Even greater than the sum of their considerable parts, the drumming duo helps define one of the most prolific and mercurial rock bands of our time.
Scanning the history of the band known as Oh Sees can leave you questioning your definition of “hard work.” Known variously as Orinoka Crash Suite, OCS, and Orange County Sound, among other variations, Oh Sees has been the psych-rock outlet of guitarist and singer John Dwyer since 1997. For the past fifteen years the outfit has released at least one album annually, mostly on their own label, and they’ve toured constantly. Since 2015 they’ve utilized a double-drummer rhythm section, which currently features Dan Rincon and Paul Quattrone.
While each new Oh Sees album is a wildly unique take on psychedelic music—their latest, Smote Reverser, finds the twin drummers unleashing a snare-heavy onslaught on the Santana/Motörhead meld of “Overthrown” and chugging along a hypnotic 7/8 krautrock groove on the twelve-minute “Anthemic Aggressor”—the group’s live shows are uniformly incendiary. From behind the drums, a ninety-minute Oh Sees set resembles a long-distance race run at a sprinter’s pace.
Oh Sees has featured a total of nine drummers in their lineup. When John Dwyer first contacted Dan Rincon in 2015 about playing with the band, Rincon didn’t know which of Dwyer’s many projects he was being considered for—much less that he was entering a two-drummer situation. “He asked me to learn a couple Oh Sees songs and then come in and jam and see how it worked,” Rincon recalls. “[When I arrived] Ryan Moutinho was there, and I was like, Oh…kay?” Rincon and Moutinho subsequently played on the two Oh Sees albums released in 2016, A Weird Exits and An Odd Entrances. Moutinho exited the band soon after and in time was replaced by Paul Quattrone, who’d spent six years in the popular dance-rock band !!! (pronounced Chk Chk Chk). Rincon and Quattrone then recorded 2017’s Orc and last year’s Smote Reverser.
Rincon is a Los Angeles native with a lot of punk rock in his résumé. His father, a professional guitarist, introduced him to bands like Blue Cheer and King Crimson, and a drummer uncle gave him his first lessons. After high school, he found himself in the Bay Area playing punk in bands like Wild Thing and Personal and the Pizzas, garage rock with Nobunny, and glammy power pop in the aptly named Glitz.
Quattrone hails from Syracuse, New York, and moved to Pittsburgh to attend college, where he played in punk and Afrobeat bands and cofounded the highly regarded garage-rock duo Modey Lemon. After half a decade rocking dance beats with !!!, Quattrone found Oh Sees a welcome home for his broad skillset. “I think that was part of the reason John wanted both of us,” says Quattrone. “He knows what we’re into as far as drumming goes, and it’s the kind of stuff he likes.”
Noticing that a Grateful Dead song has come on the house system as we’re conducting our interview, Quattrone considers how Oh Sees compares to other well-known rock bands that have featured two drummers. “On songs that we stretch out on during our set,” he says, “a lot of times we take it down really quiet, and it goes into some Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers territory. ‘Jettisoned’ to me is just like a beefed-up Allman Brothers in [terms of ] the drums. As much as I love the Grateful Dead, though, I don’t listen for the drumming. But the Allman Brothers had these really funky syncopated grooves, and they hit hard.”
As with the preceding album, Orc, the lineup of Dwyer, Rincon, Quattrone, and bassist Tim Hellman tracked Smote Reverser at the famed Sonic Ranch studio located outside of El Paso, Texas, after significant preproduction in Los Angeles. “The only song on Smote Reverser that was composed before going into the studio,” says Quattrone, “was ‘Flies Bump Against the Glass.’ And ‘Enrique El Cobrador’ came out of a spontaneous jam in the studio. But the rest of the songs came out of long jams at our practice space over a period of about two months, four or five days a week. Sometimes Dan and I would get to the practice space a couple hours early and come up with patterns before John and Tim arrived, like those on ‘Overthrown,’‘C,’ and ‘Beat Quest.’ For the most part, though, we pretty much made up stuff on the spot.”
Quattrone and Rincon both cite Jaki Liebezeit of the German progressive/ krautrock band Can as a considerable influence—this is understandable, given Oh Sees’ sound. But as Quattrone is quick to tell, the band members draw from jazz and minimalist composers as well. By way of illustration, the drummer describes an incident on tour when Dwyer shared a favorite recording in the van. “He was playing me this Jack DeJohnette track where the intro is just Jack doing his thing,” Quattrone recalls. “John was like, ‘Is this in a time signature?’ It was in 4/4, but DeJohnette was playing around the beat, not playing a pattern. John wanted to do something like that.”
In fact, Dwyer plays a bit of drums himself. “John plays like those ‘non-drumming’ musicians like Prince and Stevie Wonder,” says Quattrone, “who always have a really cool feel that I can never match. Sometimes he’ll just play something like this,” at which point Quattrone taps out a repeated flam that gets wider with each pass, phasing its way back to a regular flam.
So a psych guitarist is incorporating Steve Reich phasing concepts? “Yeah,” Rincon affirms. “There would be a second rotation of it. John’s a big Steve Reich fan.”
TOOLS OF THE TRADE
Paul Quattrone and Dan Rincon are both longtime Ludwig Vistalite players, and live they set up center stage—no risers—with Dan on a clear early-’70s kit and Paul on a circa-’78 Tequila Sunrise set. Each kit features a 9×13 tom, a 16×16 floor tom, and a 14×24 bass drum; Rincon’s Black Beauty snare is 5×14 while Quattrone’s is a 6.5×14 model.
For the recording of the last two Oh Sees albums, Quattrone and Rincon used house drums. “I used to like using Vistalites on recordings,” says Quattrone, “but I get why John didn’t want to use them. They had these nice vintage drumkits at Sonic Ranch; I used their Rogers set.”
“I used their cymbals as well,” adds Rincon. “Live, I play rides for crashes, but it just never transfers as well [in the studio], so I used lighter cymbals.”
Quattrone has recently added a Roland SPD-SX multipad unit live to trigger noise, synths, and Theremin samples in concert.
And while the Oh Sees bandleader allows a good amount of freedom among his collaborators, when he has something specific in mind, the bar is raised for everyone. “Every once in a while he’ll have a specific idea,” says Rincon, “and I’ll be like, ‘I don’t know how to do that.’ But he’ll say something like, ‘It’s your job. We’re practicing on Tuesday—figure it out by then.’ And I’ll think, Okay! It’s great; he’s pushed me to go in directions I never thought I’d go as a drummer.”
In addition to challenging them conceptually, Dwyer has tested Rincon and Quattrone’s physical limits. The athleticism required to play a ninety-minute set every night has provided its own form of conditioning, according to Dan, and Paul finds cycling around the hillier parts of L.A. while off the road helpful for increasing his musical endurance. Both players try to stay hydrated and stretch for forty minutes or more before the show. “It’s an hour and a half, and it’s non-stop,” says Quattrone. “I’m forty years old, and even though I’m playing the same music that I played for most of my twenties, when I was in those bands we played for thirty, maybe forty minutes. It’s just like playing a sport.”
And like every great team, the Oh Sees’ drum section succeeds on the strength of their perfectly interlocking parts. While there are songs where unison playing make sense, the developing language of the pair includes increasingly complementary rhythms. “We recently had a practice with just me playing drums,” explains Rincon, “and when it came to the most recent tunes, there really was a ton missing without one of us filling in certain parts of the beats.”
“When we’re not playing the same beat, those are my favorite songs to play,” adds Quattrone. “It’s really obvious when a song requires us to play the same thing. But on the songs where we really stretch out, we play different stuff every time. It’s requires a lot of listening and watching.”