Taylor Young and John Pedigo have finally finished setting up their instruments, a handkerchief, a Texas flag and some other artifacts in front of an old, low-hanging tree in Lakewood's Tietze Park. The two members of The O's sit in the middle of it all with rather somber looks on their faces, though the guys are rarely seen without huge grins. Photographer Chad Windham snaps a few photographs as the setting sun peeks through the tree's mangled branches. One of the photos will end up on the cover of The O's new record Between The Two. But, behind the veil of a cool, indie-rock, outdoor photo session lies a deeper meaning for Young and Pedigo, who live on opposite sides of the park. It's an illustration of what the album is about—the complete intersection of the two members.
"When it came down to it, that's really why the album is called Between The Two—it's between us two," says Pedigo. "We fuckin' did it. It was our idea, our fuckin' songs, we're playing every instrument on the album." In fact, they were so committed to the ideal of doing it all themselves that they even learned to play piano for a few songs, but learning a new instrument isn't anything new for The O's.
Their first album, We Are The O's, was made only a short time after Pedigo picked up the banjo for the first time. "On [We Are The O's], we had just learned how to play the instruments," he says. "I bought a banjo in June and we recorded it in August, so I didn't really know what I was doing."
Young, whose songwriting chops were rusty at best, picked up the guitar for the first time in 15 years. The only other songs he had written were performed by his first band, Neon Girl. "John was pretty much the first person that I showed any of my songs to," Young says. "I had been working on those songs for a year and a half or two."
"Obviously, I thought they were good," Pedigo responds. "I bought a banjo because of it."
Shortly after the two decided to form a band, but long before they mastered their instruments, they began piecing together songs they had already written. A verse here, a chorus there—the album turned into an amalgamation of Pedigo and Young's melancholy songs—most of which have survived the test of time, and, even more important, the road.
Since the band's inception, they've performed more than 300 concerts in North Texas and all over the world—honing their craft and forging their songs, night after booze-filled night. But during their early shows, since the two were still new at their instruments, they had to rely on more than just their songs to get through the night. Their oddball instrumentation, which features Young on acoustic guitar and a massive bass drum played with a pedal, and Pedigo on banjo and slide guitar with a tambourine played with a pedal, made it even more difficult to get through a full performance. So, in order to cope, they turned to a bit of comedy. "Early on, I definitely hid behind some humor," Pedigo says. "You had to soften the blow of 'Oh, I totally fucked up.'"
But through the last few years, as the performances got better, the humor stuck, making their live show more like a Smothers Brothers routine than a concert.
"Back in the old days, they would've called us entertainers," Young says.
That same humor was apparent at Fort Worth's The Moon, where The O's recently performed for a capacity crowd. As the line of people stretched out the door and down the street for most of the night, The O's gave the folks inside a healthy dose of comedy. After each song, Young set them up and Pedigo knocked them down, and vice-versa.
What happened between songs, though, was in sharp opposition to what happened during the songs. The melancholy tunes about love lost were offset nicely by the banter, though, on their new record Between The Two, the overall demeanor is quite a bit more upbeat.
The opening lyric to the album's first song, "We'll Go Walking," is the perfect starting point when Pedigo sings "We'll go walking, to Tietze Park, pick up a bottle and stare at the stars." It's a subtle way of letting the listener know that the album is a result of Pedigo and Young's complete collaboration.
The O's make a quick point to let the listener know that they've traded in the melancholy of We Are The O's for a more fun sound, but not completely. On "Wrecking Ball," Young longs for a simpler life, and Pedigo's pining slide guitar solo further illustrates the sentiment in a way that words can't. The album's third song, "In Numbers We Survive," is new territory for the duo, who say that it's quickly become a crowd favorite. Understandably so; the swampy, Delta blues banjo riff at the song's intro is enough to make listeners tap their feet, and a few measures after the song begins, Young prods the audience along further with a rumbling stomp on his massive bass drum.
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It sounds like it could've been written only during a tour of the South, but Pedigo says he penned the riff in a hotel room in northern France on the band's last European tour. In fact, much of the record was conceived in Europe. But it maintains a distinctly American sound, which captures the feeling of the warm sunset on the album's cover. And, thanks to the help of producer Stuart Sikes (Walkmen, White Stripes), the two members, with their limited instrumentation, sound as big as a full band and, in the case of "In Numbers We Survive," even bigger.
The album hits its stride early on, but it's propelled even further with "Trying To Have A Good Time," a barroom shuffle that acts as a theme for the entire record. The band finishes in the same peaceful attitude it had in the beginning with one of the best songs Young has ever written—a peaceful, comforting sing-along called "No Troubles Left At All," which closes the case on all the relationship turmoil that was wrapped around the first album.
It's clear on Between The Two that The O's have found their identity at the point where its two members intersect. They'll be the first to tell you that they're at their best when they're working together, writing songs, and offering the punch lines for each other's jokes, which is why their live show has become one of the most entertaining in town, despite the fact that the band only has two members. "We don't need a drummer. We don't need a bass player," Pedigo says. "Those guys get in the way."
He's right. For The O's, having anyone else in the band would only muddy up the sound and throw off the chemistry. And they don't plan to change their format—not when they've just hit their stride. "I think that we're finally coming into our own," Pedigo says. "We're becoming the band that we wanted to be in the beginning."