Oberhofer:
The TVD Interview

Most twenty-somethings who sling on guitars and pick up drumsticks are after two things: free beer and babes. We know all about that noise. We’ve seen our fair share of “bands” like that. The first time we heard Oberhofer at the House of Blues in Cleveland however, we knew that wasn’t what was going on here. This group of twenty-somethings–consisting of former music composition student Brad Oberhofer, Dylan Trevelen, and Ben Roth, two of his friends from high school, and New Yorkers Matt Scheiner and Pete Sustarsic—is something else. 

Brad Oberhofer composes music that is near-orchestral, well thought-out indie rock. It has whimsical elements of vaudeville and all the beauty of classical, juxtaposed with heavy moments that simply rock out. It just comes natural to the Brooklyn transplant.

“I don’t really draw my inspiration from anything specific,” says Oberhofer. “It’s bits and pieces that come just from everyday life. Things that make me happy and things that make me sad, things that make me feel other things. I wouldn’t say there are any specific musical influences, though.”

We recently woke up Oberhofer to discuss his move cross country for school and some of the antics he’s pulled since taking the music world on his journey.

When you first moved from Tacoma to New York, was there a huge culture shock? 

No, there really wasn’t, actually.

You just felt like you fit in?

I don’t think I was assessing whether or not I fit in, I think everyone fits in everywhere because you are the same person wherever you go. When I came to New York, I didn’t really feel different or feel like the environment accepted me or didn’t accept me, I just felt like I was in a new place with a lot of new things to do.

That’s a good way to look at it. I feel like a lot of people get confused when they go somewhere new and they change. It’s good to hear that you were still yourself.

I think a lot of people do change when they find themselves in new environments.

Do you feel that attending music school was beneficial or detrimental to your creativity?

I think it was beneficial. I spent a lot of time at school listening to classical music and learning about it, learning about weird classical composers and how they came up with certain pieces. I learned about a lot of avant-garde music and electronic music. I think it was pretty useful. I think it painted a broader picture than I already had of how music works.

Who were some of the composers that you were really drawn to?

Edgar Varese. I think he wrote the first piece for electronic music. He’s interesting and he was sort of part of the scene, the French scene. I’m really into Mahler, Gustav Mahler. I’ve been listening to Mahler’s 9th, actually, the last couple of days. I’m really into Maurice Ravel.

Have you listened to any Berlioz?

Berlioz did Symphonie Fantastique, right? Yeah, I’ve listened to Berlioz. I can’t remember any of his melodies right now. It could be because I woke up recently or it could be that I just don’t remember. But I have to re-listen to remember whether or not I was really into it.

I just asked because I’m a former music school kid, too. Berlioz is my favorite.

What was your instrument?

I play flute. It was kind of scary because it’s really competitive. 

I think most instruments are pretty competitive. Even composition is really competitive.

Your social media presence seems really open and it was kind of intimidating to take this interview, I thought you were going to be really off the wall, so I’m glad you just woke up and are kind of in a sleep-haze. Why do you think it’s so important to be blatantly unedited with your social presence?

I think it’s boring to censor yourself. I think someone, maybe, who didn’t think their personality was very interesting would want to censor their self. I think everybody is pretty exciting when they’re not censoring themselves. Sadly, the majority of people aren’t completely honest and do make up things, do try to conceal their thoughts and ideas. I think it’s important to be honest. That’s why.

You recently released another album online. How much trouble did you get in for doing that?

The record label I’m on, Glassnote, is a bunch of really sweet people and it’s a really good label, one of the best, if not the best in existence right now. And so, I put this up, it was just kind of compulsive. I went to my practice space and I was like, oh yeah, I’m gonna record a record tonight. I was tired of not releasing material and holding onto material for future albums and so I just wanted to write something that night with the intention of not hanging onto it and just giving it away.

It’s a breach of contract for me to post music online without my label’s approval or without giving them time to promote it. I just got a phone call that was like, “Man, you need to take this down. This isn’t fair.” And that’s true, it wasn’t that fair. I’m in a contract. It was disrespectful of me. I really wanted to put it online. I waited a while and now they’re cool with me putting it back online.

