Brad Oberhofer didn’t go full method while recording the all-new wave covers soundtrack to the upcoming rom-com Table 19 (March 3), Oberhofer’s Ultimate Wedding Mixtape. But there were definitely times in the studio when the 26-year-old New-York-to-L.A. transpalnt slipped on some shades, did his best Molly Ringwald dance and slapped out beats on vintage drum machines for the album accompanying the flick — starring Anna Kendrick, Lisa Kudrow and Craig Robinson as wedding guests stuck at the worst table in the room.
And while Oberhofer — leader of the band of the same name — is a bit too young to have experienced the original radio daze of the tracks by Cyndi Lauper, The Go-Go’s, Wang Chung and Thompson Twins, he told Billboard he discovered them on… “oldies radio.”
“Director Jeff Blitz reached out to my label about me recording these songs and acting in the movie,” he said of his first official big screen role, in which he plays, wait for it… the lead singer of a wedding band. “I hadn’t really acted before, but I wasn’t really nervous about it because my role was just to be a wedding singer, and I’ve been to my share of weddings and bar mitzvahs, so I kind of knew how to become that. I think I’ve played that role in my own life many times.”
Because he’s a professional, Oberhofer did deep research for the role, which basically consisted of watching the original music videos for songs like the The Cars‘ “Shake It Up,” T’Pau‘s “Heart and Soul” and his absolute favorite, A Flock of Seagulls‘ “Space Age Love Song,” dozens and dozens of times. Born a decade after the dawn of MTV, Oberhofer said he’d never seen any of the clips before, so it wasn’t the most stressful prep.
Billboard spoke to Oberhofer about his experience and why this might be just what he needed.
I’m bad at math, but at 26, you’re not even old enough to have inherited an older brother or sister’s vinyl versions of most of these songs, right?
That’s true, I listened to them on oldies radio.
Wait a minute, “oldies radio?” Now I really feel ancient. How are these oldies?
They were on oldies radio in my childhood, those stations that play hits from the 60s, 70s and 80s.
You said you watched all the old videos for these songs — what surprised you about them?
I was not surprised so much as impressed by all these videos and the aesthetic mastery of them. I definitely identified with the culture of those videos more than the high-budget sheen of all the videos to come out in the last decade and a half. They were high-budget at the time, shot on film with these cheesy ’80s effects, that actually embodied the character of the music; just at the cusp of this transition into full electronic drums, which often times sounded kind of cheap.
And the videos, I guess at the time they didn’t look cheap, but they looked basic. It was new technology everybody was using, and it was very obvious and dated. So a lot of the effects in the music and the sounds in the music are dated just like the music videos. What carries all the songs and the videos is the charisma of the front person or the eccentricity of the band, which is an aesthetic I admire and something I think doesn’t exist as much today.
It doesn’t get much more eccentric than the lead singer of A Flock of Seagulls. And you picked one of their best non-“I Ran” hits with “Space Age Love Song.”
That triggered me going into an insane Flock of Seagulls kick. I’ve become obsessed with that band and I listened to all of their records and I’ve been DJing that record Listen — you can almost DJ that record in its entirety. I’ve probably listened to “Wishing (If I Had a Photograph of You)” 1,000 times. For me that’s the only band who when I dug back, I realized I loved a dozen more of their songs on top of the single I covered. Them and The Cars.
How did you determine which songs you wanted to to?
I really just got a big list of songs from the studio, and Jeff Blitz whittled it down from there, and I picked my favorites from Jeff’s list. There are some other ones that aren’t on the soundtrack but are in the movie. Like I did some method acting to muster the character in songs like [Cameo’s] “Word Up.”
It sounds like you kept things pretty reverent, but you gave your own spin to Wang Chung’s “Dance Hall Days,” which is even more ominous than the original.
The Wang Chung version of the song is pretty bizarre. Their vibe had this kind of weird, unspoken darkness to it from behind the cheeriness. He looks like a five-year-old dancing around in the video. It’s a carefree song, but some of the lyrics wouldn’t be acceptable in today’s world. “Grab your baby by the heel and do the next thing that you feel?” These are weird lyrics to me. They don’t really make any sense in any modern context. Maybe they didn’t even make sense then.
What are your favorite movie soundtracks?
Mostly John Williams themes, I listen to on repeat. Also Bernard Herrmann, Alex North’s Spartacus soundtrack, the Casablanca soundtrack.
Was acting always part of your plan?
I actually really loved it. And when I was on set I only had two lines, but then the director wrote out new lines on set for me to deliver, and I ended up with five or six lines. I had a lot of fun doing it and hanging out with the cast. I felt like people who are real actors make a lot of sense to me… maybe part of me is an actor. I’ve been doing a couple of auditions now and I’m working with CAA on some acting stuff.
You worked with Jake Portrait from Unknown Mortal Orchestra and I’m curious, did he give you any direction when you were in the studio? Was there any new wave dancing during “Tenderness?”
Recording with Jake was awesome because he’s a really good friend and we’ve known each other for a while. I really got into character and he encouraged me to do that. He said, “You really have to feel it, and become Cyndi Lauper.”
Really? What did that look like?
I just took whatever clothes I was wearing and maybe I’d tuck in my shirt or untuck it, put on some sunglasses. I was always dancing… dancing was embedded in all of [the songs]. I also practiced singing in an exaggerated way. I was maybe doing impersonations on some takes, but we kept the more natural ones. We have some takes that are way more feminine on the Cyndi Lauper songs, or way more dramatic on the Wang Chung one.
Your first two albums definitely had flourishes of an ’80s new wave sound. Did that make it easier to get into this mind frame?
Totally. I really identify with that era of music. It was cool to be radical at that point in time. All these people were just trying it out in public. That was the idea. I wish music was more like that now. There are all these cool social experiments embedded in all these songs and these people were presenting their own personal ideologies as though they’re universal in this really brave way. ‘This is who I am, there you go.’
Of course, who they’re presenting is some kind of funny projection of a character that really probably isn’t them fully. It’s like they were inventing their own superheroes. People were becoming their own social superheroes in the ’80s.
Did you consciously pick a mix of songs sung by both male and female singers as a nod to how gender-bending the ’80s was?
I’m always into the idea of singing songs by females. I mostly just picked the songs I liked the most beyond being concerned about whether they were sung by a woman or man.
I know it outs me as a super fan too, but for the most part you picked the obvious hit, except with the Flock of Seagulls track “Space Age Love Song.” Why that one?
That was Jeff Blitz’s call. I love that song so much. It just reminds me of being at high school prom and seeing your crush across the room in the ’80s.
The Oberhofer?’s Ultimate Wedding Mixtape track list:
1. “All Through The Night” [Cyndi Lauper]
2. “Hold Me Now” [Thompson Twins]
3. “Dance Hall Days” [Wang Chung]
4. “Tenderness” [General Public]
5. “Heart and Soul” [T’Pau]
6. “A Spy in the House of Love” [The dB’s]
7. “We Got The Beat” [The Go-Go’s]
8. “Space Age Love Song” [A Flock of Seagulls]
9. “Shake It Up” [The Cars]
10. “I Melt With You” [Modern English]