Photo by Nicole Kibert / www.elawgrrl.com
Try to think about the person you were eight years ago. Think about who you were, the things you liked and loved, and all the things that constructed your character eight years ago. Hopefully, you look back on yourself back then and realize how different that person was compared to the person reading this article right now. The human condition is rooted in constant change, and that is what makes everything in life so interesting. How something starts as one entity, but expires as something totally different.
Houston, TX’s O Pioneers!!! are certainly no exception to the idea of “constant change.” Whether it be drummers, bass players, or the sounds etched onto the plethora of seven inches and splits, every aspect of the band has grown and changed right along with the bands founding member, Eric Solomon. Starting as just another folk punk band that probably listened to a little too much Against Me!, over the past eight years O Pioneers!!! have grown into a staple of the DIY punk scene. For just short of a decade, Eric Solomon has constantly crafted and restructured the band to follow his growth as not only a songwriter, but as a human being.
This winter, O Pioneers!!! will be embarking on their final US tour, before Solomon finally puts the band to rest. I caught up with Eric just after the Fest 10 this year to talk about the life and times of O Pioneers!!!. In a scene where some bands hold on for far too long, releasing the same tired punk record over and over again, O Pioneers!!! leave the scene the right way: on their terms, and something completely different than it started.
Interview by Zac Hobbs
ZH: What is the two minute brief history of O Pioneers!!!? How does a band go from a guy playing guitar with a drummer to one point touring with 3 (or 4?) guitar players, a bass player and two drummers?
ES: I guess I was just driven to do something I deeply cared about. I was 18 and just moved back from living overseas. There was a handful of people (like 3 or 4 people), that were semi-interested in punk music where I was living. So when I came back I was ready to go to shows, ready to be in a band, ready to set up shows, etc… Really it all comes down to me really wanting to be a part of this DIY community that I’d read about everywhere else. Houston is a huge sprawling metropolis, and I was living in a suburb about 30 minutes north of the city when I moved here. There was a tight knit group of kids doing some stuff, but by the time I got into town, they were mostly older, getting out of punk and more into indie or they were just way more DIY then I’d ever be. I didn’t really feel I fit into any of those categories. I knew I wanted to be in a punk band, and a couple months prior I had just heard about Against Me!. I think this was right around the time The Disco Before The Breakdown came out, and I was losing my mind over it. I had tried starting a band with some people in my area but no one really wanted to play in a bad Against Me! or American Steel rip-off band. They all wanted to play stoner metal. So I kind of shelved it for a little bit until I was finally able to convince a co-worker of mine to come over and work on some songs. He came from a rock and roll and rockabilly background, so I think he was a little more comfortable with how we started out, and what we were playing.
Also a very key factor is I was NOT a good musician, I still feel like I’m not.
ZH: We’ve actually argued about this before…I’ve always said every band needs a guitar player, a drummer and a bassist. What made you fight the idea of getting a bass player for so long?
ES: Honestly, the band started as a two piece and remained that way because no one wanted to play with us. I’m not sure if it was the touring schedule, or if it was my weird guitar playing, or because I was an incompetent musician, but no one wanted to do it. So we just said “fuck it,” and kept doing what we were doing to play music. I had always hoped for other people to join the band, but I wasn’t going to stop what I was doing because we couldn’t get anyone else to join. Honestly when a bass player finally joined, it felt so good to have that bottom end carry some of the weight. Every additional musician just felt more and more fun and natural.
ZH: Similarly, what made you finally decide to round out the band? Do you have any idea how many members have been in O Pioneers!!! by now?
ES: Like I said, every additional musician just felt super fun and natural, and things kind of grew organically. Right now where this band is, it’s the most dynamic and textured it’s ever been! But at this point, I’ve been doing OP!!! since 2004! That’s almost 8 years! Since then, we’ve had around 8 or 9 people playing drums, 4 people play bass, and 4 other people besides me play guitar. That’s a lot of fucking turn over to keep anything consistent. And that was always the struggle, because every time someone new came in, every song sounded slightly different, and totally unique to that person’s style. You get stuck in how it sounded, and it’s super hard sometimes to understand that styles will change your songs enough to make you notice. Sometimes it was for the better, sometimes for the worse, but I kept rolling with it. Honestly, everyone that I’m playing with now, and even when I played with Junior Battles: it was just fun. Two completely separate sounding groups of people, but both so uniquely OP!!!.
