It doesn’t bother members of Oleander that rock listeners couldn’t pick them out of a police lineup if they had to or that they can walk the streets of Anytown USA without being recognized.
Their egos aren’t so fragile that they can’t handle anonymity. In fact, they joke about it.
“We find that out on the airplane a lot,” lead singer-guitarist Thomas Flowers said recently. “We end up chatting with the person sitting next to us, and they say, ‘Oh, you’re in a band called Oleander? I’ve never heard of you guys.’ We tell them that we had a big hit and they ask us to hum it. And they go, ‘That’s you?! I know that song.’ ”
Being nameless and faceless has its advantages, says bassist Doug Eldridge, “especially when you’re buying X-rated videos at a bookstore.”
But, seriously, Flowers and Eldridge and their bandmates – guitarist Ric Ivanisevich and new drummer Scott Devours – would like fans who may know their 1999 No. 1 mainstream rock hit, “Why I’m Here,” to eventually connect their names and faces to their second Republic/Universal album, “Unwind” (released March 6).
After all, their debut LP, “February Son,” sold more than 500,000 copies – enough for each band member to get a gold record – and spawned two more hits (“I Walk Alone” and “Really Stupid”). They have earned a shot at name recognition.
“I think the facelessness is going to be eradicated if our video (for the first single, ‘Are You There?’) gets on MTV and once we start getting into more and more visual press,” Flowers said. “The whole goal of this album is trying to create more of an identity and familiarity. What we didn’t do last time is a good setup for now.
“Actually, I think it’s really good that we did what we did the first time out. It was a good platform to launch this record from. We didn’t go so big that our expectations are unrealistic. It’s a good place to be.”
Indeed. “Are You There?” is about to crack the Top 10 on Billboard’s mainstream rock tracks chart, and “Unwind” no doubt will benefit from Oleander’s exposure during a six-week U.S. tour with labelmate 3 Doors Down and Fuel.
Oleander admirably wasn’t complacent with “Unwind.” With producer Rick Mouser (Green Jelly, Lucy’s Fur Coat), they walk a familiar rock path on the opening tracks, “Come to Say” and “Yours If You Like,” then take a departure with the forceful “Are You There?” and even venture into strings on the atmospheric “Halo.”
“What we’ve really tried to accomplish and continue to do,” Flowers said, “is to put a new face and a new sound and a new landscape on what rock bands can sound like and still maintain the rock credibility. We live in a world where there’s so much heaviness going on, as far as the genre is concerned, and we didn’t want to compete with that. We wanted to dig into our own style and maintain that rock-band feel.”
“On the first record,” Eldridge said, “we were very proud when we came out of the studio and one of the biggest compliments we received when we went across the country was that people felt like they could listen to our album from top to bottom. We really paid attention to that, and coming into this record, we really felt we needed to try that again.”
Touring over the years with the likes of Collective Soul, Candlebox, Creed, Our Lady Peace and Filter helped Oleander forge its sound. “We’re not emulating anyone,” Flowers said, “but I do think the bands that we’ve toured with – Collective Soul, Candlebox, Creed, Filter – have had an influence on us being able to relax and be open-minded to experimentation – as far as sexual practices, drugs and new foods.”
“… oh, and recording, too,” Eldridge fires back as he and Flowers laugh at their one-two punch.
“We were very fortunate that the first two bands that we went out with were Candlebox and Collective Soul,” Flowers said. “Both of those bands took us under their wings and they imparted so much valuable wisdom. For the most part, new bands get thrown onto buses and jet planes and their life becomes a big whirlwind. They don’t have the benefit of experiencing hard knocks. We had some really qualified people instructing us on how things are really going to be. To this day, we use that advice to our advantage.”
They learned a lot from Candlebox, in particular, about how to conduct themselves on and off stage, Flowers says.
“Their work ethic throughout the entire process, not just only getting onstage but afterwards, they were the band that would sign every autograph that anybody wanted,” he said. “They would stand outside their buses until the last person left. Kevin Martin, the singer for Candlebox, was instrumental in enforcing that kind of positive work ethic. They haven’t had a majorly successful album in years, but yet that tour they were playing to sold-out venues everywhere we went. That’s a testament to their work ethic and how they treat fans.”
Eventually, the lights blew out on Candlebox, and the group disbanded. Flowers says Oleander will avoid a similar fate.
“Just by maintaining positive dynamics and not allowing each other to get beyond the level of friendship and respect that we have for each other,” he said. “The difference between Candlebox and other bands that have been around a while and break up and us, they’ve had a lot more time to grate on each other’s nerves and we haven’t.
“At the same time, we’ve known each other forever and have always been capable of rallying around each other’s strengths and weaknesses and maintaining friendship first and working respect second. We’re going to have our ups and downs, but I don’t think we’re going to disintegrate.”
All of which brings Eldridge back to Oleander going gold but escaping multiplatinum-sized superstardom.
“(Candlebox) had an insurmountable amount of pressure,” he said. “Their first album sold 5 million, and coming off that and not having much success with their subsequent albums was probably instrumental in their downfall. Hopefully, we’ll maintain a steady growth and grow into a platinum or double-platinum act and we don’t fall victim to that type of pressure.”
“No matter what level of success we achieve as a band,” Flowers said, “I don’t think we’re ever going to really feel like we’re that big. We’re gold-level artists right now, but we really still feel like very fortunate young men who’ve had an opportunity to do this for a living. I hope that if we do go huge that we maintain that small-town mentality as a blue-collar band.”
How well “Unwind” does will dictate how Oleander’s year ahead will go.
“We may go to Learjets or we may go back to vans,” Flowers said. “We may do club dates or we may be doing big arenas. Who knows? No matter what happens, we know we’ve put out the best album we could and that we’re doing the best that we can as a band. And we’re really going to try to enjoy this whole year.”
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: Flowers – “The one that sticks out in my mind is Stevie Wonder’s ‘Greatest Hits.’ It was either that or Earth, Wind & Fire.” Eldridge – “I’m thinking it was Led Zeppelin’s ‘The Song Remains the Same.’ It probably never left my record player for about a year.”
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: Flowers – “Billy Squier at the Memorial Auditorium (in Sacramento).” Eldridge – “J. Geils at the Memorial Auditorium. U2 was supposed to be on the tour, but Bono had laryngitis.” Flowers, jokingly – “They’re good friends of ours and we’re always talking. Bono has tried to apologize, but Doug’s a hard sell.” Eldridge – “I’ve been holding it against him.”
WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE TO END SCHOOL VIOLENCE?: Flowers – “I don’t think there’s anything you can do to stop people from doing what they feel like they need to do. It starts with parenting and cultivating a comfortability and a lack of anger within your child. And, to be honest with you, I think musicians need to take a lot more responsibility. The music industry is profiting off all this violent, angry music that kids take to the nth degree, and it makes me sick. I’m not pointing any fingers, but I think you know what bands are out there that are promoting hatred and violence and they’re making a lot of money off it.” Eldridge – “It truly goes back to parenting and having a relationship with your kids. I was fortunate to have wonderful parents who spent time with me and taught me a value system, and that’s what I’m trying to do with my kids as well. Even being away as much I am, when I am home, it’s family time and that’s all that happens at my house. I spend time with my kids and my wife. It needs to be the type of parenting where you can talk to your kids about anything; it needs to be an open-minded relationship. Alienation is the big cause of all this violence.”
BWF (before we forget): Oleander blossoms on the Web @ www.oleander.net.