Oliver Hazard: An Indie Sound Feature

Oliver Hazard is an up and coming indie folk band from Waterville, Ohio, outside of Toledo.

Oliver Hazard
PC: Oliver Hazard

They formed just a little over a year ago and are already scheduled to play in giant music festivals — namely Bonnaroo and Mountain Jam.

Yet just in December of 2016, the trio, made up of Michael Belazis, Griffin McCulloch, and Devin East, was scraping together broken guitars, a suitcase kick drum, and various other instruments to play a folk show at a local dive bar for the first time together.

The band has two released tracks, “Caesar Knows” and as of Tuesday, “Hey Louise.” Their sound is authentic and personal, filled with finger pickin’, ground stompin’, and all three of their vocals. There are so many layers, especially since all three are multi-instrumentalists. There are banjos, tambourines, glockenspiels, you name it. It’s fun but intimate and emotional at the same time.

Just prior to Oliver Hazard’s release of “Hey Louise”, I got the awesome opportunity to call up the band for an interview. They were so warm and receptive, it were almost as if we were face to face.

Here’s what they had to say!

The Indie Sound: How did you guys meet and what made you start a band?

Michael Belazis: Griffin and Devin were friends well before I met them, they went to school together growing up. I was a local musician and we met through friends of friends, but we were kind of intimidated by each other. We got to know each other slowly and the friendship brewed over time.

Last December of 2016 I came home for a month because I worked seasonally out in California. I had this goal to play a folk show at a dive bar, so I asked Griffin to help me out because I knew he was a really good singer. Then we were like, “we gotta call Devin.”

Griffin McCulloch: All the sudden we had a show in a week and we didn’t really have any songs written. Devin said he wouldn’t do it unless we took it seriously, so we just started coming up with a bunch of songs. We played a 20 minute set.

MB: Simultaneously that same week, I put our name in a raffle to win a recording contest that would allow us to record a song, but I convinced them to let us play all our tracks straight through. It was a monumental moment for us to get to hear our own music and we really liked the sound which was a good sign.

TIS: What are each of your roles in the band?

MB: We all kind of play bits of everything. I was playing guitar that a couple strings had broken off of. I found an old suitcase in the attic to use as a kickdrum. Griffin plays glockenspiel and Devin started playing percussion, tambourine and shaker, as well as banjo and guitar. On our newer music, Griffin is on the guitar. All three of us are vocalists; it’s kind of our defining characteristic.

TIS: Who are some of your biggest influences in music?

MB: We have a contemporary side of us and then classics like America, Bob Dylan, Jim Croce. On the newer side of things, that all three of us enjoy, are Whitney, Mac Demarco, Fleet Foxes, Andrew Bird, that kind of stuff.

TIS: What’s Waterville, Ohio like? How has it cultivated you as musicians?

MB: It’s an old canal town on a river that runs into Lake Erie. It’s just a safe town, we have a nice consistent place to play. Just the atmosphere. Our music is not very traditional to what is happening around us. There’s nothing around us that’s similar to our music, so all of these influences came together and came out in one project and we showed it to a community that wasn’t used to it. Not a lot of people do what we do.

Devin East: We just want to do our own thing.

MB: And people notice.

TIS: Upcoming events/releases? How excited are you for Bonnaroo and Mountain Jam?

MB: Very very excited. We haven’t played that many shows, so that offers a bit of a nervousness, but we are trying to play as much as possible before then. We played about 4 shows in between the album being written and a month ago. We have a few shows in the next few months. Bonnaroo has quite a large stage for new artists, so we’re really excited. We’re also really looking forward to see Mountain Jam’s lineup.

TIS: When do we get to hear the record?

MB: Maybe we’ll send you a sneak peak, but hopefully early summer. There will be two more singles before them, including this one.

TIS: Where does your band name come from? I Googled Oliver Hazard and Oliver Hazard Perry popped up. Who was he?

MB: The reason he’s a foundation — he’s was a naval commander in the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812. We aren’t history buffs, but the town that I’m from is right next to Waterville and is named after him, so it’s like an inside joke for northern Ohioians that no one else really knows.

We didn’t want to just throw something random together. We wanted to keep it mysterious in a way — three front men with one name. People will ask, which ones Oliver and we’ll say “He died 200 years ago.” It continues the conversation. Our band is built on stories. We want everything we do to be representative of us.

TIS: What does folk music mean to you? Why folk music?

GM: All of us individually in our own times fell in love with Bob Dylan. No one told us to listen to it and we all dug into it on our own.

DE: When it comes to folk, our songs aren’t sad but they’re filled with a lot of emotion and I think you can hear that in our harmonies.

MB: We want to push those boundaries for harmonies, it’s our bread and butter. We don’t really need to try. Those chords are built without us even talking about it. We fit in perfectly, it’s like these magical moments of chemistry. I never thought I would be in a band because you never find this. We knew right away that it was right.

GM: Devin and I were in bands before because and nothing clicked like this.

TIS: What are some overarching themes across your work? What are you guys trying to say?

MB: I think we always get a kick out of being self-deprecating. There’s this ability to be playful with it. It can sound serious and dramatic sometimes, but our newer music in a way is more creative and playful.

“Wandering” is a song on the album and there’s this part where, well, we have this friend who always says “you’re the worst” and so we threw that in there to be playful with the lyrics. We wanted to make it personal and authentic, but not too serious.

Our band is built on stories. We want everything we do to be representative of us.

TIS: Tell me about “Hey Louise”? Is it a love song? A song about heartbreak? I couldn’t really tell if it was happy or sad.

MB: There’s something about our music that we can have more or less melancholy lyrics juxtaposed by an upbeat sound. Especially for that one, the song can mean three different things for each of us. We do a lot of co-writing.

In general, “Hey Louise” is a song about an inconsistent love, and the pain that goes along with that. As we get older, we wonder if a person has changed or if we have to accept the reality: that maybe your feelings for this person are more of your own pedestal of expectations. Everyone has a Louise in their life, and if they haven’t they will. It’s just a part of life.

TIS: So according to your Facebook page, “Oliver Hazard is a ramshackle of uprooted folk-stomp and a chain gang choir of three.” How did you come up with that?

MB: It was the first month after we finished writing the album and we were like, we need one sentence to just describe everything. It sort of plays into how we just threw everything together so quickly, using broken guitars, kazoos.

It’s like old, shacked prison railroad sounds. The three of us singing these sad songs together that sounded really beautiful. Us stomping was like our first kick-drum as that backbone. Old boot on the ground percussion — we want to maintain that sound and originality.

TIS: What are your biggest hopes for your music and your band?

MB: We see ourselves being as big as we want to be. We want to play Red Rocks and MGS. I quit my job, but Griffin and Devin still work 9-5 and so we have to rehearse in the evenings. But ultimately, we want to be able to quit our jobs and make this a career.

You can check out Oliver Hazard on Facebook, Twitter and their website.

Listen to them below.

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