ARTIST NAME: Oliver West
SONG TITLE: I’ll Be Damned
ALBUM TITLE: Weather Me.
RELEASE DATE: January 18, 2019
Discuss your music career.
I’ve been a musician for most of my life, but I’ve only been a serious songwriter since about 2015.
I had played in bands all my life as a bass player in my hometown of Anchorage, Alaska, and we were never particularly successful but I really loved being a musician and still consider myself a bassist at heart.
Only after graduating from college in 2015, and under some unusual circumstances, moving to Germany did I start experimenting with writing my own songs.
I had always had this vague belief that I could write my own stuff but I had never really found the right space or moment to really pursue it until I wound up in Europe, alone, with a little bit too much time on my hands.
So I decided to start trying to write and record songs to keep myself busy and set the rather overly ambitious goal of recording a whole album with no money and nothing but an iPad, one crappy condenser mic, and a could instruments.
As such the final product is a little rough around the edges – I mean I mixed it on an iPad – but it was enough to get me off the ground. Then I started performing on the streets in Germany which grabbed the attention of people, who started offering me gigs, and then I started making some honest money off it, and bit by bit it has turned into a pretty honest full-time gig.
I just put out my new record “Weather Me.” which I’m working on pushing while I look at relocating to a city with a better music scene.
Brief us on how to impress fans during a live performance.
What I do that tends to impress people when I play live is this sort of unusual percussive technique I’ve developed on the guitar – I lay it flat on my lap and play it a bit like a drum.
I’m by no means the only person who plays like this – Ben Howard, Leo Stannard are two people who come to mind who have a hit or two played in this style – yet everyone has a slightly different way of interpreting the instrument like everyone finds their own sweet spot on the body and wails on it.
Fans love that because it’s flashy and violent and sounds like there’s more going on than one instrument should allow.
I also often go on improv tangents in storytelling, freestyle verses, and guitar licks that tend to lend some freshness to performances.
List the names of your biggest supporters.
I would say my biggest supporters are my friends Francesca, Sarah, and Ryan, as well as my nuclear family and a handful of really incredibly devoted fans from my hometown of Anchorage.
Explain what has motivated you so far in your music career.
I think artists often chase a certain sound that never actually wants to be realized – like I have an idea of where I think a song should go, and then it goes somewhere else.
It’s sort of like chasing a musical ghost a lot of the time, and you try to catch it, often in vain.
I think a lot of my motivation comes from trying to find a sound or a feeling and not quite hitting the mark, at least in my own estimation of the song.
Other people might totally dig it, but I’m often not quite satisfied and keep trying…
I’m also largely motivated by trying to:
1) Not write a song I’ve already written before.
2) Not write a song someone else has written before.
3) Not be boring. Whether I succeed in that is largely a matter of interpretation I think. But I really try to not bore myself with what I write.
I try to do something that I haven’t made and haven’t heard before, with unusual language use, perhaps quirky instrumentation, and atypical harmony. That’s what’s been informing my songwriting as of late – I’ve been trying to use the most colorful chords possible with as much nuance as I can get out of my instrument and do something I haven’t heard before, at least from my own little artistic world.
I also just try to avoid average lyrics. I want them to really be good.
Lazy writing gets under my skin.
Discuss your experience as an artist.
I’m a small artist in the shadow of larger artists.
I’m also a white dude with a guitar, and we’re a dime a dozen.
Sometimes I wish I had gone a different, more unique route – like what if I were a badass bouzouki player or something? I think I live with a certain sense that my medium is not inherently original, and sometimes that bothers me, but it’s the best I can do and I am still devoted to becoming better at it.
But being a smaller artist, I’ve had a lot of pretty tremendously large experiences that I think might ebb out with increasing exposure – the people I’ve met and really connected with a tiny gig in the most obscure places, the travel alone, the sheer weirdness of touring, the lack of organization that comes with doing everything yourself, the continuous feeling of trial-by-error. I don’t know, I feel like, despite the challenges that come with being an artist working at making it work, there’s a pretty great reward in the feedback you get and the experiences you have, the connections that form there with people you never thought you’d know.
Otherwise, I think my experience is just trying to be better at what I do and continue to be interesting, both for myself and the people who support me and are invested in what I do.
Tell us the biggest mistake you have ever made in your music career.
Honestly, I think the biggest mistake I’ve made this far is trying to do everything myself and being hesitant to ask for help.
That’s just sort of how I am by nature I think. I’ve come to the point where I need a certain amount of help to continue doing what I do at a higher level.
I also spent several years basically avoiding investing in myself financially. I think I really should have thrown more money at the cause, in marketing, in production, because it could have pushed me farther, faster.
But I wasn’t totally convinced it was a good enough thing to invest in. I’m still not totally convinced but I am investing anyway.
Discuss the story behind the song.
“I’ll Be Damned” is a hard song to explain, no lie. But it was an easy song to write. I wrote 90% of the words in one go while sitting at a café in front of a church in Germany.
I had been reading some article, like an opinion piece or something – I can’t for the life of me remember what exactly it was about anymore – but for whatever reason this article got me thinking about love on a very abstract and analytical level.
And for some reason I started thinking about love or devotion to physical representations of abstract things, or like loving a part of something but not necessarily the whole, and at some point recognizing that maybe you love the wrong parts of people or institutions or ideas.
In a way, it’s a song about recognizing that you’re wrong about certain behaviors or predilections and saying “damn, this is the way I am, what I do with this knowledge?”
And as I often do, I sort of transformed all this into a quasi-dialogue between lovers, or people in any kind of intimate relationship.
