, Dang is a fan of Joel and Ethan Coen’s film O Brother, Where Art Thou?, but that’s not where the band’s name comes from. Nor does it refer to the fact that Dang’s actual brother, Johnny, is one of the quintet’s guitarists. In fact, it has a deeper significance.
“It’s kind of formed into a different meaning. All five of us are really close. We’ve been on tour for six to eight months out of the year for the last four years, so we’ve become a really tight family and really learned how to coexist with each other without pissing each other off.”