With everyone I’m playing with now, it finally just hit me, everyone except for myself are playing songs that someone else wrote. So why not kill it? Why not start something new that the five of us can claim as our own, instead of claiming it as mine. That is where the idea of our new band, Black Clouds, comes from. Starting something fresh so everyone in the band can treat it as their own, instead of it just being “my band.”
ZH: With such a revolving door of musicians, did OP ever become the name for the Eric Solomon solo project? Or did everyone kind of make valid contributions to the band? I guess what I am getting at here is did you sort of conduct the orchestra, or was everyone contributing to the final product of the songs?
ES: I always wanted this to be a group effort, the way a band should be, but when you have such a revolving cast of people making up your songs, sometimes it’s super hard to keep it constant. Before I went up to Toronto to play with Junior Battles, I was ready to call it a day. I was sick of all the constant change over. I was sick of doing things on the fly, always playing shows with people who had just learned the songs. This was right around the time of the second year of Harvest Of Hope. At this point, everything OP!!! had done, was 90% me, 10% whoever else happened to be in the band. When Junior Battles convinced me to come up, that was really the first time I ever felt like I was “collaborating” with other musicians. I came in with a basic idea for a song, and we turned it into one of my favorites (“Hey! That’s My Blood!”). Then as soon as that was finished we wrote 3 other songs, that just destroyed any thoughts I had on stopping and any ideas on what I thought this band was or should be. Again, I’m not that great of a musician or song writer, and I accept that. So to come from a situation of not really ever having an easy time writing songs, to what happened in Toronto, I was ready to give it another try because I didn’t have to “conduct the orchestra”.
ZH: When you look back at OP!!!, what is the best memory you have, or the definitive story you’ll tell about the band?
ES:I honestly feel so lucky for all the things I’ve been able to do with this shitty mediocre band. Everything from opening for Dillinger Four in a catholic school church to having friends tattoo themselves with our names. It never ceases to amaze me how insane the connection of music can be. There are a ton of stories and events I’ll never forget, but I’m mostly just gracious for the people that I’ve met while doing this. I think sometimes people do forget how small this scene of people really is, and it’s an honor to even think I was possibly a part of it for a couple of minutes.
ZH: What’s the worst memory?
ES: Hands down the worst memory from this band is driving home from a month long tour, that was just awesome, and flipping our van in Nevada. Not once, but TWICE! No one was seriously hurt which is astounding, and just fucking lucky. But the tour was amazing. Playing with tons of killer bands and friends, hitting all of our favorite cities, and then on the way home coming so close with death…I don’t wish that on anyone. It was one of my most agonizing and stressful moments of my life.
ZH: OP!!! toured pretty extensively for a while, do you have a favorite city? Somewhere that treated you better than others?
ES: My favorite thing about touring is meeting people. Some cities the shows may not have been killer, but going and hanging out was always worth it. Cities like Birmingham, AL, we’d play shows then go hang out at AL’s, a 24 hour Mediterranean diner. Or going and hanging out with Cam in Clemson, SC. But my favorite city to hang out in would have to be Chicago. That city ruled, and having Justin from Underground Communiqué as your tour guide is the fucking best. Cleveland was always super fun too. The shows were pretty fun, but hanging out at the Soggy Dog and going to Melt is the best thing you can do on tour.
ZH: After visiting a lot of time on the road, how do you think the Houston scene compares to other scenes and communities? Do you think of OP!!! as a Houston band, or just a band that happens to be from Houston?
ES: Well it depends on what type of scene you are talking about. What a lot of people don’t realize about Houston is that it’s fucking massive. So you can live 30 minutes away from the city proper and still be considered as living in Houston. I believe it’s the 4th largest city in the country, and keeps on growing. I also personally feel that there is such a big turnover in this city, not only in terms of people living here, but in turns of commerce and art. Buildings don’t stick around for very long, it seems like things keep growing and keep getting re-built. So when you put all of that together, I feel it’s hard to keep something stable. Also for a couple of years there really wasn’t a ton of places to do smaller shows. Things have kind of leveled out in the city, and there is a re-growth in an independent community, but unfortunately I’m semi-removed from it. I haven’t thought of OP!!! as a Houston based band in like 6 years. When I’m the only person living in Houston, the group is not representative of the city. I also don’t think many people in town even know we are a band. We haven’t played Houston in like 5 years.
