John Dwyer can’t go anywhere — at least not without a fuss.
Like all cult heroes, especially those of the California variety, there has been no shortage of mythmaking and hand-wringing about him and his movements. Pitchfork and SF Weekly covered Dwyer’s relocation from the Mission to Los Angeles. Uptown Almanac lambasted him for it. SFGate claimed the city uttered a “collective sigh” when he departed, then chalked it up to one integral piece of his “most dramatic molting.” It’s somewhat remarkable, given how Dwyer is famous but not famous famous — not quite underground but certainly not in grave danger of Goldenvoice calling him to headline Coachella.
Whenever Dwyer does venture back to play a show, his arrival is billed as a homecoming, a return to form, or something equally romantic and overwrought. (Surely deploying the term “homecoming” requires more than six hours on I-5?)
“Any weirdness with my exit was a surprise to me,” he says. “I’m [in the Bay] all the time now.”
It’s been four years since Dwyer’s exit and, for what it’s worth, he still misses the tacos. Along with Ocean Beach, the rain, and weekdays at the 500 Club.
“But home is where you hang your hat, and I like it quite a bit here,” he says.
His rather mellow feelings about the entire scenario will likely not prevent his upcoming two-night run at The Chapel (Sunday and Monday, Dec. 17-18) from warranting the usual breathless adulation, as though the simple reality that both shows sold out weeks ago was not evidence enough of his beloved status.
These shows, however, are not a typical outing for Dwyer’s band, currently branded as OCS following the release of its most recent album, Memory of a Cut Off Head. Dwyer enlisted Ty Segall — whose departure from the Bay was eulogized in the same Pitchfork article as Dwyer’s — to play in support. It’s a role Segall typically reserves for modern rock monoliths at much larger venues (say, Queens of the Stone Age at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium on Feb. 1). Dwyer also granted the show a worthy cause: Proceeds benefit the local nonprofit SF Coalition on Homelessness.
Homelessness “is something you can see needs a hand yourself by merely walking down the streets,” he says. “It’s the same in Los Angeles. Any help we can give, however small, feels right and natural. It’s a constant roulette of what little thing can I do to help someone or make it a little less shitty. This is one of those things.”
It’s not Dwyer’s first venture into the intersection of music and philanthropy. Inspired by a similar program run by Ascetic House, Dwyer started Castle Face for the Incarcerated, a division of his label which provides incarcerated individuals with Castle Face releases free of charge.
“It’s such a small thing to be able to give someone some songs in prison. We are a prison state. Business as usual these days,” he says. “That being said, I wouldn’t say we’ve been buried in requests. I have a feeling Oh Sees is probably not what you’d want other inmates to hear coming out of your cell.”
He’s likely referring to the band’s heavier work. But for all the time Dwyer spent making brutalizing garage rock records over the last decade — including this year’s splendid Orc — his most recent full-length release, Memory of a Cut Off Head, is “a revisiting of our old-old sound.” That is to say, it’s very much in the melodic, twisted, and folksy vein of the records Dwyer made upon arriving San Francisco from Rhode Island in 1998, several of which were released under the name OCS.
Like the majority of the music he makes, Dwyer is unapologetic, straightforward, and unwilling to dive into sentiment. He doesn’t find the breakneck speed at which he releases records even mildly remarkable. (“I always worked fast,” he says. “I have no day job, so I can write. This is my bread and butter.”)
Asked about the possibility of taking a moment to assemble a career-spanning retrospective that highlights the best of his 20-plus releases, he offers a simple, “Nah.” He admits that a decent part of what keeps him going, besides love of the arts, is food, water, and housing. None of this is particularly out of character: Fewer than 10 questions into a 1999 VICE interview, he opted out of any high-minded discussions of art and life and instead told the reporter about his love of weed and $3 tacos.
He is also happy to report that, for as much as he misses Bay Area tacos, he has grown to love L.A.’s.
“Best of both worlds,” he says.
And whichever world he finds himself in, it’s safe to assume that his movements up and down the 5 don’t keep him up at night.
“Really as long as you are in California, everything will be OK,” Dwyer says.
Or at least something similar.
OCS, with Ty Segall and Shannon Lay on Sunday and Monday, Dec. 17-18 at The Chapel; thechapelsf.com