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Exclusive Interview with Ryan O’Leary: Sally Draper “DOES TOO”

// Interview, Music // April 8, 2017 // Adam

Last year, the punk duo of Ryan O’Leary and Bob Osowski came together to create Sally Draper, described in their own words as Against Me! if they had gotten into Weezer.  A few weeks ago, the band released DOES TOO, their first full length album fresh on the heels of two EP releases last fall.

DOES TOO shows off the full range of the duo.  The first track, “The Air I Breathe,” begins with soft, acoustic finger-picking juxtaposed by raw, guttural vocals before unleashing the breakdown thirty seconds before the end of the song.  “New York City is a Fucking Headache” is more of a traditional punk anthem that will have running in circles and swinging your arms right from the first cord, with only short pauses to shout along with the chorus, “New York City is a fucking headache!”  The album also manages to pack in a tremendous amount of heart beneath all the head banging and screaming.  “Too Young To Be Too Old” features personal, yet universally relatable lyrical themes (at least to those around Ryan, Bob, and my age range), “For once all my dreams are within reach/ Just close enough to watch them all slip away.”

This past week, I got to talk with Sally Draper guitarist and vocalist Ryan O’Leary about their new release, their old releases, their “Bigly Benefit” show series, the local scene, and how all of this manages to fit into their already ridiculously hectic lives.

N.J. Racket (NJR):  In 2016, Sally Draper released two EP’s, “I CAN’T DO THIS” in October and “I’M NOT DOING THIS ANYMORE” in November.  In what ways is “DOES TOO” different from the previous releases?

Ryan O’Leary, Sally Draper (RO): Obviously, one way it’s different is that it’s a full 10 song album, as opposed to just a short EP. The first EP had songs on it that were written before I even thought of starting Sally Draper with Bob, my musical better half. Songs that I assumed would never be recorded and just played at the occasional drunken basement show. And the second EP was kind of rushed together to be released on Election Day. With DOES TOO, we took the whole summer to work on the songs and recorded it in small sessions spread out over the course of several months. We weren’t being particularly meticulous or anything, but we did it in a way so it wouldn’t feel too much like work. We also put more effort into making the album sound as big as possible, having it professionally mixed and mastered, instead of just handling the mixes ourselves.

 It’s also a lot more personal than the first EP’s. We unexpectedly lost some people we loved in 2016, and while it wasn’t always intentional, a lot of the subject matter definitely ended up reflecting that.

NJR:  You’ve now written and recorded three albums in the past year, while also playing a ton of shows and booking an entire benefit series.  It sounds like you guys are pretty busy to say the least.  How do you keep all this together and what keeps you pushing forward?

RO:  When we started this project at the beginning of 2016, I was set to be working on a movie in Texas for the summer. Our original goal was just to put out an EP or two before then, and maybe play a few shows. 

 I had a couple songs written for the second EP (Spontaneity and Ruthy) when I found out the movie was being put on hold for a while due to financing issues. Suddenly with a whole summer free and feeling really fucking bummed out about the movie, I started writing a song a week until we had an album’s worth of material. So, I’d say the biggest thing that kept everything together and kept us moving forward was soul crushing disappointment and a sudden burst of free time.

 While we were in the middle of recording the album, the presidential debates were in full swing and seeing the amount of people starting to support Trump was infuriating and terrifying, so I wrote the song “This Election Season, I’ll Quit The Internet.” We originally wanted to record and release it as a single on Election Day, but then I got beat up after an Against Me! show and wrote a song called “Toxic Masculinity” about how that felt (spoiler, it didn’t feel good), and then Jeff Rosenstock put out a new album called Worry., which ends with this amazing seamless medley of songs. So, I called up Bob and we decided to turn the single into a four song EP that flowed as if it were one song. We recorded it in a single day so we could release it on Election Day, fully expecting Trump to lose and to have the songs become irrelevant right after. But he won, so we continue to play it and each time I wish I tried to write better lyrics for the first one. Trumps hands and orange skin wasn’t exactly something I thought we’d be screaming about at every show for the next four years.

