Interview: David Rogers-Berry of O'Death
The narrators of most “band overcomes adversity, releases new record” yarns would have the rest of us believe that ego clashes, alcohol-fueled onstage meltdowns, and lapses in trendiness qualify as “adversity.” That is not real life. That is Some Kind of Monster.
In 2009, David Rogers-Berry came down with bone cancer, a form of adversity requiring no quotation marks. Nowadays, he still plays drums in O’Death. He just does it with a chunk of metal where part of his shoulder bone used to be, because he is hardcore in ways Lars Ulrich could never conceive of being.
While NYC’s preferred goth-country ensemble stretched their legs somewhere between tour stops in Tucson and San Diego, Rogers-Berry told TOB that he toned down his style to accommodate to his condition. Online clips of recent O’Death performances suggest he’s only downgraded from really crazy to somewhat-less crazy, but it’s all relative.
Likewise for how O’Death’s latest, Outside, relates to their first two albums. With subtler tunes such as “Bugs” and “Back of the Garden,” Outside hits less like a punch in the face from a zombie pig farmer and more like a gentle brush from the ghost of Elizabeth Bathory’s redneck cousin. A little less bombastic, but way creepier.
TOB: How did your illness affect your drumming?
David Rogers-Berry: I’m not playing as crazy as I used to, but it’s strange, because it’s been this opportunity to reevaluate what I was doing. I’m listening a lot more. I still hit the drums pretty hard, but I don’t throw as much stuff around. It’s a little more musical now.
Outside sounds more like an indie rock record than your last two.
That’s fair to say. The songs came about a lot more naturally, because it wasn’t like, “Well, we’re going to start playing this tomorrow.” When the time came to record an album in the past, we’d just go into the studio and bang out stuff we’d been playing for months, or even years. This time, when a lot of the demos got to me, Greg [Jamie, vocals and guitar] and Gabe [Darling, banjo and ukulele] had been working on them for a month or two.
So being in a position where you weren’t playing 100 shows a year changed your songwriting style?
Absolutely. It used to be when we’d write a song, we’d be thinking about how it would be perceived in the live setting, because that was our bread and butter. This time, we were writing songs and thinking about how they would be perceived on home stereos. I think it’s a much more pleasant listening experience. I’m proud of our older records, but this one isn’t an attempt to capture our live thing.
When did you know for certain that you’d be able to play drums again?
I guess that’d be the last Newport Folk Festival. I hadn’t even been trying to play much until we were preparing for that last summer. I had only been out of treatment for maybe a month or two, and my shoulder was pretty weak. I mean, I used to pull off 60 push-ups without blinking. Now I have trouble doing five. I don’t have the shoulder I was born with. But the Newport Folk Festival was a great way to come back after being off for almost two years. When I was listening to the recording of it that NPR did, that was the moment I thought, “Wow, it actually sounds better than when I would just smash away and it was all aggression.”
O’Death playsSaturday, Apr. 16.