JDB: You started playing piano pretty young, right? Did you play classical stuff?
BO: I mean, I was pretty much just a beginner. I took piano for two years early on and played some little jazz pieces, some short classical pieces, nothing too fancy.
JDB: I heard that when you were a little bit older that you started freestyle rapping. Is that true?
BO: Yeah, that’s definitely true.
JDB: How old were you when you did that?
BO: It was about fifth grade when I started freestyle rapping.
JDB: What does a fifth grader have to freestyle rap about?
BO: Well all kinds of stuff. I was listening to Limp Bizkit at that point in time, and that stuff is pretty vile. It can really influence a fifth grader’s imagination.
JDB: So, like, did you rap about some bully picking on you?
BO: No, fifth grade was more a bunch of nonsensical swear words. I was in a duo called The Shizzle Men at one point, and we had a lot of really vulgar songs. I remember one of them had a line about my sister yelling at me.
JDB: When did you start recording your own music?
BO: Actually, to be honest, The Shizzle Men dropped a demo the summer after fifth grade. Joe Johnson beat-boxed and that was the beat. We recorded it on Sound Recorder on Windows 95. It was really high quality stuff.
JDB: And now you’re…how old are you?
BO: Twenty. Just turned twenty.
JDB: Jesus, you’re putting us all to shame. Anyways, moving on to the present… It’s pretty hilarious to read various blogs and magazine try to pin down your style. To save myself some face, I thought I’d let you describe your sound for me.
BO: You know, it’s just my experience of everything, the way I manifest all those different experiences in song.
JDB: Who are some of your biggest influences?
BO: Honestly, I couldn’t really tell you right now. It’s all over the board. It could be a song that gets stuck in my head from a car that drives by, or a song that I only hear once.
JDB: Speaking of which, I heard from another interview that you used to bike around a lot, and that inspired you. Did you get this inspiration from cars driving by you, or was it just the physical act of biking that did it.
BO: Actually I still ride my bike around a lot. I really like to multitask, and when I ride my bike I really feel like singing. So I can write my vocal melodies when I ride my bike. I’m really influenced by huge open spaces and right now I’m pretty into birds.
JDB: Really? Are we going to hear some birdsong in your tracks?
BO: I’ve recorded some birds.
JDB: I’ve noticed that your music gets pegged as “happy pop” or “happy rock” a lot, maybe because it’s difficult to define… but to me it often seems more tortured than happy. On the surface, most of your songs are about love, but there’s always this love lost feeling. You write lines like “In cities feeling queer and crass/beer cans growing blades of grass/to look like something knew.” [from the song o0Oo0Oo]A little more complex than the “happy pop” label you often get.
BO: You know, it’s funny you should mention that. A lot of songs that are out are songs that I wrote when I was in a good mood, and then usually when I record those songs I’m feeling in a pretty frantic mood and I’m pretty isolated. And a lot of those lyrics I wrote during the recording process. The lyrics usually come from a position in which I’m isolated. I have no one around and nothing to do, so I’m recording music, whereas when I write those happy guitar parts, it’s like “oh man I’m about to go somewhere but I’m going to play guitar for a little while.”
JDB: I wanted to ask you about that experience of being the sole creator of your music. Do you know Emil Hewitt of Emil & Friends fame?
BO: No, I don’t.
JDB: I interviewed him a little while ago, and he also writes and produces his music alone. I asked him what he thought the pros and cons of writing music by himself were. I’d like to get your take on that too.
BO: There is something to be said for a total artwork, something an artist has complete creative control over, that’s a complete extension of himself. If you’re the only one that has anything to do with anything you’re creating, there’s less chance that it’s going to be derivative or distorted in any way. So the advantage is that it’s genuinely what you want… or at least for me, it’s genuinely what I want. The con is that you’re doing it alone. You can’t have a live performance without other people to play music with. And when you start to have a band together you start to like what they’re playing more than what you played on your own. Simultaneously, it feels weird for me that it’s no longer just an extension of me. So the song that had a specific feeling initially… it gets really confusing as to whether or not what’s right is to use the parts my new band mates write because I like them more for a lot of reasons, or to stay true to my genuine feelings and write the thing all on my own. It’s really complicated.
JDB: Do you generally do a lot of tweaking before your live shows, rather than presenting your music as-is in a live setting?
BO: For a lot of the songs that are currently out, there’s not much tweaking that has to be done. The parts are pretty straightforward and there really aren’t that many different parts. In fact, on a few songs, we add parts for the live shows. In my recordings there are a lot of subtleties and a lot of things in the background, but the songs come off almost exactly the same without those subtleties.
JDB: Do you have certain people that you bounce idea off of?
BO: Before I didn’t, but now I have a manager whose musical tastes I really trust. I send him things to make sure they sound all right as far as the production, the mixing is concerned. But as far as the songs are written I pretty much want to avoid any outside contact.
JDB: So you’re sort of an “artist-in-exile” type of creator. You write songs best by yourself.
BO: Yeah, definitely. And I don’t believe in them when I start changing them. In general, in life, I think taking advice is a really dangerous thing.
JDB: You were quite the sensation at CMJ. Tell me a little bit about that experience.
BO: CMJ was crazy. We had just gotten back from a week-long run in the U.K. The morning after we got back we started CMJ, which was eleven shows in five days.
BO: Yeah, it was just insane. And actually I didn’t see any reviews or anything from CMJ because two days after CMJ, after playing eleven shows in five days, we played another show and then left for a two-week tour with The Morning Benders and Twin Sister.
JDB: That sounds like it could have been fun, or it could have been hell.
BO: It was the time of my life. My fingers were bleeding and my hands were hurting a lot from playing so much, but it was really just fun.
JDB: And you’re on tour now, right?
BO: No, actually I leave for tour tomorrow at noon.
JDB: Where are you heading?
BO: The first show is Grantham, Pennsylvania. We’re on tour with Cloud Nothings for a week, and then back in New York for two more shows, and then on the road with Tapes 'n Tapes for four and a half weeks.
JDB: You just released a 7 inch on Inflated Records…today, if I’m not mistaken.
BO: Yeah, I think it’s today!
JDB: What can we hear on that?
BO: That’s just "AWY FRM U" and "Dead Girls Dance," but the album art is really pretty and they both sound much better on vinyl.
JDB: What else is in the works for 2011?
BO: Well, I have about forty songs written. We’re going to go into the studio for a little while, we’ll see how it goes. I’m not sure it’s going to be right to record in a fancy studio, but it might be. We might have an album if we think that a great album is ready, but if not we’ll put out a few songs and a few music videos. I really just wanna tour. Touring is so much fun.
You can buy Oberhofer's albums, including the newest 7 inch, here. You can also check him out in lots of venues all around the U.S. on his latest tour; you can view the tour schedule on his myspace page. I'll be at his Glasslands show on the 22nd - come by, check it out, and say hello! In the meantime, here's my favorite Oberhofer song of the moment, "I Could Go:"