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.
“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.”
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.”
“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.
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.”
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!