Forget-Me-Nots #1: Oliver Houston

In a new monthly feature, Conor will be discussing bands he's become obsessed with and try to convince you to become obsessed with them, too. First up, Oliver Houston.

Forget-Me-Nots #1: Oliver Houston

By Conor Mackie

Jan 20, 2017 17:30

With ‘Whatever Works’, their new release (and debut album), Oliver Houston are taking a stand. Publicly stating their decision to actively work without the aid of a PR agency, publicist or manager, the four-piece from Grand Rapids, Michigan are branching out on their own.

Throughout my conversation with Kyle Luck (guitar and vocals) there’s a sense of realism and understanding of what Oliver Houston can expect from others and what they should expect from themselves. There is no bitterness, though, just a simple appreciation of “the game” and what it takes to play it, should one want to. “It was a combination of things, but fundamentally the answer is pretty simple: we think most music media outlets have become advertising firms cloaked in editorial posturing. If it takes a $1000 PR budget to reach editors at “major” media outlets, does an album review on NPR count as “good press”, or is it just another commercial? It’s all some real “who is in, who is out?” type of shit, seemingly. We try not to play that game.”

Oliver Houston, though, are confident, assured and ready to go it alone. “I totally understand: the best labels are also sustainable businesses. We’ve had to accept that no one we want to work with will want to work with us until they believe they can capitalize off the progress we’ve made. At that point, ironically, we probably won’t need/want to work with them anymore”, Luck muses, highlighting the struggle that most DIY bands face. However, there’s also a level of freedom that DIY provides and Oliver Houston are well aware of this, whilst also being only too aware of the downsides to doing things on your own terms. “Booking major cities is often difficult, especially because we’re still small enough that any booking feels a lot like a favour. We’ve slept in some really gnarly places, and played some second-rate shows – see: cat-piss, under collapsed ceilings, and audiences of 5 or less.”

However, he continues: “the truth is, DIY means starting with small experiments. And experiments fail nearly as often as they succeed. As an approach to making art, though, DIY lends total control. That’s the trade-off. That control gives us the leverage we need to ensure that everyone who wants to enjoy our music is able to. It means we can give our releases away for free, sell ethically-manufactured merch for reasonable prices, and insist that our shows are accessible (i.e. all-ages, financially negotiable, etc). Plus, we meet loads of talented, generous, and passionate people. The community is unbeatable.”

‘Whatever Works’ follows the band’s first release ‘The Dork Ages’, a four-song EP which was written largely independently in a singer-songwriter style by Luck before drummer Garret Cabello completed the songs. ‘Whatever Works’, though, is a much more collaborative effort. “Our writing process changed drastically. We added a member to the band after the EP dropped – Matt Mancilla-McCue (Running Shoes) – and we agreed early on to keep the writing process as “democratic” as possible. In other words: everyone got a vote, every time. ‘Whatever Works’ is the sound of four songwriters collaborating and compromising on every track, at every turn. It took forever, but we are all the better for it”, Luck explains.

Already started on their second LP, with plans for a US run in support of ‘Whatever Works’, and desire for a European tour, Oliver Houston are not resting on their laurels. Although, Luck notes that “we all have decent ‘adult’ jobs or whatever, so the upcoming year is a bit fuzzy”. Whatever happens, though, what’s certain is that Oliver Houston have crafted a record that’s worthy of your attention and they’ve done so completely on their own terms, in their own way and are much better off for it.

Oliver Houston are self-releasing ‘Whatever Works’ through their Bandcamp on January 23rd. Check out the pre-order here.

Photo credit: Tim Ryan