I think I have always had this idea when I play this song that it’s about a relationship in which you realize that you value the less important parts of the person you’re with, and you realize you’re somewhat in the wrong there and realize that it’s flawed in some way, and maybe it starts to unravel from there. But that’s just the way it is and I’ll be damned if it’s not.
Tell us how to fund a music project.
I’m still figuring this out myself. I think it starts with believing that it’s worth funding.
Discuss your opinion on the safety of fans during shows and live performances.
I have never had to worry about my fans’ safety because I’ve always played relatively small, secure venues. But I do make sure to be careful with my wording of certain stories so as to be respectful towards everyone who’s there, I suppose that’s also a kind of precaution I take.
Tell us the greatest piece of advice someone has given you as an artist.
The most recent piece of advice that I thought was really helpful to me was from my promoter Brandon, in Minneapolis – I was having a moment of profound self-doubt about whether or not I should try to push my new record – and he basically said the only mistake you can make is to do absolutely nothing because then nothing will happen.
It’s really simple, obvious advice, but I think it’s very true. I think you might as well take a risk because if you don’t, nothing will ever happen.
Tell us what you will improve or change in your music.
When I start recording my third record, I want help. I don’t want to do it all by myself this time. I need other people’s feedback, more eyes, and ears on the project, more experts, and more knowledge.
I think the recording is an unbelievably hard beast to a bridle. Like how to take the spontaneity of a live performance and crystallize it without losing anything? That’s always been my problem – I feel like people really respond to my live shows way more than my recordings because I still haven’t quite hit my recording stride, which is why I think I need some expert help.
Discuss vocal training and how you protect your vocal.
I’m honestly not a trained singer. I’ve figured it out largely by being really bad at it for a while. For most of my life I could, weirdly, only sing falsetto.
I had no chest voice. I didn’t really develop one until I was around 18, 19. And then one day it sort of just clicked a little. Obviously, it wasn’t perfect, but my voice was suddenly there where it hadn’t been before.
I think I honestly had to spend a lot of time in a room where no one could hear or see me discover my own sound and trust my vocal cords to produce sounds that I thought might not be super pleasing. And when I had that time to experiment, my voice slowly came into being.
My voice has also changed a lot over the years, it has really solidified a lot, it’s now much darker and bassier than it used to be, and I am just generally more technically skilled – no surprise. Just practice.
I’ve never considered myself much of a singer; it was always just a way to transmit lyrics for me. But now that it’s my job I have begun more diligently warming up, running scales, doing exercises and stuff to make sure I keep in form and so that I can experiment with new techniques and come up with new vocal melodies and such.
I also recently quit smoking so that will probably ensure some longevity for my cords.
Discuss your best mood during a performance.
When things are going well I just get sort of goofy and stupid and giddy. People who have been to my shows will know. I become just this total spazz but I love it.
List your best artists with reasons.
I’m not comfortable saying who are the “best” artists out there, but I can say who I think has shaped my sound most directly.
Ben Howard, Kristian Matsson, and Justin Vernon are probably the three songwriters/sound smiths that have most influenced my sound, for various reasons. But I think they’re all incredible lyricists, have very distinct voices and styles, and all can create a very definitive context and atmosphere for/with their sound. I think their contexts are the things that have most influenced me.
Discuss your existence as an artist.
Basically, I’m just trying to be better than I am, say something smart, say it well, and be as interesting as I can while creating my own context and atmosphere. And just entertain the people who care, because that’s fun and I love being entertaining and being able to move people. That’s a crazy feeling.
Tell us the greatest problem you think is facing society and the solution.
An obvious one is a way we have been treating the environment and the continued negligence towards it. I think that one is fairly self-evident.
But one of the major causes of our environmental dangers is our relationship to consumerism and the cheap production of goods.
Basically, capitalism and industrialization have been terrible for both many strata of society and for the environment. I think there’s this pervasive myth in capitalist economics that growth is always sustainable and should always be the goal. I think both are patently not feasible. You cannot continually grow an economy on finite resources. It just doesn’t make sense. This is how we end up exploiting the earth and workers.
I also think the major political drama of the foreseeable future will be about ethnic nationalism as a result of mass immigration. I think ethnic nationalism is a pretty scary phenomenon that is responsible for the rise of Trump, Brexit, and far-right political parties all over the world. I don’t have a solution for that really, it would be absurd to say I know how to fix it, but I do think basically the only way to make two groups of people understand each other is to stage a situation where they can engage in cultural dialogue on eye-level and see each other as non-threatening.
Discuss your songwriting and recording.
Every song comes about in a different way, but my general belief is that the best songs write themselves, it’s a natural thing. If I have to spend a really long time trying to make it click, there’s probably something wrong with it that just needs to be chopped or totally reworked. I often end up totally reworking melodies in recording to make them more interesting.
To date I’ve been recording, mixing, and mastering everything myself, which I ultimately something I’d like to move away from by getting some more expert help. It’s largely just been a matter of logistics and money that have prevented me from having a larger team up until now.
State your artist’s name and elaborate on it.
Oliver West – I am from basically the farthest westward point in the western world. And I am a “western” person, which I do not say in any way to brag.
I’ve studied national and transnational theory and I have a lot of critiques about the dialectic of the “West” but it is the world I come from, for better or for worse, and it has really shaped me and everything around me. It has incredible problems but they are the ones I live with and that inform my music and my philosophies about the world.
State the title of the album and the reason for choosing the title.
“Weather Me.” has a lot to do with stress, lust, and things that have made me feel incredibly old. A lot of the themes on this record are largely about personal and internal conflict and things that have either physically or mentally weathered or aged me.
Also, I just have a fascination with the weather – I love storms and wind and snow and all that vaguely unpleasant stuff that happens in the world that is sort of bigger than humans and that we can’t control, and has such a basic but profound effect on our moods and daily rhythms.