NJR:  Speaking of, Sally Draper has been organizing the “Bigly Benefit” show series, which is a series of concerts where all proceeds go to charities endangered by the Trump administration, which I know have included Planned Parenthood, Trans Lifeline, and Meals on Wheels (coming up at Bar Matchless on April 15).  What other charities has the “Bigly Benefit” series supported and how did the whole thing really get started?

RO:  You got all three that we’ve supported so far! The shows got started from a feeling of helplessness after seeing Trump get elected. Neither me, nor Bob, are particularly loaded, so it wasn’t like we could help much financially by our own means, but we realized our basement shows in Jersey were starting to get pretty strong turnouts on a regular basis and we decided to throw the first Bigly Benefit on Inauguration Day. It ended up being a huge success and all of the bands involved were so cool, so there was no way we weren’t going to do more of them.

 Now it’s something we’re trying to do every month or two. We change the cause for each one depending on who the Trump administration feels like attacking or neglecting. I like to base the cause over whatever is recently affected, not just to raise money but to show a direct opposition of the administration’s policies. While it was great that our Trans Lifeline benefit last night raised a decent chunk of change, to me the real power of it was showing the Trans community that there’s people willing and eager to support them, even when the government isn’t. I also feel obligated to use this space to thank Laura Jane Grace for tweeting about the show. That was surreal and really added a level of validity to everything.

NJR:  Since I’ve started N.J. Racket, one of the things I’ve been most impressed with and that I think is really such a crucial aspect of the local scene is the social consciousness and activism.  Obviously, this is something that’s also very important to you as well, so tell us what this means to you personally.

RO:  On a personal level, especially when I was younger, the local scene has given me a sense of belonging that I never felt anywhere else. On a broader level, it’s just incredibly inspiring to see how positive everyone is, even in the shittiest of times. I love that whenever I’m feeling uninspired, I can just go to New Brunswick and see some bands play to a bunch of excited college kids in a smelly basement and relive the same feelings I had when I first picked up a guitar or heard Green Day on the radio. It’s kind of like having access to a fountain of youth (as long as you don’t think too much about being a decade older than everyone else in the room).

NJR:  What’s on the horizon for Sally Draper?  Do you have plans for another few EP’s this year?  When and where are the upcoming shows and what else can we do to support the “Bigly Benefit” cause and Sally Draper?

RO:  This is an interesting question to answer because I’m moving to Los Angeles at the end of the month. We’re about to become less active because of the distance, but have no intentions of slowing down with the songwriting. I’ve been kind of freaking out about the move, so there’s definitely a wealth of material for another EP or album. I’d love to have something new at least recorded by 2018. Our last New York show before I move is on Saturday, April 15th at Matchless in Brooklyn. It’s a Bigly Benefit for Meals on Wheels and one of our favorite bands, CUTTERS, is headlining. If you’re over 21 and live in the area, you’re straight up foolish for not going. Then on Saturday, April 22nd we’re having a free going away party/show in Edison at the Behr Office LLP. Every okay to awful band we’ve ever played with since high school is reuniting for the show, and some “real” bands are also playing, it’s gonna be nuts. 

 The best way to support the Bigly Benefit cause is to go out to the shows. We’re in the early stages of planning something big for this summer that I can’t talk about, but it should make it easier to support the cause. Another thing anyone remotely affiliated with the scene can do is throw your own benefit shows. You’d be amazed at how much easier people are to work with when they know it’s going towards charity. It’s also a great time and a wonderful way to make friends. I had a handful of friends before these benefits and now I’m almost in the double digits because of them! Seriously, though, there’s so many ways to be active beyond Facebook rants and it feels great. I can’t recommend it enough.

All of Sally Draper’s releases are available on their Bandcamp page and be sure to check them out at their Bigly Benefit show April 15 at Matchless in Brooklyn and April 22 at the Behr Office is Edison, NJ.  Bigly Benefit Show Poster by C.J. Ruiz.

Written by Adam

Adam gave man-birth to N.J. Racket and is as close to an "editor-in-chief" the site has. He's a god awful photographer.