O Positive

Showing 33 posts tagged O Positive

Track

Imagine That

Artist

O Positive

Album

Toyboattoyboattoyboat

O Positive - Imagine That

I first heard O Positive sometime in the summer of 1990.  My mom had come to pick me up from the allegedly-artsy day camp in which I was enrolled, and we drove back home with the windows down and the car radio on.  As her car pulled away from the curb, a dreamy, contemplative ballad insinuated its way over the airwaves.

We drove past row houses and city parks, the sparkling ocean merging with the skyline in the far distance.  I leaned my cheek against the cool of the safety belt and stretched my arm out the window.  The insistent melody and the singer’s gritty-yet-reassuring sigh of a voice seemed made for a balmy summer afternoon.  When Mark Parenteau* broke the mood with a station ID, I realized that I’d heard about this band for a few months.  The Boston Globe had run a splashy review with a photo a few months prior, and their previous hits “Talk About Love” and a song I initially thought was called “Smoke A Cigarette”** played in ads for the suburban clubs. 

At the time I wrote music reviews for a short-lived teen newspaper, PS North Shore. “Modern rock” godheads like the Cure and REM filled my column because they were easy for my readership to find (a few rows down from the odious New Kids on the Block at the Sam Goody in the mall).  However, music always seemed like an exotic thing that was made elsewhere.  Listening to WBCN and WFNX had opened my ears to local bands, but the Pixies and Throwing Muses weren’t exactly beating a path to play at the neighborhood watering hole. 

When I got home, I knew I’d found my new favorite band.  With my mom’s permission I called Epic in New York and spoke with one of the publicists about interviewing them for my column.  Within a few days, I got a big package with a CD, a press kit about an inch thick, and some stickers.  For a kid who still had to buy her review copies at the aforementioned Sam Goody, this felt a little like Christmas.  (Stickers, people.)  About an hour later, my mom answered the phone and promptly handed it to me. 

 “Hi, this is Dave Herlihy of O Positive,” the voice on the other end of the line said. 

I almost dropped the phone on the floor, but managed to keep my composure long enough to schedule an interview and take down his number.  He asked me about the newspaper and my column and addressed me as an equal instead of as a cute kid, which calmed my nerves. 

I ran in the next room with jelly knees.  My mom high-fived me.  This could be the start of something big, I thought. 

 * =  Yes, the “disgraced and disgraceful” Mark Parenteau.  Those radio pre-sets came in handy when mom was driving with us, boy howdy. 

** = Actually, it was called “With You”.  More on this in a bit. 

Introducing the Band

O Positive formed in metro-west suburbs of Boston in the early ‘80s.  Guitarist and founding member Alan Pettiti spoke with Teen Ink reporter Arup De of the band’s formation in a 1991 interview: “We were all in some cover bands to start, but I…wanted to start writing my own material. So one day, Alex, Dave Ingham and I got together, jammed, and worked on some original stuff. That was really fun, and we decided to meet once a week to write new material. We made this a point, and I brought in Dave Herlihy, who was an acquaintance of mine.”

Herlihy was a law student at Boston College and DJ on the school’s well-regarded radio station WZBC, and he would visit his friends’ band and play Beatles covers with them.  “I would sing to the pieces Alan made up, but it wasn’t with a mind towards anything other than having fun,” he recalled in a recent interview.  “He said ‘I like what you’re doing,’ and I said, ‘You’re free to use it,’ but I didn’t have any intent on joining a band.” 

Eventually the quartet had the opportunity to record a proper studio demo and started booking shows.  Their first show in February of 1984 was mentioned in a Boston Globe article about the new bar, Chet’s Last Call, where they were playing.  Though the band was starting to gain some renown as a good live band, Herlihy had just finished law school and was thinking of leaving the stage for the stand. 

A fateful gig at the Channel made the frontman change his mind.  “It was going to be our last show.  We did ‘Say Goodbye’ at the end, and it felt pretty great.  Alan prevailed upon me and said ‘We can’t let this go, we have to keep going,’ and I agreed, and we kept playing.”

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. 

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. 

Only Breathing was a fascinating album - A deep, atmospheric record, it accomplished this feat without sounding sparse. The bass, drums and guitar were each active and interweaving. The vocals were earnest and intense - something like crack for my teenage emotions.

