It seems Californian garage rockers, Thee Oh Sees, can’t get enough of Australia. In January, they will be returning to our great Southern land for the third time in three years, appearing as one of the headliners at Melbourne’s Sugar Mountain Festival. Backing vocalist, Brigid Dawson, fresh from playing a midday slot at Treasure Island Music Festival in San Francisco, sat down for a cup of tea and a chat with Tone Deaf about just what it is that keeps drawing Thee Oh Sees back to our shores.

“We’ve always had a really, really great time in Australian,” says Dawson. “So, I guess that’s why we keep coming back. Australians tend to have a much better time at gigs than a lot of other places we’ve been to. People seem to really enjoy it and love their music over there.”

Currently touring their new album, Carrion Crawler, which was released on November 8th, Dawson divulges that this album was more of a collaborative process than many of their previous releases. “The last album was mostly John’s [Dwyer, lead songwriter, guitarist and vocalist] home recordings that he then took into the studio and had a bunch of friends play on, but this new album is the full band. It was really fun to record and it sounds good. I haven’t listened to it much since we recorded it,” she chuckles. “But I think it’s going to be great.”

With expectations high for the new album, Dawson admits that her favourite song is the title track, “Carrion Crawler.” “We used a clavinet – a really beautiful, old ‘60s kind of organ instrument – that was in the studio. It was just one of those things that was written on the fly and it came out really beautifully.”

Thee Oh Sees are often praised for the raw power of their music, which is typically of such low-fidelity that it borders on legend (that is, if it was to get any lower-fi, there’d be nothing recorded and we’d be relying on hearsay). Dawson reveals that Carrion Crawler “will be the familiar sound that fans are all used to. I don’t know what it is that keeps drawing us to that sound. It just suits our band. John’s definitely the one who has more influence, and if that’s the way he wants to do it every time, I would never second guess him on that.”

The freedom of independent home recordings, as well as the inherent DIY aesthetic that accompanies low-fi-garage-rock music, allows bands like Thee Oh Sees to be impressively prolific artists. The band has released a total of thirteen albums since 2004. Dawson admits that it’s not necessarily a conscious decision to release such an abundance of albums. “It’s not something that we decided to do. It just happens naturally. It’s good because we don’t have a very complicated recording setup, and obviously John records at home too. We get to record as we write. It’s really nice and we’re lucky with that. That’s why you get so many albums from us. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be directed by a label.”

Dawson is charmingly modest about her role in the band. Her haunting soprano has been paramount to distinguishing Thee Oh Sees from similar artists. “I’m just one fifth of the band,” she chuckles meekly. “I mean, I sing and play the tambourine, and I’m learning to play the organ. I didn’t play the organ at first in the band, but I’m getting better all the time. I sing either backup or double vocals with John.”

Thee Oh Sees was originally the brainchild of the musically nomadic John Dwyer, who has previously played in more than eleven bands, including Coachwhips, Pink and Brown, Yikes, Burmese and The Hospitals. The band has evolved from being a solo catharsis for Dwyer’s rampant creative juices, to a charismatic song-writing and performing team. “The band dynamic has changed, because over the years, we’ve had different people. When I first joined the band, it was just three people – just John, [former percussionist] Patrick Mullins and me. Then, Petey Dammit joined, who plays the guitar that sounds like a bass.”

All conceivable limitations aside, Dawson laughs at the insipidness of her ideal tour. Where most people would probably want to embark on a wild journey of carnally and spiritually satisfying shenanigans, accompanied by Led Zeppelin or someone of equally grand stature, Dawson humbly admits that she “would really just like to have a nice bed to sleep in every night. I’d love to have a really nice meal as well, about four hours before playing, and as long as we are friends with whoever is touring with us, that would be my perfect tour. I wouldn’t mind where it was; just a good bed, a good meal and good friends.”

If she could tour with any band, Dawson would love to tour again with San Franciscan neo-pysch-garage-rocker, Ty Segall, with whom Thee Oh Sees have played on many occasions. “There’s a bunch of bands I’d like to tour with for professional reasons.” The band is currently touring North America, supported by Melbourne band, Total Control, who played a few Australian dates with them earlier this year. “I’m really excited that we’re going to tour with Total Control because I really like Mikey [Young, of Eddy Current Suppression Ring] and all those guys.”

A skilful vocalist, Dawson says that she is mostly drawn to great singers. “I’ve been listening to a bunch of Scott Walker, recently. I guess because I’m a singer first and foremost, I mostly listen to singers, but I love some Nina Simone. I just bought a really great album that I’ve been listening to over and over again from Buffalo Springfield, which is new for me. There’s this one song called “Out Of My Mind” that’s really beautiful. Oh! and I’ve been listening to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon – a lot!” Dawson laughs.

With a hectic touring schedule that involves Thee Oh Sees playing dates throughout November, December and January, Dawson denies that the band will be slowing down any time soon. “I think when we get back from Australia, we go straight to play a cruise that goes from Miami to the Bahamas. It’s called the Bruise Cruise, so that’ll be fun. Three days and we play a gig on the boat. It’s pretty fun.”

– Lara Moates

Thee Oh Sees will be playing Sugar Mountain Festival on January 14th. Tickets

The band will also be playing their own headline shows in January.

Friday 13th January – The Nash – Geelong
Tickets through oztix

Sunday 15th January – Woodland – Brisbane
Tickets through moshtix

Tuesday 17th January – Woody’s – Byron Bay
Tickets on door

Wednesday 18th January – The Terrace – Newcastle
Tickets through moshtix

Thursday 19th January – The Annandale – Sydney
Tickets through annandalehotel.com

Friday 20th January – The Bakery – Perth
Tickets through oztix

Saturday 21st January – Jive Bar – Adelaide 
Tickets through moshtix

Tuesday 24th January – The Corner – Melbourne
Tickets through cornerhotel.com