Latin Grammys 2018
Oliver Shares Space-Age Visualizers for 'Chemicals' & 'Ottomatic,' Talks Timeless Albums
A long, long time ago, before Spotify playlists and social media streams, before MP3s, CDs or even cassette tapes, music lovers had little means of discerning the lives of their favorite musicians. They built stories in their minds about wizards and dark magic, of grand adventures in exotic locales or inter-dimensional artists who came to Earth from Outer Space.
Imaginations were fed 12-inch-by-12-inch works of art, designs inspired by spell-casting cords that came to life under diamond-tipped needles. Teenagers spent hours melting into beige carpets, parked in front of the family record player, their skulls weighed down by over-ear headphones.
It's a romantic scene many modern musicians wish they could capture. There was a mystery to music then, while today, singles come and go like disposable cups. LA-based electro-funk, nu-disco duo Oliver counts itself among that group of dreamers, and its debut album Full Circle travels back to that starry-eyed era to build a bridge of groove from the '70s, '80s, '90s, through into the 2000s and today.
“We've always been a huge fan of old records,” says the duo's Vaughn Oliver. “It's meant to be listened to as a whole, rather than 'here's a bunch of singles we made in a row.'”
Oliver and his partner Oliver Goldstein have been on this journey together for nearly 10 years. They met in 2008 when Oliver was being scouted as a for-hire producer by Atlantic Records. The company flew him from his home in Vancouver to Los Angeles to see what he could make. They paired him with then-session musician Goldstein, and his talent on guitar, bass and keys blew Oliver away. A shared interest in then-bubbling bands like Justice and Chromeo made them fast friends, and soon they were making music under their shared namesake via Skype chats and email chains.
Things got serious in 2011. Oliver moved to LA and the duo switched into overdrive. Its debut EP Dirty Talk was a big success for underground dance lovers with a penchant for bass and disco. Happy collaborations with Destructo, aka HARD events founder Gary Richards, led to the duo's being adopted as a HARD favorite. Oliver has played every edition of Holy Ship since its launch, as well as HARD Summer festivals and Day of the Dead.
“Playing to those size crowds really influences your music,” Oliver says. “You see which songs actually work in this kind of setting, and for a while, we were catering to those audiences, trying to make big, powerful, impactful dance records, but still trying to keep it to our sound.”
It was fun, but not the sort of approach David Bowie brought to Aladdin Sane, certainly not the a mindset that begets the mystique of Led Zeppelin's IV. For Full Circle, Oliver knew it was time to dig deep into musical roots.
“We would sit down a lot and talk about our bucket list of styles,” Goldstein says, “certain kinds of song that we wanted to have on the record. It could be pretty general, like 'we need to have an R&B thing,' or 'something that's like an early electro breakdance thing.' Just general styles that we wanted to hear, and I think we were able to get some of that done.”
Both Oliver and Goldstein got their start as scratch DJs. Their musical educations came direct from '90s hip-hop samples of '70s disco and soul, the origins of which they explored through classic vinyl recordings. A lot of those same records were sampled by '90s era French house producers, and that intersection led to the mid-aught explosion of the very musical acts that brought Oliver and Goldstein together through shared interests. How could the group's debut album be anything but a luxurious, cinematic homage to all that history, and since they were crafting a sonic love letter to the old school, shouldn't they put some old-fashioned magic into enigmatic design?
Full Circle's artwork screams with simple '70s style. A female hand emerges from darkness wielding a shimmering eclipse. A shiny, silver logo hanging in the corner are the only indication of what the listener has in store. Expensive pictures of the guys looking cool are traded for mystery, and so too are traditional music videos.
Instead of the same-old shots of hot girls, expensive cars and packed clubs, singles “Chemicals” and “Ottomatic” are treated to retro-futuristic visualizers that hint just enough at Oliver's reality without giving too much away. Are they two geeks slaving away in a studio surrounded by synthesizers, drum machines and blinking electronics? Or are they space-age wanderers surfing the Milky Way in high-tech, interstellar cockpits? The second option is certainly the most romantic. Why can't it be true?
“There's something about not giving all the much information, the music speaks for itself,” Oliver says. “As a kid those kinds of things were cool (to us). We put it together. We made the artwork. It's up to the person to hopefully use their imagination.”
Full Circle is out now on Interscope Records, and the guys are already working on a remix package, as well as remixes for other artists they enjoy. There's more to come from Oliver soon, but for now, just have a drink, sit back, relax, and take off into some fantastical universe of your choosing. You're the one in the cockpit, and they have the perfect soundtrack.