A little over a year ago, I sat with Brad Oberhofer upstairs at Brillobox and talked to him about finding a record label that was right for his music. His solo bedroom recordings of songs like “Away FRM U,” “I Could Go,” and “o0Oo0Oo” had translated into a growing legion of fans, national tours, and proposals from numerous labels keen on putting out an album of Oberhofer’s energetic, irresistible indie pop.
I thought he needed to find a label wouldn’t resort to needless overproduction of his raw sound. I offered Mumford and Sons as an example of a band that hit just the right note of a clean-sounding, professional recording. Brad broke into a smile. He had already spoken with some people at Glassnote (Mumford’s label, along with Phoenix, Two Door Cinema Club, and others). He was really hoping a deal with them would work out. It did.
In March, Oberhofer’s first full-length, Time Capsules II, was released on Glassnote. I spoke with Brad around that time as he and his bandmates (Matt Scheiner - guitar, Pete Sustarsic - drums, and Ben Roth - bass) were finishing up their second consecutive appearance at the SXSW festival. “I’m having the time of my life,” he said. The band was riding bikes around town and playing shows left and right.
For the album, Oberhofer snagged veteran producer Steve Lillywhite and spent twelve days on the album. They re-recorded many of the songs which had first garnered Oberhofer attention in the blogosphere. Several of the song versions on the album sound different from the early recordings. There are several reasons for the transformations of these songs which the band had played live and tinkered with for much of the past year. “Nothing is better than live instruments,” Brad explains. When he made the initial recordings, he played all the instruments on his own and used computer programs to fill in sounds. In the studio, he was able to bring in the full band, along with guest musicians on flute, cello, oboe, and various other percussion instruments. The result is a more lush, fuller sound—a step away from the intimacy of his earlier sound and toward something grander.
The reviews for Time Capsules II have been mixed, but it doesn’t bother Brad. Believe it or not, he thinks it’s great that people either love the album or hate it. I’ve spoken to Brad several times now about his music and his relationship to his audience, and he is nothing if not a consummate artist. He definitely sees his music as art, and believes that people should have varying opinions and relationships to all art. The album has catapulted the group to a new level of public appeal and mainstream press.
Recently, the band had their late-night debut of “Away FRM U” on the Late Show with David Letterman. They are in the midst of a US and UK tour for the new album. A few weeks ago, they also debuted an official video for “Away FRM U” It isn’t the first video they recorded, but it is the first video that Brad liked enough to release. He said he actively took part in the process. “I wanted to be really involved. I said, this video needs to have a lot of live footage, it needs to be energetic. I was really specific in what I wanted with the video. I talked to the directors and the editors, and I was very specific with detailed notes of what I wanted changed, or put in or taken out.” The result is a wild, flashingly colorful piece you can see below.
In the studio, some songs came easier than others. The recording of “Gold” was a breeze, Brad told me. “We'd been touring with Gold for a long time, and just playing it so much. And I love the way the band plays it. We just did that one. I think our second take was the one we kept. And there was very little editing on that. I recorded a ton of vocal harmonies at the end and they came together. Easily. It was really smooth.”
“I Could Go,” one of his best known songs, was a more difficult song to get right. The interlude just didn’t satisfy Brad. “I had to sit and think about it for a long time. I was like, man, this needs flute trills. This needs a choir. This needs a little bit of brass. And this need marimba rolls.” Now, Brad feels that they “made that interlude as awesome as it could be.”
At 20 years of age, Brad placed his college education on hold to pursue his music. When I talked to him last year, I asked him if he thought it was going to work out. It has to, he told me. I really think the songs we have are so good, it has to work. In a surprising way, Brad has compared the studio recording experience to the experience of playing live shows. He says both are snapshots of a moment in time. This came into focus in another interview Brad gave where he revealed that, despite the joyful feel of the album, he was in somewhat of a dark place during the recording. I believe this album’s songs are just as good as Brad does, and that this should be the beginning of a strong career for Oberhofer.
One thing I am certain of—having seen Oberhofer live four times now—is that he has one of the best live shows going. Love the album or hate it, when Brad and the band feel right, they play damn good music. And nothing makes Brad happier at the moment than playing a good show.
Also, we have a pair of tickets to giveaway to the show. Just email us with your name to firstname.lastname@example.org to enter.