“What the fuck is going on?/Human life is not that long” (Osees, “Funeral Solution”)
Given that he’s currently averaging four album releases a year, it’s probably no surprise to learn that John Dwyer barrels through life on a faster speed setting than everyone else. “Let’s get something to eat,” he declares, striding out into Brixton rush-hour traffic in search of a restaurant he doesn’t yet know exists. Dwyer walks and talks like he records: quickly, and with purpose. He doesn’t miss a beat when an over-eager young fan accosts him at the crossing to ask for musical recommendations (brilliantly, he tells them to go and listen to “The Kettle” by Colosseum). Deploying the highly tuned cultural antennae that have allowed him to surf – and often direct – the currents of 21st-century underground rock, within minutes he’s seated in a booth at one of South London’s hippest noodle joints, slurping on a hearty bowl of ramen while simultaneously attempting to shut down a threatened leak of Osees’ new album.
Dwyer, of course, is not just the band’s frontman, bandleader, chief songwriter and garrulous spokesman – he’s also their manager and label boss. “Oh yeah, I’m a total control freak,” he grins, wiping the ramen broth from his moustache. “I like doing it and by a process of elimination I found out I was pretty good at it. I had no formal training in any of this shit – I’ve lied my way into every job I’ve ever had. Even the guitar I learned by falling ass-backwards into it.”
Ass-backwards or not, Dwyer has spent the last couple of decades building Osees – and the excellent Castle Face label he co-founded, initially just to release their records – into a veritable psychedelic cottage industry. Back at the turn of the century, OCS (as they were styled on their first releases) were just a weird home-recording diversion for Dwyer from his main bands Coachwhips and Pink & Brown. But when their journeys both fizzled out, he realised that in order to continue making the type of music he wanted in the way he wanted, he’d have to assume total control. “Luckily, my guys, I think, realise the amount of work I do makes it a little bit easier on them. We have a good socialist system of payment going, but they don’t have to do things like pay for hotels or book the shows. I’m essentially managing everything because I like doing it. I’m good at it, but I also like controlling! So it’s a little win-win all round.”
“John is generous and protective as a bandmate, and so fun to be around,” says Brigid Dawson, a key Osees contributor for more than 10 years and still a member of the Castle Face family. “He runs a tight ship and expects you to play to the best of your abilities, which makes the band tight and the music better. Getting to play in such a great band – I feel very lucky.”