O'Brother's Tanner Merritt on Trailers, Thrice & 120 Minutes

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Atlanta's heavy, experimental-rock quintet O'Brother has been hitting the road hard in 2012. Rocks Off covered the band's headlining gig at Warehouse Live back in March, and tomorrow the band rolls into town once again, this time supporting Thrice on that band's farewell tour.

It's been a busy few months for a reason. O'Brother's debut album, Garden Window, has been met with nearly unanimous critical praise since its release last November. The record features a dynamic blend of distorted grunge, furious metal and dreamy alternative rock that breathes, swells and shifts uncomfortably like an insomniac trying desperately to fall asleep. It's loud, it's different and it's 100 percent buzzworthy.

Rocks Off caught up with O'Brother singer/guitarist Tanner Merritt this week to talk about the tour, MTV and the band's summertime plans.

Rocks Off: How's the tour going so far?

Tanner Merritt: It's going really well. We had a couple hectic days. We're only four or five shows in, and one of the shows we had to miss out on because our trailer broke while we were trying to get to the way to the Arizona show. We're still kind of getting in the swing of things, but so far so good. We've had a few setbacks, but it's all right.

RO: Wow, your trailer broke! Is that a first?

TM: On this trailer, yeah. We've had some problems with our old trailer, but we basically had an end-cap that flew off the axle and the bearings came out. We had to spend hours and hours trying to get that fixed.

RO: Sounds delightful!

TM: Yeah! (laughs)

RO: You guys have really been hitting the road this year. The last time I saw you guys was in March with Junius. There seemed to be a lot of love and respect between the two bands.

TM: Oh, definitely. We had not met that band until we toured with them and both of us had, you know, liked each other. Then once we started touring together, they were just awesome dudes, so it made for a really good, close-knit tour.

RO: Got any horror stories about bands that were not quite so easy to tour with?

TM: You know, actually, we've been lucky enough to not have really had that problem. I mean, I've heard horror stories from other bands and stuff that just didn't really get along with another band on tour, but pretty much everyone that we've toured with, we've gotten to be really good friends with. So we've been pretty lucky in that respect.

RO: Well, currently you guys are on tour with Thrice. Have you been pleased with the response that you've gotten from their fans so far?

TM: Oh yeah, definitely. This is our second full tour -- I guess our third tour with them. The first tour we went out with them on got canceled after the first eight shows because Thrice's singer's dad got really sick.

Then they took us back out on a full U.S. tour last fall and then just asked us if we wanted to do their farewell tour, so...They've been one of those bands that's been completely awesome to us and kind of taken us under their wing.

RO: Thrice kind of has a reputation for reinventing their sound from record to record. Is that a point of emphasis for O'Brother, too?

TM: Yeah, I think so. I don't know if it's ever been a conscious decision, but I think with us that we want to, like, continue to grow and evolve as a band. I think a change of sound over the years is something that can keep your listeners interested.

You don't want to basically rehash basically the same material. But on the other side, not change it so much to like lose the people who like you because of what your sound is, I guess.

RO: Garden Window has received a really nice critical response since its release. Have you guys put any thought toward the next record yet, or are you still just enjoying playing the tunes from this one so far?

TM: We don't have any songs for the next record yet because we've been touring pretty heavily and kept a pretty busy schedule, plus our bass player got married. But we've definitely been thinking about it a lot.

It took a really long time to put Garden Window out; we'd been done with it for a good while before it was released. So we're definitely itching to do the next record. I think as soon as we get home from this tour, we're going to spend a couple weeks writing.

RO: Do you like to write on the road, or is that even possible?

TM: I would love to write on the road, but most of the time it is impossible. Tours are just so busy. You can have anywhere from a four- to ten-hour drive a day, and then the shows... there's just not a lot of time.

If you do have an off day, trying to find somewhere in the middle of nowhere to unload all of your gear and write, it's just really hard. If it were possible, I think I'd enjoy it.

RO: Your first music video, for the song "Lo," recently premiered on 120 Minutes on MTV2. That must have been pretty exciting.

TM: Yeah! It's one of those things, you know, I never thought we'd have anything on MTV. It was definitely awesome, that amount of exposure. Really cool.

RO: What was the filming like?

TM: Pretty crazy. We were on tour, and we filmed it in Chicago. The only time we could really do it was the day of our Chicago show. So, we had played the night before in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and left directly after the show and drove through the snow -- this was on the Junius tour.

We got to Chicago at, like, five in the morning. It was snowing outside, and we basically hopped out of the van and started shooting all day. So, it was pretty hectic, but we were happy with the final product.

RO: What's next for O'Brother, through the summer and beyond?

TM: Well, we don't have any full tours lined up. We are playing some festivals, one of which is in Atlanta. It's called Music Midtown, and it's, you know, our home city. They used to have that festival when all of us were growing up and then they stopped doing it for several years.

They just started back last year, and it was kind of like us and everyone we knew in Atlanta, just a big part of the music culture there. So it's pretty awesome to be a part of that, and the headliners this year are Pearl Jam and Foo Fighters, so it's a pretty crazy thing that we got on it.

With Thrice and Animals as Leaders, Friday at Warehouse Live, 813 St. Emanuel. 7 p.m. doors.

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