Parking with Oleander
By Naughty Mickie
Photos by www.hiponline.com and www.skyemediaonline.com
For the last few weeks, it seemed that every time I turned on the radio, there was Oleander's "Hands on the Wheel," from their soon-to-be released album, "Joyride." The tune went into my head and bounced around my brain until I couldn't help but sing the chorus whenever I'd get in the car (my radio got ripped off, so I'm singing until I get a new one). So needless to say, when I got an offer to speak with the Oleander guys, I was excited.
Sacramento, California-based Oleander currently consists of Thomas Flowers, vocals/guitar, Ric Ivanisevich, guitar, Doug Eldridge, bass, and Scott Devours, drums. They began as an alternative pop band, but have gradually evolved to harder grooves. In 1996, they released a self-titled independent EP in 1996, followed by the full-length effort "Shrinking the Blob" in 1997. Local DJ Curtiss Johnson of KRXQ gave their single, "Down When I'm Loaded," lots of airplay which contributed to Oleander gaining label notice and a deal with Republic/Universal.
In 1999, their release, "February Son," went gold. Devours replaced Oleander's original drummer, Fred Nelson Jr., and the album, "Unwind," was came out in 2001. The group donated the proceeds from their single, "Champion" to the September 11 Relief Fund. And the karma continued with Oleander's music appearing on movie soundtracks like "American Pie 2" and cable network Showtime's "Bang Bang You're Dead." Their latest offering, "Joyride" on Sanctuary Records was released March 4.
Doug Eldridge seemed as interested in sharing his thoughts, as I did in hearing them and started at the beginning.
"Me and Tom met in a restaurant called Fat City in old Sacramento, he was a busser and I was a bartender. And we were both in different bands and basically his band broke up and my band broke up," said Eldridge. "Actually, in the interim, he quit working there and I bumped into him at one of the clubs in the city of Sacramento that used to be cool called Malarkey's. He was with the guitarist that he was starting a band up with and I was living at the time with the drummer from the band that just broke up that I was in, so it was a perfect fit. We put together a band called Hogwash and the rest is history."
"It was me and him and then Ric came aboard. It was the Spinal Tap thing, we went through a few drummers," laughs Eldridge. "You just have to stick it out. The thing with any band is persistence and if anyone wants to be in a band that's gradually going to get it or get anywhere, you have to stick it out with the people that you get along with or you are on the same page musically with and that's basically how it transpired. Me and Tom seemed to stick together because I knew he had, I saw something in him, I don't know whether he saw the talent in me, but he definitely saw the drive. And we just stuck together.
"You know immediately. We knew immediately when Ric came into the band after me and Tom were together," Eldridge goes on. "We were doing our thing and we got Ric to come aboard and the very first day that Ric came into the mix, we popped into a new song that Tom was working on and it all fell together. It just immediately felt right. So it was cool, we knew that we had something with Ric."
I ask him about his childhood.
"I grew up playing a lot of air guitar and acting like I'm a cool singer." Eldridge tells me, "When I was young, I sang in a band. When I was really young, like in third grade, I was the singer because I didn't know how to play anything. I knew how to play 'Heartbreaker' and 'Train Kept A-Rollin'' on the guitar, but that was about it. I was always digging music, my grandfather was a great guitarist, he was a country musician. So it's in my blood, but I didn't discover it until I was 18 or 19 and that's when I borrowed a bass to join a band. I borrowed a bass, went to a rehearsal, jammed with a band and I was hooked."
"You never played bass before the first time you jammed with the band?" I ask incredulously.
"I knew how to play maybe 'Back in Black' and 'Smoke on the Water.'" Eldridge admits, "I knew all the basics because somebody taught me, but I never played a bass before in my life until that day and I joined a band and we were pretty awful. But I dug it, I had a great time and once we started doing shows together, I guess I was hooked and I loved it. I didn't know necessarily that that's what I wanted to do, but something inside me kept me driving forward toward this goal where I'm at right now."
"Did you go to college?" I query.
"I had to quit college because I was getting bad grades and I couldn't concentrate because I spent more time on the band booking shows in San Francisco and all over the place." Eldridge explains, "I was always the business guy in the band too. I was always the guy who's driven to get shows, get stickers made, get T-shirts, I still do that. I still work on our Web site, I still design our merch. That's just what I do. I have my hands in everything it seems like. It's not because I'm a control freak, it's just because I want to feel like I'm a part of everything.
