Tucson is a town of musical multitaskers. Show me a musician in downtown Tucson who's in only one band, and I'll show you an anomaly.
Otherly Love's Ben Schneider is one of those multitasking guys. In addition to fronting Otherly Love as the band's singer/songwriter/producer/guitar-player, he also plays drums, records and tours with one of the Old Pueblo's hardest-working bands, Mr. Free and the Satellite Freakout. He's played drums and toured with another of Tucson's most well-known and well-traveled bands, Golden Boots; played in Mad River Glenn; and frequently sits in with several other locals (Andrew Collberg, Will Elliott, Gabriel Sullivan, etc.).
Otherly Love are celebrating the release of their second album, 5+5=X, at La Cocina on Friday, April 13. The bill also includes locals Acorn Bcorn and Golden Boots, and Phoenician Lonna Kelley's newest band, Make My Baby.
On 5+5=X, Schneider and his fellow band members, Clay Koweek (guitar) and Bill Baron (drums), with guests Dimitri Manos from Golden Boots/Dr. Dog (percussion) and Connor Gallaher (pedal steel and dobro), explore various permutations of lo-fi indie pop. Schneider wrote all the songs, and produced, recorded and mixed it in the band's practice space and at his mother's house. He also sings them all in his signature, high-pitched voice, somewhere between a falsetto and, well, not quite a falsetto.
He says, "The album was recorded half on tape (Tascam 388-style) and half digitally, in the cozy living room of my mother's house. I was only house-sitting for five days, so I had to work fast and put it back into the meticulous order which she keeps it in. Let's just say there are a lot of first takes on the album."
5+5=X is being released by Tucson's venerable Bloat Records in tandem with a newer local label, Child Proof Vinyl, which has also released material by Mr. Free. It starts off with the headlong rush of "Hold Me Down," with the dual guitars running neck and neck. That breakneck pace holds through other numbers, like most of "NY Crane" and "Grass Sweat," at least until the latter stretches out into an extended noisy jam. Throughout, Otherly Love show a healthy love for guitar-generated noise in a more-or-less pop setting, seemingly mixing and mismatching whatever they had lying around. "Aroma" sounds like a ramshackle alt-pop classic, and could have come from the Golden Boots playbook.
Other numbers, like "Love Alive," "Hill Fire" and the aforementioned "Grass Sweat," have a pleasing, unpredictable tendency to wander all over the place, rolling into territory that sounds nothing like their jumping-off point. Other genres surface and disappear, like the choppy blues-punk on "Blood Metal"; dusty, fractured country-folk on "Bored"; and slacker country-rock on "Hill Fire." Connor Gallaher adds pedal-steel-guitar sweetening to "Hill Fire," "Aroma" and "Love Alive," and dobro on "Bored." 5+5=X ends with the pretty, down-tempo vamp "Closer," with some nice, minimalist keyboard work from Schneider.
When asked if he would venture a description of Otherly Love's music or sound, Schneider says, "'Slop rock for flat tops,' or, 'Slop ain't easy when you sound this good,' or, 'Otherly Love you later' all perfectly describe us."
Otherly Love have one previous CD release, Spit That Plan, as well as a track ("Crossed the Line") on the Tucson Songs compilation from Le Pop Muzik Records (home to several local acts), and five tracks on a four-band compilation CD, Live at the Red Room.
All three of Otherly Love's members are locals, with Schneider and Baron born and raised here (Tucson High and Rincon High graduates, respectively), and Koweek having relocated here from Sonoita a few years ago.
Koweek gets around as a musician, too, playing with several of the same, numerous locals that Schneider does (Andrew Collberg, etc.), and others like Marianne Dissard and Louise Le Hir. Koweek also tours and records with Bay Area musician Mark Growden, who is well-known to Tucson audiences.
Baron plays with Musta Nottas, and might sit in here or there. Bill comes from a local musical family. His sisters are well-known local drummer Tasha Bundy, and Allie Baron, who DJs and books music for La Cocina. La Cocina, incidentally, is managed by Ben's mother, just to keep all the local connections straight.
Asked what the genesis of the band was, Ben replies, "Otherly Love came together in a funny way. Bill and I really wanted to get out of town for the summer and road-trip a bit. And we had the brilliant idea two months before we were going to leave to not just road-trip, but to form a band and go on tour. So in two months, we recorded a five-song EP, which I lost every copy of, booked a really half-assed tour, and had a wonderful time playing really sloppy rock 'n' roll around the country. And Clay loves stompin', donkeys, slop, cheesy guitar licks and yodelin', so, of course, he had to be in the band."
When asked the inevitable question about influences, he says, "I have lots of influences, like every band I've ever heard. But, really, before Otherly Love existed, and I was just a dude writing songs on the ol' six-string, I would start writing a song and think about how much better one of my favorite bands could play it. So for a long time, I would just write songs that in my mind weren't for me, but for a really cool band. It was pretty funny to me—and painful to anyone who listened to the beginnings of O.L.—when I forced myself to start singing and re-creating these songs into something for me to perform. I think that's why there is so much variation in my songwriting, quickly realizing that it's much more fun and interesting to not go for a sound."
5+5=X will be released on CD and vinyl; a cassette of additional material is also in the works.