Dave O’Leary has become a staple on the Seattle Music Scene for a number of years, exploring a passion for music and writing through good times and bad. His recent Booktrope publication, The Music Book, explores the Seattle music scene from the perspective of a musician and writer.
He’s currently working on his third book, Condoms on Christmas, an adaptation from a short story published in The Monarch Review in 2011.
Dave was kind enough to sit down for ten questions on his experiences while writing The Music Book in the bosom of the rock music scene in Seattle.
The Review for The Music Book – Here
Your book speaks to all different kinds of music. Is there any genre of music that you really don’t like?
What I listen to least is country. That stems from the fact that when I was young I pretty much liked everything until I heard Cheap Trick and AC/DC on the radio. When I was in third or fourth grade, my older sister got Live at Budokan, and I was just mesmerized by the intro for “Ain’t That a Shame.” Every chance I got I’d sneak into her room and listen to it, and then for years I didn’t like anything if it didn’t have loud distorted guitars or spaced out Pink Floyd-like effects. In recent years, I’ve gained an appreciation of older country music, artists like Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline. I couldn’t tell you the first thing about modern country music though.
The Music Book centers around the Seattle music scene. Do you have any other projects that might broaden into other areas or genres of music?
The Music Book grew out of my music writing about bands in Seattle. I hadn’t planned to write a book, but the singer for Furniture Girls, Stacey Meyer, suggested the idea to me once at a party after a show, and the idea took hold. I don’t currently have any plans to write something similar for other areas or genres of music, but I’ll always use music as an element in my writing.
After all the gigs you’ve played, how is your hearing in real life?
I do actually have tinnitus, and I’d bet I’ve lost some frequencies over the years. The worst thing about tinnitus is that I never have complete silence. I yearn for that at times, like when I lived on Camano Island for six months and would stand out on the deck looking up at the stars. There wasn’t a single other sound and everything was so beautiful but the ringing was always there and always just loud enough to take a way from the moment a little.
If there was one musical performance in all of history that you could go attend and review, what would it be.
It’s a tough one. I got into music writing only by suggestion, and though I did enjoy it in the way that I did it, I’m not sure how much more of it I want to do. The thing is that when writing about a show you miss some things because you’re scribbling in a notebook. I mention that in The Music Book and how sometimes when working with a photographer I’ll see the photos after the show and think, “When did that happen?”
But to answer the question, I would like to have been at the Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii performance. My old band in Columbus in the 90s was called Third Stone, and we had a definite Pink Floyd influence. After practice in the guitar player’s basement, we’d go upstairs and put that video on and just let the music carry us away. We’d drink more beer or smoke a few joints and sometimes we’d go back downstairs when it was over and we’d start jamming on some Pink Floyd songs. Yeah, it would have been cool to have been there.
I would also like to have been at a Radiohead show in Paris that I caught once on cable when I was living in Korea. That show was what made me like Radiohead. They were playing only songs from Kid A and Amnesiac, and they opened with “Morning Bell,” and wow, that drum beat just blew me away. I was aware of them before that show of course, but they stepped up to a whole other level for me that night. I went out and bought Kid A and Amnesiac the following day.
Whose music has influenced you the most?
Early on it was the heavy stuff. AC/DC, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath. Geezer Butler was my first favorite bass player. Cheap Trick was always there. Then there was Pink Floyd and the Doors and then Mozart. Radiohead and Beethoven came along in the early 2000s. These days the music that has most influenced my music and my life is all the local stuff that’s in The Music Book. It’s all music that should be heard by more than just those people going out to live music clubs here in Seattle. As for bass playing, my biggest influence over the years has been Roger Waters.
When do you do your best work, when you’re happy or sad?