"It's rewarding when it works out, but it's hard thing to do, especially when your band sucks," continues Eldridge. "We weren't that good and I was always trying to get gigs and get better gigs. Then I learned I'll just get a club and I'll promote my own shows and what I'll do is put a super-drawing band headlining, put us right underneath them and another super-draw below that. And then we could sandwich in and build a following."
Intrigued with his business sense, I want to know Eldridge's major before he left college.
"What was my major? Marketing," answers Eldridge. "I only had a year left to go and I could still probably go back. I think college is really good for some people and for others, I think practical hands-on training. I think college is like just getting, I don't know. To me, college, you don't learn anything practical there, you just get your degree so that people will consider you for the job. It's kind of like a record deal. You get a record deal and you're really just at the starting gate. It doesn't mean crap, it just means that now, all of a sudden, you've got to produce."
"You mentioned that you were a bartender before you formed the precursor to Oleander, did you work after the band got going?" I wonder.
"I worked," assents Eldridge. "I did construction. I did construction and worked a bartending job. Eventually just prior to getting the record deal in 1999, our first record deal anyway, I worked in the family business. That was cool."
I want to know more about his family's business.
"It's a company that tracks state purchasing." Eldridge explains, "We get information from people who are trying to sell products and commodities to the state and we provide services for them so they can be more competitive. My mom started the business when I was born and I finally got around to working for her. I still do work from the road for her, I put together a publication. I designed it, so this morning, that's what I did, that's why I'm in a rush. I had to get online to get the information, compile it and put the publication together for her and then send it on over to the office."
Between the band business and the family business, Eldridge sounds busy, so I inquire about his downtime.
"I'm a family man when I'm home. I have two kids and I spend all my time having as much possible fun that I can with them and being responsible at the same time. I have a boy and a girl. My girl's not really doing much yet, she's not quite three, but my son, we go play baseball, we have a good time." Eldridge add, "I like being outdoors, we go on bike rides and stuff like that, just typical family things."
"Is Sacramento a good place to raise a family?" I ask.
"It's totally cool," grins Eldridge. "Sacramento's a great place to do that too because it's a low key city, but it still has a lot of things that a bigger city might have like nice restaurants and things like that. But it's really kind of a real slow-paced, close-up-early, not like L.A. or New York, it's a great family town."
Eldridge lives just outside of California's capitol.
"It's an older area, all the houses were built in the '30s." Eldridge goes on, "It's pretty quiet here during the weekends. During the day, during the 8-5 or the 9-5 it's busy and then people get the hell out of here. It's kind of nice. It's a nice little neighborhood right off of downtown where all the restaurants are. It's cool."
With the changes in Oleander's sound, I prod Eldridge to talk to me about their writing techniques.
"We work together on everybody's ideas and I think that, on this last record anyway, it's constantly evolving," says Eldridge. "On this last record, it was the first time that we all really worked apart on things. We didn't really work together or if we did, like I might have a rough sketch of a tune and I'd call Ric and go, 'Hey dude, come over. Let's work on this little idea that I had and maybe you'll have some ideas and we can work on that too.' Songs kind of developed that way, whereas previously we would sit in a room and all work out the rough ideas together; do six different arrangements of one song because everyone had a different idea of what the song should be doing and where it should be going.
"This time around, we worked on them individually and then brought them to the band and worked on them collectively after they were more developed." Eldridge elaborates, "First of all, the biggest asset with making this record was we all were on the same page musically for the very first time in, what I would say, the beginning. I think that with every one we had, we discussed the direction we wanted to go and we discussed what we thought lacked. I think it was a good record, a great record, but we looked at our careers and said, 'What do we need to do? Let's all get on the same page here; let's all decide where we want to go.'
"That basically was in getting to what it is we do live and that is being a rock band, a straight-ahead rock band. No frills, no B.S., no pop. Melody is the most important thing in a song. We gauged our songs on whether it holds up with an acoustic guitar and a melody. If it can do that, then it's a good song. If it can't, then it will eventually get scrapped very easily. It's like-- I'm sorry, I just lost my train of thought, I'm babbling off," Eldridge grows quiet.
I brighten him up by telling him how much notice that Oleander's new effort appears to be getting in the Southland, especially in the Inland Empire.
"What a band needs for things to snowball is to find a same market where it's getting a lot of airplay and translate it into sales," states Eldridge. "I don't know how familiar you are with how the record companies work, but to get better radio people aboard, it's like you've got to build a story, so I hope the people there go out and buy it and help support us jumping to the next stage of the game and that is getting the track as far up the charts as we can and building the hype. It creates the whole snowball effect."
