In many ways, the early days of O Positive are similar to those of any other up-and-coming band. They amassed new material, rehearsed three times a week, and gigged at long-gone dive bars like Storyville, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, and – of course – the Rat. The band and their followers were surprisingly prescient in other ways. “Every two weeks we’d have an O Positive meeting, and these other friends of ours (asked) ‘Who are these other bands in town that you could get gigs with,’ and ‘Where are the clubs you have to play’, and ‘Let’s get your press kit together’. Those friends in our O Positive meetings took a year off our development time. If we had to do it all ourselves, we wouldn’t have had the personal power and the organization to do it.” Herlihy’s recollections of the O Positive meetings, as well as his friends who made band shirts as part of a screen-printing class, brings to mind its contemporary antecedent: the street team.
The amount of manpower a band needed to get a tape to a radio station seems almost quaint in this day and age. “We were so poor, we couldn’t even give [WBCN DJ Shred] a reel-to-reel,” he recalls. “I remember going down to WERS and making him dub it and give it back to us.” Kind of makes you appreciate Bandcamp a little more, huh?
However, there was only so far a band could go without releasing a record. After attempts at putting together a compilation called Seven Vinyl Virgins fell through (“the bands kept losing their vinyl virginity,” Herlihy wryly notes), O Positive recorded the EP Only Breathing at Synchro Sound, a recording studio owned by members of the Cars. Throbbing Lobster, a well-regarded indie label that had pressed albums by the Prime Movers and Chain Link Fence (as well as the legendary Nobody Gets on the Guest List! compilations), put the record out in early 1986. “We had some rough mixes…and Chuck Warner really liked how the rough mixes sounded, and so he put it out.”
Only Breathing “sold double what anyone else on the label sold,” Warner acknowledged in a 1995 interview with the Boston Phoenix. O Positive also played the WBCN Rock & Roll Rumble around that time, and while they didn’t advance to the finals, they did win a case of beer for fastest load-out time. If the band weren’t the kings of the Boston rock scene yet, they were well on their way.