There are people who can sit quietly for hours, content doing absolutely nothing. Then there are people like Wes McDonald. A man with his hands in a variety of projects from Vulture Whale to People Years, he’s a man who loves to be part of a band but he also likes to stand alone sometimes. Which leads us to his alter ego project Terry Ohms.
Terry Ohms dropped an album almost a year ago and this Friday he’ll do it again with the release of the always eclectic and energized ‘Cold Cold Shoulder.’ We talked about the release, the alternative mindsets, and more in this back and forth.
With each new band and project, a musician is a part of, a new side of them shows. So in your career, we’ve seen a handful of various versions of yourself from your time in Vulture Whale to drumming in People Years to Terry Ohms. At the end of the day, which version of yourself is most like the man you are when music is not in the equation?
The drummer in any band has a big responsibility. You are sort of the conductor of the band. Even if you’re not the leader or main songwriter of the band, everyone else has no choice but to follow you and the pulse that you are putting out. The drums are the foundation providing solid ground for everything else to happen. When the foundation collapses, everything collapses. It is ten times more obvious when the drummer makes a mistake compared to anyone else in the band. I’m not saying the other instruments aren’t equally or more important.
If your singer can’t sing then you just can’t…But, the drummer has less margin for error than everyone else. A drummer’s mistakes are more glaring than, say the rhythm guitar player. Restraint is a huge part of drumming. No one cares how fast you can do a triplet. But they care a lot about the feel, consistency and tempo of the beat that you’re laying down. So, when I’m playing drums in a group, my main goal is to service the song and stay out of the way. Try to make it easier for everybody else. That includes not making a lot of noise between songs when the other musicians are discussing the finer points of chord layers, arrangement and anything else at rehearsal.
So, when it comes to work, family decisions, life decisions and anything else that requires a serious and focused mind, I’m more like I am when I’m a drummer.
Singing and being a frontman and playing that kind of role in a band, requires more emotive effort and unbridled creativity. You really need to get away from being a normal, grounded person to do those things effectively. You need to be unguarded, playful, adventurous, open to inspiration, and dramatic.
For those who don’t know, Terry Ohms is an alter ego and in many ways, it sounds like a Jekyll/Hyde situation where Terry most definitely has a say in what goes on – only less horrifying. When did the idea of Terry start to come about and do you feel like he allows you to do things you wouldn’t normally say or do? A musical shield if you will?
Terry Ohms is really not any kind of shield or alter-ego. He doesn’t do or say things that I wouldn’t do or say anyway. I just didn’t want to have my real name on the marquee or the album cover. Mainly because my real name isn’t suited to be on a marquee. It doesn’t pop. It doesn’t have a ring to it. It’s laborious. If I was a lawyer, I’d use it.
Your last album, ‘Terryfirmia,’ dropped about a year ago and you already have a new one on the way. When did new songs start coming to mind for ‘Cold Cold Shoulder?’
I don’t know. I always have a new song happening in my home studio. I release albums when I feel there is enough good material to do so. Usually that takes six to nine months. Some of the songs, like “King of The Mountain” have been a long time coming. The basic hook and structure of that song has been with me for over ten years now. But, I really wasn’t capable of doing it justice production-wise until recently. I’ve made recordings of it a few times, and would get stuck, and put it back on the shelf. Same with “Making The Most.” I’ve had that song for years and I just figured out how to make a solid production out of it. I have several other old songs like, that I’ll probably sprinkle into new releases in the future.
In “IMO JSYK BTW” you deliver the line, “Don’t want to listen to reason” and I think that could pertain to a number of things going on in our world on a grand scale, but also personally for most. Were you writing from a personal place or universally speaking?
Universal. I find that 99.99% of arguments end in a stalemate, with both sides walking away shaking their heads, incredulous that the other person can’t see it their way. If I had to nail down an inspiration for this song, though, I’d say it is definitely Fox News’s cult of brainwashed boomers. I’m not usually a political person or artist but come on people . . .
Being an Alabama musician, if you had to pick a venue that best fits ‘Cold Cold Shoulder’s’ overall aesthetic and sound, which would it be and why?
Smaller Venues : The Nick, Mom’s Basement Seasick Records.
Bigger venues : Saturn is my favorite. It’s a luxury to play there.
Also, I miss the Bottle Tree. What a great, perfectly sized venue that was. It really changed Birmingham’s scene for the better in a big way. RIP.
Lastly, what do you have going on once the album drops? Touring? Getting to work on more new music?
I’ve never been busier in my musical life. Aside from the Terry Ohms continuum, look for People Years’ (featuring Chris Rowell, Tony Oliver, and Greg Slamen) debut album that comes out in April. Very excited about that. I’ve also been playing drums in a brand new band called The Blips featuring Taylor Hollingsworth, Will Stewart, Chris McCauley of Holy Youth and Eric Wallace, formerly of Lee Bains and The Glory Fires. We’re going into the studio in late February to bang out a record and get on with it. Really loose, fun stuff that has come together quickly. I’ve really been loving playing drums in both of these bands. Great people and great, spirited musicians all of them. I’ve also have two songs in the bag for the next Terry Ohms record.