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Andrew & Stephen Oliver | Brother Oliver | The Greenville Music Scene

This week we’re diving back into Greenville’s music scene and putting local folk-rockers, Brother Oliver, in the spotlight. 

Brothers Andrew and Stephen Oliver are from Greenville, not THAT Greenville, but Greenville, Michigan. A tiny little town surrounded by other small-towns and country roads with one Applebees and a Pizza Hut. “Some people will never understand how huge of a deal it was when we finally got a Walmart,” they joked.

Every kid dreams about being a rockstar a little bit, Andrew and Stephen were no different. Their introduction to music started out with private lessons, Andrew on trumpet and Stephen on the saxophone, and they also participated in school band and played in church. 

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“We weren’t allowed to listen to a lot of music growing up,” Andrew said. “Our parents were pretty strict growing up. At the time I was really into skating, we would watch a lot of skate videos and try to make our own. While we were watching the skate videos I fell in love with the music that went with the videos, music I had never been allowed to listen to. My senior year of High School I started losing interest in skating. My skill level had reached the point where I would have to be risking my health in order to get better, so I faded out of it.”

Andrew Oliver (left), Stephen Oliver (right)

Andrew Oliver (left), Stephen Oliver (right)

Stephen jumped in, “At the time Andrew was playing around with hip hop.  Cover videos were really popular on youtube and he wanted to make somee. But I decided to get a ukulele,” he laughed, “I figured the girls would be all about it. Andrew wasn’t about it yet, but eventually he got a guitar and we taught ourselves. We were bad at our instruments, but we had fun with it and started writing songs since we had a basic knowledge of music theory from our lessons and band practice. The next logical step for us was to start a band.”

Andrew continued, “Initially I didn’t have any skills other than trumpet and what I had learned electronically. Stephen wanted to play folk stuff because of his ukulele, so I finally picked up a guitar. We were young enough to not have a lot of responsibilities or bills, so we stayed up late playing and writing music.”

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“Our parents weren’t keen on it at the time. Our dad was a pastor, so there was a little tension. Looking back, we realized that it made us work really hard to prove ourselves. It wasn’t easy to get them on board, but they’re cool with what we do now.”

Andrew moved to Greenville in 2013 as soon as he graduated high school to attend Bob Jones. “I know, I know,” Andrew laughed, “an unlikely spot for a rock musician.” Stephen came down for school at BJU as well but dropped out and started working and lived with Andrew in their small apartment. This is when they recorded their first album, Stubborn Fool. Stephen ended up moving back to Michigan after about 6 months. During this time Andrew worked hard at improving, writing more songs, and even playing solo gigs. “I wrote a record by myself while Stephen was gone. He would come down a couple weeks at a time to record our second album that we called Kudzu, which came out in 2015.” 

“When I finished school,” Andrew said,  “I felt like I had more connections in this Greenville than I did back home. Like I said, we were raised pretty strict and didn’t get out a whole lot, so I stayed here. Stephen finished up an his degree in Michigan and came back down here. We always knew that we wanted to do the music thing, we just had to wait for the time to be right.”

Stephen moved to Greenville in the Summer of 2016. It wasn’t long before they recorded their third and most recent self-titled record, Brother Oliver.

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Lyrically Andrew tends to write about what he called “psycho-spiritual material.” 

“I always want some kind of religious undertone in my lyrics without being overtly explicit,” Andrew said. “I don’t want to be so ambiguous for the sake of ambiguity, I think there is a fine line between the two. I write about how I want people to fully know what they believe, because they don’t take the time to stop and think about it. I feel like everyone needs to tear their worldview down at some point and build it back up again. Think about what you’re doing, what you believe, maybe it’s not as a cookie cutter as you think. I want people to walk away from our music thinking about their own selves, and maybe in a new way.”

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The album art for their self-titled album is a 1500's piece called the Garden of Earthly Delight, by Hieronymus BoschPiece. “The album art is a small portion of a must larger piece,” Andrew said. “It’s a trifold painting. My wife has a copy of it, which is how I discovered it. This piece is a depiction of life. On the left is God and the Garden of Eden, on the right is Hell and all kinds of dark features and figures.”

