Live in Quarantine: Homegrown Music with Oliver Hazard

From the Midstory studio, our team chats with members of the local band, Oliver Hazard, out of their home in the small Midwestern town Waterville about music during a time of pandemic, including what challenges musicians are facing, what purpose music serves in a pandemic and the experience of a Midwestern small-town band in this crisis.

Such times of crisis have inevitably brought ‘music of conscience’ to the fore and I expect we will be hearing more and more of it in the immediate future. When people feel empowered to come together and raise their voices, also will mean raising their voices in song as well.
Peter Yarrow, American singer and songwriter

Browse by topic or read the transcript of our interview below.

Topics covered:
[0:25] Oliver Hazard’s “Take Me Back”
[3:24] Behind the striking Oliver Hazard billboard
[5:08] The origin and history behind the name and forming of Oliver Hazard
[7:13] The experience of coming home and the “Ohio me” phenomenon
[9:34] The struggles of Midwestern small-town-experience
[10:38] The challenges musicians are facing during the pandemic
[13:05] The role of music, inspiration and productivity during times of crisis
[15:48] The influence of technology and culture on creativity and what’s to come

Samuel Chang: Welcome to “the midpoint.” Today we have some special guests: Mike, Devin and Griffin from Oliver Hazard. We’ll be talking a little bit about music and the impact of COVID-19 on artists and creatives and musicians. And they’re here now performing live from their Waterville home. Please welcome Oliver Hazard.

Oliver Hazard’s “Take Me Back

Come back home, back home
The Ohio me
Oh it’s been so long
Me oh my oh me
So take me back
Take me back

Come back home, back home
The Ohio me
Oh it’s been so long

Me oh my oh me
So take me back
(Take me back)
Take me back

Take me back
(Take me back)
Take me back

Spending all my time thinking ’bout that ole day
Breaking into diners, well I forgot to pay
And we were just drinking wine
You hit me Ellis

Hellbent conversations, my mind was skipping stones
You were feeling paranoid and skipped my telephone
And I was wading in the water
That’s when you jumped right in

Oh that old stone road it’ll come for me
It is in my blood
Oh that old stone road it’ll come for me
It is in my blood

So take me back
(Take me back)
Take me back

Take me back
(Take me back)
Take me back

SC: Well that was awesome! Thank you guys for joining me today on “the midpoint.”

Michael Belazis: Thanks for having us.

Griffin McCulloch: Yeah, happy to be here. 

SC: Yeah, so I just want to start up and again, it’s Mike (right), Devin (middle) and Griffin (left). 

Devin East: That’s right. 

SC: All right. Yeah, so I got to this picture of you guys in a bathrobe and you’re sitting and you’re lounging on a couch. Explain that to me. What brought you to that picture in your head? 

MB: That photo was taken for a billboard and it was … What street was that on? 

GM: It was Adams and Michigan. On the corner of Adams and Michigan basically facing the courthouse. 

MB: We wanted a striking photo to tell people about our music festival that we threw in Waterville and about us.

GM: It kind of came from us … We were doing a retreat in Knoxville. We were playing for some corporate gig that we got, but they put us up in this swanky lodge and it was like the nicest place we’ve ever stayed in, and yet to stay in after that.

MB: We had a jacuzzi.

DE: It was amazing.

GM: And they all gave us bathrobes so we took a picture in the bathrobes and it did really well on our social media. 

SC: And you put it up on a billboard? 

MB: Yeah, basically. Well, we recreated it, so we called a local videographer, you might know her, her name’s Ellen Dziubek. So we called her and we were like, “Hey. Can you take a photo for us? Just pop in. We’ll literally be there in bathrobes. It’s gonna be kind of weird. But just take a photo and that’s it.” And we didn’t tell her too much about what was gonna happen to it. And then, you know, like a month later, it was this giant billboard and it became a really cool inside joke for us. 

SC: Well, if you guys, maybe Griffin you can answer this question. Tell me a little bit more about your name. I mean there’s some historical significance of your name Oliver Hazard. 

GM: Yeah, absolutely. So we’re based in Waterville, but just up the river is Perrysburg. And the famous Commodore Perry of 19- or 1812, the Battle of Lake Erie, his first and middle name are Oliver Hazard. So it’s Oliver Hazard Perry. So we just liked the first two names and figured if he’s famous maybe we could steal his name and ride his coattails. 

SC: So was that part of wanting to bring in your hometown, kind of your own experience and your own region into your music? 

GM: Yeah, totally. Yeah, ‘cause we feel like our music  is a reflection of where we live. 

SC: And I know a lot of your music is grounded in your experience of home. Mike, you once said that if you blinked, you might miss Waterville. 

MB: Yeah, I think I stole that quote from Griff actually. 

SC: Yeah, why Waterville? I mean, why are we talking about Waterville? 

MB: So Griff grew up here and Devin grew up in a neighboring town. And they both went to Anthony Wayne. And after high school and college, they both somehow settled into this house that we’re in right now; The address is “34 North River” that’s actually the album title of our debut album. And when I met them and I really kind of started hanging out with them, they were doing these Friday night jam sessions in this house with a bunch of kids from around Waterville. And I kind of would come in and just like play the little wood blocks or something like that. It was all really informal and then maybe a couple months later that’s when we founded the band. Kind of went on a random whim and recorded some songs. 

SC: Mike, you yourself, you kind of came home from San Francisco? 

MB: Yeah. 

SC: So you were out there on the coasts, and for myself, I think, also coming home from the coast back to Toledo, part of the experience of home perhaps is the experience of leaving it. And perhaps also the experience of returning back and coming home. And in the song that you guys just played, you say there is an “Ohio me.” Can you talk more about what is that “Ohio me?” What is that identity in your music? 

