Why, for twenty years now, has the American John Dwyer been recording what sounds like hallucinatory musical reminders of the 70s? First, because young John was weaned on the Velvet Underground, Frank Zappa, Jimi Hendrix, and even Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica. Nothing unusual about that if your parents are hippies! But his first real trip was when a family friend gave him acid and introduced him to CAN (Monster Movie). The repetitive style at the heart of this German band’s music fried his brains – but in a good way. Shocked, Dwyer started to play guitar at sixteen, but stopped to devote himself to drawing, his second passion.
It wasn’t until he was twenty that he once again picked up his six-string. At the time he was doing a succession of odd jobs (cook, courier, house painter) as well as skateboarding, watching horror films, and reading William Burroughs. He saw the Cramps in concert and devoured everything electric, from Black Flag to Celtic Frost, via Alice Cooper, Roxy Music, Slayer and Iron Maiden. But prog rock would be his main passion: King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Hawkind, Gong... And he would return to CAN’s trance sound again and again and again. In the mid 1990s he decided to leave his hometown (Providence, Rhode Island) for San Francisco. At last he was beginning to see himself as a musician.
In a very punk-noise vein, he put together Coachwips in 2001, followed by Pink & Brown and The Hospitals. Dwyer was still searching for himself, and experimenting in a deliberately disjointed way. It was only after founding OCS in 2003 (later called Osees, The OhSees, Thee Oh Sees and Oh Sees) that he gradually turned towards a much more convincing and structured rock-garage-prog sound. From then on he toured extensively and recorded an impressive number of albums on his own label, Castle Face (nearly 27 in 18 years). On stage, Dwyer displays raw energy, occasionally showing off his amazing tongue, his amused look of one possessed covered by a generous mass of hair. Between a few spicy solos played on his see through SG, he sings psychedelic lyrics in a small, echoing, elfin voice that contrasts sharply with his muscular frame.
As the years have gone by, Dwyer has hired and fired a number of musicians, tending to dig the same trench but varying the approach and where he borrows from: The Doors (“C”), The Stranglers (“Nite Expo”), The Mothers of Invention (“Save The Shovel”). But the through line of his sprawling body of work is still the motoring rhythms of CAN. Since 2014, John Dwyer has also experimented with electronics on old analogue machines, occasionally rediscovering the esoteric grace of a Klaus Schulze (“Regard To The Monolith”). Constantly evolving, he founded Bent Arcana in 2020, a psychic jazz improvisation group that resurrects the dark magic of Miles Davis’ electric period (“Psychic Liberation”).
What new formula is John Dwyer concocting for us as he approaches fifty? A marriage between the wobbly rhythms of the Shaggs and the Japanese noise of Merzbow? Anything is possible. But one thing is certain, he won’t stop: ‘I love music so much, I really do. It’s saved my life, basically. I would have been a total prick if it weren’t for music I think’.