ONSLO -- March 9, 2012 @ The Dirty Douglas
by George Dow
The plan was to meet the guys from ONSLO at The Dirty Douglas in Lowell and chat before their set. I fell in love with ONSLO after reviewing their 2011 EP, Quartumdimensio AEdificium, with its utterly crazy melding of Weezer, Descendents, and Frank Zappa (I know… it feels strange even typing those bands in the same sentence).
Ethan warned me that “it’s kind of a DIY space” when he gave me the address. I drive by the address once, then twice, then again a third time. All I see is a triple decker on the corner of an intersection. I dial Ethan up and confirm that, yes, the triple decker on the corner is, in fact, The Dirty Douglas. I meet the ONSLO boys, Ethan (guitar), Aaron (bass), and Floyd (drums) in the driveway. They guide me up a narrow, unfinished, staircase through a kitchen stacked shoulder-high with empty beer cans and pizza boxes, on into a living room area. We sit down to talk. Given the choice between a broken piano stool and a torn, over-stuffed chair, I choose the broken stool. The shade of the overstuffed chair reminds me of vomit and semen. The broken stool at least has a vinyl cushion. It’s probably less likely to transmit disease.
We start with how ONSLO came to be. Aaron tells me, “We’ve been a band now for 6 years. We’re about to release our 6th EP. We’ve been friends for a long time.”
Ethan drops more detail, “Ethan and I have known each other for probably nine years. We’ve played together in a few bands. And I’ve known Floyd all that time. It came a time when we just wanted to do something new. We wanted somebody to play drums and he wanted to play. The crazy thing is, Floyd is a better guitar player that any of us. His parents sent him to school for four years for guitar and now he’s a drummer, endorsed by a drum company. Me and Chris are from Leominster, MA and Aaron is from Bolton, MA. Bolton is where we practice and record and do all of our business—we have a little headquarters in Bolton.”
On record, ONSLO are a schizophrenic mess of styles, impossible to pin into one category. One second it’s prog-rock bombast, the next it’s hardcore punk, followed by nineties-style alt-rock. A discussion of their influences explains the schizophrenia but does little to help categorize their sound.
Floyd may be a flower-child at heart, “I’m a very sixties-influenced guy. Anything groove oriented. If it has a groove, it’s good.” Aaron, on the other hand leans in a completely different direction, “For me it’s a lot of early nineties stuff. A lot of Amphetamine Reptile bands, all the Touch & Go stuff.”
I’m not willing to let it go though. There’s more to what’s going on in their music—so I press the issue with Aaron, asking about the jazzier influences apparent on their most recent releases. “Oh, that’s a direct result of their listening to lots of Frank Zappa over the past two or three years,” Aaron concedes. “One of my mother’s boyfriends gave me a copy of The Mothers' Live at the Fillmore when I was 13 or 14 and I only just rediscovered it within the last couple of years. It was just one of those reinvigorating things when I realized how awesome it was. You know, King Crimson is another huge influence as well. ”
ONSLO play music so bombastic and filled with prog-rock tendencies that it’s sometime hard to pin down whether they’re completely, straight-faced serious or dripping with venomous sarcasm. After a hearty round of laughter Ethan pipes in, “Well, it’s both. When we play, it’s all about having a good time. But when it comes to the band business, it’s just that, all business. We know when to just go off and we know when to keep it real. We do this because it’s just a lot of fun.”
Both the band’s musical proficiency and their knack for good times come through in their recordings. “Well, I think that all comes through because we record everything ourselves,” Aaron tells me. “We have the luxury to take all the time we need. Our studio and office is a 19th Century carriage house with 20 foot ceilings.” Ethan adds, “We’re basically at home when we record. It’s like we’re in our living room, not in some studio where we’ve never been before. Everything we do is like sitting on our couch watching TV.”
This revelation leads to a round of discussion about their unique recording situation. “I have enough experience working in studios to know what to do and use the room and what we have around us to get a reasonable end product,” says Aaron.
Floyd adds, “And our equipment has always been improving as we’ve gone. We now have so much better stuff to work with.”
“Another thing we do use analog tape. We mix everything down analog. That’s become a huge thing too,” Aaron explains. “We do use digital to record. Then we take it outside of the box. The luxury to do multiple vocal takes, to go through and do the cut and edit.”
As a final thought, Ethan adds, “So we do go to digital but it’s still one take, play it straight through. We don’t cut and paste. No click track. We just use a natural feel.”
I’m curious what the community of bands that ONSLO travels with looks like. “Big Mess are good friends,” Aaron tells me. “In fact both Big Mess and Séance [who also played this night]—I’ve recorded some of their releases. We’re out three or four times a week. Last night was weird. Basically we saw this common area of a dormitory living room turned into a strip mall. Since we played there last they put in like a Taco Bell and a Sal’s Pizza. So it became this whole sad thing. We’re playing and staring at the Taco Bell. But it was fun. We saw Fat History Month, another band we’ve played with a couple of times.”
Since we’re sitting on the top floor living space of this triple decker in the heart of Lowell, I’m curious about the performance space. “The last time we played here we had a pig pile instead of a mosh pit,” Floyd explains.
“Yeah, and someone brought a bunch of onions too,” Aaron says with a smirk. “It was a big sweaty basement that smelled of onions. Our amplifiers smelled like onions for months.”
The descriptions do little sate my curiosity so we retire to the basement where the bands play. I immediately understand why the “pig pile” replaced the mosh pit. After navigation the creaky staircase in near-pitch blackness we arrive in the basement—and it is just that—a basement. Complete with pipes overhead and structural poles all around. The ceiling is little more than six feet high with pipes meandering all around. It’s impossible to spend more than ten minutes in the space without cracking your head.
ONSLO take the “stage” (well… there is no stage. I guess it’s more accurate to say they take the floor) and roll through a blistering set of tunes, pulling from each of their five EPs. The twenty-or-so kids there to witness the assault are provided with a prog-rock-hardcore treat as ONSLO nail every song. They deliver a lesson in playing for the love of it. There’s certainly no money to be made in this basement—instead it’s all about the music, making new friends, and converting new fans.