The moment a young Peter Frampton saunters into a bar, heads are going to turn. What if that live Frampton portrait creates music of his own that warrants distinguished praise? This hypothetical statement occurred the first time Oliver John-Rodgers (OJR) stepped into The Family Wash. His style may have preceded his talent, but only for a twinkling before he introduced himself. The Family Wash-- and Nashville for that matter-- learned in haste that OJR epitomizes a relevant rock star of this current generation,
Through his residency at Acme Feed and Seed and his audacious opener slots on tours, OJR never fails to present that authentic rock and roll show everyone will encapsulate within their nostalgic minds for years to come. This young man has procured his own footpath in the music industry, and refuses to cower in the face of daunting innovation. Whether he is rapping in French, producing a hip-hop album or composing “easily digestible rock music,” OJR will leave any listener desiring more. At the mere age of 23, OJR has become a trailblazing Renaissance man so that listeners may visit the sound of the past and experience a musical revival in a simultaneous manner. At 23 years of age, OJR has figured out a way to implement the words of George Hambleton: “Qui n’avance pas, recule,” which translates, “Who does not advance, recedes.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, without further ado I present OJR...
R: What is your musical origin and how did this band come into existence?
I am technically a solo artist, but we get asked all of the time on tour, “When did the band form?” Some of the other guys will say, “Just a couple of months,” but as a solo artist I have been putting my own music out since I was 13. I released my first collection of music when I was in high school. My music sounded very Americana, very Iron and Wine or Elliot Smith. That’s the sound I thought I wanted to do, but that sound started to bore me. With all do respect to Americana— I have a great love for that music—I have much more fun playing rock and roll on the stage.
R: Why do you think you have obtained the nickname “Acid Cowboy,” and how does that coincide with you music?
To tell you the truth, I am not sure where the name “acid cowboy” came from. I think the name came from a blog, which essentially said if you tried to split the set or album, it would be equal parts country influences with rock and roll influences. You get the psychedelic influences within the music. Country music, or rather what we are doing here in the underground of Nashville, is growing more and more liberal.
R: What other genres of music have you experimented with?
The number one question I get asked is, “What were your influences growing up?” The answer is, “Nothing cool!” My dad listened to decent music, but my mom had us listening to top 40. I liked the boy bands and Nelly-- all of the things that were
popular at that time. I personally went through the metal phase and played in emo bands. I even experienced with hip-hop. I did not get into the Rolling Stones, the Beatles or Led Zeppelin until a few years ago, so the rock and roll sound is newer to me. As an artist, I feel like there is so much I want to do. This current iteration of acid rock is only scratching the surface. Ideally, I want to get to a place where I am writing songs and producing music for people. I think the coolest artists are the ones that aren’t limited to one genre.
R: How are your two full-length albums different from one another?
The first album was the one I completed in high school. I completed the second album, Human Style, in 2012. It’s funny to call these works “albums” because I uploaded WAV files to a website. It would have been different if I had actually gotten them pressed and actually went on an album cycle. I call them albums just for the sake of conversation, but they were easier to make than a true album. The high school album is full of songs about heartbreak, or whatever you think heartbreak is when you are in high school. The songs were about girls not liking me back or something like that. Though Human Style is the least popular of all three albums, it captured my best lyrics. I am lyrically proud of Human Style. I made the first two albums on a four track, so the sounds are straight forward enough to make it on a four-track recorder.
R: Tell us about your third album, Nashville Demos.
The band and I used Nashville Demos to start exploring new sounds. I started that album right before I left for Europe in 2014 and recorded different songs in different bedrooms between Europe and the States. I was bumming around Europe and actually tried to stay and live there. I had a lot of time to kill while I was trying to find a way to make money and stay there, so I would play in the streets and record the song in my room. Once I left Europe I decided to come here to Nashville. It made sense to finish the album and tie all of the songs I had recorded together. I used the compilation to say, “Hi Nashville, I’m here.”
R: What does the rest of the year look like for the band?
