To be good, it's got to be incestuous. At the height of the Seattle mania, musicians were trading bands more often than Tantric sex addicts swap partners. Musical chairs turned Green River into Mother Love Bone, which lost a member or two to become Pearl Jam.
It's the cross-fertilization-the constant experimentation with different combinations of members and influences-that is the best method to finding the perfect sound.
In San Diego, Drive Like Jehu begat Rocket From The Crypt which begat Hot Snakes. Heavy Vegetable to Thingy to Pinback. Etc. to etc. to etc.
And then there's the ever-present San Diego force known only as “O”, the bassist/Transworld photographer/scenester who produced blink-182's first album, was part of the seminal Olivelawn and still fronts skate-rock band, fluf.
Now further cross-fertilization has yielded arguably the best band he's been in: Reeve Oliver.
“I don't have to be here for this interview, man. This isn't my band. It's all Sean. It's nice to have all that weight off my shoulders, and I can just sit back and play bass,” O says.
And he's right. As formidable as O is, Reeve Oliver is the brainchild of vocalist/guitarist Sean O'Donnell, who, for five years, was the primary songwriter for local punk band Dogwood.
“In fall of 1999 I was writing Dogwood's fifth album,” O'Donnell explains, sitting in a small Italian restaurant across the street from M-Theory Records in South Park. “I was writing all the time and I started writing some songs that weren't like Bad Religion-they were more pop.”
Half an hour before our interview, O'Donnell had given a solo acoustic show at M-Theory, performing the songs that make up Reeve Oliver's as-yet-unreleased demo CD. Near the end of his set, he played a cover of “Stay,” the smarmy love ballad by '90s gal Lisa Loeb.
Knowing O'Donnell's experience as a punk guitarist, it would be easy to write if off as irony. But he wasn't kidding.
“I always listened to that kind of music,” he says, quite honestly, “but right out of high school I joined Dogwood.”
Not that Reeve Oliver's sound is anywhere close to Loeb. It's craggy, hook-filled rock that fits in well next to Jimmy Eat World, Jawbox and Weezer. Edgy enough, and crammed with torch-burning hooks.
And it's good enough that their five-song demo has already attracted major labels. Of course, the fact that O and O'Donnell come with serious credentials and industry contacts also helps.
Initially, Reeve Oliver was nothing more than O'Donnell, in his bedroom, writing songs. But when Dogwood finished recording their album Building a Better Me ahead of schedule, O'Donnell found himself with access to studio time that Dogwood's record label had already paid for.
“So I called Brandon [Young, drummer for Noise Ratchet] and was like, ‘Hey, do you wanna come down and learn five songs and try and record all night?' And he did. We recorded five songs in five hours on the time we had left for the Dogwood album.”
Even then, Reeve Oliver was nothing more than a demo album that O'Donell shared with friends. He didn't distribute the album at Dogwood shows, he says, because he felt “weird.”
“I felt kind of embarrassed about it because I was a punk and this wasn't punk at all,” he explains. But then Dogwood began to sputter, and O'Donnell decided he wanted out.
“We did a last album in January of 2001, which was Matt Aragon. And then I was like, ‘This is the last one I'm going to do.' I wasn't happy in the band. At one point in Dogwood, we were a full-time touring band. And we were good. We played well together.
“But in 2001, it was not the same band. I was onstage and I felt embarrassed almost. We didn't care enough anymore, we weren't playing enough shows. Kids loved it, but I didn't feel good as a musician.”
After quitting Dogwood in October of 2001, O'Donnell was free to focus on Reeve Oliver with Young and Dogwood's bassist, Jason Harper. But the week leading up to their first gig-a show at the Scene with Noise Ratchet-Harper disappeared.
“Have you ever had any friends in your life who just disappeared?” Sean asks, visibly perplexed. “It was the weekend when we were like, ‘Hey, OK! We're a real band!'”
Reeve had been sharing a practice space with fluf, and O offered to fill in if Harper remianed M.I.A.
“That week we hadn't gotten a hold of Jason and we had shows,” O'Donell says. “So I was like, ‘I don't think our bass player is going to show up, do you wanna learn our whole set the day before?' And he did. We played six songs at The Scene in like one day of practicing and ever since then he's been in the band.”
“I never got kicked out,” says the typically sardonic O.
Wanting a more stable lineup, O'Donnell replaced Young with his longtime friend, Brad Davis, a Sea World entertainer and member of the comedy band, Bad Credit.
So now Reeve Oliver stands as the most interesting new band in town: an amazing, unreleased demo CD, major label interest, and prime members from Dogwood, fluf and the sea lion show at Sea World.
Reeve Oliver performs at the Casbah on Feb. 5. 619-232-4355.