Oliver Hazard's Serendipitous Beginning
by Kyle Jones
When this year's Bonnaroo lineup was announced I did what I always do and started my listening journey at the bottom of the poster. As I proceeded up the bill several artists such as Low Cut Connie, Walden, and Colin Macleod tickled my fancy. Then Oliver Hazard's track "Caesar Knows" stepped out of the dugout and up to the plate.
My interest began with the first pluck of the banjo and by the end of the two minute and thirty-six second single I was obsessed. The only disappointment was moments later when I was slapped in the face by the realization that they only had one other single titled "Hey Louise" available. After scouring through their website, social media accounts, Soundcloud, and all other sources I could think of my realization was validated. No other streams, digital downloads, or physical copies for purchase. My insatiable craving for more was denied. How I thought, could a band with only two songs garner 61,000 monthly Spotify listeners and procure a slot at one of the nation's largest music festivals? Deeper delving was necessitated.
The enigma of this Waterville, Ohio folk rooted trio composed of Michael Belazis, Griffin McCulloch, and Devin East was dissolved upon watching a video they had posted on their website. Their story may be as intriguing as the atmospheric, bare bones folk music they create.
Michael Belazis who lived California was visiting his hometown of Waterville in December 2016 when he got together with old time buddies Devin and Griffin. The three began writing tunes and a couple of weeks later ten songs were sitting in their arsenal. Some higher power must have been listening and had taken a liking to the groups emotionally driven output. Miraculously, opportunity showed up at the door step when the three won a Facebook raffle to record a free song. The group had a proposal to make. Instead of recording one song track by track, they asked to record all ten of their songs live.
When recording, typically each track is recorded separately allowing for isolation and full control over the track during the mixing stage. This can be time consuming. When recording live the whole band plays through the song together, each of them mic'd up to a different track. Being a much quicker process, the studio agreed. A couple hours of recording and a few days of final touches later the band had completed their debut LP. I must say, writing and recording an album in three weeks is damn impressive. This is especially true when the result sounds almost too good.
Recording live leaves less room for error. Since they are all recorded together, each individual's mic picks up sound from the rest of the instruments as well. This allows for less control of individual tracks and banks on a solid performance due do the difficulty of editing in later stages. One benefit of recording live is that it can give the track a more intimate and unified feel, at least in my opinion. The way instruments and vocal harmonization blend together as they bleed into all of the mics can create a very encompassing sound. For Oliver Hazard the result was just that. Two intimate, truthful, and enveloping songs. This method seems to have worked incredibly well for the artists whose strength is rooted in their stripped down arrangement and emotional rawness.
In the day and age of digital audio, a lot of respect should be given to those who rely on the power of human emotion rather than the overuse of effects. Digital audio processing has brought forth many useful tools which are great when effectively used in the editing and mixing of tracks, but it also poses some danger. When used appropriately it can be helpful in creating a mix that best supports the emotional content of the music, but it shouldn't be relied upon.
Music comes from the soul and over processing has the potential of taking some of that away. The reason I love these guys is because they're true to themselves and they're capable of portraying a lot with very little. Shoot, I read that they even used a suitcase as a kick drum while recording. Artists can spend hours finding the right drum sound for a track. These guys threw a suit case on the floor and just did it. Somehow they make it work.
It's pretty nifty that a few friends gathering for a jam session managed to bring a full length album to life in just a few short weeks. They didn't even have a working name at the time. Now just a month or so away and only 17 months after they formed, they'll be playing Roo. I'm buzzing with anticipation for that set as well as the early summer release of their debut album. I have a feeling we'll be hearing a lot from these guys over the years to come, but until then I’ll just have to keep “Hey Louise” on repeat to get my fill.