Old Soul: a term referring to how an individual approaches and views life. An old soul is someone who’s introspective, watchful, and burdened by a detached calmness that sets them apart from typical groupings within their age range. Though often incorrectly perceived as being aloof and cold, Old Souls are far from shallowness, frequently trading the idea of materialistic value for that of warm, meaningful relationships and experiences. Being an Old Soul is partially a disconnect with the modern age, but it’s also a rekindling with a simpler, more fruitful time of humankind.
When Brother Oliver first came into view on my radar, I hadn’t a single clue as to what I was getting into outside of the phrase “psychedelic rock with Americana folk,” which already sparked its own intrigue.
Biographically speaking, Brother Oliver naturally embodies that sort of Old Soul intrigue and perspective. Brother Oliver began in 2011 as a duo project between two brothers, Andrew and Stephen Oliver, originally set in the small town of Greenville, MI- just outside of the bustling music scene of Grand Rapids. Humble small-town beginnings generally spawn a thirst for further adventure, of which both brothers were no exception to. Over the course of a few years, both relocated to South Carolina, opening their own recording studio, finding their mainstay percussionist, Devin Taylor, and eventually releasing their first LP Stubborn Fool in 2013. Picking up wind in the Southeast, Brother Oliver began to root itself as a firm structure in Andrew and Stephen’s lives, producing two another album shortly thereafter, Kudzu. Both albums are markedly different in style, genre, tonality, and structure: one focused on small-town folk feel, the other on funk-driven grooves.
Intrigued to the point of nearly losing it, I had to find out more. I sat down with the eldest brother, Andrew, to delve a little further into the folds and creases of Brother Oliver.
Ouch That Hertz!: Hey, Andrew! Good to hear from you!
Andrew Oliver: Hi, thanks for having us. We love what’s going on at OTH!.
OTH!: So, I see here that you’re born and raised Michiganders, just a stone’s throw from Grand Rapids. What a scene! Bursting with talented acts such as La Dispute, Stepdad, The Soil & the Sun, The Crane Wives… Countless talented acts within the hardcore/punk & indie scene! It’s no small wonder as to how you fit in perfectly within the area. So, what prompted the move to Greenville, SC? Was Grand Rapids just not working out terribly well, or was the move also part of a new directional take for Brother Oliver?
Andrew: That’s a great question. We were pretty young when we started the band in 2011. I was 19, a freshman in college, and Stephen was 17, still in high school. Growing up, we were raised in a very conservative home (we were homeschooled until high school). Our parents were loving but very strict on us — perhaps for the best. But regardless, we didn’t end up going out that much and experiencing the Grand Rapids music scene that was basically in our backyard. We just weren’t allowed to. So, I ended up going to a college in South Carolina that my family liked. I finished my associates degree and decided to just stay down there. I knew a couple people and a couple of bands, which was more than I knew back home at the time, so I just stayed. Stephen finished his education and moved down too a couple years later (in 2016).
We recorded two full-length records and played enough shows to build a small following during the years we were living apart. Stephen traveled back and forth from Michigan to South Carolina probably 12 times over 3 years to make that happen.
OTH!: Furthermore, where did you find your drummer, Devin Taylor, at? The guy’s phenomenal at percussion!
Andrew: Just before Stephen was about to move down to SC, I was on the hunt for a drummer to join the band. A good friend of mine said he’d be interested playing for us, so I set up a time to play with him at his practice space. But when I showed up, he had another guy there on the kit I had never met (it was Devin). So the three of us jammed for a couple hours and Devin was into the songs. A week later I hit him up on Facebook about playing a show and he agreed to do it. And that’s how we arrived here!
As aforementioned, both albums couldn’t be further apart. Even sonically, the Oliver Brothers’ works are demonstrative of an Old Soul feeling. The paradigm shift between the two productions were remarkably different. Yet, no matter how Brother Oliver spun it, both still carried the air and poise of and Old Soul, Old Town feeling to it. The feeling, of which, ran much deeper than the painstakingly punctilious parcels of lyricism and instrumentation of the wholesome Brother Oliver package. And then there’s the matter of their new release, “I Rely On Everything,” a novel, fresh track (off of an upcoming 2017 album) glistening with vintage ’60s psychedelia vibes that meet modern senses of Folk-Rock. Such a drastic change in stylization over the course of years had me thinking that all fruits of Brother Oliver’s labor come from that careful, Old-World sort of observation and introspection- a mastery of a craft that seems to grow more and more into an anachronism by the day.
