Oberhofer Bursts Out of The Bedroom and Onto The Festival Circuit.
In late 2010, the bedroom recordings of Tacoma, Washington, native Brad Oberhofer first started cropping up on music blogs. Soon after, he moved to Brooklyn and formed a band to perform his songs in live settings, catching the attention of critics at Pitchfork, Spin, and Billboard in the process.
Fast forward two years and Oberhofer's got a debut full-length, the soon-to-be-released Time Capsules II, produced by Steve Lillywhite (Dave Matthews Band, U2, Morrissey), and a year of nonstop touring ahead of him. Highlights from his upcoming schedule include stops at several high-profile spots, including Coachella, SXSW, and, of course, this weekend's 35 Denton festival.
As such, it seemed like the perfect time to check in on frontman Brad Oberhofer to see how recording in a studio has affected his sound, why he's begun to ditch his heavily-reverbed image, and how he sees the internet shaping the art world.
The last couple of years, you've been recording a lot on your own, doing a lot of lo-fi DIY stuff. But on your upcoming full-length, you got to work with producer Steve Lillywhite. How did working with an outside producer affect the final product?
Honestly, working with a producer was more just, “This guy knows how to record instruments, this guy knows how to make the dynamic range fit better.” It had nothing to do, really, with the songwriting or with the way the songs fit so much as it was making the sounds fit.
Was there anything, in particular, that you learned from working with him that you'll take with you moving forward?
Definitely. I think I learned a lot from him. It was less like specific lessons and more just
general ways to approach sounds.
What kinds of things did you get to do on the full-length, working with a producer and a little bit of a budget behind it, that you wouldn't have recording on your own?
Basically, in New York, space is pretty limited and I got to have a huge space with a grand piano and a drum set and a ton of instruments. I brought all of my gear from my apartment over, and I just had free range of a ton of sounds — a huge variety of sounds. I just had musical freedom. And then I had Steve Lillywhite there to bounce ideas off of and to keep me on track.
In older interviews, you talked about maybe using your live backing band when you got back into the studio. Were you able to make that happen?
Yeah, they ended up playing on a couple of tracks on the album and it sounded awesome. Everyone played on different songs on the record. Someone on plays on almost every track.
A few of the songs from the full-length were on your older EPs as well. Did you go back and re-do those songs?
Yeah, for the most part. But, honestly, for some of them we used sounds that I had recorded at my parents' house or in my apartment. For a couple of them, we used the same sounds that are in the demos.
The songs I've heard from the upcoming full-length sound shinier than the stuff you've put out before. Will fans of your earlier works be surprised by the new stuff?
The songs are still there. Part of why I'm so proud of this is because now it's just about the songs, whereas before they really embodied a heavy modern aesthetic. They could have been cleaner before. I could have made them cleaner and I could have been more proud of the actual sounds that I had, but instead I just hid behind a shit ton of reverb. I hid behind a cool modern aesthetic. Now the songs are just there and they're unabashedly how they sound in real life. Some people will be surprised because they were listening to it because they thought it sounded more modern and that I was a part of that aesthetic. But other people that really were listening to it because they appreciated the songs and the sentiment behind them — they won't be as surprised.
Do you think using that lo-fi aesthetic kind of pins songs to a certain period of time, whereas now this new batch of songs might sound more timeless?
Yeah, that's sort of how I feel. They're just different songs, I guess. Maybe it is more
timeless this way. There's no way of telling until time tells you.
Back when you were interning at Matador did you ever have the thought that one day you'd be playing festivals and touring non-stop, or was that something that was even on your horizon back then?
I never really did that much speculating. I definitely had an idea that I would want to try to get there, but I had no idea what that would actually be like. Or whether that would actually be like anything, or if that was even possible. I guess the answer is that I had no real idea. Man, I'm having such an amazing time. I feel so lucky that I get to play music all day and get to jump around all day and see cool places and meet really friendly people. It just makes me happy.
Last year was your first SXSW. How was that experience for you? What are you
looking forward to about going back?
Man, it was the best time of my life. I'm so psyched to go back. I couldn't be more excited. We're bringing our bikes in the van and I'm going to get to ride my bike around. It's going to be the time of my life again and I'm psyched.
How much of your success to you attribute to the internet and/or the way the blog culture is these days?
I mean, I think it is really cool. It's just the way it is. I feel like people that are real artists are going to continue to make real art. The way the internet is right now, it makes it a lot easier for someone who doesn't really mean it to gain more success and to attract people. I think public art has always been kind of a popularity contest and I guess that popularity contest is a lot more accessible now. At the same time, I think that somebody who is a real musician or a real artist is always going to be doing it. A lot of people that are real musicians or real artists are pretty insecure about their art and wouldn't really show people in person. Since the internet is there, it is not really a direct communication or a direct show-and-tell sort of thing. People can put shit on the internet and some random guy can discover it and then a million people can hear it. I think the more good music people hear, the happier everyone is. People really just have access to more really good music that makes them happy. So maybe more people are made happy by music because of the way that the internet is.
So would you say that is your goal when you're making music? To make people happy?
No, no no. That's not a goal while I'm writing a song. I just write songs however they come out, but I do hope that, after they're written, that they make people happy. But I'm never thinking about that. Ever.
Oberhofer performs at 35 Denton this Saturday at The Labb (11:30 p.m.)