The band and I will be touring with Grace Potter for some dates, as well as opening for The Wild Feathers in July. I am making an EP as well, and this is the first time I am recording in the studio. I am recording it at Welcome to 1979, which is a badass studio. The name came about because 1979 is the average year that all of the gear in the studio was made. It is all vintage gear but still gear that is in pristine condition. The EP will be a mix of new and old songs, but we will record it with the full band, which will be a new kind of energy. It’s a crazy opportunity, and I am pulling out all of the stops for this album.
R: What’s your favorite venue or state to play/that you have played?
I would be remiss if I didn’t say the 9:30 Club in D.C. I drove up to D.C. to sign with the agent I now have, and while I was there the band played this room, which has a capacity of around 1,000. The venue just takes such great care of the artists that play there.
I also loved playing the show with Rayland Baxter at Exit/In that took place during that huge snowstorm this past winter. I did not think anyone was going to show up. Initially the show was cancelled because of the weather. We were on tour coming back from Atlanta and we were all super bummed that it was cancelled. As we were about half way back to Nashville, the email came in saying that the show was happening. We ended up playing to a full room, and it was the best feeling to be back at a Nashville show with that type of energy. It felt like we had finally made it on some level.
R: What would you do professionally had you not gone into music?
Not to sound cheesy, but I heard a guy on Lightning 100’s Music Business Radio who said when he is looking for an intern to work at his studio, he always asks that perspective intern, “what is your plan b job?” If they answer with anything whatsoever, the guy tells the perspective intern, “I am sorry, this is not going to work out.” He does this because he knows that anyone in this business will tell you if you plan on making it in this business and doing whatever it takes, you can’t really have any other backup options. I also had a guy tell me that one time in New York. He asked my why I was wasting money on tuition for college if I planned on pursuing music, and after that it became hard for me to imagine trying for anything else other than music. If I had to choose something, it would be something crazy like archeology, or language translation. I can speak Spanish, Italian, and most of French, so I could use that if I had to. But I am a part of the music world now, so I cannot see myself being a part of anything else.
R: Which movie resonates with you the most?
I do not watch a ton of movies, but I used to watch Italian films when I was studying the language. I know it sounds pretentious, but I love Italian films. I am a baby, and most movies are too intense for me. I have seen movies like Hostel and other crazy, torture films and I will never get that out of my memory. Some of those movies seem gratuitous, and I am not great at giving time to watch movies overall. If you want to talk visual, I think music videos are amazing. I want to find someone to team up with in Nashville to record a video for my song “Somnonaut”, which is a ten-minute song. I want to create some sort of outrageous fantasia experience that song, and I am waiting for the first person to come around and know what to do with the music video.
I do want to say that I may not understand visual art like film, but I have a deep respect for people who think like that. I was in a movie called Teenage once in New York when I tried to get into acting a little bit, and watching how much goes into making a movie and how many people are on a set is mind-blowing. I had to audition for the part of a character that knew how to swing dance and eventually the truth came out that I did not know how to swing dance. Anyway, you shoot and you shoot and don’t hear anything for a while after you are done shooting. The film finally went to Tribeca and to other film festivals, and to see it in theaters as a full piece of work is amazing. I have so much respect for people who can create that.
R: Where is your favorite local spot to hang out when you are not touring?
I used to live in East Nashville, and it just got to be too much. I love East Nashville so much, but living, working, playing and being in the 5 Points bar scene all of the time began to wear on me. I moved to the 12th South/ Melrose area, and I love being over in that area now. I frequent Douglas Corner Café a lot now.
R: Which album could you play on repeat without getting tired of it?
I have a soft spot for a record Bright Eyes put out in 2005, and that record for whatever reason I can spin from start to finish.
R: What’s your go-to word in the English dictionary, profane or otherwise?
I can tell you words that I always go back to when I am writing. I like the word “flesh.” I also like to play around with the words “wholly” and “holy.” I call things holy that should not be called holy and subvert that. Certain words work better in songs—flesh works better than skin in a song. Sometimes when you are writing the words you use are indicative of your headspace at that time. I used the word “stormy” four times on my Human Style album, because I was in a stormy place I my life.
I am also in love with the French language. In my opinion it’s the best language to use for music. French words flow so well together, as the language was designed to flow that way with its vowel and consonant structure. It is so easy to rap in French. If you want to listen to French rap, check out Stromae. He’s huge everywhere else in the world, but he has not broken through here.