Published on May 31st, 2016 | by Brian Hagenbuch2
New Tacoma Face Oldface: ‘Not High Art, Just Rock and Roll’
On July 25, 1956, the SS Andrea Doria, the crown jewel of Italy’s cruise ship fleet, was steaming toward New York City when it was t-boned by the 13,000-ton MS Stockholm. Gashed, the superlative ship — Italy’s safest, fastest, biggest, and most luxurious; a symbol of post-fascist pride — sat off the coast of Massachussets, southwest of Nantucket and east of Montauk, and slunk inch-by-inch over 11 hours until it was a fleeting roil on the surface of the Atlantic. The slow, luxurious decline and the quick action of the crew meant only 46 of the some 1,700 passengers died, and it also meant that the SS Andrea Doria lacked a sufficiently lurid death toll to escape the depths of historical obscurity.
Oliver Herrin, half of the new Tacoma rock duo Oldface, resurrected the sunken ship in his song “Andrea Doria”. In it, a woman takes her husband out in a boat to drown him, but he “swears he won’t go down, like Andrea Doria”. You get the feeling he’s going down anyway. You get the feeling we’re all going down anyway. It’s a haunting, gorgeous little song that taps the potent symbolism of the SS Andrea Doria, and it’s a better song than Oldface expected of itself.
At his electrical shop/practice space on Puyallup Avenue, Herrin stands in the parking lot drinking a Wingman IPA and wearing a sharp blue coat (“generic British mod-scooter”), blue 501s, and leather boots. He shares his secret for exceeding expectations.
“Well, my expectations were so low that it would have been hard not to exceed them,” says Herrin, who is a drummer but keeps a black Pilot G-2 07 in the pocket of his jeans.
“Mine were zero,” says the other face of Oldface, Eric Woodruff, from underneath a black trucker hat with SHAME handwritten in red puffy fabric marker.
“We exceeded that,” Herrin adds.
Woodruff is wearing a solid red flannel over a brown t-shirt and, like Herrin, he has on blue jeans and brown leather boots. He is also drinking a Wingman IPA. Wingman Brewing is just up the street, and Oldface goes there often.
Woodruff and Herrin met in 2001 (“Shit, 15 years man”) at the 3B Tavern in Bellingham, and today they talk about their first encounter like a middle-aged married couple with no regrets.
“We were having that awkward first date style conversation,” says Woodruff.
“Trying to figure out if we wanted to play music together,” interrupts Herrin.
“And we bonded over Eugenius,” Woodruff says.
Soon, they were sharing the stage in Bellingham band Delay and would go on to play together in The Crying Shame, where Herrin was the drummer for three years (“For the good albums”) and Woodruff still plays guitar.
Herrin abandoned Bellingham along with his post as drummer of The Elvi’s and moved to Tacoma in 2006. Here, he started an electrical company, People’s Electric, played around town with The Rallies, and went for a lot of walks with his wife.
“We would see dogs with white around their muzzles, and we’d say, look, that dog has old face,” says Herrin, who got a vasectomy when he was 27.
Last year, after an exhausting string of deaths in his family, Woodruff, a North Tacoma native, took a sabbatical from his job as a biostatistics administrator at Fred Hutch and moved back to his hometown, whose name he finally realized contains both ‘taco’ and ‘coma’. He rented a loft at the Harmon and could see Herrin’s shop from his window. Conversely, Herrin could see Woodruff’s window from his shop. They met in the middle often to drink, argue and laugh. Herrin was learning to play the electric guitar and Woodruff wanted to play drums, so instead of drinking and arguing about issues neither of them knew much about, they decided to drink and play music, something they both knew quite a bit about.
The two alternate on drums and guitar and each plays and sings their own songs. It makes for nicely varied terrain, with songwriting and singing styles that diverge but dovetail. Woodruff is a sonic creature, and listening to him talk shop sometimes sounds like babble: cloven hoof, earthquakers, fuzz peddles, sweepables, overdrive, silver box, whammy bar, tremolo bar (“vibrola on a Gibson”), square wave tremolo, filters, envelopes, self-oscillating delay, germanium diodes, etc…
“Look at this,” Woodruff says, pointing to a faint orangish blotch on the body of a 1973 Gibson ES-355 he picked up recently, “It’s from the degassing of the original nitrate cellulose pick guard. It left this gaseous shadow.”
“Who knows? The gaseous shadow knows,” says Herrin.
Woodruff’s visceral connection with audio gear was on display recently after a set at Conor Byrne with The Crying Shame when he stood next to the stage and cradled a Marshall amp upside down, his face stuck into a cavity at the back of it, eyes closed, breathing in.
“Hey man, smell these tubes,” he said to a passerby.
The passerby declined. Woodruff kept smelling the tubes himself. He loves sound and songs, but he hates writing lyrics.
“I fucking hate writing lyrics,” he says.
Woodruff already had a shot at being a frontman when his college band Prosser got a record deal and tour was on the table for him.
“There was a path open to me, but I didn’t do much about it,” he says.
He seems comfortable as half band leader in Oldface, however, and happy to take his turn behind Herrin, who has attacked the roll of frontman with a tennis player’s athletic stance, an infectious wail of a voice, and a batch songs full of regret (“I swear I’ll change tomorrow”) and violence (“Why won’t you come for me when I’m off your boat?”) and life.
“I also have darts and ping pong,” Herrin says to a friend who stops by the shop to drink beer and listen to music.
“You have ping pong?” the friend asks.
“I’m not a fucking barbarian,” says Herrin.
Herrin backs a white work van out of a bay and they roll a ping pong table into the garage from the office. An hour of aggressive paddle play and trash talking (“He just slapped your mom!”) ensues.
Energized by competition, Herrin sits down at the drums and Woodruff picks up his Gibson and they scorch through some very loud and tight shoegaze and rock-a-billy jams (“Sometimes we play jams with a ‘z'”). At a song break, Herrin looks around the shop, bemused. Simultaneously, Woodruff finds a wayward beer, nearly full, sitting on an amp.
“Who’s beer is this?”
“Where’s my beer?”
They ask at the same time.
Wingman IPAs in hand again, Woodruff and Herrin stand in the parking lot of the shop, refreshed by the spray of a spring mist from a sky stuffed with layers of deep grey clouds.
The music from the shop is so loud that even outside conversation is a lean in and a yell. No one really wants to talk anyway. A Eugenius song comes on the iPod mix. At the first chord, Woodruff and Herrin raise their beers, clink cans and then sing every word of the song together:
“I’ve watched so much TV my head’s gone square,
If I tried I could go anywhere,
I think I’ll take a walk around the block,
Back to bed and this time without socks…”
Behind them, Thea Foss festers and the Amtrak trundles around the bend. The East 21st Street Bridge stands against the clouds like a transparent cathedral, and Tacoma feels like a cruise ship sinking very slowly into Commencement Bay.
*Oldface will play their second shop show in mid-June along with Ben Von Wildenhaus and the Professional Band and Queen Bean (members of The Narrows and The Trucks). Like them on Facebook for an invitation.
*Oldface is joined on bass by either Tawni Bell or Crying Shame frontman Arlan Lackie for live shows.
*Von Wildenhaus declined requests to make disparaging remarks about Oldface for this story, presumably because he likes the band.