There exists an unmistakable fever in all those who encounter 19-year old Brad Oberhofer, and with no end to the enormous swells and crashes of his supercharged pop, the desire to clamour in his favour is self-evident. These last six months have seen the release of his eponymous EP and the mass diffusion of his music - leaving him one of Hype Machine's most blogged artists - yet he is miraculously unsigned. He hails from the broad spaces of a self-determining Washingtonian port long ago nicknamed Grit City and fittingly ranked as the most stressed out place in the United States, and though his relocation to Brooklyn might have heralded a transition from bedroom to band-room, Oberhofer's heart could not be further away from the metropolitan mess and noise. His voice roughhouses the tree-lined streets of Tacoma - it tears through his hometown and then mine - and devastating percussions punch out at the suburban cowboys thundering down his guitar strings. This man is relentless, expounding manifesto upon manifesto, telling you what is imperative to both your survival and his own.
After negotiating each others' friendship in a series of emails, letters and projects exchanged over the summer, Dazed Digital and Brad Oberhofer discussed his origins, and successfully evaded making explicit references to the meteoric ascendance he has certainly commenced.
Dazed Digital: You were born and raised in Tacoma, yeah? I've always heard that the land there has a majesty to it.
Brad Oberhofer: Tacoma is an amazing place. It's right on the Puget sound, covered in trees, has a beautiful view of mount Ranier, and simultaneously maintains a healthy amount of residual gloom from a gross, dark past. Growing up I could see the mountain every day, could smell evergreen trees, and looked into the gulch that ended at the Pacific, and I think it had a huge impact on my idea of life. When I was old enough for my parents to let me go out on my own, I started riding my bike everywhere. I would walk or ride my bike for several miles, and just fell in love with every physical aspect of that city. In high school I met some genius musicians whom I felt a healthy competition towards. We played in each others' bands and played shows at each other's houses. It was beautiful.
DD: People rise up to Oberhofer and it sounds to me like it is because have extracted music from your bones. It's pretty wild, brother - I didn't expect to stumble upon something that was so earnest and devastating.
Brad Oberhofer: That's all I want. I only want to make music that is an extension of my complete self. If I ever discover that I have written a song that is inauthentic I'll get rid of it.
DD: And I've never heard a thread of uncertainty in your voice. Have you always been a singer?
Brad Oberhofer: I've never been much of a singer, but I grew up around my mom giving singing lessons and singing opera in our living room, and that definitely affected me.
DD: You mentioned that you were into Stravinsky before. That's exciting because it suggests that you have an ear for that kind of succinct complexity.
Brad Oberhofer: I spent a day at the library attempting to analyze 'L'Oiseau de Feu' and fell completely in love with it. If you take a look at that orchestral score, you will too. It seems to make no sense, but it's fun to try and understand it.
DD: Yeah, that piece is so carefully haphazard! I often wonder what commerciality was for his era - I want to understand how Stravinsky balanced being himself with selling himself. Although that isn’t necessarily a formula we can adopt from other people, right?
Brad Oberhofer: I wish people like Stravinsky hadn’t gone and broken all of the rules already, because then I could gain notoriety by breaking them myself. Strict rules are easy to break. Now different rules exist though, they’re just more difficult to notice. Since it’s so difficult to get people’s attention with music, the goal is to break ground in a way that is subtle, yet entirely new. We’ve cornered ourselves into only a large variety of options. If you make weird noises on a recording, are they actually weird if the general public thinks it sounds cool because it’s weird, or can it only be weird if the general public dislikes it because they are weirded out by it and don’t understand it? I personally really like it when something seems weird in an appealing way, but it’s actually not weird or groundbreaking at all, probably just a concept within the guidelines executed abnormally well.
DD: I was down with your mention of Alden Penner from The Unicorns and Clues [as an infuence]. What was it about him that drew you in? Your music shares the same qualities in its rhythms and melodies as his - it's delicate and brawly.
Brad Oberhofer: I couldn't fully articulate it if I tried. It makes me laugh and dance. I spent years obsessed by the Unicorns, and the Clues record blew me away. Part of the reason why I love it is because when I listen to it, I do nothing other than enjoy it. I assure you that my subconscious has been influenced by the delicateness and brawlyness you speak of.
DD: You were pulling freestyle rap a few years ago when you were in high school? Eminem, Big Boi and Andre 3000 were all important to you when you were growing up, I remember.
Brad Oberhofer: When I was twelve - I had been freestyle rapping for a while - I got hit by a car pretty hard and had a decent concussion. While limping around my house, I got a melody stuck in my head, beatboxed it for a while, and figured it out on the piano. Then I started writing hip hop beats. I spent my Bar Mitzvah money on a Roland workstation, and my hip hop beats gradually turned into short orchestral pieces. And later on I discovered that I hadn't composed that first piece at all, and that it was the instrumental to 'My Dad's Gone Crazy' by Eminem.
DD: Holy shit, Brad! When I was eight I rewrote the Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe without realising it. I choose to believe it has something to do with Jung’s collective unconscious, rather than us being idiots.
Brad Oberhofer: I need to read more about that.
DD: I feel compelled to ask about university.
Brad Oberhofer: NYU is alright. I sometimes forget that my true passion is composing orchestral music when I focus so much on writing pop songs. It's important for me to stay here so I am nudged to continue as an orchestral composer. I compose on Finale for the most part, though I try to write music out by hand as much as possible. Computers are uninspiring. Staff paper is very inspiring.
DD: There’s some vigour to be found in respecting the process as much as the product. Is there a certain arrangement of places and actions that you find yourself searching after because it’s how you like to work?
Brad Oberhofer: I like being in a room surrounded by musical instruments. I would ideally be in Tacoma back in my parents’ basement. Trees are inspiring, and I also prefer being alone.
Oberhofer's debut 7", entitled o0O0o0O0o, will be released in the UK on September 13 on Rough Trade. It is available for pre-order here.
Photos by Nabil Azadi & Brad Oberhofer