Caught in the snow after the so-called Nor’easter, Oleander bassist Doug Eldridge called me and we discussed all things Oleander, including the new album, life on the road, and being a dad.
You got caught.
Yeah, in the (sarcasm) Nor’easter of the decade. (laughs) But I’m glad we took our time coming into the city because we passed like a turned over tractor-trailer and stuff. We don’t need to be Metallica and get into a wreck.
I never really thought about it, but do you worry about this every time you get on the bus?
You know, you put your life in the bus driver’s hands every night. You just get the best bus driver you can. You have faith in the personality in the guy behind the wheel. This tour we have a great bus driver, last tour we had a great bus driver. If you don’t feel comfortable with them, you send them packing.
I’ve been on a few buses and never once have I thought about the bus driver.
My family are the ones who are mostly concerned about that. Our bus driver is a really cool guy and really responsible. Nobody is perfect and things can happen. You just get a bus driver that doesn’t like to party.
One that sleeps while you guys are doing your thing.
Yep. He should get all the sleep he needs.
I was reading the bio like a good writer should do. (laughs) Well, I try, because these things are so glamorized that I can’t figure out where the BS is.
I know. I have yet to read our new bio.
I’m curious about the early days and how the band got together.
Well, Thomas (Flowers, singer) and I have been friends for a long time. ’92 is when the band formed. Thomas had been in bands for years prior to that. The way we put it is that we put a band together and that band didn’t work out. Then we picked up Ric (Ivanisevich, guitar) and a drummer and that didn’t work, and then we picked up Scott (Devaurs, drums) and started working on demos and here we are.
Was it weird with the last album and people treating you like you were new at the game?
Yeah. We are pretty much new to the country, they never heard of us. Nobody accused us of being an overnight success. Even now people are hyper-aware that we worked our asses off on the last record. We toured a lot and spent a lot of time away from home. So we made it happen. We didn’t give up and kept going forward and that is why I think we got our gold record.
With so much touring, how did you find time to do the new record?
We toured all of ’99, and the beginning of 2000 we toured Europe with Filter. Then early 2000 we got into writing mode and went into our stage manager Kelly’s living room and brought in a bunch of recording equipment and wrote every day. We did as much as we could. We wanted to have a record out by Christmas. We did realize at one point that that was an unrealistic goal and that we needed to take our time and make a record we are going to be proud of. We didn’t want just three good songs and the rest filler. So we took four months writing and went right into pre-production and then spent seven or eight weeks in the studio and then went right to New York and mixed with Andy Wallace. So we spent basically the whole year since February working on the new album. I think we finished it in November.
Is songwriting done by committee?
There are all sorts of ways that songs can come to this band, but Thomas writes a majority of the songs. Sometimes he brings complete songs or maybe a song nugget or maybe it’s just a riff or melody and we really hammer it out. Both Ric and I bring songs to the band, not as much, but we work as a collaboration and we put a bit of everyone in the song. We try to always agree, but sometimes we have to bring a producer in and get some outside input. Sometimes you get really close to the songs and you don’t always see what is best for the song. You have to nurture these songs, and playing what is best for the song, not for myself, not what makes me sound like a cool bass player.
Are there any songs that start out one way and end up completely different?
Every one of them has gone through a change. The process goes like this. We had songwriting demos and some we had eight versions, and the producer came in and looked at these songs and then we put together a pre-production demo with some changes. Then we took the pre-production demo and made it sound better in the studio. Sometimes the songs changed from pre-production to the final song. But mostly that was a guideline.
I always think of the Beatles Anthology with the rough demos where they went from zero to a hundred.
Some of our original demos are really, really rough, for a couple of reasons. As a democracy, we labored over the songs. It wasn’t about getting the best take; it was about getting a take on of it so we could get the idea down. Also as a democracy there are sticking points where we couldn’t agree. We did what we had to and made some notations. You have to have the trust with the outside party coming into this relationship. We had to have faith in our producer.
After a band makes an album sometimes they say the reason the last album didn’t sound as good as we would have liked is because of the producer. Can’t you fire them?
Well, once that ball is in progress you are kind of stuck. You hire a producer and sign a contract. You do all of this on a leap of faith. Someone claims the job and you have faith in them on their previous work. They come into the session, and if you don’t like what they do you are kind of stuck. You will still owe them all the money and find a new producer, but the more money you spend on the album the bigger the liability you are to the record label.
That is sort of scary, because you know their work, but not their personality.
Right. We have worked with Rich Mouser on our first independent demo. We wanted to work with him on our first record, but he was unavailable at the time. The second time around we got Rich Mouser and we applied all we learned from the first album and brought it here. I think sonically this record is better.
When you wrap up songs, do you bring them to friends and family?
Absolutely. I play them for my wife, my brother, and a lot of people. I like to see how people respond to the songs.
The album needs more than one listen to get hooked. Which if I want to go back and give it a chance again, for me, that is a good thing.
There is something to be said for that. I mean, like “Flag Pole Sitta” from Harvey Danger. The first time I heard it I could remember it, but I don’t know any of their other songs and I probably never will. I think what we set out to do isn’t to get someone to just jump right on the bandwagon. It took people a while to warm up to us. The more they listened to the record and they liked it. The song was number one and it stayed there, so there is something to be said about that. I mean, I would love to sell millions of records in two weeks, but…
…you want people to latch onto you like football fans do for their hometown team.
