Progress Report: Indie wunderkind preps debut album for Glassnote Records with production help from Steve Lillywhite.
Brad Oberhofer first started making major waves back in 2010 with self-released singles like “Away Frm U” and “Gotta Go,” both of which displayed his knack for combining lyrics that were equal parts clever and earnest with melodic lo-fi guitar sounds (and the occasional toy piano) that could have been recorded in your grandmother’s bedroom. Oberhofer and his band recently wrapped recording on their full-length debut album at a tiny studio in Brooklyn, which is where I visited Brad (and super producer Steve Lillywhite, who was busy finessing the final mixes) to find out what his band’s forthcoming album is all about. As far as I can tell, it is mostly about girls.
STEREOGUM: So, what’s the story behind your debut album?
BRAD: Oh man … well, so, summer after my senior year of high school, there was a girl I loved at first sight, aged 13, and she and I finally you know had mutual feelings for each other when I was 17. And so, you know, we finally got together like two weeks before I left for college … and I had spent my whole adolescence planning romantic things I would do with my girlfriend someday. So she and I spent ten days doing all these things I had planned to do with my girlfriend someday and I showed her all of my favorite places to hang out in my youth and all of the prettiest spots. And then before I left for college she had to leave, so I had a few days left at home before I left for good. So one day while I was riding my bike I decided that solely biking wasn’t productive enough and I should multitask so I would write a melody while riding my bike. And then I got a chorus stuck in my head that was kind of cheesy and romantic. And I decided that I would sort of write her and record for her this sort of opus. So, yeah, I recorded this song and I wrote a really cheesy note and drew a cheesy picture and put the song on a CD in a CD player and left it for her on her bed before I left for college. And that was the first song I wrote that is on this record.
STEREOGUM: And what is it called?
BRAD: It’s called “Gold.” And then there are a few songs on here that are about my first love –- that first love –- and are related to that. And there are songs that are a product of heartbreak. So that first song was when I was 17 and from there, as is bound to happen typically in a first love, there’s some turmoil and eventually heartbreak, and the loss of the naiveté of believing that your first love will be your only. So I learned to enjoy aloneness –- not loneliness but aloneness –- and there are some songs about the importance of it. Not the importance of it but just how I’ve noticed how beautiful things are out of being alone. Because when you’re in love and you’re with someone you don’t always notice how beautiful everything else is.
STEREOGUM: That’s true. The earliest songs you recorded that people took notice of on the internet pretty much involved you just doing everything yourself. Did you record this record with the full band, or is most of it just you?
BRAD: There are only two songs that are recorded with a full band. And then I had friends who play cello and oboe and flute and violin and clarinet come in, and I wrote out some parts -– I really scored the parts, I didn’t use fake instruments because that conflicts with my morals a little bit. So it was a joy. And I played almost everything myself.
STEREOGUM: That’s amazing. How many different instruments can you play?
BRAD: I don’t know. I’m kind of a hobbyist. I like to buy instruments and learn how to play them. So I’d say I’m bad at about a dozen instruments and not good at a single one of them.
STEREOGUM: Was everything done in this studio or different places?
BRAD: We did almost everything in this studio and we used a few sounds from my demos.
STEREOGUM: How long did the process take?
BRAD: It’s been a month. We only had ten recording dates and that sort of bled into the mixing time. So … twelve days?
STEREOGUM: That’s fast. And how did you get hooked up with Steve Lillywhite? He wasn’t too busy recording something in a castle with Bono somewhere?
BRAD: Ha! Well, my record label [Glassnote] sent my recordings out to tons of incredible producers –- tons of them –- and I interviewed about 30 of them of the ones that were interested. I was like, so flattered that they wanted to work on this record. And I just asked everyone questions and I met up with some of them and I spoke with a lot of them on the phone. And for this record he was the right match.
STEREOGUM: And how has it been?
BRAD: It’s been really good. We mutually want to try any idea that the other person has. If Steve has an idea I want to try it, and if I have an idea Steve wants to try it. And I’ve had my ideas in mind for or set in place for these songs for two and a half years for some of them. Some of these songs I’ve been thinking about for four years now.
STEREOGUM: How old are you?
BRAD: 21. And it’s been easy recording these songs. I know them inside and out.
STEREOGUM: I don’t know how your recording setup was for your early songs or how you were typically working before, but making the leap from doing that to having a studio and a fancier setup, how was that transition?
BRAD: I just had a really good time. We all just get along so well. I’ve done this before. I mean, I’ve been in studios before. I’ve learned how to use them and it’s just been fun. And it just really feels like a treat. It’s like I spent all that time just sitting in my basement or my parent’s basement or at my apartment with my laptop just hitting record and turning around and recording things, and now … it’s actually a little bit scary. I’ve been a little nervous that I’m not completely in control of everything. But eventually the recording process becomes about trust. And I’ve learned to trust the people I’ve been working with here. Because they are trustworthy.
STEREOGUM: In between when the first songs you had made started to get a lot of attention, how has the experience been for you? Were you surprised by how interested people were in your music?
BRAD: I was just excited by it. I can’t … I just believed in it a ton, that’s all. I’m not surprised by much in general but I am excited by things. I was just happy that I could share with anyone and I was grateful that the art that I make could make other people happy.
STEREOGUM: Going into the process of making a record like this, did you have a pretty set vision already of “This is how I want these songs to sound”? Did you have a benchmark in your mind of how you wanted the to be?
BRAD: I had one and then I abandoned it. I decided I wanted to re-listen to these songs and start from scratch and feel out how I’ve changed and what I hear those songs becoming.
STEREOGUM: You mention that some of these songs have been with you for a really long time. Do you find that your feelings about these songs — or, rather, the feeling in these songs — has changed as you’ve grown a little older and you have some distance?
BRAD: Well I’ve learned something actually. All these songs are time capsules. They all are representative of specific moments in time. Some of them were sad moments. Some were great. Some were a little bit bittersweet. I’ve sort of come to the decision that all my memories, whether sad in the moment or ecstatic in the moment are fond memories and I look back at these songs as just all proud moments and I have tried to bring those moments into the present.
STEREOGUM: What is the situation for you, band-wise? What will happen in 2012? You have a pretty set band you will tour with?
BRAD: Yes, we do.
STEREOGUM: So I assume much of 2012 will be about playing shows for you?
BRAD: Pretty much. As soon as the record comes out we hit the road.
STEREOGUM: Sounds like you guys are right in the home stretch now, then. I hear Steve blasting the mixes in the other room.
BRAD: We’ve finished six already and this is the seventh song we’re mixing.
STEREOGUM: How many do you have left?
BRAD: After this one, three. And then final mastering.
STEREOGUM: Between now and when the record comes out, what are your plans? Will you be staying here in NYC?
BRAD: I’ll be going to lots of holiday parties and then I’ll be going home and I might road trip down to San Francisco from Tacoma, Washington, where I’m from. I just love being home. It’s the most beautiful place ever and the winters are pretty mild. So I’ll be doing that and it’s been nearly three years that I’ve been ready to put this record out, but I’m patient. I’ve basically already written the next one.
STEREOGUM: That’s exciting.
STEREOGUM: Are you playing any time soon?
BRAD: Some shows in January. I’m slightly anxious about the new stuff being so polished sounding. Part of the charm of the old stuff is that it’s not so polished; it’s a little rough about the edges. But I think this new record will take things to new places and I think it’s bizarre in the right way.
Oberhofer’s full-length debut will be released on Glassnote later this year.