Story by Maria Nunez
Photo by Mary Cantrell
For a city that prides itself on an abundance of live music, sometimes there’s one thing missing in Austin: an abundance of good live music. With new bands cropping up every day, it’s easy to get lost in the clutter, but O Conqueror aims to buck that trend with standout publicity tactics and, more importantly, their own special blend of psychedelic blues.
From the beginning, O Conqueror was already different than most successful local bands today. In 2011, after recording a few songs with a completely different group of musicians, singer Dustin Doering decided to start a new band, recruiting the rest of the current members through Craigslist. Yes, Craigslist. Yet despite their unconventional way of coming together, you’d think the members of O Conqueror were childhood best friends after spending 10 minutes with them or watching them interact onstage.
“Dustin writes a pretty die-hard Craigslist ad,” keyboardist Alex Hartley says with a laugh. “At one point, we actually auditioned a drummer that didn’t even have drumheads,” guitarist Justin Green adds. “But luckily, we eventually weeded out some of those weirdos.”
The best way to describe O Conqueror is like a sponge. They soak in what they see, what they hear and what they like, transform it to fit their vision and present it in a way that is utterly their own. This is especially evident in their light show, where they clip individual spotlights on the ends of their mic stands to bask themselves in shadows onstage.
“Playing live is a great opportunity to get instant feedback,” Green says. “We went to see Timber Timbre, and they weren’t able to afford expensive lighting, so they each had clip lights that they put on mic stands and it created these huge shadows behind them. We thought, ‘How cool would it be if you could control that?’ In most venues, the light show doesn’t always sync with your music, so we just took those matters into our own hands.”
“When you record something, it can feel impersonal from member to member, whereas when we play live, I can feed off of the other guys’ energy,” bassist Mike Fisher says. “People can connect with you better than in the records.”
When it comes to songwriting, the band members don’t just absorb influences from the outside, but also from each other. “We all pull from different tastes from each of our cultures,” drummer Pedro Corsetti says. He brings a Latin flair to the band’s rhythms, while Doering injects country and folk elements. Meanwhile, Fisher adds funk-rock to the mix, while Green draws from mellower sources, like newer music from the Black Keys. “They’re all great influences,” he says.
Now on their third year at South By Southwest, O Conqueror decided to do something besides the typical showcases and parties. Throughout the festival, the band will drive around the city in their van — appropriately titled the ‘O Conqueror Cab’ — and give people rides while jamming with them in back seats.
“We’re thinking about playing some acoustic stuff and some other songs we plan on coming out with,” the band says. “It’s essentially a party on wheels. We always struggle with finding ways to stand out, but we hope this helps us with that.”
There’s no questioning O Conqueror’s enthusiasm and passion for music. They practice in Justin’s home studio, but they’re persistent about recording with producers that give them honest feedback to help them improve their work. They’re not ones to take the easy way out, even if that means teaching piano lessons during the day to make ends meet or taking risks playing at new venues. . In fact, it seems like the road less traveled is their only option most of the time.
Corsetti recalls once playing an extremely small venue in McAllen that didn’t even have a stage the day after playing indoors at Stubb’s. “Although we were kind of weirded out at first, it ended up being the best show we’ve played,” he says. “The audience was dancing, requesting songs, it was the best experience we’ve had.”
“We’re a DIY kind of band,” Doering says. “We make all our own merch, we press our own shirts and koozies, we do the music videos on our own. That’s kind of how you have to be nowadays.”
When it comes to expansion, O Conqueror plans to employ what they call the “nuclear bomb effect,” where they start small and eventually end up getting a national tour. While the outcome of that mission is still uncertain, you can catch them at several SXSW shows this week:
3/19- SXSW Second Play Stage @ Omni Hotel & Resorts | 6PM
3/19- Offical SXSW Showcase @ Hilton Garden Inn Austin Downtown/Convention Center (18th Floor) | 1AM http://sxsw.is/1EzWt1w
3/21- Austin Music Foundation Showcase @ Tiniest Bar in Texas | 6PM