Then Is Now

29 May 2012 | 2:54 pm | Michael Smith

Growing up with his parents’ record collection guaranteed the American punk of his teens wouldn’t factor in the music one young New Zealander would make with his eponymous five-piece The Thomas Oliver Band, as Michael Smith discovers from Thomas Oliver.

There was always lots of music playing in the house when I was growing up,” the Wellington, NZ-based singer, songwriter and guitarist Thomas Oliver, who's bringing his five-piece to Australia this week for the first time, explains. “My parents were into things like Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Jackson Browne, B.B. King, Buddy Guy and Bonnie Raitt, people like that, so I guess my roots in kind of folk rock and blues sort of thing runs pretty deep.

“Then when I hit high school I discovered NOFX, Lagwagon and No Use For A Name and I spent about four years just completely and utterly enveloped in punk rock. Then I moved to Wellington and my head kinda totally exploded and I started to get into all sorts of shit like, I'm a big drum'n'bass fan and, yeah, started to get right back into blues again. I guess at the end of the day I love all sorts of music for all different reasons. I like to make all sorts of music, but I guess it's those roots that I was kind of brought up with that are closest to my heart and that's why all the undertones of those artists and genres come out in this band.”

Oliver has been quoted often, back in New Zealand, as being heavily influenced by The Dave Matthews Band, who are similarly something of a contemporary conduit of those same '60s and '70s American country rock, roots and blues influences. It was a shared love of those bands that brought the band together, originally as a trio, in 2005, expanding to a five-piece two years later. Before that though, fresh out of school, Oliver had embarked on a solo career.

“I started playing guitar when I was ten and wrote my first song when I was twelve and I've been totally into my music and wrote lots of punk songs when I was in high school – I had a punk band – so I was always writing music, but I guess I was about eighteen when I kinda realised that this was what I do.

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“Then the boys in the band, they were a year older than me and went to university and I was still at school. So my only real choice was to start playing solo, which was really good because it taught me a whole new array of musicianship I suppose and performance – and it got me thinking about the guitar as a self-sufficient instrument. So when I found the boys in this band I already had a bunch of songs and the first six to eight months was just working through the songs I already had and putting bass and drums to them.”

After recording the Every Penny EP in 2007, guitarist Andrew Moore and saxophonist Matt Benton joined Oliver, double bassist Steve Moodie and drummer Tom Scrase, which inevitably meant a period of reassessment as the new instruments and Oliver's burgeoning love of the Weissenborn slide guitar were incorporated into the band's sound. The result is the debut album, Baby I'll Play.

“The hardest part was breaking it down to the songs we wanted to have on there,” Oliver admits. “Also getting the tracklist right, because since it presented the life of the band until that point, there was a lot of diversity through the evolution of the band and that sort of thing. Dynamic is a really massive part of our music and our live show. I think that's probably the thing that we're most known for here in New Zealand, so it was important that came across on the record as well.”