Oliver Tank, Musician
Be as original as you can be ...
The dreamy soundscapes that bloom inside the mind of Sydney songwriter Oliver Tank have driven some folks to do some fascinating things. Take the fan who tattooed Oliver’s lyrics on his arm, for example. It’s been less than three years since the indie musician kickstarted his career by winning a slot on the bill at Iceland’s Airwaves Festival, but in that fraction of time he’s earned a solid fanbase and toured with the likes of James Blake, Lana Del Rey and Lorde. The solo artist is set to hit the road yet again, launching his biggest national tour to date with a show at The Zoo this Saturday February 8. Following the release of his sophomore EP Slow Motion Music and an incredible performance at The Falls Music & Arts Festival over New Year’s, The Weekend Edition phoned Oliver at his Sydney home to chat writer’s block, early influences and his Brisbane bucket list.
Congratulations on the release of Slow Motion Music! You kept fans waiting for two years between EP releases, but it was certainly worth it …
Yeah it did take a while! I wanted to have some stuff out sooner but I was having a bit of trouble writing music and I wasn’t really happy with anything I was releasing. I won’t keep people waiting that long again – I’m already working on the next one.
Now that the EP is out, are you feeling happier about it?
I’m pretty proud of it. It’s kind of weird, I went through a period where I didn’t like it and then I really liked it and then I didn’t like it – but the same thing happened with Dreams, and I still quite like those songs, or at least half of them anyway … Certain songs I write, I just get over a bit, especially if it’s been a while. I appreciate that at the time I wrote it, I really love that song, but sometimes you just feel like you could have done a better job or changed it.
How do you approach old songs that you’re not so fond of anymore? Is it a challenge to keep reliving them in your live sets?
Well, when I play live, I just play the ones I like and the crowd favourites – the ones I like and the crowd favourites are usually the same. And when I have to play the songs I don’t like as much, I try to take myself back to the time when I really enjoyed it and think about why I liked it. Plus I can always tweak it live if I want to change things around a bit.
You recorded a lot of the Dreams EP in your bedroom, was that the same for your follow-up release?
Yeah a lot of it was done in my bedroom, but I did a bit more of the mastering and mixing side in the studios this time. Going forward, I still really like working in my bedroom – it’s pretty messy in there, but I reckon it gives the whole thing a bit of charm and it’s not perfect, but it doesn’t need to be.
You’re about to embark on your biggest national tour to date. Are you nervous, excited or a bit of both?
It’s going to be interesting. I’m not nervous yet, but I definitely will be. I’m just trying to do a lot of rehearsals to make sure that the shows go smoothly. I feel like the live shows have come a long way in the last year or so, and I still want to make some changes but it should be a really good tour. I’m very interested to see how many people are going to come out and what they’re going to be like, because I haven’t really done my own shows recently, it’s mainly been supports and festivals, so it will be interesting to see what the Oliver Tank crowd is like!
Your show at The Zoo is kicking off the tour – what’s on your Brisbane to-do list?
I’ve got a few friends up there who run a label called Silo Arts & Records so I always stay with them and have a great time in Brisbane. I usually end up going to Harajuku Gyoza in Fortitude Valley because I love dumplings and it’s close to everything.
Which do you enjoy more – being on stage performing or experimenting in the studio?
I’d definitely say at home, but I want to try to start enjoying myself more on stage. When I was first playing live, it was just terrifying – and I get really nervous, and I’m kind of awkward on stage, I reckon … I’m trying to be a bit more confident and just get into it and perform.
What kind of music did you grow up listening to?
My parents had a lot of cassette tapes – I remember playing a lot of Michael Jackson and Simon & Garfunkel. In primary school, I started getting into hip-hop like 50 Cent and Eminem, and in high school I started to play guitar and I got into bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Rage Against The Machine. Then when I got to uni, I listened to more electronic music, like Seekae and James Blake. So that’s been my evolution of music – and now I just listen to a bit of everything, but probably mostly electronic music and hip-hop.
What was your childhood dream?
I think when I was really, really little I wanted to be a train driver because I really liked trains … But then I never really knew what I wanted to do, I just liked playing guitar and wanted to make music, but it was just like a hobby I started to pursue. I studied music at uni and I didn’t really know what the plan would be if I didn’t catch a few breaks here and there, but things worked out!
You connect with your fans a lot via Facebook and through initiatives like the recent remix competition. We couldn’t help but notice one fan even got some lyrics etched into his skin …
Yeah, he got the lyrics from ‘Help You Breathe’ put on his arm, which I was pretty shocked about! But it was pretty cool. It’s crazy, he’ll have to show it to his friends and explain to them about my music now.
That’s great marketing.
Yeah it really is. Everyone should get one!
If you could choose any artist to perform a dream cover – who and what track would you pick?
I’d get James Blake to cover anything because he does such ridiculous covers and remixes. He’d do a great job with any song.
What is success to you?
Doing what you want to do and being comfortable.
What are your words of wisdom for aspiring musicians?
Be as original as you can be, share your music with everyone and be confident – enjoy your music, and good things will happen.