We caught up with Brad Oberhofer just as he was just about to order his lunch at a Roly Poly sandwich shop in Atlanta. Nice guy that he is, he was amenable to letting us decide for him.
CG: How’s it going?
BO: It’s good man, we just played a college radio session and we’re at a place about to order some sandwiches. I’ve been staring at the menu for about ten minutes and I can’t decide between two.
CG: What are the choices?
BO: Well there’s the Hickory Christo, which has melted brie and Swiss cheese, spinach, mushrooms, tomato. It’s grilled, with a side of fresh dill horseradish sauce. And then there’s the Greek sandwich with baby spinach, tomato, onion, banana peppers, roasted red peppers, kalamata olives, light feta, and sundried tomato basil dressing.
CG: I think anytime you can get something that horseradish on it, you’ve got go with horseradish.
BO: You think so?
CG: You find precious few sandwiches with horseradish on them. That sounds like a delight.
BO: That does sound really good. And it’s a hot sandwich. I think that is exactly what I’m going to get. Alright. I’m in line, sorry.
CG: How’s the tour with Matt & Kim going?
BO: Oh man, it’s so great right now. I mean, we’re getting along extremely well. Everyone in their crew is extremely accommodating. It’s great. This is probably the most rewarding tour so far that we’ve been on.
CG: I don’t know if you can come up with two acts that seem to enjoy playing live as much as you guys do. It’s an amazing pairing.
BO: Exactly. I think it’s great.
CG: How was your first 9:30 Club experience?
BO: Dude, it was amazing. Playing there for two nights – everyone, the whole crew at the 9:30 Club was the best most accommodating crew we’ve ever encountered. One second…
(He orders the Hickory Christo on wheat, and water. For here. Name’s “Brad.”)
BO: Sorry. Everyone else is eating so I gotta order now. Won’t be ready for a while though.
CG: No problem. I’ve heard you say that you started writing music when, at 13, you were hit by a car.
CG: I’m curious as to how those are connected.
BO: Here’s what was going on: I was in the midst of a rebellious phase in my pre-teen years. I started getting really into hip-hop and rapping and really looked up to OutKast and looked up to Eminem a lot in sort of a defiant way. I was really into freestyle rapping at the time.
CG: I’ve read that – is that something that’s going to continue? Will you rap on the next record?
BO: No, it doesn’t really belong here. But maybe elsewhere. So I’d been rapping for a while and I got hit by this car, I had this severe concussion. And I was recovering at my parent’s house and I started humming this song and I couldn’t place where the song was from. It occurred to me that maybe I’d written it or made it up, so I figured out the right notes on the piano. Then I used my mom’s cheesy sounding Yamaha keyboard and hooked up a microphone to my parent’s PC and recorded a loop in Sound Recorder, that old program that was on all old PCs. From that point on I still had to spend a lot of time in the house just recovering so made a few more hip-hop/instrumental type things. And then I would beatbox under them. I would have to play them in time and beatbox along with them. I’d have two Sound Recorder windows open and I would start recording the keyboard - after two seconds of silence, I’d start playing. And after one second of silence I’d hit record on the beatbox window. Then I’d hit play a second apart on both windows so it would record the sound of those two windows playing simultaneously and that’s how I’d make hip-hop instrumentals.
CG: That sounds hugely complicated. Bringing that up to modern times, you recently tweeted a picture of an insane looking instrument that you said was going to be on the next record. What is that thing?
BO: So that thing is a home carillon. All the bells were made in the 1930s. They’re sort of like bicycle bells of varying sizes and pitches with pneumatic mallets that strike the bells when you trigger the notes on that electronic keyboard. The wiring is all homemade. I think it was wired in the 60s. The thing is about two feet wide, two feet tall and weighs about 80 pounds.
CG: Is it going to go out on tour with you at some point?
BO: No way! It would die. It would die a sad tragic death while we’re on the road.
CG: How is it writing new music on the road? Easier to be at home?
BO: WAY easier to be at home. I mean, no time, no space. I get space when I go for adventures by myself – I sort of trail off and go for walks in the woods by myself and try to get lost whenever possible but that’s not really an opportunity to sit and record music. A lot my ideas are fully formulated during the recording process. I’ll end up writing a lot of vocal melodies while I’m on the road and coming up with ideas for things that turn into songs later. Really, no person can ever be fully bored. If you wanted to, you could write an entire novel in your head without writing anything on paper, if you were determined enough to memorize every line. So the same goes for music. Sometimes on the road I’ll have written songs and ideas just by memorizing the parts and melodies if I think I have something that’s good enough we’ll record it.
CG: At your show at the Black Cat earlier this year you played a new song called “Earplugz.” Is that something we’ll hear on the next record?
BO: You’re probably gonna hear that in the next month.
CG: Going back in time a little further, there was an MP3 making the rounds of you covering Kanye West’s “Runaway.” How’d that come about?
BO: Well I was at my apartment and I was obsessed with Kanye West’s “Runaway.” I thought, this is one of the prettiest songs I’ve ever heard. How do you understand what makes a song so pretty? The piano line is so simple…everything about it is so simple. The orchestration is pretty straightforward and the only way to really understand what makes something beautiful is to enact it yourself. And so I made up my own cover for it.
CG: If my math is correct, this is the first presidential election that you’ll be able to vote in, is that right?
BO: Yeah, it is.
CG: Have you been following the campaigns, or have you been too busy to keep up with them?
BO: I have been really busy but it’s also REALLY important to pay attention to these things. I’ve been doing independent research and paying attention to both sides, and to be honest I’m so confused. I’m just really confused. It appears to me that to be someone who makes really crucial decisions about the future of our country you have to be able to dance like a monkey for everyone else. And that is a really fucked up system. It’s a fucked up system that someone should have serious intellectual integrity but also have to be a good public speaker. There are a lot of people behind the scenes, but if it’s the case that our President is the man that makes decisions and makes things happen…I don’t think it lines up that someone with so much power is so good at public speaking. All of the most intelligent people I know are really god-awful public speakers. All this race is about, to me, or at least in the media, is about how well you can convince everyone that you want what they want.
CG: Absolutely. It’s 90 percent being a salesman.
BO: It’s 90 percent horseshit, is what it is. I don’t know, I’m too confused to understand.
CG: Thanks and good luck at Austin City Limits.
BO: Oh man, I’m so psyched.
Be sure to catch Brad and his band Oberhofer on tour NOW with Matt and Kim.
Here's how things went at their recent stop in Washington, DC.