Guitar-slinging bull 

Trampling jaded post-modernism with Oxes

Baltimore’s Oxes (who go by the unlikely handles of Natale, Prison and Dr. Windsor Castle) might strike you either as an agreeable bunch of situationist rock agitators or just a pack of smart-asses taken with their own cleverness. Of course, it’s fine to be both.

An Oxes show is as much a visual experience as an audio one. They play a mind-scraping wad of time signatures and baffling riffs with wireless kits, while standing on wooden boxes that showcase the spectator aspect of their performance. We recently squeezed some words out of “left guitarist” Natale:

A lot of people probably comment on this, but have you ever seriously entertained the idea of getting a bass player? How would adding a shit-hot bassist affect the personal dynamics and the sense of musical proprietorship among current band members?

Bass means jazz, and we hate jazz. I’m not against us having one, but there is the dilution of what we have as these three very different guys with three very different visions making music. Oxes songs seem to be highly, um, vocabularied by their titles [“Riki Creem Calls This One ‘Chivas Regal,’” “I’m From Hell, Open a Windle”] when actually they are entirely instrumental.

I’ll say we have never started with a vocabularied approach. Generally, there will be the musical aesthetic we are trying to rip off (for unconscious visceral enjoyment of the audience, i.e., the way Pavlov might write a song for a dog), or the musical aesthetic we are trying to upend or re-contextualize. But that sort of approach is just getting too postmodern in this after-postmodern world we are approaching. We’re trying to find that millennial sound. Maybe it is indeed rooted in non-musical inspiration.

In as much as you’re really “trying,” are you trying to expand the Oxes’ fan base qualitatively or quantitatively? Is it more important to have more people buying records and coming to shows, or to refine and rarify Oxes’ appeal to the select few who will really “get it?”

It’s tremendously interesting to see the results from approaching it both ways. If we were asked to open for Blink-182, we’d do it in a split. I don’t even have to go into why. But also, we never ever release a song that we think is lame, except for on this new album, which will have the lame quotient of 17 percent, divided among four songs. And having each release be unique in some way, whether it be the artwork, the music, or the packaging, is something we always find important. Our new LP (wait and see, of course) and our one-sided 7-inch that was only released in Sweden, 100 copies, come to mind.

You play dodgeball?

We just play dodgeball and call each other nerds and fags. It’s quite intense. On a tennis court outside of an elementary school near where most of all of our friends grew up, we’ve been playing for about five years. This year, somehow, word spread to people who we knew and to a lot that we didn’t even know at all. Now it’s a monster. 70 to 100 people every Thursday night. And it’s a good opportunity to see all these different types of people just getting together after they’ve all been either the constant winner or loser in school, and we’re all adults, and we’re just playing because it’s such a lovely feeling.

We are used to bands with a dress code or a uniform of some sort. But on this tour, you’re asking audience members on each stop to wear a certain color to your show. How does this figure in to the

Oxes gestalt?

Well, aesthetically, it’s great to see rock videos these days where all the fans are dressed up the same, at least vaguely. But it’s never the band who decides this, it’s the art director, the cinematographer, and the director. And videos are stupid. They have ruined live music for an entire generation of rock fans. Us attempting to get people to dress up is really just one more step in our vision to get live music exciting for the jaded people out there. We got some of them with the rock, we got some of them with the boxes, we got more with the wireless, we got more with the outfits (so that the performance on stage gives the impression of an invasion of people entirely alien to the viewer) and this is one more step. Next is figuring out how to move inhumanly slow on stage, like in the matrix. Or like in the movie,

The Matrix.

On the subject of your own cleverness, is the band Arab On Radar still mad at you for impersonating them? [Note: In early 2001, Oxes released a split 10-inch with themselves on one side and themselves impersonating Arab On Radar, a cantankerous Providence, R.I. noise band whose sound has been delicately compared to a Nazi gynecological exam, on the other. Far from being flattered, Arab On Radar were furious and their label, Skin Graft, considered legal action.]

Don’t really know. Officially, “no.” Despite what a few who are directly involved with AOR have said to me in e-mails, I’ve never heard directly an opinion or a sentiment either way from the band. I guess I’m essentially being shunned. We had an idea and we executed it and a lot of people enjoyed the idea. Our intention was to do it purely as a performance art piece. No feelings are hurt when Chris Burden shoots himself in a gallery. On that level, what we did is no different: We displaced the gallery, put it in a record store and did something that brought out a lot of questions. At the end of the day the only complaint was that we ‘took money’ from them, but that’s absurd. Want $300? I’ll write a check today, and then tomorrow you’ll have all your capitalist friends on your side and the rest of the world saying, “All they cared about was the money.” Would we be mad if a band did something like that “to” us? Yes. ... Psych!

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