Divine Inspiration

Chicago's oh my god. takes music to a higher level.

Chicago's oh my god. have several things going for them. (The name, for one, is a bit unorthodox, but we'll get into that later.) The most interesting thing is that the main musical instrument is an organ.

And that organ's played by a guy named Iguana--a guy who has played organ professionally for years, backing such blues legends as the late Junior Wells, Otis Rush and Buddy Guy.

Iguana got into playing the organ through piano and keyboards as a teen-ager, becoming more adept at it while touring with Junior Wells after college.

"I started doing my own experiments in the basement, in the practice space," explained Iguana, phoning in from his house in Chicago. "I found all these different kinds of sounds you can make from the organ and a Leslie speaker, and I became like a scientist in a laboratory."

It's these different kinds of sounds that power oh my god.: They don't have a guitar player, and, quite frankly, they don't need one.

"I sort of cover a lot of tonal ground with the organ, the way I play, sort of rolling bass and guitar into one sound," Iguana said.

oh my god. began back in 1999, after Iguana met vocalist Billy O'Niell at a club in Chicago.

"I was basically looking for just a singer and a drummer, and I had heard of Billy from some neighbors I had who had seen his band play. I went out and I really liked his voice and most of all, his command of the stage," said Iguana. "We both were attracted to the idea of each doing a lot, and really tightly arranging things and not having a lot of extraneous things going on, like extraneous notes, various players playing parts you don't need."

oh my god. uses the organ, bass (played by Billy) and drums (played by a guy named Bish) to their fullest potential, creating songs that are theatrical and melodic, all based around the strange sounds that Iguana's organ emits.

"You can come up with so many different tones, with reverb, vibrato and these great old tubes on the Leslie speakers," said Iguana. "Really, finding tones that I can express through and a lot of the chords and a lot of the music behind it is really pretty simple, I think, but once we find something we're excited about we really attack it and put all of our selves into it, all three of us. The three of us can be a really energetic force when we're having a good time."

Even when that means just talking on the phone about music. A conversation about blues music in Chicago ("There are so many awful blues bands in Chicago," bemoaned Iguana) turned into a conversation about improv comedy which led to a discussion about Billy's other performing venue: theater. oh my god.'s theatricality is not only generated from the organ's array of sounds; it's also due to the fact the Billy is a not just a singer, he's also an actor.

"I think a certain degree of bravery is required," he continued. "I think you gotta be 50 percent craftsmanlike, 50 percent deep concern for what you're doing and 50 percent seriousness and 50 perfect throw caution to the wind--just fucking let it all hang out, you know. And really, I love music, I love singing, I think oh my god. makes compelling songs and I enjoy it, but for me, it's hugely about, you know, an idea."

The idea is this: To make music that is both intelligent and fun and draws from both lyrical and tonal inspirations.

"To really catch all the coded messages you should really have, like, two joints and four whiskeys. Or play it backwards," advised Iguana, referring to last year's The Action Album, on Chicago-based Novo Records, oh my god.'s second full-length (a self-titled EP was released in 2000, followed by Well in 2001).

Now, on to the story behind oh my god.'s name.

"It's a lyric in a Pavement song." said Billy. "It's also, we have this big liquor cabinet thing, and my wife said, it's an Oh-My-God."

"We were sitting around, we were just joking and Iguana says, 'Why don't we just say we're the ultimate force in the universe, whoever or whatever God is to most people, that we've been chosen, or knighted the ultimate band, in a sort of very preposterously self-important way, to call it God's band?'" continued Billy. "And then I just laughed and said 'Oh, my god. Well, how about that?' I mean, it's on the tip of everyone's tongue, people say it a lot."

"Although, Billy, yesterday I found out that there is a gospel group in Chicago that have a CD out and they're called Oh My God," said Iguana.

"They're a group called Oh My God?" Billy asked.

"A gospel group," replied Iguana.

"Oh, my ... " Billy said.

"Which is fitting, for a gospel group. I don't think that's competition, actually, even, I don't think it's in the same realm," Iguana said.

"Let's sue their asses," replied Billy.

And while we're on the subject of names, the story behind Iguana's name starts in a band he was in when he was a teen-ager.

"I think it was actually this one guy named Anthony who dubbed everyone with reptile names, and then I joined the fray and he gave me one and I think there was a guy named Bobby Iguana ... and they just called me Johnny Iguana," said Iguana. "And then when I moved out to play with Junior, I just kept it, and before I knew it, a lot of people in Chicago knew me as that, and I'd been on a couple records that way, so I just kind of kept the Iguana for nostalgia's sake. I guess that's what I am."

oh my god. has played in Tucson twice before, at 7 Black Cats and at Plush; their third show brings them to Club Congress, a show set up by the folks in Chango Malo (who'll be opening), who were impressed by oh my god. at their previous Tucson shows.

"I'm into that sort of Southwest energy, and I'm really loving the idea of being there shortly, as we talk to you from chilly Chicago," said Billy.