Yeah. It’s not a fickle thing. It’s not the flavor of the day.
The funny thing is there are albums out there that I absolutely didn’t care for the first time or even the second time I heard them, like Travis. I hated that album at first, and now it’s one of my favorite albums.
Exactly. And we kept hearing from fans that the cd hit their cd player and it stayed there for a year.
There are a lot of different types of songs on Unwind. Was that conscious?
You want to take a listener on a journey and there are a lot of elements of Oleander we want to explore. So we had to explore different sounds. We didn’t want the album to get stagnant. We didn’t set out to make another February Son. Now we need to grow from there and make something that will keep people interested, but at the same time not so far removed from the past that they are shocked. On February Son we had songs like “How Can I” that gave us the room to make songs like “Halo” on this one. On February Son we had songs like “Stupid” and “Lost Cause” that allowed us the room to make “Are You There”. We tried to take February Son and take it to the nth degree in all directions.
I mean, the one song that threw me was “Jimmy Shaker Day”, but what is cool is that every song isn’t like that one.
It’s not all in your face and the album has dynamics. That is what I like about this album. Some people may love the “Jimmy Shaker Day” or “Champion” but I hope fans will get into all aspects.
I liked “Benign”. It seemed like it could have been two songs.
Yeah. (Doug begins to sing the pre-chorus). You get the left and the right. The pre-chorus is great. It’s also the post-chorus too where it goes “all of this time it’s been benign.”
And then it explodes.
Into this bigger beast.
Right. “She’s Up, She’s Down” is bigger and…
…I know exactly what you mean. There are tons and tons of counter melodies in that song. That is one of the songs I’m most proud of playing. I really like that song because of all the melody going on. There is guitar, bass, and vocal melodies going on at once. I dig that song a lot too.
If I said that this album sounds like a mature extension over February Son, how would you react?
Every time you step into the studio, you learn something. Until we actually hit the road we were working other jobs and raising kids, I have two children, and didn’t really invest the time into becoming more of a prolific a songwriter. On the road, take the February Son tour, we all commanded a better respect for our instrument. When we went in for the next album, our growth came from doing it every day.
Speaking of touring, it has to be hard being away from your wife and kids.
Absolutely. It is very tough. But that is what I signed up for. I have no room to complain.
What is the best advice you’ve ever got?
Hmmm. Let me come back to that. I can’t think of anything.
Do you find you are in the position of giving advice a lot now?
Absolutely. I have kids coming up to me asking for advice. They ask how I did it, but there is no formula. You just have to work hard. I do know almost no one makes it without working hard. You have to work on songwriting and getting a good representation of that. We were fortunate enough to get in the studio and recorded a really good demo record. It was sonically good enough to stand up against music on the radio. Fortunately, a radio programmer in Sacramento liked the songs and felt it was hooky and would stand up against other records on the radio and took that chance. That ultimately got us a record deal. You have to be a businessman, too.
Who is your favorite group?
I’m not a favorite kind of guy, but I like bands like Buffalo Tom, Black Crowes, Led Zeppelin, Jeff Buckley. But I usually just listen to what I’m in the mood for. I like all sorts of stuff.
I can see the Black Crowes and Zeppelin thing in the music.
Totally. ’70’s rock and its guitar tones are what we were after. We went for it. We weren’t afraid of it. We took ’70’s tones and shoved them into a year 2000 light.
If you could be one person for a day, is there anyone you would want to be?
Who would I want to learn something from? Hmmm. This is going to sound odd, but it’s going to be my wife. I’d like to see through her eyes because I can’t understand what it has to be like to have me doing this and her home taking care of two kids. I don’t mean to sound cheesy.
It’s not cheesy, it’s life.
If you had the time to learn anything, what would it be?
Piano. It would actually be a toss up of piano and drums. I am the worst drummer. I try so hard and it’s frustrating. Piano is the base of all instruments. If I had time I’d learn it. I had a piano once, but no time. So maybe we can sell a zillion albums and I can sit around and take piano lessons. Maybe I’ll make so much money that I can hire Elton John to teach me. Actually, you know, I wouldn’t mind seeing what that guy is like. I wouldn’t mind being in his head for a day. I would love to know what he knows.
Lastly, how do you unwind?
I spend time at home. You can’t pull me away from home. I love being with my family. Family is important to me so when I’m home I like to kick it with my kids and my wife and spend quality.
After a few moments of conversation about nothing except our hometowns and family, we got on the subject of Buffalo and the Goo Goo Dolls. I don’t know if anyone else will find this funny, but we decided to add it anyway since it made a few of us here crack up.
Doug asks, “So you are from the home of the Goo Goo Dolls?” A little embarrassed, I decided to come back with, “Well, I like to say home of Ani Difranco.” So we discuss that for a moment, but it’s when Doug drops a little true story on me that I couldn’t help but leave him with a lot of laughter. Here is the story.
Doug continues. “Thomas met Johnny Rzeznik at a BMI awards ceremony. So anyhow, the Goo Goo Dolls are massively famous and of course we aren’t. But he went up to Johnny and goes, ‘Hi, I’m Tom from Oleander.’ And Johnny goes, ‘You’re from Oleander, New York?’ (we both start laughing out of control) That was pretty funny man.”
I won’t explain it, because I’m not sure if you had to be there or not. But just so you know, it’s Olean, New York!
+ charlie craine