Dancing with O'death

It is All Soul’s Day, when the veil between the living and the dead is said to be at its most diaphanous. And so we present a feature on the eligaically named, NYC-based band O’death, written Katelan Foisy. A multimedia artist, writer, model, and tarologist, Katelan is known as “La Gitana” and the “Mistress of Magic”. She can be found on the internet almost everywhere. ~Mer

Portrait by Katelan Foisy.

O’death is one of those bands you remember falling in love with.  I first heard them back in 2007 in the former apartment of William S. Burroughs. I was making cowboy coffee and my boyfriend at the time was queuing up music for our Darwin’s Nightmare Party, a party to “celebrate” the naturalist’s birthday.  “You’ve got to listen to this band,” he said as I poured loose coffee grounds into boiling water. He hit play and I stopped, mid-pour, to turn around. “Who is this?” I demanded. He told me it was O’death, a Brooklyn-based band he had seen a few weeks back. I left the coffee as we danced on cigarette strewn, whiskey stained wooden floors. The song was “Down to Rest” and I was entranced. It had the feeling of a small town forgotten and decayed, remembered only by the myth passed down by word of mouth by elders at camp fires.

Spring, 2008.  I walked into a coffee shop to deliver a human skull to an artist when a poster caught my eye. It was for an O’death show. I remembered that night again like it was the first time. I immediately went home and tried to befriend the band. They were about to come out with a new album Broken Hymns Limbs and Skin and commissioned me to do a portrait as part of the press packet. I listened to the album.  It was more refined than the first but still pulled the listener into a world between waking and dreaming. I remember thinking there was something incredibly special about this band; it wasn’t just that they had taken parts of old time Appalachia and made it contemporary, it was that they could make you feel you were part of the story. This could be explained in the way they’ve recorded each album.  Head Home and  Broken Hymns, Limbs, and Skins were recorded live.  As you listen, you see them on stage. What you hear on the album is as passionate as a live performance.

Photo by Glukkake.

Outside, their most recent album, was recorded in fragments. David Rogers-Berry, the band’s drummer, had recently battled Osteosarcoma (a form of bone cancer), undergoing chemotherapy and a shoulder replacement. Where many would have given up, O’death embraced this as an opportunity to experiment with sound. The album’s lineup of Gabe Darling- banjo/ukulele, Jesse Newman- bass, Greg Jamie-singer/lyricist, and violinist Bob Pycior lead the music towards a slower, more melodic turn.

Each O’death album has a distinct feel while retaining the band’s singular magic. They transport listeners to new places. Hearing an O’death song is like falling into a small book of short stories told in a cave by a fire, on a ship during a storm, in a pub on the streets of England, or while hidden away in a swampland cabin. Their music transcends time. Upon first listen, a characteristic track might be mistaken for a classic folk song. However, their words are striking in the contemporary dialogue with time and humanity they invoke.

Despite an old time feel to their music, the only song actually based upon a historical event is “Fire on Peshtigo” from Broken Hymns, Limbs, and Skin.  It was inspired by the 1871 Peshtigo, Wisconsin firestorm that killed 1,500 and which occurred the same day as the Chicago, Holland and Manistee, Michigan fires.