Interview: Brian O’Connell -Bass and Beyond -High Energy Music Jamming Across the Northeast By: Niki Kaos
Written by Staff on February 4, 2023
I met Brian O’Connell by taking online bass lessons from him and was instantly fascinated with his technical ability and passion for all things music.
Performing bass in two innovative jam bands, Dead Man’s Waltz and Arukah, he’ll be spending two weekends in a row at the Rustic Barn in February – and will undoubtedly bring a full-on dance party. I will find out more.
RRX: You’ve been touring, playing throughout the Northeast. Where are you focused on playing for Arukah?
BO: With all my musical endeavors, I’ve always tried to cast a wide net geographically. So that’s been New England and the Northeast.
I play with Dead Man’s Waltz, (formerly The Steal Your Peach Band), covering the Grateful Dead, The Alman Brothers and The Band. We do the songs in our own style, which is high energy and rocking. We play around the Capital District, around Saratoga Springs and the Berkshires. We have a lot of great fans, and we kick ass!
I’ve been trying to get Arukah into that territory. People have been asking. We have a good word of mouth buzz all over the Northeast. So, we’re playing at The Rustic Barn February 10th. We’re trying to get the Deadman’s Waltz people out to see Arukah. It’s been very exciting.
RRX: That makes sense. When they see your musicianship in Deadman’s Waltz, that will likely translate to your other projects. And speaking from experience, I know you’re an amazing bass player. You’ve clearly invested a lot of time and energy studying the instrument, learning how to compose music, and bringing the emotional to the technical side of it. You also make it a lot of fun. The joy of the musicality pours through in everything I’ve heard you play.
BO: Thank you. That’s a great compliment.
RRX: I bring all that up because you have a lot of diverse projects. I saw you mention you shared the stage with members of the Disco Biscuits. When I saw that, I thought I could totally get that vibe from your playing, but then you have other jam band flavors in there too.
BO: I jammed with Brownstein a couple of times. It was a long time ago with my old band Uncle Sammy. We opened for them two or three times, once at the Natick Center for the Arts where they played their rock opera “Hot Air Balloon”.
RRX: Oh nice.
BO: Tons of fun. Festival stuff too. Marc was always such a great guy. And really friendly to us. He even gave me a nickname, Vinnie Chops. But my personal taste with the jam band thing is that I really loved all the San Francisco bands from the 60s. Loved Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead. And I saw the Grateful Dead when I was a kid a couple times, but LOVED Phish, absolutely, when I saw them coming out. I saw them in ’92. And started seeing them as much as I could.
My tastes range wildly. Especially progressive rock. Jazz fusion. A lot of straight-ahead jazz. A lot of classical and World music.
RRX: I see that! There’s a lot of energy. I see prog and jazz too. You guys will be playing very technical passes together, where the bass and guitar are working the same thing, but in harmony with each other. At the same time, it is bopping and moving and keeping you grooving. It’s a lot of fun.
BO: I’m excited about Arukah because it does have the fusion prog riffs. Dennis is great at writing that stuff. And we have the open improv, which is very high energy and searching and inventive. At times we hit some great, surprising things. I live for that. And I get to take some killer bass solos. Those guys back me up really well. Plus, we have some nice rock/pop moments.
And Dennis, the guitar player, he’s fabulous. He’s a great singer. He’s got a good soul edge and rockin’. And Brian the drummer can sing backups and harmonies very strong too. So, we’re trying to focus on that. And we do some intense fusion minor key jams that are funky and fast. That’s a strength of ours. I’m trying to get us to do a couple more soul things that feature Dennis.
RRX: A good range.
BO: With the voicing, Dennis kicks ass on both rhythm and lead guitar. And Brian is solid as a rock, plus his singing. So, we have a killer ninja trio. I’m very excited about that.
RRX: We’ll be happy to see you out in the Capital Region. I bet the Rustic Barn roof is going to be lifted. Because people at the RB love to dance. It’s a perfect combination.
BO: Yeah – we’re playing there with Dead Man’s Waltz February 4th. And then with Arukah February 10th.
RRX: Very cool! In addition to playing out, you work on original compositions. Tell me your musical that you just re-did? Did you stage a musical?
BO: It’s been a couple years now, but I’m a big fan and explorer of colonial era U.S. history. I’m a big history buff. Especially New England, since I live up here. So, I got into the Salem Witch Trials. I’d get into little rabbit holes that I would go down, and my fiancé Rachael said, why don’t you write a rock opera about it? And I was like, of course! (laughs)
RRX: Why not?
BO: Why not? I started doing it. 2019, maybe 2018. I started reading tons of books and researching it. I started writing about it. So far it has not been a staged rock opera, like a musical theater piece. But it became a podcast. It’s called “Witch Hunt.” A History Told in Music, Sound, and Story” It is me narrating the history of the Salem Witch Trial. It’s totally historically accurate, as much as I can. There’s songs and there’s background music and songs with singing. So, it’s a combination. I’ve only gotten four episodes out, and they’re about 20 minutes long each. I encourage you to check it out. It’s got a couple of thousands of downloads, so it’s just humming away there.
The Salem Witch Trials is a very fascinating period. Very misunderstood. And misrepresented in popular culture with stuff on T.V. and the Crucible that they make everybody read in high school is very inaccurate telling, so I’m trying to tell the real story of it. A fascinating intersection of different things.
RRX: That’s awesome.
BO: I would love to do it as a staged show. I’ve even drawn out how the stage would look. It’s a long-term passion project. And I’d love to have one foot in the jam band scene but have another foot in the arts world, get some grant funding and put on some kick-ass shows. I love that. I love Roger Waters, Pink Floyd, and Genesis. Theatrical stuff. I love improvising a 20-minute jam, but I also love programmatic things. Stuff that is very detailed.
RRX: That all sounds amazing. Thanks for talking with me! Folks can keep up to date at Arukah (arukahband.com) and https://stealyourpeach.com/ for Dead Man’s Waltz. See you on the dance floor!