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Roadside Ecology Revisited: Dana Monteith on the Ominous Seapods Reunion

Were the fans the reason you kind of decided to do these 3 shows?

Tom is turning 50-years-old this week. And he was like, “I want to get the band back together” [laughs].

When he turned 40, that was one of our reunions that we did. It was a milestone date in his life and he felt like it would be a special thing to do. Tom was like, “I wanna do this. I want the five of us to get together for my birthday and do these shows.”

It’s very exciting, it’s exciting to be on the other side of the planet and hear that tickets are sold out, and people are psyched, there’s people coming from all over the country. It’ll bring everybody together. The main impetus is that it’s Tom’s birthday and just kind of went from there. Coming back from Australia, all those things.

It must also be a trip to get back on the road for a little bit. Back in the day, you guys were playing 200+ shows a year. What was that like, being out on the road for that long, and that lifestyle in the ‘90s? I feel like now, bands are on the road and they have their phone. But back in then you guys must’ve just been out on the road just living day-by-day.

That’s exactly what it was. We were just freaking winging it comparatively. It was the beginning of the internet, which was cool. We had this thing called Pod.net, which was at one point mentioned in Wired magazine as entry into the digital world. So that whole thing was just starting, still trading cassettes, it was a big thing. I think for the jam band scene, that was kind of like Wild West cowboy times, you know? We pretty much made it up; everybody made it up—the promoters, the bands, the venues. And New York was a hot spot for jam bands. The Northeast obviously was the epicenter. And even coming from Albany, there was Yolk, and Moon Boot Lover, and moe. And us and all these early ‘90s jam bands lived in this region. We had guys like Greg Bell promoting and playing Wetlands. That was the ultimate venue to play and we were honored to be regulars at the Wetlands in the ‘90s. The whole thing was pretty wild. Those were the times. We could do anything, really. It was cool, very cool. We basically lived out of a van for 10 years. It was a life-defining decade for everybody involved.

You mentioned moe. and I wanted to pick up on your band’s connection with those guys. I know Vinnie played with you guys in 2011. And you guys played moe.down once or twice. Have you guys kept in touch with them at all as they were going through that thing with Rob? Are you gonna be in town for Rob’s first big concert back in February?

I won’t be, unfortunately. I’m heading back to Australia after. I’ll be in New York for probably five days, just hanging out, and then I’m going back at the end of the month.

I saw it online that Rob had been sick and I think you sense your mortality ‘cause we were all in our twenties playing gigs together, partying and doing all the things you do when you’re in a band. You have no sense of mortality. Pretty shocking, I think, for everybody. We were good friends with those guys back in the day and you see that kind of stuff and it kind of blows you away when you really start to think about that. We’re all similar ages and going through similar things. We’ve all got lives, wives, kids, families and you sense that mortality. Hopefully, people catch these things and can knock them down, get back to their life. You sense your mortality when you see your peers and your friends go through these things. And it could be you the next day, really. You’ve gotta just look back on your life and think, ‘Have I done some of the things I’ve wanted to do?’ and I would say, for certainly in my life, I’ve done heaps of different cool things. I think with moe., I would assume they’ve been very lucky and they’ve been very successful. And those are the things you have to think about every day, about the road you’ve traveled and when you wake up in the morning are you happy with your life, where you are. You think about those things when you see your friends go through that type of thing.

I also wanted to talk to you about Ominous Seapods’ position in the jam scene in the 90s, because you guys were known not only for your ability to jam, but also for your ability to turn a good phrase and write good lyrics. From your perspective, do you feel like your lyrics set you guys apart in the scene?

I thought so. I thought we spent a lot of time trying to write an interesting story or trying to create an interesting picture. I think Max really good at storytelling. I like to write more abstract things. And I think there’s a good combination of it, too. We read a lot of books. I think we drew a lot on history, literature. I had a really good friend, Brady McTigue, who said, “Take your inspirations from things other than music. Look at visual art, read books and write about those things and those experiences that you take from other artistic or other creative endeavors that you see out there in the world.” I took that to heart when I started writing.

But I’ve always been interested in writing. It was something that I’d been practicing since I was 12-years-old. I think I just hear words in my head, basically. Voices in my head and started writing them down. And I think Max is the same. He’s a real good storyteller and he could create a story, an imagery, in a three or four-minute lyric section of the song.

We like people like Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead all the foremost lyricists in this scene. Robert Hunter: the king of all lyrics in the jam band world. His stories are deeply tied to history, to theology, to philosophy. The stories he tells are based on those things. They’re based on things that are part of the human experience. So we always try to write with those kind of concepts in mind. We never wanted the lyrics to be throwaway. I think what Hunter did was he drew on history. And growing up, that’s what I listened to, that’s what Max listened to, and he tried to emulate those thoughts.

You can’t go wrong with Robert Hunter. Kind of wrapping things up, I was wondering if you guys were still keeping tabs on the jam scene now? Are you listening to any younger bands, or are there any older bands in the scene that you still admire?

I think I’ve gone back to the Dead again. I live in Australia and not a lot of people know the Grateful Dead. I’ve gone back and listened to heaps and heaps of Dead in the last few years and I think it’s amazing to me that it’s still timeless. They’re almost more popular now than they were when I was going to see them. And the fact that 50 years on the lyrics are meaningful, the musicianship is undeniable—it’s amazing. There’s so much to learn from just a band that plays out on the very edge all the time. I think there’s a sound of air moving with them; speakers and drums pushing actual molecules of air. And to hear that in this day and age is awesome.

Actually, Australia has this really interesting psychedelic rock scene. Bands like Tame Impala from Western Australia are amazing psychedelic rock. And another band King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard just playing super out there, jamband psychedelia. Those are two of my favorite bands right now that are Australian bands that are pushing the levels of psychedelic rock, like really pushed it to the edge. They’re probably two of my favorites. There’s a lot of great Australian rock right now.

Have you been keeping tabs on any of the Dead & Company stuff?

No, I haven’t seen any of it. I guess I heard a little bit, but not much. I guess having seen the Dead a bunch of times back in the day it’s just hard for me to move past it, I suppose. What I’ve heard was interesting and what I like about it was just a freaking rock band. I watched the Bob Weir movie, I thought that was an amazing story that kind of ties into what’s going on. He’s a guy that’s got this legacy. So why should he stop playing?

You mean The Other One, the documentary on Netflix?

Yeah. That movie was absolutely amazing. And I think what went on with that 50th-anniversary thing ties into what Bob Weir was talking about in that movie. It’s their lives and there’s no reason they shouldn’t get out there. And I think the Dead have always drawn disparate players to their scene. You go back to Bob Weir playing with Hanson. Hanson, this totally cheesy pop band. But they’re actually Deadheads—they’re playing with Bob Weir. I think John Mayer fits into the same category. He’s a talented, gifted musician and his heritage is based from the whole Dave Matthews, Red Light Management, thing us where he came out of. There’s a tie-in within that; he’s a guy who loves the Dead. If you were somebody his age, he’s probably in his mid-forties, early forties now, he probably grew up listening to the Dead. And it’s like he had the opportunity to become the guitar player, it’s probably a great honor.

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