Oleander Gets More Aggressive, Focused

Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.

When it comes to performance, playing live is a band's proving ground. This is becoming even more critical to an act's longevity, as groups log continuous stretches on the road to remain viable against a background of declining album sales. Oleander's gig at New York's the World in January showed it is one of those bands that relies on delivering a well-honed rock show.

"I think that in order to be respected, it's not just about selling albums; it's also [about] being a musician," guitarist/vocalist Thomas Flowers says. "We've got a long way to go, but we definitely strive to be as tight as we can and to put on as good a performance as possible."

Flowers and bandmates Doug Eldridge (bass), Ric Ivanisevich (guitar), and Scott Devours (drums) made good on that challenge with a set containing material from their new album, "Joyride" (released on March 4), the band's debut project for Sanctuary. The Sacramento, Calif., natives took for a spin "Hands off the Wheel" -- which is No. 29 on Billboard's Mainstream Rock Tracks chart -- "Don't Break My Fall," and "Fountain and Vine," new tunes that forgo the instrumental experimentation found on 2001's "Unwind" for a blistering, head-banging sound that won the audience's approval.

On "Unwind," the band "really wanted to stretch our tastes and try to present an album that was a little more diversified as far as instrumentation," Flowers explains. "It didn't necessarily pan out for us, so we kind of stripped that down to doing what we're good at: We're a rock band, and we decided that this album was going to be more linear, more focused, more in-your-face than either of the other two albums."

As Oleander's lyricist, Flowers wears his experiences on his sleeve. Two of Joyride's most powerful cuts, "Fountain and Vine" and "30 60 90," recount his struggles with chemical dependency. "Better Luck Next Time" expresses "a moral quandary" he wrestles with because "there's a lot of things I could be doing with my time, and sometimes I feel like I'm not doing it justice."

"Runaway Train" is a story from Flowers' previous marriage. He explains, "Whenever you [go on the road], you come home, you're not quite sure what's changed and you're not quite sure if you're the same or if anything's the same. So there's a lot of keeping your fingers crossed that everything that you love is still going to be there when you return." But for all the personal challenges he has faced, Flowers is not bitter. He says, "The biggest inspiration for me right now has been [girlfriend] Lindy Gamble. The woman in my life is my inspiration for my every day." This happiness most likely inspired the "Joyride" cut "Rainy Day."

In addition to the album, Sancutary is offering an EP that features acoustic and demo tracks from the record, as well as an unreleased song and a video for the song "Runaway Train."

On the Internet, a listening party was held for Joyride Feb. 28 through March 3 exclusively on Budweiser.com, where fans could stream the entire album. Amazon.com offered a pre-release promotion where fans who ordered Joyride ahead of the album's release could stream the "Runaway Train" EP.

Excerpted from the March 29, 2003, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com Premium Services section.

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