Showing 33 posts tagged O Positive
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.
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.
Weight of DaysArtist
Only Breathing/Cloud Factory
Only Breathing/Cloud Factory
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.