Donuts on your lawn
After flirting with oblivion, Oleander bounces backwith a sharply focused third album, Joyride
It was a little before lunch, and Doug Eldridge and Ric Ivanisevich—bassist and lead guitarist, respectively, for the locally based rock quartet Oleander —had stopped by the Midtown offices of SN&R.
“We had the worst luck on this last tour,” Eldridge recalled about an East Coast swing late last fall that went south. “We had bus breakdowns—two; we had to fly from Boston to Detroit …”
“Syracuse,” Ivanisevich interjected to correct him.
“… and we got there an hour before the doors opened,” Eldridge continued.
Ivanisevich finished the story: “And this was opening for Nickelback. And luckily, their crew was real nice guys, and they had set up all of our gear for us. We just came and did minor adjustments for it and went and played the show. It was great.”
“The other time, we took a train to New York from …” Eldridge paused, trying to remember the town.
“… Baltimore,” Ivanisevich added, “because our wheel bearing blew.”
Not long after, things ended abruptly in Kansas City, when someone in Nickelback took sick, and the tour dates were postponed until March. “It was a Budweiser-sponsored tour,” Ivanisevich pointed out dryly.
It’s been said that playing in a band is a more complicated version of marriage, and anyone who has spent long hours in vans, buses and airports hanging out with the same bunch of guys can tell you that you’ll either be finishing each other’s sentences like an old married couple or beating the snot out of one another.
Fortunately, Eldridge and Ivanisevich—or “I-Man,” as he’s known colloquially—seem to be quite like the former. (Singer-guitarist Thomas Flowers, the band’s frontman, and drummer Scott Devours, who lives in Southern California, didn’t show up, so their interactions with their two bandmates could not be observed.)
The timing on the postponed tour may work to Oleander’s advantage. On Tuesday, March 4, the band’s new album, Joyride, will be in the stores. It’s Oleander’s third full-length, and it’s the first to come out via a new agreement with the BMG-distributed Sanctuary Records Group, which also has released music by such local acts as Tesla, Soul Motor and Jacob Golden. (Oleander’s first two albums, February Son and Unwind, came out in 1999 and 2001, respectively, on Republic/Universal Records.) After a Tuesday release party at the Citrus Heights nightclub Aqua, Oleander will resume its tour with Nickelback.
Joyride was recorded at the Pasadena home studio of producer Rich Mouser, with some parts done at a studio still under construction, which Mouser is having built. It’s a different, more stripped-down setup than Oleander used for Unwind, also produced by Mouser. Unwind was recorded at the legendary Sausalito studio The Plant; it cost $300,000 to make—which, as any student of entertainment-business economics can tell you, is not a sum that the average major label will eat. If a band doesn’t go platinum and recoup its expenses, the label has said band over a barrel.
According to Eldridge and Ivanisevich, they had a chance to opt out of their increasingly sketchy relationship with Universal, and they took it, knowing the consequences might mean the end of Oleander if another label could not be found to sign the band. “We forged forward and recorded a record, then landed a deal,” Ivanisevich said.
“I think taking a chance was the best thing we did,” Eldridge added. “Because, making this record, we were much hungrier. We were in a raw environment, and we were under pressure for our careers.”
Fortunately, Joyride rocks. The hunger that Eldridge mentioned translates into a more straightforward sonic assault, with Flowers’ and Ivanisevich’s bank of buzzing guitars combining with the rhythm section of Eldridge and Devours to frame Flowers’ impassioned vocals. Yeah, it’s “modern” rock—that commercialized spin on the fusion of the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Killing Joke and the Pixies achieved by Nirvana, in 1991, that has powered hard-rock radio playlists ever since. But when it’s done well, with sharply focused songs, it still works.
And Oleander does it quite well.