Oxygen Thief - Feed A Cold, Starve A Fever
Owain Paciuszko 13/10/2008
'One man acoustic loudness' was how I was first introduced to Bristol-based Oxygen Thief, I wasn't sure what to expect, but from that first live listen about five years ago I understood there isn't really another tag that better summarises the Thief, aka Barry Dolan.
"The 'acoustic loudness' thing wasn't intentional at first, it was just the natural way I played. Then one night after playing an acoustic night at uni, the organiser took me to one side and said; 'look, maybe you should tone it down a little in future; this is supposed to be an acoustic night.' That pissed me off a bit, so I've basically built my entire ethos as a big 'fuck you' to the attitude that acoustic music has to be background, gentle, and quiet!"
His current EP opens with the explosive Camera Shy, that also instantly sees Dolan's production skill increased tenfold from earlier EP 'Biting Lemons Before Sunrise'. His guitar playing is full of an infectious energy and enthusiasm, it has that slightly excessive-robotic sound that permeated early Soulwax whilst his voice has shades of immediate-post-Nirvana David Grohl - except British.
"My mum gave me a box of random C90 cassettes to tape songs off the radio when I was about 10. Looking through them I noticed one labelled 'Queen's Greatest Hits' and thought "I'll have a listen to that, see what it's like" and became hooked. Then later I found a mysterious dusty object in our attic; an unbranded SG-style electric guitar that my dad had bought about 15 years earlier - from someone he worked with - on a whim...he had about 3 lessons and then gave up."
The same fate didn't befall Dolan, obviously. He was a regular live performer at my university town of Aberystwyth (and was the president of the uni's IndieSoc).
"I started out because my (then) band's drummer went off travelling for 6 months, and I couldn't really face that amount of time without playing, so started rehearsing acoustic stuff.
I didn't really want to play under my own name, so after rejecting suggestions from mates who thought I should be Loner Boy, my (now) girlfriend suggested Oxygen Thief after a weird early Placebo b-side. I thought it sounded cool so went with it."
It is, I believe, the live performances where Oxygen Thief really shines, and fortunately he always seems to have a pretty full slate of upcoming gigs (http://www.myspace.com/oxygenthief). It is a little disarming at first to see one man and an acoustic guitar acting as if they're filling a stadium and you begin to suspect that maybe Dolan hears a full rock band backing him in his mind. But this noisy stripped down style buoys a lot of Oxygen Thief's songs from being throwaway rock songs into being something special.
"Generally speaking I just love playing guitar, finding riffs that excite me and that would make me jump around if I heard them, and then finding words to sing over them. Lyric-wise the songs are all about things/situations/people that have affected me one way or the other. I scribble stuff down all the time and look back over notebooks/draft text messages/.txt files on my PC to find stuff to work with, rather than trying to write words to fit a specific tune. Recording-wise I aspire to be able to make a CD that people will listen to, recommend to/copy for their mates, get excited about and come sing along at gigs in the same way that I do all the above things about all the bands I love. I don't know if I've got there just yet, but feel like each batch of new songs is a step forward in some way. I record everything on my computer, in the flat I share with my girlfriend (who by-the-way is a saint for putting up with all manner of cables and mics lying around for weeks at a time) and try to make it sound as good as possible for the quite limited budget and experience I have, and then learn enough to be able to make the next cd sound better."
His new EP is frustratingly short, Oxygen Thief's style works you up and up, whipping you towards a frenzy - it does have that 'loney boy' feel of emotions reaching boiling point. Yet there is no cathartic rage explosion on this short record, which - though it's always nice to say "please sir, I want some more." - is a short-coming.
Fortunately the autonomy of this day and age and Dolan's skill himself as both a prolific, productive and capable musician/producer means that his output is more consistent than most. He also seems content to put his name out there by the good-ol' means of just playing good music to people willing to listen, in the hope that a good tune is the best advert. But, most importantly, beyond being 'one man acoustic loudness' Oxygen Thief is almost impossible to categorise, or lump in with another solo-artist or group, and that is such a fantastic rarity these days that he truly deserves to be sought out by anyone with an appreciation for good, interesting, different music.
"Although I'm not a big fan of the 'singer-songwriter' convention, there are some excellent examples of solo performers within the general 'rock' sphere; Frank Turner, Chris T-T, Jim Lockey from Cheltenham, I played a gig with Ben Marwood recently and thought he was ace; but I don't think that there are enough people doing anything really different when it comes to acoustic/solo music...I think that's something that needs to change."