OTH!: So, you picked up and moved to SC, and from their established your own independent recording studio, Forthright Records, and the end product of several years of songwriting through blood, sweat, and tears being your 2013 release Stubborn Fool, which was packed full of immersive, folk-rock instrumentation and arrangement. We then saw you shift from more folk influences to some funkier instrumentals and structure in your second release Kudzu. And, as if that couldn’t possibly be enough, we’ve witnessed you evolve to a vintage 60s-psychedelia stylization with your latest single “I Rely On Everything.” This question comes to you in three parts:
Albums, to me, are like snapshots of moments where a band is at in their development and overall careers. It’s most interesting when you see musicians in moments of transition, watching them stretch their abilities further and further out. What prompted each of these stylistic tweaks and alterations? Was there something in the South Carolinian water? Was it something you heard?
Andrew: Our first record, Stubborn Fool, happened so organically. I was pretty broke at the time; I lived in a duplex with three other guys where I had a room with an air mattress against the wall and all my studio equipment. Stephen came down for about 4 months to record and slept in the corner of the living room, which we still joke with him about. We really didn’t have much so we worked with what we did have. What came out was a dark acoustic-feeling record with a pretty serious, spiritual orientation. Probably stemming from the somewhat uncomfortable situation we were in. But the themes in that record are truly our thesis statement as a band.
With Kudzu, a lot changed. I wasn’t really sure what direction we were going. I felt like we needed to do something different (but in hindsight, we really didn’t need to). We had more equipment and the wherewithal to do more instrumentally for the record, so I tried a lot of different things. Stephen was still traveling back and forth to so it was hard to get momentum going. I don’t hate the record, it has some good songs, but it served as more of a bridge than anything else.
It was my dissatisfaction with Kudzu that kind of revealed to us what we were really going for, and that’s a somewhat dark, introspective folk-rock vibe with hints of psychedelic tones that make you think.
Album titles are most intriguing to me, given that they seem to be either picked after sudden swift moments of great change [of any kind], tirelessly picked apart and argued upon, or just happen to be slated nicely with the themes that they present. What makes you choose your album titles?
Andrew: I like to choose album titles that are fairly cryptic, like a riddle to be solved or code to be cracked. Stubborn Fool was named in regards to the sort of overriding message of the record: in our flesh we’re a stubborn fool and deep down we all know that. Coming to grips with that was the theme of the record. Kudzu was named in regards to that selfish nature creeping back over one’s self without even knowing it (much like the Kudzu plant being an invasive species; it’s also really common in the South). That record has a kind of happy-go-lucky first half but comes back around to the more serious subject matter.
In taking cues from “I Rely On Everything” and the breadth of your former discography can listeners expect an even wider range of 60s-70s instrumentation across your forthcoming- and 3rd– studio album
Andrew: I think that’s a fair expectation. The new record is definitely the most “rock and roll” sounding record we’ve put out, but not in an overly polished fashion. It’s got some old-school grit and texture to it and it has some more technical songs as well. It’s the most authentic sound I think we’ve been able to put our finger on so far.
Authenticity. Perhaps that was the texture that I’d been calling an anachronism. Indeed, in anything that the trio sets their minds on, authenticity is the basepoint from which they build- their framework for everything. “I Rely On Everything” was no exception to that, although it does have a completely separate, Old-World energy and sensation to it, despite it being merely the beginning of an entirely new attempt on Brother Oliver’s behalf. While I don’t believe that any one thing could ever be pinpointed as causation for the uncanny seniority within the trio’s musicianship, I can guarantee that their persistence in wiser introspection beyond their years is something omnipresent throughout their hearts and creative works- an energy that certainly transcends with ease to each and every listener.
OTH!: Speaking of your forthcoming LP, can you give us any easter egg details on the release? Perhaps some of the finer details on the writing process for this album? I have to say that I’m deeply intrigued by the idea of a vintage rock styles-meets-Americana sort of sound-scape.
Brother Oliver: I can tell you this: It’s going to have 10 songs, with a hidden track and one of the songs is a re-make of a song from Stubborn Fool that I’m pretty stoked on. Stephen plays electric mandolin on the entire record and you can expect some new sing-a-longs.
OTH!: Do you have any upcoming tour plans, perhaps one later in the summer/fall in support of your new release?
Brother Oliver: Stephen and I are going on a Midwest tour at the end of April. We’ll be heading to Cleveland, Detroit and back home to Grand Rapids. We’ll be announcing those dates in about two weeks. Then we’re going on tour again at the end of August in support of the new record.
OTH!: Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us! Before I let you go, is there anything else that you’d like to add?
Brother Oliver: Keep fighting the good fight and if you’re living off coffee and dying off cigarettes, you’re not the only one. Thanks for having us!
About Brother Oliver
“Brother Oliver is a musical project formed by two brothers, Andrew & Stephen Oliver. The brothers have made their way with high energy performances through the lens of a folk-rock / psych-rock aesthetic. Brother Oliver has been picking up steam in the Southeast since their arrival, winning over fans with engaging and intuitive musical presentations that strike a chord with any audience.
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