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Feels like the first time

Getting to The Point with Oblio Joes

To merely say that Oblio Joes are a staple of the Missoula music scene just doesn’t cut it. To venture that Oblio Joes warmly embody the scene—now that has a much nicer ring to it. After 10 years of playing, Oblio Joes have garnered the kind of local respect for which some bands would rip out their own cojones—they’re revered by their peers and a slew of fans who sing along to every word frontman John Brownell croons. No matter how big the core at an Obes gig, there’s always more love to bond listeners into an Oblio family that drinks, sings and dances together.

It all started, Brownell reflects, back at the tail end of a grungy era. “The original members were me, Dan Strachan and Stu Simonson. The three of us were in a band together here in college called The Flannelles—this was in 1993. Stu and I played guitar and Dan played drums that, at the beginning, consisted of a snare drum, a hi-hat, and a snare drum case.” As some of us remember, this was a time when local bars were a no-chance-in-hell zone for indie bands. House parties were among the few outlets where the DIY spirit could be upheld.

“We played house shows almost exclusively in those days,” Brownell recalls. “It wasn’t really until Jay’s started letting punk bands play that we even thought of playing bars and such regularly. In fact, I’d say we helped pave the way for good rock music at Jay’s, along with our good friends in Humpy.”

Their unusual band name has an unusual origin to match, taken from singer/songwriter/John Lennon-drinking-buddy Harry Nilsson’s psychedelic 1970 pseudo-children’s-story, The Point. It’s a bizarro-world conceptual tale about a young character named Oblio, who is cast out of his community of pointy-headed compatriots because he has a round head.

“We were definitely big fans of Nilsson in general, and that album in particular,” says Brownell. “We love the whole story of Oblio, and the movie, narrated by Ringo Starr, is brilliant as well. During our first shows we would even bring samples from that album to play between songs, by holding a mini tape recorder up to the microphone.”

Then the hard work started on the Oblios’ legacy of self-releases. First out was a cassette titled All Ages Show, which is seeing its 10-year anniversary re-release on CD this week.

“We released the album,” Brownell remembers, “on Feb. 19, 1994, at Povstock, a benefit for the Poverello Center. This was the same night the Roxy caught fire—a night that is ‘burned’ into my brain.”

Then came two full-length CDs (Lo! and Sin Tax and Some Antics), two CD EPs (Flat Earth Defender and Captain of the Moon), a split seven-inch with Humpy and appearances on three compilations. The Obes have maintained the same youthfully sardonic vision throughout, even if their touring is limited by the constraints of adulthood (like parenthood—three out of five members have kids). When they do hit the road, the local yokels are often treated to the unexpected. Like the time the Obes (one of them, anyway) nearly burned a friend’s porch right off the house. Or, Brownell relates, “The night Coco, our road manager, had his private parts crushed by a large, raving madman who may or may not have been wearing his clothes at the time. We nearly took him to the hospital, and I still don’t know if he’s fully healed.”

The Oblio sound is a happy contradiction, an American hybrid somewhere between Pavement, The Smiths, XTC, Uncle Tupelo and Meat Puppets, all thrown on a flatbed headed to a beer party down some dirt two-track. Over the years, band members up and left the hometown, personnel shifted and new needs arose. Ian Smith joined sometime after the Roxy fire, filling out the band’s sound with keyboard, and former Everyday Sinners bassist John Fleming joined a few years ago.

“Fleming fit in right away,” Brownell confirms. “We knew he was the guy we wanted when [former bass player] Tor [Dahl] left town. There was none of the awkward ‘get-to-know-you’ time involved. He plays a solid, tight bass line and you can really hear the difference in our new songs. It’s similar to when Ian joined the band. It just feels great to get some new blood who can contribute entirely new ideas into the mix.”

A brand new release is not far ahead. John Brownell fesses up:

“The new album is called Swallow The Moon, recorded at local recording haven Bevel Studio. We spent a lot more time recording and mixing this one and I think it shows. This is actually not a completely new album, as it was recorded over a year ago. In fact, we have at least another full album’s worth of new material that we’ve written since then, and plan to begin recording again in the next month or so.

“I’ll tell you this,” Brownell hints, “‘the people’ are gonna love Swallow The Moon, but the next one will be light years beyond it. Ten years, and it feels like we are just getting started!”
Oblio Joes celebrate the 10th anniversary re-release of All Ages Show with an all-ages show this Thursday, Feb. 19, at Aerea 5. Cover $5. Contact the writer:

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