When I was living alone a few years ago, I was definitely pretty sad. Depressed is a better word actually. I got a lot of writing done then. I was blogging. I was working on Horse Bite–my first book–and I was writing all the music articles that formed the backbone of The Music Book. Still, even though I was writing all the time, it doesn’t mean I was writing better. I finished up The Music Book after I moved in with my fiance, and I’d have to say the writing in The Music Book is better. But then it should be I guess. I hope my writing is always getting better even though I’m not writing as much as I once was. I’m smarter about it now And I’m happy. Being happy helps me be a little more objective about things, and I can more easily see when the writing needs to be better.
If there wasn’t music, what do you think you would be doing?
When I was younger, I played music much more than I wrote, and I did sometimes wonder back then what I’d do without music. The obvious answer was always that I’d write more. And that’s pretty much what’s happened. I write more now, play music less. The question then is what would I do without music or writing. I have no idea. It’s almost impossible to answer because for my whole life I’ve been driven to do these things. I grew up wanting to play music and write. I didn’t grow up with dreams of being a computer programmer or a doctor or anything else. So without either one, I’d be a completely different person. Maybe I’d just be one of those lost souls who doesn’t know what to do with themselves. I already go to the pub a lot, but maybe I’d live at the pub trying to satisfy some undefinable urge.
How has the charity CD that includes the music from the book been received?
It’s gone pretty well. Between people downloading single tracks or the whole album and from CDs sold around town, we’ve pulled in about $500. It isn’t a huge amount, but considering that our promotional budget was quite small, it’s about what I hoped for. I’m actually going to be on a local Seattle daytime news show called New Day Northwest on August 27, and there I’ll make the actual donation to the Wishlist Foundation. I’m also trying to get my publisher, Booktrope, to kick in some money as well as some of the bars and such around town that were featured in The Music Book so that number should be higher by the end of August. I’d be very happy if it got to the $1000 mark. If your readers want to hear some great music and make a purchase to help charity, they can download the music here:
The Wishlist Foundation is a charity run by fans of Pearl Jam, and so they help support the charitable endeavors of PJ. It made sense to choose them over other charities since Pearl Jam is a favorite of mine and they’re mentioned a few times in the book.
Do bass players really get all the chicks?
Not so much from my experience, but then it’s all about what kind of person you are. I’m not very outgoing so even when I played lead guitar in a band, my luck with women didn’t change one way or the other. I remember this article from The Onion that summed it up very well about how a groupie accidentally slept with the bass player because she mistakenly thought he was someone important in the band. It’s good for a laugh. I couldn’t find it on The Onion’s site, but there is a copy of it here:
What makes music more than just words and notes?
The musicians. Ask ten different bands to play the same song, say a song that you love, and they’ll all do it differently. Some versions you’ll like, some you won’t. The difference therein is the musicians. They’re the conduit, the translators. When I was first getting into bands I didn’t want to play cover songs because for some reason I thought that a lesser endeavor, like it would have made me a lesser musician. I quickly realized that that was a stupid idea though, because that’s one of the marks of a great musician, how you take a piece of music and translate it with your instrument. It’s one of the best things about music. We can play things we love that were written by others and yet still somehow make them our own. You can’t do that in writing or any other artform. It’s cheap what Richard Prince does by taking photos from Instagram and changing them ever so slightly and then reselling them for thousands and not paying a dime to the original photographer. He isn’t making anything his own. And imagine if I did a rewrite of a famous book but maybe only changed a few character names, maybe the location of where it happened, small stuff, but then tried to call it my own and sell it. People would laugh at me and tell me to bugger off. Well, there’s that whole 50 Shades of Gray thing, but don’t get me started on that. And yet, with music, in the moment of performance, it really is your own, no matter who wrote it. I’ve seen bands cover “Comfortably Numb” note for note, but with all the subtle differences in tone and acoustics and the environment of the bar it was for those brief moments their song. We applauded not because it was a Pink Floyd song but because it was music that was played so well that it lifted us. It made us forget for a moment that there was a band called Pink Floyd. There was only that band on the stage, and that was all that mattered.