In through the out door
For Sacramento rock band Oleander, when one phase ends, a new one may be beginning
All good things come to an end. The trick is recognizing the signs. Oleander, a local band with three major-label albums to its credit—February Son (Republic/Universal, 1999), Unwind (Republic/Universal, 2001) and Joyride (Sanctuary/BMG, 2003)—essentially called it quits recently, which means that the band’s show Thursday, July 15, at the Empire may be its last.
Band guitarist Ric Ivanisevich is blunt about the band’s future prospects: “It doesn’t seem there’s a big demand for Oleander out there anymore,” he confessed.
After some 12 years of playing with singer Thomas Flowers and bassist Doug Eldridge, along with numerous drummers (most recently Steve Brown from Honeyspot), that’s a hard realization to digest. Originally called Jack, at a time when most of the local rock bands playing clubs like Old Ironsides sounded like Pearl Jam instead of Radiohead, Oleander had built an audience playing radio-friendly hard rock, a reasonably generic musical genre in which the band found itself pitted against an awful lot of competition.
Oleander toured behind Joyride through 2003, and it still was playing a smattering of shows around the country this year, not to mention a United Service Organizations-sponsored trip to Italy in March, with Joan Jett and the Washington Redskins cheerleaders, where the band played for troops returning from Iraq. But when Flowers moved to Southern California earlier this year to pursue other projects, essentially the rock ’n’ roll version of leaving a job to spend more time with your family, it made the other band members think hard about their futures.
As an old saying goes, when one door closes, another opens. In Oleander’s case, when the band was offered a slot to play the ’80s-themed night at last month’s three-night-long 70th-anniversary party at Old Ironsides, it accepted. But Flowers didn’t want to do the show, balking at the idea of covering three songs by the Pixies. So, Ivanisevich, Eldridge and Brown recruited former Magnolia Thunderfinger frontman Skid Jones to step in, and the set—which also included a song by Go Dog Go, Jones’ band in the late 1980s—was a hit. “We had such a good time,” Ivanisevich said, “that I think maybe we’ll write some stuff together.”
The new lineup made its debut billed as “Magnoleander,” but if they all decide to continue, that most likely won’t be the new band’s name. If so, it’ll be fine match: Ivanisevich is an excellent—and underrated—guitarist, with solid roots in the George Harrison school of Beatlesque charm, and Jones has been missing in action long enough that his swaggering rock-god act is really missed on local stages, and it would be great to see him playing with a band again. “He’s such a great frontman,” Ivanisevich enthused. “Skid has so much energy. And he’s such a … cock!” At that, he and Brown burst into laughter.
Ivanisevich has kept busy with other projects, too. He’s been playing with the Arlenes, a country band led by husband-and-wife duo Big Steve and Stephanie Arlene, who moved here late last year from England. And he’s been writing songs with Stewart Batchelor, whose band the Slow Lorries—for which Brown played drums—was one of the better power-pop bands from the area. But Batchelor lives in San Francisco, which means that any kind of collaboration would involve a commute.
As for Oleander, the band members can’t quite admit that it’s over; it’s not unlike listening to a couple who’ve both begun dating other people discuss their next step—maybe they’ll recommit, and maybe they’ll go their separate ways. “It’s run its course, and there’s no sense in going on.” Ivanisevich said one minute. His next sentence: “We’re talking about we may be doing another record, but no one’s really …” His voice trailed off.
“We started on it,” Brown interjected.
“We’ve got a bunch of songs, and … we’ll see,” Ivanisevich concluded.
For those of you with a sentimental streak, you have at least one more shot at hearing Oleander live.