Eager fans are already filtering into Milwaukee’s The Rave when I arrive at the venue, about 75 minutes before the 8 p.m. start time. Upon entering, I hear a band doing soundcheck, so I figure our interview will still be a few minutes as Brad Oberhofer is likely on stage with his namesake band Oberhofer. Very shortly after the instruments go quiet, Oberhofer’s tour manager, Rubes, meets up with me in the lobby and directs me outside towards the tour bus. It will be the quietest atmosphere for an interview I’m told, as Oberhofer is sharing the green room inside The Rave with tour headliners Matt & Kim.
As we walk outside, I see Brad also making his way towards the bus. He’s tinkering with his pale blue Hagstrom electric guitar still strapped over his shoulder, as it would stay throughout the duration of the interview (I actually wouldn’t see Brad without the Hagstrom until hours later, after Matt & Kim’s set, where he could be found hanging out by the merch table, signing autographs and taking pictures with fans).
By the time Brad and I sit down in the front “living room” area of the well-kept tour bus, the 21-year-old Tacoma native has already struck me as very genuine and appreciative. I was conscious of the interview time we may have lost with the soundcheck going late, but Brad reiterates a very welcoming and “I have all the time in the world” attitude. Being on the tour bus, I couldn’t help but ask Brad about life on the road. The 35+ date “Matt & Kim Lightning Tour” has been going since early October. But that just scratches the surface of it, as Oberhofer has been touring heavily behind their debut Time Capsules II for almost all of 2012.
“This has probably been the most intense year emotionally, I think, ever for me,” Brad explains. He groups the year together with the other recent transitional years of his life, going back to age 17. Not only did that time include the further formation of his music and band, but also many of the more prominent aspects of life: “loss of love, gain of love, gain of friendship, leaving home, seeing death, experiencing the death of loved ones, being in pursuit of dreams and seeing dreams come into fruition.”
Oberhofer is tagged often as a Brooklyn-based band, and early on I offer my sympathies to Brad for the effects Hurricane Sandy had on his community and any effects the storm had on him. He knew of some friends directly affected, but he himself was rather fortunate. It was then Brad mentions that despite being a Brooklyn band, he actually doesn’t currently have an apartment there. The belongings he does have in New York are in storage. Outside of his parent’s house in Tacoma, Brad doesn’t have a place to call home per se, and that appears to weigh heavily on him at times, even during these long trips on the road.
Somewhere in the middle of our chat, Brad, almost nonchalantly, mentions the recording of new songs. Which was quite the surprise because I hadn’t heard anything yet of a new release, and even more mind-boggling, when did Oberhofer find a chance to record amongst the seemingly endless block of touring? “We were back in New York for most of September. Played a couple of one-offs in September, but we were in the studio for 11 days…then back on the road.” Brad goes on to further describe the release: “We recorded five new songs, I think four of them are going to go on the next record…We have the album art all squared away.”
When I ask when we might see the album released, Brad reveals, “We did have a tentative release date. We kind of tried to put it out super fast. Just record it, mix it, put it out. (But) I really want to take time with it, really want to make sure that I love it before I put it out. I have a lot of songs that I haven’t put out simply because I want to wait, I want to sit on them, I want to make sure I love them first.” Brad’s tone noticeably becomes more impassioned when he talks about making music. His love for the craft is undeniable. He mentions that earlier in the night he was listening to the masters of the new recordings, and hearing him describe those listening sessions, it’s obvious of the meticulousness he brings to his work. “I’m kind of a perfectionist about those sorts of things.”
Much like their current touring partners, Matt & Kim, Oberhofer is known for their energetic live shows. Brad has said before that he’s too focused and locked in on the music to really pickup any overall live show vibe. I ask him if after all the shows they’ve played this year, if that’s still the case. “I really don’t ever hear applause,” he replies, “and for the longest time I was just kind of disconnected from everything, in my own world completely. And with these Matt & Kim shows– when you’re playing to more people– I look up a couple of times during the set, and I make eye contact with people more, and I actually find that that is more heartwarming than having some cathartic mediating experience. I like to interrupt that a little now.”
Even with the increasing crowd interactions, Brad still discusses the band’s live shows as intense and cathartic moments for him. He admits that he’s having fun on stage but he’s also in a “weird, frustrated zone.” He talks of a sense of relief and satisfaction that occurs after each song is played, but when the entire set is complete he often looks back on it with a critical eye. It seems the sort of perfectionism he brings to the writing and recording process is also present in his take on the live performances. As still a relatively young musician, it’s admiring to hear the commitment he brings to his role as both an artist and performer.
With only about a week and a half left of the Matt & Kim tour, I ask Brad if Oberhofer has anything immediately planned for after the tour. He mentions first and foremost, the finishing of the new recordings. Beyond that, he states that some of the band and crew are going home for Thanksgiving. This is refreshing to hear, as Oberhofer has been a hardworking band all year. However, Brad quickly reiterates that any sort of break for him at least will still be musically focused. “I’m either going to isolate myself in a cabin in the Catskills…and just be alone in upstate New York …maybe a month…and just record music and write new songs,” he says. And before I can get a Justin Vernon comparison in, Brad continues, “Or I’m going to go back to Tacoma and I’m going to record new songs at my parent’s house.” Brad mentions a few Tacoma musical resources he would like incorporate, including a cathedral pipe organ. He also talks about utilizing some new instruments of his own, including his 1930’s Deagan home carillon.
As I wrap things up, I thank Brad for taking the time before a concert to speak with me. He asks if I’m sticking around for the show. Of course. I missed Oberhofer at Lollapalooza this year and I’ve been looking forward to seeing them play live for a while now. As I stop the voice recorder on my phone, I realize it’s just about a half hour before Oberhofer goes on tonight. It then starts to sink in; the cool and relaxed musician I just interviewed is soon going to be leaping off amp stacks.
It’s a dichotomy I can’t fully wrap my head around. As we walk back to the venue, I try to pick up on any hints of Brad’s soon to be transformation to eccentric Oberhofer frontman, but it’s still not obvious, even as Brad invites me to enter with him through The Rave’s backstage entrance.
I’ll just have to see it in a matter of minutes, with the rest of the eager fans, anxiously waiting inside.
You can see Oberhofer opening for Matt & Kim Saturday night at the Congress Theater in Chicago. Or be sure to catch them on one of the remaining tour dates this month. Also, stay tuned for Oberhofer’s upcoming release!