Sean Hafferty, photo editor for Ryan’s Smashing Life.  13 September 2009

My search for the “With You” video turned up this little gem.  All five members of O Positive sat down with Marc Alghini for an interview on the Continental Cablevision music video show “30 Go”.  Their independent streak comes through loud and clear, if filtered through some dropped Rs and broad vowels.  “We’d all love to hear our songs on big-time radio and not be awful in the process.  If we can…have a major label sign us and not say ‘Okay, now you’ve gotta wear your Duran Duran jacket and get a facelift’…”

The “With You” video was directed by Jeff Hudson, who played in a New Wave duo called Jeff + Jane and had a great second life as a music video director.  He would go on to direct the clip for Throwing Muses’ “Fish”, and would collaborate with O Pos again on the “Imagine That” video. 

Track

Weight of Days

Artist

O Positive

Album

Only Breathing/Cloud Factory

O Positive - Weight of Days

I remember hearing Oedipus play ‘Weight of Days’ on Boston Emissions, and that was pretty emotional for me to hear vinyl on the radio.  That was pretty amazing.” – Dave Herlihy, May 2012. 

Around the time that Toyboat was released, it seemed as though WBCN and WFNX had re-included several of the band’s deep tracks in their playlists.  I vividly remember hearing “Up Up Up” and “Say Goodbye” in regular rotation, and when I finally got a copy of the Only Breathing EP as a Christmas gift, listening to it felt like meeting an old friend. 

I love the echoing guitar sound on this one.  The swirling melody and guitar hook sound like bird calls to me. 

Track

Say Goodbye

Artist

O Positive

Album

Only Breathing/Cloud Factory

O Positive - Say Goodbye

“It’s the last day of middle school, and you couldn’t even wash your hair?”

I climbed into the front seat of Mom’s car, shrugging with a studied nonchalance that I could never quite summon when I needed it.  “Wasn’t worth it,” I said out of the side of my mouth as I snapped the seatbelt shut. 

School had let out early, and Mom had picked me up to take me out to lunch before letting me go home for the rest of the day.  I found myself in my usual stance in the front seat, resting my cheek against the seatbelt and gazing out the side window.  The two mulleted boys from my homeroom threw a Frisbee around on the front lawn, almost beaning a kid in the head. 

Mom stretched out her arm and rested her wrist on the top of my seat.  She tapped out a rhythm against the headrest supports.  “My little baby’s going to high school,” she trilled. 

“Not for a few months,” I shot back. 

“High school will be better for you.  There are more kids with your interests.  People grow up, and you’ll find your – “

“Mom!” I interrupted.  My ears were trained to the sound of a familiar riff.  I lunged to the radio dial and turned it up a little louder. 

“Sitting in for Mark Parenteau, this is Albert O-Positive,” the afternoon DJ intoned over the opening notes to “Say Goodbye”. 

“YOUR GUYS,” my mom chimed in excitedly. 

Albert O. was giving away tickets to see O Pos play with Mechanical Shark Head at the Edible Rex in Billerica to lucky caller number five.  Even if cell phones existed in 1991, Edible Rex was an hour’s drive from my sleepy burg, and I sensed the bouncers would not have taken kindly to a scrappy fourteen-year-old seeking entrance.  After a moment, the DJ just shut up and let the music play. 

Mom and I were both quiet as the song began.  The lyrics – “say goodbye to the past/you know these memories were never meant to last” – seemed prescient as Osterberg Junior High shrank in the rearview.  I mouthed the words and swayed along with the pinging melody. 

A fine coating of dust had formed on my O Positive tape collection.  I told myself I was eagerly awaiting their next album, and I didn’t want to get sick of them.  Though I tried my hardest, I wasn’t able to follow up my story on Boston’s finest with anything that felt like another “get”, and much of my eighth-grade year felt like a letdown after my interview with Dave hit the stands.  If I was really honest with myself, I still felt a little embarrassed at making a bad impression on the band by being an awkward teenager.  Meanwhile, the kids at school didn’t pay much attention to the budding Ellen Willis in their midst.  Doing interviews was still the only way to get people to talk to me. 

All those thoughts ran through my head until they became white noise.  The lapse in conversation made me feel a special kind of alone that isn’t really alone…I was in the car with my song, a kind of bespoke aural security blanket that helped me get through some tough times. 

Mom’s car glided to a stop at a red light.  I looked out the window and saw a group of girls from my school.  Erica, my school-appointed bestie in fourth grade, tread on the sidewalk closest to our car.  For a split second we made eye contact, but when the walk light came on her gaze slid over me and she started crossing the street with her friends. 

Mom shifted gears, then tapped me on the knee.  “Your time will come,” she said.  A moment passed, and she added, “I’m proud of you.”  The light turned green and we were off.

