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Columbus’ Own: Oliver Oak is rooted in experimentation

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Local band Oliver Oak is set to release an EP this summer. Credit: Courtesy of Stephanie Ewin

Local band Oliver Oak is set to release an EP this summer. Credit: Courtesy of Stephanie Ewin

When musicians spend a great deal of time practicing together, arguments are likely to come up.

But for the local indie rockers of Oliver Oak, their disputes are as tame as the band’s soothing and melodic sound. They generally never quarrel.

“Get that guitar riff out of here!” violinist and keyboardist Devin Copfer jokingly said to her bandmates, vocalist and guitarist Kyle Tucker and vocalist Erin Mason.

When ordinary creative differences surface, Oliver Oak usually can solve its problems over Facebook Messenger. However, when a suggestion regarding tweaking a track is buried within multiple cat and “Seinfeld” GIFs, it is hard for mean-spirited discussions to exist.

I think just like with any disagreements that you have with someone, what’s good is that I have a really deep respect for every person in the band,” continued Copfer, a 2014 Ohio State graduate in violin performance and arts management.

What makes the five-piece ensemble — also consisting of double bassist Nate Smith and drummer Chris Guthrie — truly a collaborative piece is the unwillingness of any sole member to subsume the spotlight. Tucker can be perceived as Oliver Oak’s lead guitarist and vocalist. But on the band’s latest offering, “Young Man,” he said he stepped back to let Mason’s calming voice transport listeners over a soundscape painted by Copfer’s lullaby-like keys.

There is never a moment throughout the near-four-minute track when an Oliver Oak musician takes complete control, and it was produced by Bella Ruse and Nick D’ & the Believers member Joseph Barker. The powerful plucks of Smith’s — a 2007 OSU graduate in jazz studies — double bass bleed through the track but not without equal accompaniment from Tucker’s guitar.

I’m much more comfortable not being the frontman,” Tucker said. “I like playing the guitar in the background a lot, so it’s good for that too.”

Oliver Oak’s early musical excursions involved putting out two Christmas EPs during the 2013 and 2014 holiday seasons. They were dubbed the “Oliver Oak’s Never Ending Christmas” projects and mainly featured its own twists on standard Christmas jazz classics.

“I like a lot of that music, and I thought it was a fun songwriting challenge to be able to step away from myself and say, ‘I have to write a Christmas song,’ or, ‘We have to write a Christmas song,’” Tucker said. “There’s no ego in the way.”

More importantly, the band agreed that the Christmas tunes fostered a group dynamic that resulted in the creation of the group’s first full-length album in October of 2014. “Sleepless Wilds,” a nine-track project which really expanded on the personal constructions the members were concocting on the Christmas projects.

The intricate layering throughout “Sleepless Wilds,” especially with Copfer’s moving violin skills, remained a very important process with the group’s growth. Tucker mentioned that after the project was completely finished, he knew he wanted to see the band’s sound continue to evolve.

In 2016, Oliver Oak is experimenting with different Columbus musicians including Bella Ruse and Nick D’ & the Believers member Joseph Barker, who produced “Young Man.”

However, the group has stuck to its roots in terms of how the members approach the process of songwriting.

“I think the core of the music hasn’t changed,” Copfer said. “Instrumentation-wise, yes, we have added sounds, but the way those sounds interact with one another has been the same.”

“Young Man” will appear on the group’s three-song EP set to debut in late July, its first fresh collection of songs in nearly two years. The band agreed that with the ever-changing culture of Columbus, the single represents the bubbling musical experimentation within the city’s scene.

“The Columbus music scene I think is very open, and stylistically everybody supports what everybody else wants to do,” Mason said. “There’s some weird s— happening, and people are into it.”
Oliver Oak will be debuting its new yet-to-be-titled EP live at Rumba Café on July 23.

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