When you listen to their music you’ll notice that there is a lot of minor keys mixed in with brighter notes. “We like our music to be dark with a little nugget of hope,” Andrew said. 

Before moving to Greenville, Brother Oliver had played a couple shows for their friends and family in Michigan. They started out in a tiny room in a small bar in front of about 20 people. Their first show in Greenville was at an open mic at Smilies during Stephen’s first short stint in Greenville. Their live performance quickly improved as they shook off the nerves. Now, Brother Oliver has played in front of several hundred people at Fall For Greenville and will be spending most of 2018 touring, playing around 250 shows. 

“We are 100% entrepreneurs,” Andrew said. “I’m very business oriented. We do everything in house, all of our marketing and recording. It’s not just about saving money either, it’s about quality control. We want to be taken serious as a business entity, entertainers, and as artists. The ability to control cost and quality helps us make a living at our shows.”

“We are going full time this year, Stephen said. “We both put in notices at our jobs. We’ve been busting it for 2 years, testing what works in what market and where it doesn’t. This last year has been about building our brand and market research. It’s a little scary, but a lot of fun.”

“We’ve had a great experience growing a band in Greenville,” Andrew said. “We are so grateful for people like Wes over at Radio Room who gave us a chance. I know people complain about the music scene in Greenville sometimes, but we think that there’s plenty of opportunity.” Stephen added, “You get what you give. You can’t just make a band, throw a show, and expect it to be sold out. You have to build the brand.”

Brother Oliver is in the process of recording another record right now. After playing 80 shows in 2017, they’ll be touring regionally full time in 2018, playing anywhere between 220 and 260 shows. Be sure to support them and local music. You can check out their albums streaming on Apple Music and Spotify! 
 

Hunter Ballew | Cornerstone Construction & RoofGEN | Greenville Entrepreneurs

You’ve heard me say this time and time again, but I’ll remind you: Greenville has some incredible entrepreneurs and individuals. Yet, there are few that I’ve met who have as much drive, passion, or as strong hearted as Hunter Ballew does.

Hunter is a rarity as a Greenville native. He was born and raised in Travelers Rest, and he attended TR High School. Hunter never really had ambitions for school, but he did have an entrepreneurial spirit from a very young age. At only six years old he was constantly trying to hustle. 

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With a laugh he told me, “I would literally try to find the dumbest ways to make money. I would catch lizards and try to sell them on a quiet street where no one would drive by except the mail lady. Or, I would go in the woods to find old glass insulators to take it to the jockey lot to sell. I’m not sure if people actually wanted the stuff I was selling or if they just thought I was cute.”

“I feel like I was below average as far as learning goes,” Hunter told me, “but my work ethic was above average. All I wanted to do was join the Marine Corps. I worked various jobs throughout high school and immediately joined the Marines after graduating.” 

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It wasn’t long after training finished that Hunter was back in Greenville. He joined the Fire Department and ran his side business of flipping.

“My go-to business was buying and then selling stuff,” he said. “I would buy appliances, cars, boats, trailers, houses. You name it, anything I could buy below value and make a profit on, I would.” 

Hunter began a moving company of his own in 2012, but within two years he realized he could make a good deal more by continuing his flipping business. It was around this time when he started using Ebay and Amazon and his interest in e-commerce and online marketing came to be. 

His marketing side grew quickly. He started learning SEO and how to teach companies how to brand themselves. 

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“Blue collar guys generally frown upon the idea of digital marketing,” Hunter said. “I found that it’s often because they’ve been scammed in one way or another.” Using that as his inspiration and motivation, Hunter founded RoofGEN, a brand consulting company for roofing and other blue color companies. His goal was to show these business owners that the modern ways of marketing were valuable and could provide insight into their companies. 

In order to prove his thesis, Hunter needed a case study. Thus began Cornerstone Construction. “I figured if I can do it myself and show them I built this company using my knowledge of digital marketing I could tell them, ‘imagine what I can do for you.’ Not only that, I would be able to learn the ins and outs of the construction industry better.” 

Hunter initially consulted with other contractors in the Upstate to discuss partnering. However, he ended up with an experienced project manager and no longer needed a partner. Today, they are the fastest growing roofing company in Greenville and serve both residential and commercial clients all over the upstate.  

