Brad Oberhofer is comfortable living by coincidence. Chance encounters and happy accidents have always yielded more exciting results than any inflexible plans he’s made. For example, there was no way he could’ve predicted that by moving from Tacoma, WA, to Brooklyn, NY, in 2008, he would end up in a band with the guy who taught him exactly one guitar lesson when they were both 16-year-old kids in Washington state. Things just happen, often for the best.
I recently met up with Oberhofer on New York City’s Lower East Side. Barely 21, Oberhofer cuts a tranquil figure in his Tacoma-thrift wolf-print sweater, skinny jeans and wispy tuft of dark brown hair that bobs joyously when I mention I’ve already heard his debut album, Time Capsules II. He sits across from me at a wobbly table, nursing a whole-wheat bagel and small drip coffee at the Cake Shop venue. It’s all silent but for the Talking Heads soundtrack, the occasional fliff of readers turning pages and our quiet conversation that has recently turned to debate over the highs and lows of Watch The Throne.
Oberhofer came to New York City in 2008 to study music composition at NYU, but he says he feels more like a student now, with fans and critics on the Internet giving him more feedback than his professors ever did. Today he and three friends, two fellow Tacoma natives, play lush pop-rock arrangements all under the name Oberhofer. But the band’s namesake has another way of describing the band’s style.
“It’s really just a combination of fuck-ups that coincidentally sounds pleasant,” he says.
Oberhofer calls his craft “coincidence pop”—an improvised patchwork of brainstorms, experiments and mistakes that occasionally come together in thrilling, accidental harmony. While recording Time Capsules II, mostly by himself in U2 producing legend Steve Lillywhite’s studio, Oberhofer tested the limits of every instrument (and implement) at his disposal. The resonant ping of a metal column in the tracking room becomes a glockenspiel stand-in. The tinny plunk of a toy piano becomes softer and more innocuous when flipped upside-down. In the right context, even a bandmate’s huffy outburst becomes another part of the symphony.
“It’s buried, but you can hear our drummer [Pete Sustarsic] scream and slam the door shut in ‘Haus,’” Oberhofer says. “Pete is super talented, by the way. I just work better alone when recording.”
Oberhofer’s dual role as coincidence seeker and solitary experimenter casts him as a sort of mad artful-pop alchemist. For a first creation, Time Capsules II is a beautifully portioned chemistry of guitar, bass, piano, percussion, violin, xylophone, Theremin, accordion and just enough metal-tracking-room-column to leave room for Oberhofer’s commanding vocals. His lyrics range from pure hooky gibberish built to unite festival audiences in a chorus of oohs and ahs to deeply personal remembrances of the fleeting love that inspired him to sit down and write four years ago (“All that I wanted was a little bit of heart/I gave you my love and you tore it apart”). The result is tender bedroom pop put on blast by studio shine. It is material that sounds perfectly comfy alongside the sing-along guitar-and-vocal hooks of Tapes ’N Tapes or the hyper-produced glitz of Neon Indian; Oberhofer has opened gigs for both.
The next few steps in Oberhofer’s ongoing, coincidental journey through space-time include rehearsing a live show in support of the album, tweaking the 50-some demos he’s already recorded for what will inevitably become a sophomore release (Time Capsules III?) and playing Coachella in April. Oberhofer has never attended the festival as a civilian, and now his first experience there will involve being on the same bill as Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. “It’s weird,” he says. “Well, it’s not weird. It’s just…new.”