Oberhofer: Lessons Learned

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If you haven’t yet heard of Oberhofer, you will. And whether you know it or not, you’ve probably heard them already. Their catchy indie pop rock tune-age has already been leveraged by Corporate America (OK, Corporate Korea / Corporate Germany) in a widely-run  Samsung / T-Mobile commercial. They also picked up coveted slots on the 2012 festival circuit, and have spent the better part of the year winning hearts and minds, show by show, with catchy hooks and high energy performances.

We caught up with 4/5 of the band: Brad Oberhofer (vocals/guitar), Matthew Scheiner (guitarist), Ben Roth (guitarist), and Dylan Treleven (bassist) during their recent stint opening for fellow Brooklyners Matt and Kim, and discussed the “Lessons Learned” during the band’s wild, momentum-building last two years. (Drummer Pete Sustarsic was otherwise engaged. We cannot confirm whether or not he was foraging for wild mushrooms, attempting to visit Dorothy’s ruby slippers, or meeting with his Congressman).

 

Weeping Elvis: What lessons have you learned about…each other?

Ben Roth: I’m actually wearing a shirt from a band we played with called Each Other.

Mat Scheiner: I think they build their own amps, right?

Brad Oberhofer: They’re from Montreal.

Let’s not talk about that band, though… your band!

Ben Roth: But I wanted to talk about them!

Brad Oberhofer: You learn this when being in extremely close proximity to people….at least for the people in this band, everyone ultimately has good intentions. No matter what someone says and how it sounds to you at the time, no matter what it looks like someone’s doing, or no matter how it feels to you because you’re “somewhere else” and really don’t know what they’re talking about, with these guys it’s always ultimately good-intentioned.

Mat Scheiner: It’s like having roommates but times ten because you’re insanely confined; you don’t even have your own room and are just sharing an apartment, you’re sharing a small vehicle. It’s such a valuable learning experience for being a person.  If having roommates is one thing, then traveling with a band makes you learn so much. You learn how to be out of the way, how to sort of disappear so that you don’t get on anyone’s nerves.

And that leads to my second category; it probably teaches you about yourselves.

Mat Scheiner: Yeah.

Brad Oberhofer: When you find out what everyone else seems to value I think that helps you understand what you value yourself.

Mat Scheiner: And what everyone finds annoying about you.

Brad Oberhofer: Yeah, exactly!

Mat Scheiner: I’m trying to stop telling such long-winded stories. (pauses for a theatrical beat). End of story. (collective laughter).

Ben Roth: I’ve tried to stop farting.

Mat Scheiner: Nice try!

Ben Roth: Yeah, you find out that everybody has a farting problem. Even such beautiful nymphets as these three boys, who, from time to time, experience flatulence. (collective laughs) You’re welcome for that.

Mat Scheiner: Real talk.

Yeah, thanks for that. Getting down and somewhat dirty with Oberhofer.

Ben Roth: Oberhofer: (farting noise)

 

What about the business? And I mean that broadly: the record side, the touring side, the making-it-work-financially-side, the club side…

Brad Oberhofer: I’ve learned that it’s the most important to follow your intuition. And, if business comes naturally to you, then you’ll be successful. Just follow your intuition, that’s it. That’s what I’ve learned.

Dylan Treleven: And you have to really look out for yourself, too. I feel like we’re kind of in an interesting position at this point where we definitely have some experience under our belt, but, for a lot of us, this is the first time we’ve been in a band that’s like this – serious touring and what not. I know that a lot of these things are new to us and I feel like we need to be a little bit wary, a little bit cautious before jumping into things. We’re a bit removed from a lot of the business stuff.  With the label and everything else now, we don’t have super direct access to a lot of the business decisions that happen.

Ben Roth: We’re out on the road, playing and just doing legwork.

Dylan Treleven: Yeah, so we’ll get emails and stuff that keep us informed, but we don’t really know. So, keeping the channels of communication open is really important, and talking with our manager so that everybody’s on board and making sure everything works.

Ben Roth: We have good people working with us, and that’s nice, it’s always good to know what’s going on.

Dylan Treleven: I guess just trying to make sure that we have as much information as possible.

Ben Roth: Trying not to be blind about things.

(The conversation swerves tangentially towards the history of Washington, D.C.’s 9:30 Club, including its name, origins, and how they’re known for treating artists well).

 

WeepingElvis's Oberhofer album on Photobucket  (Photos: Eric Behrns)

What have you learned about music?

