Image credit: Dan Johnson
Consisting of Michigan-born brothers Andrew & Stephen Oliver, psychedelic folk-rock band Brother Oliver was formed in 2011. Nine years later, the band has expanded – marching to the beat of their own drum and rocking it. They have shared the stage with rock legends such as Steve Miller Band and highly acclaimed musician Father John Misty to name a few, along with their recent win of 2019 Artist of the Year from Upstate Music Awards.
We chatted with brother Andrew Oliver, an innovative entrepreneur (WAVS Custom Earbuds), lead singer, and guitarist of this rising band.
Looking back, what were some of your earliest entries into music appreciation? And music production?
In high school, my best friend and I randomly decided we wanted to record an EP. It was more or less as a joke and just purely for fun. I didn’t have any recording gear or software, but I had some cheap video editing software. So we recorded all the parts on a pair of Apple earbuds, the kind that had a little microphone on the cable. We used that microphone to record everything. And then I edited it in the audio track on my video editor. I exported a blank video, and then used a website to strip the audio from the video, and voilà, we had our track. After this experience, we had so much fun and I found it so satisfying that it kind of just lit a fire in me, and I would write and record music non-stop from that point on. My brother Stephen got in on the action at that time as well, he bought a ukulele (and a mandolin shortly thereafter) and I dug a guitar out of the basement. We were off to the races.
Take us through your songwriting process. Are there any particular steps you take when putting music together?
I try and not get too methodical about it. I usually write lyrics and instrumentation separate from each other, though that’s not always the case. Usually, I’ll write a chord progression I find inspiring, then dig through the fragments of lyrics I have written in my notes to find a line I think fits, and that sets the theme. I write the rest of the lyrics off of that starting point.
What gets your creative juices flowing?
I tend to write best when I’m upset about something, but that doesn’t mean I necessarily only write about things that upset me. But for whatever reason when I’m bothered or upset is when I get in that mood to write, and sometimes I write about uplifting things in those moments. It’s my time away from everything else more or less that does it. I usually have to be alone.
As a musician, it becomes apparent that there is a huge difference between the art and the business. Is there anything about the music scene that you would personally change?
I think there’s a lot of misconception about what artists think they deserve, or what they think they’re entitled to. When it comes to business, you have to swim with the sharks sometimes. With art, it’s hardly that way. It’s not fun to think about, but as an artist you’re not entitled to a room full of people eager to hear you play, or 10,000 people ready to stream your song on day one. When it happens, that’s amazing, but usually, those kinds of situations require a lot of careful planning and execution. I think the idea of a “scene” can take the focus away from the fact that if you want to have your art consumed at a high level, you have to personally find ways to stand out.
That said, having a community of venues and artists that support each other is incredibly helpful and creates an ecosystem where everyone can be better off — as artists we should support each other wherever we can. But at the end of the day, all ships do rise with the tide. So if you want to be a professional, you’ve got to make professional moves.
Studio work and music creation or performing and interacting with a live audience, which do you prefer?
All of it. I love the process and the ever-shifting focus you have to have. If I spend too much time on stage, I just want the studio. If I spend too much time in the studio, I just want the stage. It’s the endless cycle that keeps us hungry for it all.
What is the most memorable response you have had to your music?
We’ve been fortunate to have the opportunities to play some pretty amazing shows and play for huge crowds, and that’s always satisfying. But the most meaningful and memorable responses to me are more subtle. It’s when someone tells us one of our songs or performance got them through a hard time. That’s what it’s all about to me — when someone has a deep connection with the music in a way that truly impacts their life, and helps them in some way.
What’s on your current playlist?
Bill Withers – Lovely Day
Kid Cudi – Tequila Shots
Donovan Woods – Last Time I Saw You
Damn Skippy – Michael Westen
Breakdown the news for us: what can we expect from you in the near future?
We’re going to try and get back on the horse with the BO TV series. I’d like to get the camera crew back out and film some more life content. We’ve got some ideas brewing.
Famous last words?
Attitude is everything.
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