The sadness felt towards the end of a tour was well and truly kicking in when I caught up with Barry and Neil of Oxygen Thief back in June. “It’s been an amazing week,” says Barry Dolan on the penultimate night of their tour with Mongol Horde. The lead vocalist and founder of the solo act-cum-band was genuinely grateful for the opportunity to be playing in front of a great number of people during their run with the Frank Turner-fronted side project and it seemed that his decision to take a sabbatical to give Oxygen Thief the push it needed had paid off. Before this they’d toured the UK in support of, UK post-hardcore legends, InMe and would go on to play an incredible set at 2000Trees Festival.
It was Barry’s birthday, so the topic quickly turned to plans for that night and what kind of debauchery had taken place the night before. “It just happens,” Barry says almost regretfully. “You don’t plan on getting smashed and then it’s three in the morning and writing “dildos” on your drummers arm in permanent marker”. Ben sounds weary as he tells me that he had to wash off “a lot of permanent marker” earlier that day before pointing out the word “sexy”, which has been scrawled onto his hand. “At least that’s positive,” says Barry. And I guess it is really. As for the influence of a certain Mr Turner on proceedings, Barry tells me that he expected more from him. “It’s not as bad as I thought it’d be,” he says warily almost hoping that he doesn’t have to eat his words later on. “I think I’ve had more whiskey than I’ve ever had in a week before,” adds Ben. Sounds about right!
Oxygen Thief were also out supporting, latest album, The Half-Life Of Facts. An intricate blend of classic UK post-hardcore and metal, it almost feels like a throwback in the best way possible and was definitely a style that suited a tour like this. However, there was never any firm intention to get the record to sound a certain way. “It’s the same process of me writing songs on an acoustic and then giving it to the guys and saying ‘what should we do?” Recording a full-length also gave the guys more freedom and added to that varied sound. However, Ben also explains that Oxygen Thief had grown as a band since the recording of, their first full band EP, Accidents Do Not Happen They Are Caused. “I think, naturally, there were more things we could do to mix it up a little bit”. As for other influences, Barry notes that the use of acoustic guitar was mainly for “shits and giggles”. The album’s “false start”, as he puts it, definitely threw me off on my first listen and it works as somewhat of a homage to Oxygen Thief’s humble beginnings whilst doing exactly what it did to me.
“You don’t plan on getting smashed and then it’s three in the morning and writing “dildos” on your drummers arm in permanent marker”.
That experimental attitude has certainly created challenges when it comes to new material. “I’d definitely rather it was a challenge than just easy” says Ben. “Me and Neil dissect [Barry’s songs] theoretically,” he continues”, “It doesn’t affect what Barry does, but it means that we can do our thing”. The collaboration seems to come naturally too. By the sounds of things, the three guys are really on the same wavelength and it shows.
On the making of the album, the guys are really forthcoming. However, fans had been kept in the dark during the process. The hashtag #THLOF was the only thing we had to go on, but why so secretive? “It could’ve been shit” says Ben, bluntly. Thankfully it’s not. The other reason was simply not wanting to send out a mixed message around another OT release, acoustic EP, One Day This Will All Be Fields. It’s then that Barry reveals the real reason. “Mainly because it was annoying you” he says, laughing. He was right, it was. Whatever the reason though, it allowed there to be more of a focus on recording and it seems to have paid off.
Despite wanting to avoid any confusion, a mixed message still seems to linger around the band. Having now got both full band and acoustic releases to their name, I questioned whether fans were ever puzzled to see either Oxygen Thief incarnation. “A few people have been surprised that there’s the band,” says Barry. “A couple of people have said they prefer one or the other”, he continues, adding that there’s no signs of a huge audience divide just yet. As for the direction of the band, Barry says they plan to keep on working as they have done. “I think we’ll just do as we have done these past eighteen months. Do a bunch of stuff with the guys, do a bunch of stuff on my own and see what we can do really”. “There’s a good balance at the moment,” adds Ben, “It definitely gives us more opportunities”. But have the two sides of Oxygen Thief given the act as a whole more freedom? The answer to that one would be a resounding “yes” and Barry’s acoustic set at Download is a testament to that.
“A few people have been surprised that there’s the band,”
With the band’s schedule already tight it does, as Ben says, provide an increase in opportunities without putting any stress on the guys’ already tight schedule. Split between Bristol (Barry) and Portsmouth (Ben and Neil), it isn’t always easy for the band to get together either. Occasionally Ben and Neil will rehearse without their frontman out of convenience, although Barry is there whenever possible and the three worked in blocks when recording the album and working out any kinks. “Everything tends to come together pretty quickly” says Ben, before joking that “it’s nice not to have to see him [Barry] every day”.
They laugh, but opportunities like this aren’t common. It’s almost as if tour life isn’t the real world for Oxygen Thief. We get around to talking about Barry’s sabbatical and he admits that none of the things he or the band have done would’ve been possible without it. “It’s meant that we can be a bit more flexible...especially getting to start as a band” he says. “Even just down to the fact that this current tour is at a really busy time and there’s no way that I’d have been allowed this amount of time off”. It’s time spent well too and has allowed Oxygen Thief to grow; and in more than just volume too.“When I play on my own it’s entirely up to me what I do,” says Barry. “The whole point of playing with other people is that you see what comes of it”. “It’s good fun,” he says. “We just make a big noise”.