Singer Oliver Tree, Who Plays Agora Next Month, Discusses Deeply Personal New Album

Oliver Tree. - Jimmy Fontaine
Jimmy Fontaine
Oliver Tree.
An internet-based singer, producer, writer, director and performance artist, Oliver Tree has done a bit of everything. He’s dabbled in action sports, mock reality TV drama and WWF. He’s even written two feature length screenplays and has been perfecting his craft as a director, writer and producer through his big-budget music videos that he prefers to call short films.

Tree started taking piano lessons at age 3 but didn’t become truly inspired until he bought his first guitar.

“I really got excited about music when I bought a guitar with a built-in amp,” he recalls via phone from Los Angeles where he was rehearsing for the tour that brings him to the Agora on March 6. “I saw it at the guitar shop, and I saved up every penny from my piggy bank. It had natural distortion and created a feedback loop because there was a speaker built inside of the guitar. That’s when I fell in love with distortion and the alternative sound.”

Tree released his debut, Ugly is Beautiful, in 2020. It culled together music he had written over the past five years.

“It’s all over the place,” he says when asked about the album. “It’s great for a first record. I could do whatever genre I wanted.”

Tree’s latest album, Cowboy Tears, a collection of quirky pop tunes that sound like a cross between Eels and Beck, finds Tree perfecting his craft. A fuzzy memory of a song he heard playing in a Taco Bell when he was a child triggered the album.

“When I was a 5-year-old, this song was playing [at the Taco Bell],” he says, adding that he wrote more than 100 tunes while initially working on the album. “I don’t know what it was. It inspired this entire album, which is trying to recreate a memory of what that song was. With memories, you try to recreate what you heard or saw. It’s almost like a photo copy. After 23 years since then, it’s just a memory of a memory at this point. I’m trying to chase after that nostalgic song. I made the album over two years during COVID. I just kept making music. I had many different versions of the album, and this is the one I landed on. This version was most cohesive vision."

“Cowboys Don’t Cry,” an infectious tune with a simple acoustic guitar riff and soft vocals, references the real-life cowboys Tree has known. They just happen to have been relatives.

“My grandfather was a cowboy and his father was a cowboy,” says Tree. “Every year when I was growing up, I would go to my grandpa and grandma’s ranch. I would just help feed the cows and horses. When I was making this music during COVID, I went to my grandmother’s ranch. My grandfather is no longer with us. I started playing his acoustic guitar. I made a bunch of music that I thought was really important, and I wanted to share it with the world. I thought it was too important to hold back."

He says the album's concept centers on "accepting and realizing it’s okay to cry."

"It’s especially true for tough guys," he says. "It’s about letting people let out their emotions. I am a really emotional person. The songs are really emotional and make me cry. It’s an emotional album for me, and when I listen to it, I cry all the way through. There’s heartbreak and sadness, and it covers addiction and death and suicide and chasing dreams and losing everyone you love.”

Since Tree never toured in support of Ugly is Beautiful, he wants to devote at least part of the current tour’s live show to songs from that album.

“We’ll do Ugly Is Beautiful for the first part and then songs from Cowboy Tears,” he says. “It’s a wide range of sound and has everything from alternative rock to country to hip-hop to house to pop. It’s quite a range of styles that gets covered, and the stage show features lots of moving parts too.”
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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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