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“Even though Cornerstone was just supposed to be a case study, I fell in love with it during the process,” Hunter said with a smile. “It has given me the ability to serve the community so much better than I ever imagined. It’s a blessing to my heart to be able to serve and give back to the community. It blesses my heart to be able to give away tickets and see kids get to go to Drive, Clemson, and Swamp Rabbit games. If you’re not willing to be generous from the start when you have nothing you’re not going to be generous at the end when you have a lot.”

He continued, “With RoofGEN, I can work form my couch. But I truly love getting out and interacting with Greenville via Cornerstone. I love building relationships. One day my hope and dream is to train, coach, love on, and build up others, specifically youth. I have such a big heart for kids. I want company/companies to provide for not only my family but hundreds of families. My end goal is to have the resources to be able to bless others and build others up.”

“As a kid my family wasn’t poor but we certainly weren't rich. I can remember we had an old astro van that overheated and, wouldn't you know, didn't have any heat. So, my dad was pretty innovative. In the morning before school we'd have to fill up 2 liter bottles with water incase the van overheated on the way to school. Well, why not fill them up with hot water, right? We'd hang on to those things and stay warm all the way to school during the winter.”

“When you're young most everyone thinks their life is rough. We all have our own circumstances when the little hill seems to be a mountain.  As I grew I realized that life isn't so bad. From a young age I knew that my life was going to be different.  One day, specifically, the school bus dropped me off at the end of the road and I walked up the the hill towards our house.  At 12 years old in a curve on North Benson Road I said my life IS going to be different. Whatever it takes. I don't want the worries of money. I want to be able to bless others.”

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“As I've gone on from school into the Marine Corps, Fire Department and multiple businesses life has taught me so many things. I've learned to keep your foot on the pedal and never let up on personal development. Always be the best you can be. I've learned to giveback and watch others be blessed. Most of all, I've learned to show love and compassion for all people whether it's family, friends, co-workers, or some guy you meet at QT.”

He concluded, “We truly appreciate the support of the Upstate as we continue to grow Cornerstone. You'll hear this on my Facebook Live videos often. Our promise has been, and always will be, as we continue to grow, we'll continue to give bigger!”

Hunter’s heart and passion for helping others really struck a cord with me. If you follow him and his business’s on social media, you’ll see that everything he and his company does is entirely genuine. It was humbling to sit across the table and hear the passion that flows out of him.
I highly recommend you give Hunter, Cornerstone Construction, and RoofGEN a follow.

Steve Lorch | Table Rock Tea Company | Greenville Entrepreneurs

One of my favorite aspects of living in Greenville is how close we are to incredible views. About an hour drive north from downtown Greenville off of Highway 11 is Table Rock State Park. If you haven’t been there, you should go. While you’re there go across the road, literally under the shadow of Table Rock, and visit the Table Rock Tea Company

steve standing

Steve Lorch is a self-described eclectic serial entrepreneur, originally from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He and his wife, Jennifer, relocated to Mauldin, South Carolina. Steve is also a medical professional by trade as a surgical nurse. 

However, for the past several years, he has been working in medicine part time.

“When I was a surgical nurse in Pennsylvania, I was always on call, always working,” Steve explained. “When we moved down here, I was only 26 and on the verge of have an ulcer. A big part of my life is in my faith, and I knew this is not the way God wanted me to lead me life. You can spend every dime you make but you can’t get your life back.”

Time is worth more than money, and Steve cutting back on his time at “real work” has allowed him to do a lot of things. He’s published three books (working on 2 more), finished a movie script, recorded seven albums, and designed a board game which will be launching on kickstarter. 

When Steve says he’s a serial, eclectic entrepreneur, he’s not exaggerating. “I always joked that I ran with scissors and didn’t play well with other children,” Steve said. “I never liked rules. I liked to make the rules.”

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Before the Table Rock Tea Company was even a thought in their minds, Steve and Jennifer founded a company called Hydromissions International which did water-well projects all over the world. Incredibly, Steve and Jennifer were processing a thousand projects a year out of their home with no staff. A lot of their work had them traveling across the world. It was during a project in Kenya where they discovered tea plants.

They bought their first tea plant online and put in the ground at their home in Mauldin and let it grow. 

