Interview: Often the Thinker
We discovered Often The Thinker a few weeks ago when Drew got in touch regarding their latest album Better Part of Vice and frankly we were completely blown away by the densely layered, jazz infused post rock in the vein of Do Make Say Think that we found within. Even more so when we realised they had been around for 10 years and had managed to keep hidden from us for all that time so we grabbed some time with Drew to find out a bit more about the band.
(((o))): Tell us a bit about Often The Thinker. How did you get started & who’s involved?
Often the Thinker began in 2006. I’ve always loved instrumental music and, for years, had thought about doing a heavily-layered instrumental album. I went to school for audio engineering in Wisconsin, where I met a handful of the people that played on the first record, ‘History,’ including the drummer, Travis, who is still a crucial member of the project. This was never a primary ‘band’ or project for anyone except myself. This is my baby. We were all playing in other bands, which was nice being able to have very different experiences.
(((o))): You say you’ve been going 10 years & we’ve been going about 9; how have we never come across you guys before?
I think I’ve always been humble with music. I never pushed the project on people or aggressively attempted to get it out there. When we finished one record, it was kind of put it on the shelf and onto whatever’s next. Also, when you don’t play live and don’t have support from a label; it’s tough to be heard. After I finished mixing this last record, Better Part of Vice, I thought it deserved to be heard. To do that, you have to put the time and effort into networking and hope that someone finds it – somehow create some traction for you.
(((o))): Do Make Say Think are one of our favourite bands ever & you guys are certainly drinking from the same musical well. Is that something you’re conscious of or is it just coincidence?
Oh, man. Do Make is an incredible band and solely opened my ears to something I hadn’t heard before. Their structure, instrumentation, arrangements, etc. are outstanding. With that being said, it can be difficult listening to them now. It’d be like an artist seeing a Monet and being incredibly inspired, but also wanting to give up because of how amazing it is to you. There are definitely similarities but I don’t ever think ‘What would DMST do for this part?’ I think that’s part of being influenced by other musicians. The current members of this project come from relatively different musical backgrounds, so I think that has allowed OTT to round itself into its own.
(((o))): You mentioned in your previous email that the band is now quite geographically scattered. How has that changed you creative processes & has that affected the band’s sound?
It’s tough. We’re in San Diego, San Fran, Brooklyn, Boston and Madison, WI. When you’re able to jam and bounce ideas off each other within the same room, it’s a completely different and, usually quicker, approach. You’re able to utilize the feeling of each member. It’s a difficult process we have going: I had to fly back to WI to track the trio of horns that are in a couple tracks, as well as Travis’ drums. Travis had two days to finish writing and solidifying some parts, and obviously then tracking all of those songs. We we’re sitting there, mid-session, rearranging parts of tracks and changing the number of measures – knowing that we’ll just have to find a way to make it work.
(((o))): How do you guys write? Is it all driven by one or two people or do you just jam stuff out & see where it goes?
I do the writing. I think it’s the only way to do it. Getting all of us into a room isn’t a possibility at this time, and may never be. After I have a handful of parts, I’ll record them all and get together with Travis to have him put percussion on top. He’s a monster on the drums and really changes the ideas and where they can go once he has laid his ideas down. I’ll go back, cut things up and arrange them the best I can. When I arrange the tracks, I have to know what instruments will work with each part/song and how much time or how many measures I’ll want for each. Is the pedal steel going to be able to transition these two parts? Can we continue the same drum part while introducing the horns and keys? It’s tough, but it’s an interesting way to work. There’s a lot of freedom with the tracks. I’ll typically arrange any horns or strings, so those are more structured, but with pedal steel and piano, they’ll just do their thing.
(((o))): What bands / musicians do you draw on for inspiration for your music & if you had to pick 3 albums that made you want to be a musician what would they be?
That’s tough because most of what I listen to isn’t ‘post-rock.’ I love aggressive rock, punk rock, older country, ambient, etc. The older I get, I just love to see bands supporting other bands. I know it sounds cheesy, but I love the communal concept of music. We’re all in this together and have similar feelings: We love music and it makes us feel a bit of relief, a reoccurrence of happiness, a sense of accomplishment. Let’s support each other because music can be a great way to deal with life. Back to your question…Three records that wanted me to be a musician would have to be Planes Mistaken for Stars – Fuck with Fire, Do Make Say Think – & Yet & Yet, and At the Drive In – In/Casino/Out. I saw ATDI when I was maybe 15, having never heard them, and that 45 minutes changed my life.
(((o))): What non-musical things inspire it?
My family inspires the project: I’m fortunate to have two amazing parents that have supported me and an older brother who got me into music at such a young age. I think a lot of my non-musical inspiration comes from my wife. It’s important to work on being a better person every day, being unselfish and treating others with kindness. If you can do those things and appreciate life, the music will find its way out of you.