ZH: When I look over the OP!!! discography, it seems like all you guys did were 7”s and EPs and splits. I think over the 8 years OP!!! was a band, you only released two proper full lengths, correct? Was that a conscious decision? I know some bands sort of just make it a habit to release nothing but EPs these days.
ES: Again it all comes back to the changeover of people and my lack of musical skills. In the middle of writing Neon Creeps, the 2nd OP!!! full length, Danny (who is in Pswingset now) and Matt quit the band! I had to beg them to record the songs we wrote so I could have some document of them to show to the next group of people that were coming to play with me. It was so frustrating dealing with songs in that situation, because again, everyone plays different, and their different styles change the way the songs sound. So writing songs for 7”s wasn’t really an ideal situation, but it kept the band active, and also made it so I could work with bands and people I really respected. I think with our new band we are going to try and do more full lengths, and put together records as a total record. But with that being said the first record for Black Clouds is a split with Tigers Jaw so I could be totally wrong about that.
ZH: Did you achieve everything you wanted to do with O Pioneers!!!? Is there anything you really wanted to do and just never had the chance to?
ES: I was pretty content with everything we did. I would have liked to have put out more full lengths and maybe done some more northwest tours, but it was what it was. I was the one who called the shots, and I’m fully aware of that. I believe we are going to do a European tour in the spring before we officially call it a day, but that would also be on the list of things I wish we could have done.
ZH: The latter part of the OP!!! catalog really seems to drift away from more folk inspired punk and started to become just aggressive melodic rock. What sparked that?
ES: I started to realize that the folk punk stuff, I think along with everyone else, was getting over-saturated. I really started to get burned out on some of the people that were around in that scene. I remember playing a show with Pat the Bunny in CT and I heard him say something like “drop out of school, ‘cause school is fucking stupid”, and it stopped me in my tracks. There were a ton of 14-18 year old kids there, and I was like , what if someone took that to heart cause some junkie subscribed to this lifestyle? Who fucking tells kids to drop out of school? I mean I’m not one to tell someone what to do or say, but I remember specifically at that moment being like “fuck this.” I’m still an avid supporter of DIY culture and business, but I just remembered thinking at that moment, that what he was saying wasn’t cool. And I felt there was a lot of that surrounding the Folk Punk movement. Also at that time I was getting into louder music, and just generally wanting to play some different things.
ZH: What made you decide to start toning back OP!!!? When did you realize it was time to throw in the towel? Was it a singular moment, or just something that became pretty apparent over time?
ES: As I had mentioned earlier, I just took a step back and realized, the 4 other people playing with me, were playing MY songs. Not necessarily songs they had attachments to, or were committed to. They meant nothing more to them then helping me out as a friend. Well that’s not entirely true, as the 4 people who are in my band have become amazing friends because of their interest in my band, but never the less, it felt weird to think of it in that situation. I wanted to start something new and fresh for a couple of years, but it just always felt easier to continue on the momentum of OP!!! But these new songs, they just felt different. They had a different attitude, they were more complex, more compelling, and with three guitar players, a lot fucking louder. We also all kind of bonded on Archers of Loaf and Jawbox, and just really had a good time being around one another. So when I brought up the change to everyone, I feel like everyone was ready for it, and ready to start something new.
ZH: So you have a tour coming up here in the winter, is that it? Any last show or last record?
ES: The last US OP!!! tour will be this winter, and we are hoping for a European tour in spring. We will be doing the US and Euro tour with New Bruises (who happen to be 3/5ths of the people in Black Clouds/OP!!!). The last OP!!! release was the split with Andrew Jackson Jihad. Those are three of the best-written and best recorded OP!!! songs ever, so I’m beyond excited that that was the last record.
ZH: What’s next from here?
ES: We are going to be doing the winter tour, and releasing a digital discography for free on Kiss of Death. While we are doing this winter tour we are going to play a couple of new songs from our new band Black Clouds. The first record we are putting out for that is going to be a split LP with Tigers Jaw on Run For Cover Records. I’m not sure exactly when it’s coming out. But I know it’s coming out soon!