Olympia, Washington. New Year’s Day, 1995. In a dark and smelly basement three young musicians gather to tackle the vast songbook of Arrington de Dionyso. They had heard his self-recorded cassettes. The songs were wild and lovely. Arrington (the rebellious son of Methodist ministers) played every instrument with the soul of an outsider artist who didn’t know any better.
The original trio was brought together for one show under the moniker Old Time Relijun, just to see what would happen. Arrington played a $20 guitar and a beat up bass clarinet. He sang with a mixture of piss and vinegar that exploded with naive charisma. Bryce Panic harassed the drums. Aaron Hartman beat on a two-string upright bass with a microphone taped to its bridge. They communicated with the clairvoyance of long-married ninjas. During that first show, everything went red: strings broke, the bass was a solid mass of feedback, the PA blew. They used Arrington’s songs as a template to meld shock-ritual with a mad tea-party dance vibe, hardly noticing the college kids in full Riot Grrrl gear, screaming. OTR had no idea that punkers and hippies were actually dancing together. A band was born. OTR gained a reputation for playing any and every show they could whether or not they were on the bill. Over time they began to develop the kind of intuitive free-jazz rapport most bands can only dream of.
In 1996, OTR recorded and self-released their first album, Songbook Volume One, financing the production by conning a friend out of a meager inheritance. The CD was packaged in stolen popcorn bags. In 1997, Calvin Johnson invited the band to record a song for the Selector Dub Narcotic compilation. From there, a beautiful relationship blossomed.
After Bryce left to pursue a life of yoga and dance in India, Phil Elvrum stepped into the fold. Phil’s caveman beats and production savvy helped launch the first three OTR albums K would release. Uterus and Fire (1999) was a bombastic exercise in recording in the red. La Sirena de Pecera(2000) was a one-night multilingual wonder. The band’s first true masterwork, Witchcraft Rebellion, broke new ground in 2001, combining a love for the bizarre with deep poetic sensibility – a retelling of the first chapters of Genesis from the serpent’s point of view.
After a couple U.S. and European tours, Phil left to focus on his other band, the Microphones. Old Time Relijun continued in a variety of mutated forms with various lost souls sitting behind the drum set.
The group experienced a brief lull in activity as Arrington began a vagabond period that would take him hitch-hiking across the United States and back and forth between Italy, France, and Argentina. A compilation of unreleased oddities, Varieties of Religious Experience, was released in 2003. During his travels, Arrington composed an outline for what would become the Lost Light Trilogy. The first two installments, Lost Light and 2012, saw a growing audience, as well as high praise from critics around the world. The trilogy moves like an odyssey which blurs the line between waking life and dreams.
Now based in Portland, Oregon, Old Time Relijun have re-invented themselves again. The final installment of the trilogy, Catharsis in Crisis, is the culmination of twelve years of deceptively untutored refinement. With new members Germaine Baca (drums) and Benjamin Hartman (saxophones), Old Time Relijun keeps charting new territories in the nether regions between the ancient world and the invisible new. These songs are at once autobiography, dream diary, and new myth – politically and sexually charged manifestos for alchemical revolution.
Live or recorded, OTR doesn’t shy away from confronting the monsters that lurk deep in the shadows.