I again tell Eldridge how it seems that their music is always on the radio and, to add some icing, I have noticed that it's becoming a popular request by listeners.
"It's awesome for me to hear stuff like that," smiles Eldridge. "I've been in this industry too long and when I see radio airplay, I say 'Ok, how much did that cost?' I don't go, 'Oh, they must be loving us in Riverside or San Bernardino or wherever.' Ok, our record company has a great relationship with that radio station and they're banging the crap out of it to see what happens there. And it's nice to hear the feedback. That's cool and maybe there are places that are reacting to it."
"What do you think of today's music scene?" I say.
"I think that there's a handful of really talented artists out there that are making really quality music and I think there is a lot of stuff that's getting jammed on the radio and people are really rebelling and not buying it," replies Eldridge. "That's why the industry's in such a sad state of affairs. People aren't just buying what's crammed down their throat and just because it's being crammed down their throat, they'll download it if they don't love it. The fans, when you go out and play live, it's a whole different ball game and I dig that and it's great. But I think radio and everything is in a really sorry state right now."
I mention how I have checked out Oleander's Web site and it's pretty cool.
"Thank you. Can I pat myself on the back for that one? I didn't design everything on it, but I've given it a facelift," boasts Eldridge. "When things go up on the Web site, it's me. As things happen on the Web site, it's all that I've been doing. It's kind of cool. I kind of dig it because I taught myself in the last month and a half. We had a record done and we went out on a tour with Nickelback for three weeks and did that thing and then we had time off. During that time, I chose to use the time to dive into our Web site, to learn our Web site inside and out so that I can do updates. I built a tour diary that's already up there, but we haven't entered our entries yet, just things like that. I taught myself how to use flash so that when my lovely musical career collapses, maybe I'll be designing Web sites for other successful artists."
Eldridge goes on, "'Cause those guys are making bank, those Web site designers. They do, it's crazy. They wanted 15 grand for some Web sites that are like ours basically. Our Web site probably cost, when the label paid for it a couple years back, the actual operating cost was like 16 grand. I can build it in 10 days now."
"What else do you do on the Internet?" I ask.
"Check my e-mail every 30 seconds," admits Eldridge. "I get addicted to that, it's kind of funny. When I'm online or when the computer's down, I gotta go check my e-mail and see if I got something. I'm just sitting waiting for my e-mail to make a noise. I should click around and I look at other people's sties, bands, and of course, you've got to have that instant messenger so you can communicate with any one of your buddies that are online at any given moment."
"So in your opinion, is the Internet good or bad?" I push.
"I think that you get mass exposure, but at the same time, the Internet has provided downloading which has hit the industry and record sales are down," Eldridge states. "And I think there's a lot of reasons record sales are down and one of the biggest reasons is the price of records nowadays. But I think that people are really downloading tunes a lot, they're just like, 'Screw that, I'm not going to buy it. I'll just download it.' So I think, in that way, it's really hurting bands, especially bands that aren't established already, bands that are in our shoes. Even though we've had a gold record, we still aren't a household name. When you're Metallica, it really doesn't matter. So they sell a million less records, did they really need to sell that many records? I don't know. But when you're Oleander and decisions are being made about your career based on your record sale performance, then everyone who downloads your songs and doesn't buy your record, that really hurts."
What does the future hold for Oleander?
"Tour, tour, tour, tour, tour and tour, that's my plan," says Eldridge. "The take a short three day vacation and tour some more."
The group hopes to tour Europe in August, as the album is going over well there. I ask him about Japan.
"I'd love to go to Japan, I've always wanted to go to Japan. But I don't know." Eldridge says, "I don't what's going on over there, I don't know if they're digging the record or not. I'm sure it's going to be released there. It's probably the first time that we're going to release a record in Japan. I know it's the first time we're going to release a record in Croatia. It's all over the place."
Croatia?! Pretty good for some California boyz, huh?
"Is there something we didn't talk about that we should?" I offer.
"Nothing I can think of." Eldridge grins, "I've been all over the place and I hope that you can collect my thoughts and put them together nice and neatly because I feel like I had just the most scatterbrained blabbermouth in the world just a few minutes ago."
Funny, I thought he was pretty together-- a family man who helps his mom too and looks out for his band's best interests. But then, there's that e-mail thing.... Hey, Doug, did you get my letter?
For more on Oleander (and to write to Doug) visit www.oleander.net. Also, visit www.sanctuaryrecordsgroup.com.
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