How many email responses did you get about that tweet about giving people music if they were having problems sleeping? 

Oh my God! I did not expect so many people to email me. I spent hours responding to people. I probably had between five hundred and six hundred emails. I had about thirty-some more this morning when I woke up.

That’s surreal. Does it ever blow your mind that you have that many people involved in what you’re doing now? 

Sometimes it doesn’t feel like it. My mind was really just blown last night. Last night was when it was most apparent. That was really special and a lot of people had cool stories for me. I woke up this morning to a lot of emails from people who had cool dreams who fell asleep listening to the dream tape. I couldn’t believe it! A lot of people said it really helped them fall asleep and it really gave them vivid dreams. I personally fell asleep listening to it and I haven’t remembered my dreams in a long time. Maybe just in a week and a half, which is longer than normal. And I remembered my dream last night.

What did you dream about?

My high school in Tacoma. In my high school, classes took place in buildings that served other purposes. The old building of this music store, or this old opera house, or just old buildings that acted as classrooms. In the DIY scene in Brooklyn there are a lot of venues that were run by this guy Todd Pete and he sort of revolutionized the DIY scene there. Venues changed over time and shut down. And so, in my dream I kind of combined this. I was having a high school reunion at this classroom that I went to elementary school in and I was talking to people about old venues and we were reminiscing about old venues as though they were classrooms.

In a way, aren’t they kind of classrooms?

Yeah, sort of. But it was a pretty funny dream. My manager called to wake me up this morning because he’s really sweet and I woke up while this girl was singing me a song in the dream, and I don’t know what it was, but it was some song that we both knew in the dream, but I definitely had never heard it in my life and I forgot it when I woke up.

That sucks. Maybe you’ll hear it in real life some time?

No, I think I’d have to write it to hear it.

When you’re performing, how do you establish a connection with the crowd?

I don’t really try to. I think that’s the best way to establish a connection. Just do whatever you feel like doing. Do whatever is natural. I just do what I feel like.

Do you ever feel like it’s difficult to engage crowds of a larger size, like a festival size?

No, I mean I really don’t know. I don’t really pay attention to it. You can really tell when a crowd has a lot of energy, definitely, but I just try not to think about it.

Has there been one performance to date that was really surreal to you?

There have been a lot. Lollapalooza was crazy. Austin City Limits—we had the biggest crowd we’ve ever had. That was crazy! There were 11,000 people and that was really cool. It was really surreal when we played in a T-Mobile commercial. We were on a rooftop in LA and there were people in helicopters with video cameras filming us. I recently played a house show in Seattle and it was a wedding themed party and there were all these people, men and women, in white wedding dresses. That was pretty surreal.

How do you think physical formats, like vinyl, can compete in the digital age that we live in?

Physical things are very different from digital things. A physical thing, you can hold and there’s actually depth, whether that be a subtle depth between ink and a page or a cardboard sleeve, you can sense that. Something that’s printed on something has a different consistency, it plays a different role in your life.

You process digital things much differently. Art can be equally stunning digitally as it is physically, in some cases. But most of the time it’s a lot more soothing to close your computer and not be looking at a glowing screen. To sit in a room with a thing that’s not so actively forcing an interaction with you. Physical objects with printed images are interacting with you, but they’re a little bit more reserved. It takes more time for an image that exists in your physical world to open up. There’s a different process of discovery between physical images and digital images.

The advantage of vinyl is that you don’t deal with a glowing screen or distractions on your desktop or in your iTunes library or games you could be playing or a million things you could be using the internet for. When you have a record, you put it on your record player and the crackle starts and it sounds like a fireplace. You can sit and read the notes of the record, look at the art, or you can just close your eyes. And you can close them more easily because there’s not a glowing screen keeping them open.

Oberhofer is currently on tour, with two Ohio dates this weekend, the first of which is at Bunbury Music Festival in Cincinnati on Saturday, and the second performance on Sunday at Beachland Ballroom and Tavern. For the rest of their tour dates, check here.

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