Olneyville Sound System hail from Providence, Rhode Island. For almost two full decades Dan St. Jacques (vocals and bass) and Adam Autry (drums) have helped create, define, and refine the sound of underground music in Providence and far beyond. I was extremely fortunate to be able to talk to Dan about the days of future past of one of my favorite bands in the history of the universe.
Noise: Tell me a little bit about how Olneyville Sound System got rolling.
Dan: We started out with a more traditional line-up albeit without guitar as most rock bands usually center their sound around. Drums, bass, harmonica, and vocals comprised the first OSS recordings which gave it an almost bluesy post-punk sound early on but soon we found ourselves having trouble getting everyone to practice regularly except for Adam and me. Since we were the ones that had started it all anyway we just focused on becoming a strong rhythm section, and with that we were able to stretch out far beyond our initial attempts at arranging riffs and song writing.
Noise: Were you intent on being a duo from the start? I’ve only seen you as a two-piece with occasional guests.
Dan: As time went on we would just let friends and other musicians jam with us and sometimes that led to working on material to play out locally and occasionally tour etc. That gave us the opportunity to incorporate other instrumentation like saxophone, synthesizers, guitars, and even flute! But while those experiments were often rewarding and gave us unique opportunities to play on all kinds of bills (from underground punk/ metal shows to jazz gigs and reggae/ hip hop events) again, only our core has survived intact… the bass and drums that make up the defining sound of OSS. We are the only thing that seems to be consistent so for the past few years we’ve just kept it whittled down to the raw essence of what our music is about, which is bass and drums. Anything extra is just icing on the cake. If we’re lucky sometimes we get a cherry on top, but sometimes it’s just too many cooks in the kitchen, ha! So for most of our time playing we have been basically an instrumental band, besides our infrequent guest vocal stints by such local greats as Bob Otis (Drop Dead), Rick Pelletier (Six Finger Satellite) and even our original vocalist, Jon Von Ryan, has made a couple of appearances.
Noise: I thought you were always the lead singer.
Dan: As of late, I’ve stepped up to the plate to lay down some sparse vocals here and there but really prefer to focus on my bass playing.
Noise: So what’s in the future?
Dan: We’ll see what the future brings. We have another solid tight ass recording that we made a few years ago at Machines With Magnets that we were not able get out to the masses so any leads would be helpful! What happened to all the underground record labels that were so abundant a few years ago? Oh yeah, the Internet… pffffft!
Noise: Allright, let’s go backwards a minute. When did you guys start up?
Dan: Olneyville Sound System started when Adam Autry and I got together to jam back in the summer of 1996. Adam and I had been talking about playing together for a while as we both had previous bands that often played on the same bill (usually opening for Six Finger Satellite)
Noise: What bands were you guys in?
Dan: I was playing bass in Thee Hydrogen Terrors and Adam was the drummer in a band called the Golden Touch. It finally came together when I rented a warehouse space in Olneyville on Valley Street which was soon dubbed Redrum, as we painted the massive 2000 sq. ft. space’s floor a bright blood red. After a couple of weeks of developing a solid rhythmic foundation we soon invited one of Adam’s buds (a dude named Roma Karas from the Ukraine) to join in on harmonica and an old friend of mine (Jon VonRyan) to add some vocals to the music so we could play out. Within a about a month we had over a dozen riffs that became our first release, Because We’re All in This Together, and played our first show at Fort Thunder opening for Melt Banana.
Noise: You guys have toured off and on for years. Tell me something good.
Dan: We toured Europe a couple of years ago as a two piece combo and played all kinds of venues from little cafes to DIY squats that had their own libraries and cafeterias. It was an amazing experience and one show that really stands from that tour was the night we played in Brussels, Belgium where we met some African dudes in front of the venue an hour before the show. By the time we got on stage they had pretty much already decided they were going to play with us and had their conga hand drums set up on the stage! We were a little confused but psyched and we said they could play the first tune with us.I think they wanted to keep playing but soon realized it was a good decision because our material got noisier and harder to follow after our initial “jam” with them. Anyway, in the middle of our set the speaker cabinet of my bass rig starts leaking smoke and suddenly catches fire as we’re still playing. People start going nuts and cheering us (or maybe the fire?) on as we rip into some serious noise breakdown and then finally someone in the audience runs up and dumps a beer on the flaming speakers.I thought that was it but the sound man was actually pretty psyched and had me plug directly into the sound system to finish our set! It was pretty exhilarating. People came up to us afterwards and said they had never seen or heard anything like that, with one guy throwing around Jimi Hendrix references blah, blah. We were like…you gotta come to Providence, ha! The next day we played an uneventful show in Paris and then flew home.
Noise: How many records do you guys have out?
Dan: We have four official releases and dozens of cassette tapes and cd compilations that we make for each other and close friends. Our sound has developed over the past 19 years into something quite different than our humble beginnings but really it’s just the same ole’ shit n’ tricks, just put together in a different way, ha!
Noise: That’s a lot of rock! Tell me a little about some of the influences on OSS.
Dan: As far as influences go, there are so many it’s hard to choose a few artists or bands to list because others that may be just as informative to our sound will certainly be left out. I’ll do my best to sum it up without any specific name dropping etc. Our sound is definitely an amalgamation of Rock, Punk, Heavy Metal and even some jazz all thrown together but not in a overtly conscious manner. I’d also like to think we are just as much influenced by non-musical aspects of life in general than we are by certain bands or music scenes. It’s funny because it’s all relative. We’ll play some rock show and we’ll be seen as the noise guys, we’ll play a noise show and suddenly we’re the rock guys, it can be a little weird when you play on the edges of all the scenes, but we really don’t care. We just play how we play without over thinking it. We never set out to play a certain genre or find people to play with us to fit a certain aesthetic or style. I think it’s cool that Adam has his unique style that he’s developed over the last 30 years of playing drums and hopefully I’ve done the same thing with my 25 years of playing bass. Our music could certainly be considered challenging to some folks with a limited knowledge of musical history or even boring perhaps because we don’t mind vamping on riffs for extended periods of time. It can be abstract at times and very linear at others, but it’s always played with an intensity and aggression inherent in our nature.
Noise: So do your personalities come out in the music, or are they kind of lost in the thunder?
Dan: I feel our personalities bleed out of the music because we happen to be kind of intense individuals. We are friendly guys but very opinionated and not afraid to express it. When we play live we play very loud. Adam beats his drums into the ground and looks pretty scary doing it. We usually lug around what some bands would consider excessive gear but we want the bass to be really loud and a prominent feature in the music, not just to be heard but to be felt as well. We might even get psychedelic at times but definitely don’t play mellow music, even when it’s a stone cold groove, ha!
Noise: So what’s the future hold for you guys?
Dan: Like the back cover of our first release states… Olneyville Sound System: To serve to strive and not to yield!
Noise: Thank you Dan. (Check out Olneyville Sound System at a warehouse or venue near you, they will change your life forever!)