“We didn’t think anything of it after we planted it,” Steve said. “It wasn’t until we bought our property at Table Rock when we thought about it again. You see, we have a rule that every plant on our property has to have purpose. It can’t just be ornamental. We’ve been around the world and seen places that use their land so well. We wanted to do the same, and be entirely practical with our gardening.”

tea garden

He continued, “We were brainstorming of a way we could line our driveway with hedges. We were trying to figure out what kind of hedge could be both be decorative and practical. Then we looked outside and saw our tea plant. It looks like a hedge, so why don’t we do tea? Turns out, we needed 400 of them to line our driveway. So we decided to start a tea company! That’s honestly how we started,” Steve laughed, “we wanted an ornamental hedge row.”

“Before discovering tea in Kenya, we didn’t really even drink tea a whole lot,” Steve said. “That was the first time we were handed single source tea. It was only 90 minutes old.” 

Steve went on to explain to me that, while freshness was a big deal, single source tea is also vital to making a high quality tea. I learned that tea, much like wine, is effected by its region. The tea growing in one place could taste completely different than somewhere else because they had a different earth. I learned a lot about tea during my brief time with Steve. And I learned even more once I took a tour at his farm. 

steve describing

“Agriculture tourism is a the bread and butter of our business,” Steve said. “We regularly offer free tours of the fields and facilities. We have volunteers come during planting season. We want Table Rock to be known as Tea Country.” 

He continued, “We’ve had a lot of people come through here that decide they want to grow tea… but then they don’t have the means to process the leaves. We’ve worked it out so they buy plants from us, they grow them, and then we buy the leaves from them and processes them. A tea consortium.”

During their hydro mission days, Jennifer wanted to learn how to make soap and pass that along to the women they worked with in Africa. So Jennifer  went to the library and checked out a book that taught her how to make soap. Of course, Steve being Steve, “mechanized” his wife’s soap. “We were in a one stall garage in Mauldin, making 700 bars of soap a day for 23 states, sending it to places like Whole Foods.”

“I really like micro-factories, I like things that involve processes, taking them from base ingredients and turning them into a business,” Steve said with a grin, “I’d love to do a tv series called GarageBiz. I’ve got some friends in television I’m trying to pitch that to.”

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Steve continued, “There’s a difference between a business person and an entrepreneur. One requires the ability to take a risk, one doesn’t. A lot of people don’t have the stomach for risk. We found that people in developing countries might not have the margins for risk, because sometimes taking risk meant the literal death of your family. That clamps down on entrepreneurialism. So we started Opportunity.org, the charitable micro-enterprise branch of Table Rock Tea Company.”

10% of Steve’s gross revenue with Table Rock Tea Company goes to opportunity.org. Acting as a source for micro-enterprise loans and providing scholarships for farmers and entrepreneurs in developing companies. “That’s a long time down the line,” Steve said, “but we knew we had to set it up from the beginning. Once we are are up and running, we would buy their tea from them. This is the long stretching vision for Table Rock Tea Company.” 

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“The first four years have been proof of concept,” Steve said. “When growing tea, you have to check several boxes off first. One, is the plant going to grow at all. Two, is it going to reproduce. Three, is the tea going to taste any good, and you won’t know that for 3 or 4 years. Last year we made our first real tea and were finally able to check all of those boxes yes. This is when we built a commercial green house and planted our first 3000 plants. We’ll be planting 1 to 2 acres a year, with roughly 4300 plants per acre.” 

He continued, “I don’t get swayed by money, it’s just not a motivator. We’ve been a company for 4 years now, and it’ll be a decade before bleeding stops. That’s just how the tea industry works, it’ll take a long time. With Table Rock Tea Company, this is the first time I’ve wanted it to be a financially successful business. I want it to be able to provide jobs for people. In order to do that it has to be commercially viable for many years down the road.”

“I start things because I’m passionate about what it is, Steve said. “I’m one of those crazy people that believes I can change the world. In this case, Table Rock Tea Company is trying to change a region. If we can successfully turn Table Rock into ‘Tea Country’ that will provide a ton of jobs.”

Steve hopes to open a cafe right off of Highway 11. With 400,000 people going to the state park a year, it’s certain to be a hit.