Interview with Tanner Merritt from O’Brother: Room With A View

Atlanta-based experimental outfit O’Brother released their first full-length album late last year, Garden Window, and spent the last few months touring in support of it. Performing alongside the likes of Circa Survive, O’Brother are certainly taking steps in the right direction. Garden Window was produced by friends of the guys, members of Manchester Orchestra, and is an album that hovers around the question of the meaning of life. Influenced by nature with well-penned lyrics, the group recently released a new EP, Basement Window, and are set to embark on a short tour this month. Frontman Tanner Merritt took the time to speak with The Aquarian about their records, the tour, and the future of the band. Here is what he had to say:

You guys are coming off Circa Survive’s Violent Waves Tour with Touché Amore and Balance And Composure. What was the best lesson or experience that you got out of it?

Man, I’d probably just have to say the people on the tour, we were lucky enough to have known all the bands on that tour prior to that. We had toured with Circa about a year and a half earlier and then we had done some shows with Touché in Europe. We had known the Balance guys for a while—we had been really close friends with them. Spending six weeks with those bands was just amazing, like getting to hang out with them every day, getting to play with them every day. Being with bands that we actually like to hang out with and play with and watch, because they are all great bands.

The first ever Triple Crown Records Tour is around the corner and O’Brother are going to be a part of it. How did this come about?

It’s just a small one. We are kind of feeling it out and seeing how it goes in hopes of doing a larger and longer Triple Crown tour, possibly next year. We’ll see how it goes and then maybe do a full U.S. [tour] next year or something. I think it is something that has been talked about for a while.

They just approached us about it and Triple Crown recently signed Caspian, who I had known. I met Caspian probably six years ago or something like that, and have been friends with them. We’ve been fans of each other for a while. We’ve toured with Moving Mountains before—they’ve been on the label since before we had. It just seemed to make sense. All of us are around the same size band and, I guess, like-minded.

What can you tell us about your new disc, Basement Window?

Basement Window is an EP that we just released. It just came out physically last month. We basically took some of the more aggressive tracks on Garden Window and we wrote alternate arrangements for them. Really more laid-back versions and we recorded it all ourselves in a basement studio. It was kind of just like a writing exercise to see if we could take some of these more aggressive, harder-hitting songs and see how they stand up as stripped-down versions. It was a lot of fun.

How would you describe the songwriting and studio process for Garden Window?

For the most part, we had a completed, mapped out album. It had been forever since we recorded and we’d been touring off of an EP. We would throw in different things that we had written, over time, into our live set.

It was a very different experience. We hadn’t had a label at that point and we just kind of went into it knowing we wanted to do a record, knowing we wanted to do these songs. We were fortunate enough to do it at our friends’—Manchester Orchestra—studio. They own a record label called Favorite Gentlemen that we used to be a part of. They let us use their studio. Most of the songs were pretty much done; there were things that changed like tempos, a little bit of structures and stuff. Most of it we had had pretty planned out.

I saw on your website’s blog section there were a bunch of watercolor paintings posted that matched the album art. I assume that one of you guys did the art for the album?

Yes, our old guitar player Aaron [Wamack] did the album artwork. He’s done a lot of our artwork.

The art incorporated a lot of natural themes. What is the story behind those works?

Because, I think, it was the way the record was shaping. We were using a lot of organic sounds and even lyrically, organic metaphors and such. We just really wanted to make an organic, lush soundscape of a record, visually and sonically, I guess.

Where did your vocal style come from? Were you self-taught?

Yeah. I took a couple years of chorus in high school, so I think that background had something to do with it. I think a lot of it had to do with what I was listening to when I first started writing songs and singing with a band. I was probably listening to a lot of Jeff Buckley and stuff like that. I think that just because I think it affected the way that I sing because I didn’t know how, so I probably subconsciously imitated the things that I liked about other people. I really didn’t have my own voice at that point.

Was getting involved in chorus initially how you became involved in music?

I’ve pretty much been involved in music as far back as I can remember. I came from a family of musicians. It was kind of always around. Pretty much everyone in my immediate family plays something.

Is there any one record or artist that kind of shaped you as a musician growing up?

Definitely, I think I had always known that I wanted to play music. I think the first time that I heard [Radiohead’s 1997 album] OK Computer was the time that I thought, “Alright, I finally had an idea of what kind of music I wanted to play.” I think that first listening experience probably affected me more than anything else.

What are you into right now?

Right now, there’s this new band, Exitmusic, that I just thought of first because I was listening to it earlier, that I like a lot. They’re fairly new. I’ve been getting into a lot of like Trent Reznor stuff, like scores and his side-project, How To Destroy Angels. They just released a new EP that’s cool [An Omen_EP]. A lot of movie scores by different composers and stuff.

What bands have you not yet toured with but would like to?

Man, I think it would be awesome to open up for Deftones. I feel like that’s just one band that’s kind of done things right and they’ve had like a really long and successful career. The record that they just put out [Koi No Yokan] is still just as good as things that they were putting out 10 years ago. Their new record is amazing, so I think that would be a great band to tour with.

Any goals for 2013?

The goal for next year is our second full-length. We’ve been writing a lot in between tours. I think we’re almost ready. We almost have enough material to start working on a new record. We’re going to try to do that at the beginning of next year and see how that goes. Hopefully, we’ll have out a new record by the middle of next year. We’re doing Australia for the first time in February of next year. I’m stoked about it, really stoked about that. Hopefully, that will just open a bunch of doors. I’d love to do a full U.S. headlining tour. We haven’t done one of those yet. Every full U.S. tour we’ve done, we’ve been supporting someone, so we’d like to do our own tour. Go back to Europe at some point next year. So, those are all goals.


O’Brother will perform at North Star Bar in Philadelphia on Dec. 5, Maxwell’s in Hoboken on Dec. 6, and the Bowery Ballroom in NYC on Dec. 9.