Smile Politely

Organs, drums and bass, Oh My (God)!

omg1Chicago’s Oh My God can straight up rip your face off.  They can also croon so hard it brings your mother to tears.  Needless to say, they are one of the few bands that literally has something for everyone.  If that isn’t enough, wait until you get a piece of their live show. 

Oh My God has been around for nearly ten years, but the nucleus of the band rests with Billy O’Neill (vocals/bass) and with organist Iguana.  After a string of highly unfortunate circumstances, they traded out a drummer  for Danny Yost and added to their unique three-piece ensemble with guitarist Zach Verdoorn. 

They’re currently on tour in support of their newest record, “The Night Undoes the Work of the Day” (available now on Split Red Records) and will stop by Cowboy Monkey Thursday night.  Smile Politely had a chance to catch up with Iguana over the phone earlier this week to chat about the band’s history, their often odd comparisons to other bands and a little Sam Cooke. 

Smile Politely:  So let’s start from the top.  Is this your first time playing in Champaign? 

Iguana (organ/vocals):  No, I have played a few times in previous bands, but I think this is the third time Oh My God has played Champaign.

SP:  How has the response usually been?

OMG:  I can’t really remember a few of the shows, but we played with Elsinore last time and that went really well.  I think most of the people were there to see them and didn’t know about us, so it was nice.

SP:  You’re on tour supportingThe Night Undoes the Work of the Day” and have historically had problems on tour and with other mishaps.  Is this one shaping up to be any better? 

OMG:  This tour is going great and we’re really safety conscious now in terms of driving.  I don’t like to drive at night or tour in the winter time because of the ice and snow and now we have a wall between us and our equipment to prevent any problems.  Not that any of that is what caused our previous accident, but it all helps. In the meantime, we’re really enjoying this tour. 

SP:  Tell me about “The Night Undoes the Work of the Day.”  How has the response been compared to your previous stuff? 

OMG:  Well, some people know the band and our catalogue really well and those that do certainly think of this record as not as in your face or abrasive.  And part of that is due to our recent experiences, but we also had the idea to do something more harmonious on this record side by side with our others.  “Fools Want Noise” was all really heavy but we like to balance the punky, grimey stuff with piano ballads.  Our experiences have definitely added more somber songs to our catalogue.  It’s weird because some people go to see us for the punkier stuff and some go to see us for the more melodic stuff.  Sometimes people will walk in mid set and get confused so we have to say “hey hey hey, wait for the next song!” 

omg2SP:  What initially led you to reduce the band to drums/organ/bass?

OMG:  We really had just played with former band mates and thought the guitar was superfluous.  Sometimes our guitar player didn’t show up to practice.  And of course I always loved trios like Hüsker Dü and Dinosaur Jr because they feel more empowering to be in.  There is nothing superfluous or redundant.

That being said, we started having songs that we wanted to hear guitar in them.  We wanted to add little bits of texture and harmony and the guys we’re with right now are really determined to make those songs shine.  They help amplify the ideas with certain tones and lines.

SP:  Do you think your songwriting sets you apart from other fuzzy minimalist bands that might just have more of a crazy live shtick?

OMG:  Well, I remember seeing the Mooney Suzuki at the Metro and they were climbing the speakers and jumping around all over the place and then the next band had to come out and figure out how to out-rock that band.  You almost have to become so exciting that you’re boring.  Our natural inclination is to take an eccentric punk song and a reverbed-out piano ballad back to back, so it is hard to out-do us at what we do.  I think that friction comes from our backgrounds.  It’s important for us to do both sides of that spectrum unless we have a concept for a certain show and stick to songs off one record.

SP:  Aside from the theatrics of frontman Billy O’Neill, your organ playing tends to differentiate you from other bands.  Are there any big influences on your organ playing?

OMG:  When I’m playing blues gigs, I lean more toward Otis Spann and Jimmy McGriff, but when I’m playing this stuff, I always felt more like a Bob Mould or Joe Strummer in intensity.  I’d like to think I try to arrange Mould’s sound for the organ.  In a way, a really distorted live organ sound can really sound like a live guitar so my role is much more like a strong rhythm guitar player even though the bass is playing more lead lines.

SP:  I’ve seen you guys compared to everything from Queen to Weezer to the Clash to REM to the Cars to Zappa to the Talking Heads.  Do you think a lot of those assessments are accurate?  Who would you rather be compared to?

OMG:  A Denver paper once said that we sounded like grunge and that Billy’s voice sounded like Kurt Cobain and every Kurt Cobain rip-off from the last 15 years.  I don’t know that that guy listened to the record, but I don’t hear any bits of Nirvana in our chord changes or progressions.  Some people called us pop punk once, but I don’t think we sound like the pop-punk genre that there is these days.  To me, the Buzzcocks are real pop-punk. 

Other than that, we’ve been called “The Doors meets Kraftwerk.”  We get a lot of Steppenwolf and ELP references because people latch on to the organ.  I don’t know.  I think our song “February 14” was my attempt at a John Lennon song.  We all come from really different backgrounds, so we get a good mix. 

SP:  I’ll throw a new comparison out there, so let me know if you think this is a stretch.  In your fuzzier numbers, I detect a lot of that early Detroit sound like early Grand Funk Railroad, MC5, stuff like that. 

OMG:  Yeah, I think we fit in well with Detroit bands.  I always wanted to be playing in a situation where Jack White enters the room and decides he wants to produce our next record.

omg3SP:  What kind of stuff are you guys listening to in the tour van right now?

OMG:  Yesterday we had a good time listening to Sam Cooke’s “Live at the Harlem Square Club” from 1963.  It’s so raw and loose, but the band is so on it and catches all the vocal cues.  It is just like being in a club where all the women are squealing and you can hear people talking.  We were all so blown away with how his band plays.  It is best flow of any live band I’ve ever heard.

We’re also listening to the new CD from [Chicago’s] Baby Teeth.  I like to call it prog-pop-rock because they always come out with weird left hooks during their three-part harmonies.  They’ve got a lot of falsetto harmonies with beautiful, funky great grooves and big 80s anthems. 

Apart from that, I’m always going back and discovering older stuff that I missed.  I always pick up anything by Deerhoof and I love Nick Cave’s last record.

We’ve also doing a lot of talking because we’ve been taping our shows from the night before and reviewing them the next day.  Of course the quality is always shitty, but they’re good to listen to.  If you listen to the Jimi Hendrix Experience on a shitty tape in your basement, would you whine about the recording quality?  It almost doesn’t matter.

SP:  Any plans to do anything with those recordings down the road?

OMG:  We’ve got some decent recordings so far and we’re going to make a bunch more.  We video recorded our show at the Double Door in Chicago and it sounds really good, but who knows?  We’ll finish the tour and surely we’ll post a couple songs.

SP:  Is there anything we haven’t touched on that you want to make sure to get across to our readers?

OMG:  I just want to make sure that people do their best not to miss this show.  Our new record is really an honest, affecting record, but our live show is the flagship of the band.  We put everything we’ve got into each show and we’re on a really good streak right now.


The show starts at 9 p.m. and the cover is $5.  Heyokas, Curb Service and Anthony Gravino open. 

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