Brad Oberhofer: This is very much related to the business aspect of things for me, and they’ve sort of become one and the same. Even though the business aspect is secondary to me, it comes as a result of the output of music. Again, to follow my intuition, musically, is what I’ve learned. Music is just about playing what you feel like playing.

Dylan Treleven: I would actually say something kind of opposite, because as the bass player, well, I started playing guitar and writing / singing, but in this band I just play the bass and Brad writes all songs. So, while we put our own spin on things, we’re playing parts that are already written. So for me, it was interesting to see a broader range of what goes into playing in an ensemble with other people, and to try to hang back a little bit and just be a member of the team.  I work with our drummer, Pete, to hold up the rhythm session, rather than “playing” stuff that I’ve written. So, that’s interesting to me and I think it’s helped me to become more well-rounded as a musician, having a completely different role.

That somewhat dovetails into the category of lessons learned that I was going end with, which is, what you’ve learned about performing live. Intuition can take on different roles. It can be intuiting off of your fellow bandmates and what they’re doing on stage, for example. I’ve seen you play a small room — downstairs at the Black Cat, at festivals — a totally different kind of experience, and now this experience, opening for a band with a lot of attention on them, playing two shows in D.C. that sold out immediately just as your own steam is rising. So, what lessons have you learned performing in those different contexts?

Mat Scheiner: Certainly, as the support band for a band like these guys, I think that it’s for the most part a really good fit for us audience wise.  Their audience is basically the same type of folk that our audience is, even if they’re not the same people yet. We’ve only been at this for a week now with them – some nights the response we get from the audience (that has mostly not heard us before) is great, and when we meet people afterwards we hear that. Some nights they totally eat it up and go nuts, which is awesome for a support band. Some nights it starts off totally cold and we have to inject a bit more energy, sprinkle a bit more fairy dust, a bit more Spanish Fly, in order to get things moving, to make the room turn on a bit more and try to win the audience over.

Ben Roth: It’s nice having a packed house built in, though, because of Matt & Kim. We’re always playing to a lot of people, and, regardless of whether people came to see us it’s nice to see a lot of people there!

Dylan Treleven: With regards to the size of the venue, larger shows, and this may be overly cynical in that I don’t personally think it doesn’t really matter what (type of venue) I’m playing because I’m just the bass player, so I move around, I move around a lot and feel like what I look like on stage is more important. So, for bigger venues and festivals I feel like gestures and movements need to be larger and more theatrical…

Brad Oberhofer: Same.

Dylan Treleven:  …because you have to – there’s just more ground to cover – but a lot of time that translates into playing kind of poorly…

Brad Oberhofer: Same, but I fucking love it!

Dylan Treleven: … but I think it doesn’t really matter as long as the energy is there.

Ben Roth: I’m kind of the opposite; I want to play consistently every night, so there’s not really a difference in how I perform for smaller audiences. Actually, with a really small audience I’ll probably have a few beers and not care about it as much if they’re people standing up in my face and we’re playing to a hundred people in a room twice the size of our dressing room, which has happened.

Brad Oberhofer: Pretty much every single show there’s a point when I just black out, fading out of consciousness and really don’t even realize what I’m doing…

Mat Scheiner: (with a 80s metal hair band affectation) …because you’re so smashed!

Brad Oberhofer: …because I’m so excited, just by the whole experience. Whether it be in a tiny room where there are fifteen kids who are really psyched – when it’s a tiny room with fifteen kids who aren’t psyched, that’s kind of difficult to carry forward. But when you’re in a small room where there are even a couple of kids who are really psyched, it’s really easy to feed off of their energy because it’s so real. And, you know, I personally feel honored to be surrounded by some of the most talented people I’ve ever met in my life.  It’s a cool thing, watching people improve in various ways as we play. I’m standing really close to Matt every show, and there are some moments when he just hits something, just so dead on and I can hear it really well — sometimes my head is really close to his amp when he’s soloing – and I just get so pumped because it’s so perfect.

 

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Behrnsie has a love for music that dare not speak its name. He attends many shows and can often be found counting out the beats for no discernible reason. He played alto saxophone in his middle school jazz band, where he was best known for infuriating his instructor when it was revealed that he played everything by ear, and could not in fact read music. He takes great pride that this is the same talent/affliction that got Tori Amos kicked out of the Peabody Academy. He does not live in his parents’ basement….except during the holidays.