20-year-old Brad Oberhofer viciously strums his shimmering cerulean guitar without a pick. It’s a habit that leaves him super-gluing his fingernails to avoid sporting bloody stumps. But no amount of Elmer’s could save his hands at last year’s Music Marathon. After playing 11 showcases with his band, Oberhofer, one of the most idiosyncratic and exciting rock groups to emerge in the past year or so, Brad’s pick aversion created a literal bloody mess. “My hands were bleeding by the end of it, like I was just shooting blood on my guitar at my show,” he says.
Born into a musical family in Tacoma, WA, Brad has a quiet studiousness to him, belied by a shock of flippy hair and neon clothing that makes him look something like a day-glo Marty McFly. Unlike most of his contemporaries playing indie rock, Brad has a background in classical music education. Unlike most of his contemporaries playing classical music, Brad is self-guided and stubbornly individualistic. This is the kid who spent his bar mitzvah money on a Roland workstation, making beats to support his freestyle raps. That became orchestral composition, which dovetailed with studying music theory in high school. Not many indie songwriters could claim a childhood interest in analyzing Stravinsky compositions. At the same time, he was learning guitar and starting to record his own tracks.
Brad enrolled at NYU’s Department of Music for music theory and composition. He wants to score films: “That’s essentially writing simplified, very accessible orchestral music, which is the only kind I’m really skilled at.” Still technically in school, he has decided to take his junior year off to focus on Oberhofer. Having forgotten to file the paperwork, “I’m actually on probation,” he smirks. “I’m just bad at doing things on time.”
After building buzz last year with the propulsive single “Away Frm U,” Oberhofer’s accurately titled song “o0O0o0O0o” was featured in a SoBe commercial. “That really helped a lot,” Brad says. “I’ve been on tour and had people come up to me and say, ‘I heard this from this commercial and had to find it, and ever since I’ve been a devoted fan.’ And that’s a really rewarding thing.” The buzz led to Oberhofer opening for Minneapolis indie act Tapes ‘N Tapes on more than a dozen dates across the South and Midwest.
While similar to the recent trends of simple low-fi pop, utilizing simple melodies and repeated guitar lines, and emphasizing catchy over challenging, Oberhofer should not be lumped in with what the New York Times‘ Jon Caramanica ceremoniously dubbed last year the “New Simplicity.” Songs like “Landline” are anything but stripped-down, eschewing a chorus for 90 seconds until dive-bombing into a lush singalong refrain. Even “Away Frm U” has a sprawling middle section that makes the return to the chorus all the punchier. Oberhofer’s music is informed by Brad’s yelping, elastic voice that doesn’t hesitate to dip into extreme falsetto, guttural shouts, whispers and whistles. Brad’s roar is fantastically startling in the live setting, and accompaniment by his and Matt Scheiner’s guitar work, which is fierce enough to break strings “every time,” and the energetic delivery of bassist Dylan Treleven and drummer Pete Sustarsic gives the band an electric stage presence.
The current incarnation of Oberhofer has not yet had its first birthday, and Brad isn’t rushing things. Oberhofer has chosen not to sign to a label yet. “Before you make something public to the world, it’s important to perfect it. And we’re not signed because we’re not ready yet. I think even six months from now, if we’re finally signed to a label, our style will be even more perfected, our performance will be more perfected, my songwriting style will be more perfected, and it will be better.” For a 20-year-old, there is a certain studiousness in delayed gratification, unlike many who would sign at the first chance. That is Brad Oberhofer—having spent his entire life developing his sound, he is willing to wait a few more months before making what plans to be the “best record of the last 10 years.”
Away FRM U by Oberhofer