Interview by Amber Henson
Photograph by Ellina Kevorkian
It’s 7:30 on Halloween night at the Vault 350 in Long Beach, and The Oohlas have just taken the stage. There are only about twenty people in this place, half of them costumed—a statistic that includes the band. Lead singer Ollie Stone is dressed as a witch and bassist Mark Eklund is some sort of caped zombie/monster thing. Greg Eklund (guitar) and Luke Adams (drums) have opted out. As they start their set, there’s awkwardness about playing to an empty cavernous venue.
It was almost exactly two years ago when the band had their first gig: October 13, 2004. They came together in June of that year. Mark was in Phoenix, doing postproduction mixing for a woman who was Ollie’s “pseudo aunt,” as they call her (a family friend). Ollie used to sing in choir and Greg played bass in jazz band. When these two band geeks started making music, they felt confident enough to have Mark’s older brother, Greg (then the drummer for Everclear), listen to it. After a while they started sending hard drives back and forth, Postal Service style. Greg liked the idea of doing guitar with Ollie, but neither of them had played before.
Eventually they wound up in Los Angeles, searching for a drummer for this new band of theirs. They searched and searched, before relenting and using the great drummer that had already recorded for the album. A drummer for live shows has been on fairly constant rotation, but Luke Adams came aboard in August—and they hope to hang on to him. Best Stop Pop was released in late September—and that just about brings us up to tonight’s Halloween show.
Despite the low turnout, which is to be expected at any show this early on Halloween, The Oohlas are going at it like there are ten times as many people here. Ollie’s witch hat obscures her face, so she lets it fall off her head after a couple songs. There are two giant screens next to the stage, which is strange because there’s not a bad seat in the house. They run through a blistering set featuring the highlights from their new album and, by the end, they seem to have won over most of the formerly uninterested crowd.
Once the set concludes, Ollie finds me and leads me downstairs. It looks like the basement of the building until we get to their shared dressing room; the door is a vault door, left over from the time when The Vault was an actual bank.
“Look, at this, isn’t this crazy?” Ollie exclaims. “There used to be gold bars in here and shit.” This room leads to another room, where there is an even more outrageous vault, semi-circular and intimidating. We sit down and chat about the show for a bit. “Yeah,” says Ollie, “those screens were crazy. I kept looking sideways to look at myself.” Greg and Mark had not noticed. Luke isn’t there. “He had to go.” Fair enough.
We begin to discuss the future of the band. Even though their first album just hit stores about a month ago, are they starting to think about the next one? “Absolutely,” says Greg. “We have about ten or fifteen songs leftover from the last album that we just didn’t have the time or space to develop. But they’re great songs.” Mark, who is sitting on the floor, chimes in, “Whatever happens to the band, if we get big or whatever, we want to write the second album before all that happens.” Thank God. Like we need another ‘Wow, life is so weird since we became famous’ album.
One day they hope to be able to tour in England because, “Greg says the fans are crazy,” says Ollie, “Like, just nuts, and dancing all over.” This brings up an interesting point, because Greg has done this all before. It’s interesting, though, because Greg came into Everclear after they were well established, so he never had to do the whole ‘work your way up’ thing. That’s something that he seems to be enjoying now, although it’s easier on him than Ollie and Mark.
“We don’t really have a permanent home, per se,” they admit. “We have a lot of really supportive friends who let us crash with them, so we just kind of rotate around,” Mark discloses. So this is it, the band is your job? “Yeah, this is what we do for a living, we’re totally committed,” says Ollie. Until a couple of months ago, Ollie was working as a barista. She still sounds a little bitter about being let go: “It was right before the album release, so I had to spend all my time on my BlackBerry e-mailing people to get this to happen, and I think they just got tired of my needing to be doing that, so that was that.” Mark still caters sometimes. “But I was never really hired, I would just show up and work and then get paid cash. It’s actually a pretty sweet deal.” Greg, who is four years older than Mark, doesn’t have to deal with all this. He lives in a house and has a wife and a four year old. His house is where the album was recorded and where all the band meetings are, unless of course they head over to some of their favorite places, like The HMS Bounty or Julio’s Mexican Grill, which are in the same area as Greg’s house.
Speaking of favorites, what are they listening to right now? “I’m listening to Dinosaur Jr again,” Ollie answers. Mark spends a lot of time listening Jawbreaker, The Duke Spirit and Joanna Newsom. And Greg? “These days I don’t listen to anything but ‘Small Parts,’” (one of the more talked about songs on their album). “I only listen to music in the car and mostly when I’m in the car I’m driving my kid around, and it’s always, ‘Daddy, play the back door song.’” Ollie and Mark, who haven’t heard this yet, laugh at Greg’s imposition.
Mark wrote the music for “Small Parts,” while Ollie wrote lyrics and Greg had input on both sides. The claim “All songs written by The Oohlas” isn’t just a legal thing, it’s that they can’t separate the writing if they tried. Everything is back and forth, everyone can write parts.
“We’re trying not to stop anything creative,” says Mark.
“TV Dinner” is an interesting song, because if you listen closely to the lyrics, you can understand what it’s about—which makes Ollie’s voice almost breaking in the middle all the more meaningful. “That song gives me chills,” chimes in a friend of theirs who’s been listening to the interview.
“Yeah,” Ollie answers, “I’ve finally stopped crying when I sing it.”
The Oohlas - Live - Sept. 26, 2006
More by this writer:
Okay Paddy - The Cactus Has a Point
Sia - Some People Have Real Problems
Jon Foreman - Fall and Winter