The Grand Rapids foursome has operated under the radar for months, but by firing up the house concert and DIY scene, Oliver Houston is a name West Michigan fans are likely to soon know better.
In six months, indie-pop/party punk’s Oliver Houston has become the hottest Grand Rapids band you’ve never heard of.
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You won’t find them playing Friday nights on big stages inside the city’s hottest nightclubs. Instead, Oliver Houston plays a rotating selection of living rooms, basements and other DIY spaces.
Founded by guitarist/vocalist Kyle Luck and drummer Garret Cabello, the band now includes bassist Matthew McCue and second guitarist Caleb Jorgenson.
With a name more fit for a birth certificate than an album cover, it seems like the name Oliver Houston must be a tribute to someone special. So who is Oliver Houston?
“We have no clue,” Cabello says. “It was a fictional name I came up with in high school, but still liked the ring that it had. Turns out he was a real person.”
Although a Google search results in a graphic designer and a 1909 100-yard dash champion, this Oliver Houston began as a side project in 2011 of Cabello and Luck’s math rock outfit, The Exploration. Having success and support from online communities, The Exploration existed in a strange, modern purgatory, as an “Internet band,” playing only a couple of shows in Grand Rapids during four years.
KEEPING BUSY AND ‘PLAYING AS OFTEN AS POSSIBLE’
Cabello and Luck decided to move on from The Exploration this year, playing a final spring tour. They had already written their first EP as Oliver Houston before launching this new persona.
“The whole time we just talked about how much we wanted to be playing those songs, and we were kind of like trapped playing The Exploration,” Cabello says. “We tried to die quietly and not make a big stink about it.”
Luck and Cabello say they plan to “take [Oliver Houston] as far as it will go.” Currently the band’s focus is on touring, writing and playing music as often as possible.
Oliver Houston recently announced an August tour with Knola, through New England, Canada, Michigan, and ending in Chicago. An all-ages hometown show in Grand Rapids will be 7 p.m. Aug. 13 at The Upper Room, 222 S. Division Ave. with Android 18 and Âme Solitaire opening. Admission is $5. More information is available on Facebook. They’ll make a stop in Kalamazoo the following night, although details are still being worked out. Their entire tour schedule can be found on Facebook as well.
Although it’s been less than four months since releasing that first EP, the band already is debuting new material at live shows and recorded a track at The DAAC @ The Fed’s studio in July for an upcoming compilation.
‘THE DORK AGES’ STILL RAGE INSIDE OF ME
Oliver Houston released its debut EP, “The Dork Ages,” on Bandcamp and on cassette in April through Cabello’s own label, Fawning Records and No Label. The four-song EP of tightly packed indie punk/pop pieces inspires as much introspection as memories of late nights, bonfires on the beach and general good times.
The band has diverse influences that can be seen across its work. Cabello says he draws propulsive beats from heavier bands such as Ceremony, while Luck’s musical leanings favor the twinkling guitars and emotive vocals of Algernon Cadwallader.
“I’ve actually been listening to a lot of The Beach Boys lately,” Luck admits. “I’ve been focusing more on getting more hooky, catchy vocal lines and they are great for that.”
“Our genre gets labeled as ‘sad’ a lot, but lyrically we couldn’t be farther,” Cabello says. “It’s very neutral. A lot of it could be nonsense if you don’t know Kyle or what’s going on.” Oliver Houston’s lyrics at times speak for themselves, while at other times are more abstractions.
“Previously [in The Exploration], I was just writing about relationships, specifically romantic relationships.” Luck says.
“So I went through college and transitioned from my hometown, from this town (Grand Rapids), and I thought I was transitioning to another town.”
“I think that’s a feeling a lot of people have at our age, the feeling of ‘I’d like to put down roots in this place, but school, or my job, or my relationship or whatever is pulling me out of here.’ Really, after you leave your hometown — if you had a hometown that felt sort of stable — you are in this sort of flux: ‘Am I ever going to have a place that I feel rooted again?’ So I think it’s about place as well.”
“Ivy Leakage” summarizes the rootless, uncertain mindset of adults in their 20s, while “Holy Toast” examines the heart of friendship.
“I think friendship is another interesting theme that doesn’t get a lot of serious consideration,” Luck says. “You have bands writing about friends, drinks on the porch, or group vocals or something. But there’s no serious dissection or consideration of what does it mean to be a friend? What does it mean to be bad friend?”
DIY ATTITUDE IN A GROWING COMMUNITY
Oliver Houston does all its work at home. From recording to writing, there was not much need for studio time.
“Kyle had started writing the first song and we had finished recording it within two weeks,” Cabello says. “He was in a weird time in his life where he was just writing music all day and we hadn’t gotten a third roommate yet, so we had an empty room we could just play music in for hours each day. We self-recorded, and it was a breeze.”
Adds Luck: “I have a skeleton in my mind and get some melodies or lyrics or ideas going, and then I’ll introduce it to Garret, who will tweak things structurally or change the tempo or we’ll swap parts around. … The song gets further refined along the way. It’s really nice living together because that’s something we didn’t have before and it’s become a pretty necessary thing.”
Grand Rapids is home to many artists recording at home, playing houses, and claiming an ethos of “Do It Yourself” or “Do It Together,” a more community-centric collaboration. Luck says he is concerned about DIY/DIT houses and other micro-venues taking payments at the door.
”There are a lot of houses and venues who are claiming this ‘Grand Rapids DIT’ stuff, but then it’s like a $10 wristband at the door and it’s all local bands. … It’s fine if you can take payment, but I have been turned away before because I haven’t had enough money. It’s so clearly not about the music and not about any form of community, and much more about a pseudo-successful narrative of working hard in the right venue, making the right amount of money until you end up on Pitchfork (Music Festival).”
“There are two very distinct parts of this world. There’s a part of it that cares about helping bands tour and making sure that they can get to the next town and that they are taken care of, and then there’s a part of it that are like, ‘Let’s pay ourselves and have a party.’ We’re trying very hard to be on the first side of that and want to be vocally opposed to the latter.”
Grand Rapids is developing a strong reputation among musicians who play in house venues, Luck says.
“Whenever people come to play to Grand Rapids, they’re always like, ‘That was nuts, this city’s great, this is amazing, you have something really special here.’ The people who come out and do support local bands and local music need to know that it’s felt, and it’s very, very, very cherished, and we’re very thankful.”
VIDEO: Oliver Houston, “Ivy Leakage”
Copyright 2015, Spins on Music LLC