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Local musician Sean O’Hara shines a light on the Oxford music scene

Alice McKelvey
The Oxford Eagle

As an Oxford-based musician since late 2013, Jackson native Sean O’Hara has worked mainly as lead singer and guitarist for the band Primative and as a songwriter/producer for his ever-evolving solo project Nadir Bliss.

Over the past two years, he’s bounced around in a sort of pinball-like manner, being a part of a few self-described “weird, but cool” bands, all with the same goal – to enjoy creating and playing music.

His interest in the band lifestyle began his sophomore year of college while going to the skate park frequently. O’Hara met musician friend Capel Howorth there and showed him songs he had written in his dorm room. Cade Crook, another friend from the skate park, mentioned he could play bass.

They went to jam together and immediately began making music, eventually leading to 13 songs before deciding on a band name – Primative. The band took a hiatus about a year ago for “life stuff,” which led to Nadir Bliss.

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Photo courtesy Sean O’Hara

Nadir Bliss started out as a three-piece band with members Scott Clark and Gray Secrest before both moved away to Denver and Cleveland, Mississippi, respectively.

“It was about a year and a half ago when we started forming,” O’Hara said. “I’d been writing and recording. We played a few shows, released a CD – and we only really released it because we needed some money at this house show in Cleveland. I just put some songs on a CD and brought them there, and we ended up selling like 20 CDs that night.”

O’Hara said that was the first night of Nadir Bliss. Today, band members are O’Hara, bassist Sam McAlilly, drummer Graham Neeld, and guitarist/keyboardist Stephen Coker.

O’Hara has remained busy in the local scene, playing in other bands like Fevre Dream, The Lonely Boys Club, and Porch Cop. He now  plays in some friends’ projects, like Sun God Motel (Stephen Coker) and Secret Hair, which has the same lineup as Nadir Bliss, but McAlilly writes the songs, and O’Hara dons bass duties.

O’Hara does all recording for himself and friends’ bands in his modest two-bedroom home off Jefferson Avenue.

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Photo courtesy Sean O’Hara

“The way we record is not like how most bands nowadays do it,” O’Hara said. “I record almost all my songs on a four-track recorder I bought on eBay for $20.

“I started out using Garage Band and other laptop stuff, and I still do to some extent for transferring tapes, but my laptop is super slow now, so it’s sort of a pain.

“I can make a tape sound just as good as a laptop, but definitely in a weirder way. When you record on a cassette it’s a little more organic, and it’s gonna change with whatever you do like a live song does. When you play a song live, you’re constantly doing things and reacting.”

His band Primative, however, spent this summer recording in an actual studio. Tweed Studios, located in Oxford on College Hill Drive, was the location where Primative recorded their five-track album.

The songs were mixed by Andrew Ratcliffe using a Trident A-Range, which O’Hara calls a “mythological console.” According to Softube.com, only 13 consoles like it were made, and they have been used by other great acts like David Bowie, The Beatles, and Frank Sinatra.

It meant a lot to O’Hara to record on such a prized piece of equipment because David Bowie’s “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars,” the first album O’Hara ever owned, was recorded on a Trident A-Range.

“I was scared in a really good way,” O’Hara said. “It was just something completely different than I’d ever done, but it was an incredible experience. I really enjoyed it.”

As a senior computer science major at Ole Miss with two jobs, it would seem very difficult to find time to practice and write music, but that doesn’t stop O’Hara from doing what he loves.

Primative. Photo from Facebook

Primative. Photo from Facebook

“You know, some people have told me I have a good work ethic, but it’s not really work, you know. It’s like the funnest thing I do. It’s something I look forward to, and I want to do it every day.”

And O’Hara does do it every day – citing an impressive reference of over 1,000 songs he has written in his lifetime, usually one a day.

Nadir Bliss’s album, “never doubt that a small thing can indeed change the world,” is a brilliant 15-track CD featuring some of those songs.

The album is incredibly diverse containing songs like “don’t do it,” an impassioned ambient four-and-a-half minutes reminiscent of the Japanese instrumental/math rock band Toe and “ride,” a rhythmically driving, sort of kraut-punk, euphoric tune that can’t help but incite mental pictures of the driving youth culture.

“Usually the way I think about situations is very non-linear and sort of like just random phrases, almost like samples from a situation. So I’ll do that, have some ambient samples that represent a theme or mood. Or pop songs, I’ll have samples come into it. It’s conceptual but it’s also very concise.

“I want to put things into pop songs because for some reason a pop song can make a non-linear thing seem like it has a specific narrative, when in reality, it doesn’t at all, it’s very dissociative,” O’Hara said. “That’s what Nadir Bliss became for me. It became this cool way to constantly write songs and constantly figure out certain ideas and feelings. And that’s where it is now.”

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Photo courtesy Sean O’Hara

O’Hara believes the music scene is changing and that it’s an exciting time for musicians in Oxford, but that an oversaturation of bands has shifted the limelight from some of the lesser known bands in town.

“There was a wake left by the last generation of Oxford bands like Dent May and Dead Gaze and Bass Drum of Death – bands that I really appreciate because they’re awesome and created a scene around here. And when they left, there was a void that people have tried to fill.

“Of course, a whole lot of bands are rising out of that muck, and it’s creating a sort of primordial ooze that’s hard to crawl out of. Some bands already have, and it’s not really bands that I agree with necessarily.

“They make good music, but I think there’s a lot of bands that aren’t getting a lot of attention that really are f—ing awesome. I think BONUS is one of those bands and I think NERVS is one of those bands.

“All the bands and people I’ve grown with in Oxford are really incredible, but the good ones are more unassuming and guarded about the way they approach it.”

O’Hara is excited to see the direction the Oxford music scene will take in the upcoming years, noting how easily it can change. But he’s sure that the right crowds who truly appreciate the music will guide the way in maintaining that underground scene he and his friends are a part of.

“I truly think the best bands in Mississippi are the bands that I’m friends with,” he said. “Some of my friends are writing the best music around here. And it’s the best music in this entire goddamn state.”

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