Thomas Oliver Releases New Single 'Roses'
New Zealand’s Thomas Oliver is back with new single ‘Roses’, delivering yet again the heartfelt storytelling for which he is known. Speaking to TCI on the eve of its release, Thomas gave us an insight into writing and recording the track, as well as the unique story that inspired it.
The Creative Issue: You released your album, The Brightest Light, in March of this year and you’re already back with new music. What is your process for writing and recording and how have you managed to keep releasing music during the pandemic?
Thomas Oliver: I was on tour in Europe with my band from New Zealand when the pandemic really hit, and we had to cancel the second half of the tour and come home (even though I actually live in Berlin). At the time, I had no idea I’d be coming back for so long, so my studio is still set up in Berlin, with all my favourite recording equipment and instruments. I’ve had to set myself up again over here, so it has cost me a lot of money to buy some of that equipment again, but it’s totally worth it because I feel so empowered by the ability to produce and mix my own music. So I wrote, recorded and mixed ‘Roses’ during lockdown in New Zealand!
TCI: You’ve mentioned that lyrically ‘Roses’ is your story of connecting with someone online that eventually turned out to be a false identity. How did you mentally and emotionally process that experience? How do you put that experience aside and maintain a positive outlook and trust of people?
TO: It’s interesting that you say that, because my biggest fear after it was that my innate trust of my fellow human would be compromised. I’m definitely much more switched on to the whole situation of catfishing, and probably a bit more suspicious of people online than I was before. But I’m so grateful for the experience, because I love the song! And it was a good learning experience. Emotionally, I feel pretty resilient to these kinds of things, but it definitely made me very aware of how much something like this could really take its toll on a person, especially in particular circumstances. But even I felt pretty empty and low for a little while afterwards. It’s strange to try to accept that everything you were told during several long phone calls was a lie.
TCI: We understand you’d already written ‘Roses’ prior to realising you’d become a victim of catfishing. Obviously the song has taken on new meaning since that revelation but it feels like this is a perfect silver lining. Is that how the song feels to you?
TO: At first, I never wanted anyone to know the truth behind the song because I guess I was a bit embarrassed. But, with a little help from my managers, I’ve come to embrace what an interesting tale it is, and it turns out that far more people relate to this than I would have known! And now I’m 100% comfortable with talking about it and sharing the story. And yes, I feel blessed to have had this experience. It’s one of my favourite songs I’ve ever written.
TCI: Your sound combines many styles and sounds so effortlessly. Who are some of the artists that most inspire your work?
TO: Thank you. I like to combine, for example, a sonic aesthetic from one genre with a “mentality” from another genre. But particular artists who are really inspiring me right now are Gary Clark Jnr, Alborosie, James Blake, Dave Matthews Band, and Son Little.
TCI: You’ve received many accolades throughout your career so far. In 2016 you were awarded the APRA Silver Scroll Award which is New Zealand’s most prestigious songwriting honour. You were named a finalist for Best Vocalist at the 2019 Drum & Bass Arena Awards. You are also widely renowned as one of the world’s leading Weissenborn Lapslide Guitar players. Do you have a career highlight?
TO: Winning the Silver Scroll was definitely a career highlight. Playing at Sziget Festival in Budapest was another one. But I have always tended to consider my greatest achievements to be artistic, not professional. “Success” to me has always been about what I succeed in creating, not what I succeed in doing.
TCI: Do you have any other specific dreams you’d like to accomplish in your career?
TO: I’ve never liked the term, “dreams”. It makes them feel intangible. I tend to refer to them as “ambitions”, of which I have many. I have a side-identity as a drum & bass vocalist, and one day I’d love to write a full drum & bass album and have it released on Hospital Records.
TCI: Having achieved so much, what advice would you give to any songwriters who might be just starting out and finding the industry a little difficult to navigate?
TO: Well for a start, the music industry is fucking hard to navigate! So that’s normal, but that’s also what makes it fun, because nothing is certain or assured, or even consistent. I think my number one piece of advice is to have a definitive answer for what/who you are, and what you represent as an artist and a person. Too many artists are aimless with their intent. I have way too many avenues as a musician and it can be really confusing for my fans, haha, but I am very clear in what I seek to do as an artist, even though that changes almost by the day. For example, if someone asks you, “what kind of music do you play?”, don’t say, “oh, you know…it’s kinda like…a blend of…I don’t want to put myself in a box, but…” etc. Because they’ve lost interest by the time you’ve got to there and they no longer take you seriously. Just have an answer you’ve prepared, and say it. I mean we all know you’ve been asked that question at least hundreds of times, so you have no excuse not to have an answer. If a business owner can’t describe her product, you’re definitely not going to buy it. I encourage you to recognise that you’re no different from her.
TCI: We know it’s a little difficult to make plans in these uncertain times, but what is next
for you? What have you got in mind for the rest of 2020?
TO: Our New Zealand tour is starting soon, so we’re pumped about getting back on the road, including a couple of big festivals. We’re hoping everything can go ahead as planned! We’ve also got some new live-studio videos to release in the coming months which I’m really excited to share. It’s a crazy time to be a musician, but art will always find a way to reach the hearts of the people.