I wrote the previous essay while laboring under the misapprehension that “Say Goodbye” was on Cloud Factory. 
Right now I only have the Cloud Factory songs on an eponymous CD that Link Records put out in 1989, which compiles O Positive’s first two EPs.  Instead of putting them in the correct running order, however, Link Records reshuffled the track listing so that the songs were out of the original EP sequencing.  This may have served some purpose on the album’s original release, but it poses unnecessary challenges to those writing about the band so long after the fact.  (Hi there!) 
The reshuffling also illustrates some of the incorrect assumptions I’d made about the development of the band’s style.  The three songs that are so quintessentially of the first album – “With You”, “Up Up Up”, and “Weight of Days” – have a very internal, contemplative quality.  This comes through in the lyrics, which have a great universal specificity (think of the “it’s our five-week anniversary” line in “With You”), and the insular, echoing guitar sound and cocoon-like production italicize that mood.  By contrast, “Say Goodbye” has a more universal approach.  Like many great pop songs, it could be about a romantic breakup.  It could also be about leaving a rock band you helped form, or matriculating from a tough middle school and hoping for a clean slate at the high school next year.  The ping-ponging riff that opens the song, the way the guitar parts layer over one another, and the hummable, major-key melody all give the song a more polished approach, one that I’d associated with the less downcast follow-up EP. 
In listening to the first two EPs, the contrast between the guitar lines and vocals and lyrics gave the songs a challenging, engaging quality.  Herlihy and Pettiti wrote from two lyrical perspectives: being mired in depression and indecision, or recognizing that something isn’t right and feeling determined to change it.  Because the moodier tracks cast such a shadow, it’s tempting to see Only Breathing in terms of the former.  Conversely, “Pictures” sounds like a later O Positive song because of the proactive point of view (“It’s time to start/And what is that sound…?”).  That determination is one that would become more prominent on the band’s later albums, particularly on Home Sweet Head.  Throughout both EPs, Pettiti’s guitar work recalls quotidian non-musical sounds, like bird calls or Morse Code, that it counters the very human point of view espoused in the lyrics.  The reverb-drenched production and the tight arrangements envelop the vocals, which emphasizes the hopeless mood of the more melancholy tunes and minimizes the need for escape that permeates the less downcast numbers.  Particularly on the earlier numbers, the push/pull between the need to escape and the overwhelming sonics gave the songs this overwhelming, cathartic quality that made them a staple in Boston-area record collections. 

I wrote the previous essay while laboring under the misapprehension that “Say Goodbye” was on Cloud Factory. 

Right now I only have the Cloud Factory songs on an eponymous CD that Link Records put out in 1989, which compiles O Positive’s first two EPs.  Instead of putting them in the correct running order, however, Link Records reshuffled the track listing so that the songs were out of the original EP sequencing.  This may have served some purpose on the album’s original release, but it poses unnecessary challenges to those writing about the band so long after the fact.  (Hi there!) 

The reshuffling also illustrates some of the incorrect assumptions I’d made about the development of the band’s style.  The three songs that are so quintessentially of the first album – “With You”, “Up Up Up”, and “Weight of Days” – have a very internal, contemplative quality.  This comes through in the lyrics, which have a great universal specificity (think of the “it’s our five-week anniversary” line in “With You”), and the insular, echoing guitar sound and cocoon-like production italicize that mood.  By contrast, “Say Goodbye” has a more universal approach.  Like many great pop songs, it could be about a romantic breakup.  It could also be about leaving a rock band you helped form, or matriculating from a tough middle school and hoping for a clean slate at the high school next year.  The ping-ponging riff that opens the song, the way the guitar parts layer over one another, and the hummable, major-key melody all give the song a more polished approach, one that I’d associated with the less downcast follow-up EP. 

In listening to the first two EPs, the contrast between the guitar lines and vocals and lyrics gave the songs a challenging, engaging quality.  Herlihy and Pettiti wrote from two lyrical perspectives: being mired in depression and indecision, or recognizing that something isn’t right and feeling determined to change it.  Because the moodier tracks cast such a shadow, it’s tempting to see Only Breathing in terms of the former.  Conversely, “Pictures” sounds like a later O Positive song because of the proactive point of view (“It’s time to start/And what is that sound…?”).  That determination is one that would become more prominent on the band’s later albums, particularly on Home Sweet Head.  Throughout both EPs, Pettiti’s guitar work recalls quotidian non-musical sounds, like bird calls or Morse Code, that it counters the very human point of view espoused in the lyrics.  The reverb-drenched production and the tight arrangements envelop the vocals, which emphasizes the hopeless mood of the more melancholy tunes and minimizes the need for escape that permeates the less downcast numbers.  Particularly on the earlier numbers, the push/pull between the need to escape and the overwhelming sonics gave the songs this overwhelming, cathartic quality that made them a staple in Boston-area record collections.