MB: Yeah. So there came a point, so we wrote the first album and there came a point where we just started sending voice memos back and forth to each other. Because after that first album was written, we were still living apart and we just decided to start sending voice memos back and forth. And one of them, I think I was on a bike ride riding home at night, and I recorded this, maybe just like that lyric. And I think I sent it over to Griff and Griff was like, “Oh. I think we’re

onto something.” So then we FaceTimed the next day or something and wrote that whole bridge and verse together the following day over the phone. But yeah, I think we all kind of experienced it, especially when we’re touring now. It’s like that identity of going out and driving around the country and telling everyone that we’re from a small town in Ohio, and almost branding it as a cool place to be is becoming a really interesting phenomenon. Like there’s people who come from all over the country now to Waterville, Ohio for our music festival. And we get all these messages just being like, “I can’t wait to come to Waterville someday,” as if it’s like this place that’s really cool. 

DE: Silver town.

GM: There is one restaurant. There’s one bar. There’s a lot of antique stores.

MB: But yeah that identity is definitely special. It’s ingrained in the music and it percolates outward, which is really cool. And every article we’ve ever had written on us mentions Waterville, which is really … It’s pretty remarkable. 

SC: I think there’s certainly something, you know, remarkable about looking at something that perhaps doesn’t change outwardly. Do you think that that might be the significance of something that this Midwestern-small-town-experience can be something almost a universal experience that everybody can experience? 

MB: Definitely. We try to do that with at least our socials, to try to make it more like a looking glass into the small town. And like our videos, we made an animated video recently that was just a bunch of drawings of our town. And for a while that was a curse, right? Like what do they call it when you build a highway past the town? 

GM: Oh, yeah. Death by highway. 

MB: Death by highway. So that was like the whole thing that everyone was losing their mind about here because Waterville was kind of like an up-and-coming place at one point before. Like an up-and-coming village almost and then they built this new highway that passed it and it just started getting forgotten almost. 

SC: You know, there’s a lot of musicians that are up-and-coming and and there’s a lot of musicians that are also feeling the challenges of the current pandemic. As fellow musicians yourself, what are the challenges right now that musicians are facing in general? 

MB: Well, I think the big thing is income. It might have always been this way with bad record deals, but income is primarily for musicians in the touring realm. That’s just where everyone makes their money. So unfortunately because that’s shut down, it’s put like a huge halt on the economy for musicians. You can still make money from streaming these days, but it’s just not enough to support a livelihood unless you’re Bruno Mars or a pretty big artist. So I’d say that one of the challenges is just the lack of being able to tour. 

GM: I mean in our case it’s different. We get to see each other, but a lot of bands I’m sure don’t live maybe together or in the same area.

MB: And if there’s remote musicians who are only getting together for touring, it’s hard to get together for a live stream and during a stay-at-home order, you know. So we know a couple. We know a band that lives up in Michigan; they’re like a national touring act. And they live apart so they’re not even able to do live streams in this time. 

SC: You guys mentioned live streams and I’ve seen that you guys have adopted some of that for yourself. And I’ve seen that pop up for a lot of local musicians here in town. Do you think that is kind of the route that a lot of these musicians are taking to innovate and get and still bring their music into people’s experiences right now? 

DE: Yes. It’s about the only thing you can do to keep your name out there. It’s unfortunate that’s the only. I mean, really it’s the only thing you can do. But you know, you have just got to embrace it and something good comes out of something if you look at it right, I guess. But yeah, it’s unfortunate times, but hopefully there I’m not sure what the rules are gonna be, but I’m hoping for the best. 

SC: What do you think the role of music is during this time? I think specifically as smaller musicians, I think they all play a role during a pandemic. What do you think the role of music in general should be in a time of crisis? 

GM: There’s gonna be a lot of COVID-19 songs coming out, like protest, more protest songs maybe. I think music is healing so anyway you can ingest it is good. 

MB: I’ve seen a lot of posts online that talk about how it’s unfortunate because it’s a time where music is needed most, but you’re not really able to offer in a live setting. A lot of folks are saying that especially the ones you have to cancel their music festivals. You know, it’s a time where people need it the most, but they’re unable to have it, which is kind of, you know, there’s an irony there. 

DE: And I guess what I said earlier, I think good things come out of really bad situations, you know, I’ve been doing different things because of it, And of course, there’s a lot of things I wish were the way they used to be. But you pick up new things. You learn more things about yourself. We get a lot of songwriting done. 

MB: Yeah. 

DE: Um, you just gotta, in hard times, be positive. 

MB: Yeah, we’ve … So we’re going down to record ten songs, which is also cool, we have time to record during all this, next month. And then we just started putting together like ten or twelve new seeds for songs this last week. So it’s actually quite a productive time. At least for us. 

SC: Yeah, you mentioned productivity during this time. For musicians, do you think that this would be a good time artistically? That as musicians, you’re inspired to write based on the experiences that we’re seeing right now across the world? 

MB: One hundred percent. 

GM: I think solidarity is key in a lot of songs, a lot of famous songs. So yeah, for me at least, it’s been productive. 

DE: We haven’t really had a lot … We started this band a couple years ago and as much as we’ve had weeks off or times we weren’t really doing anything, there haven’t been any times where we’ve been just able to sit down and know that we have nothing. So you know it’s been kind of a breath of fresh air, I mean it’s getting a little bit boring now. At first, you take advantage of a situation. Yeah. 

SC: I think music is always in some ways a reflection of culture, it’s a reflection of the times and the experiences of a society. How does music change in this kind of constantly changing culture that we’re in with technology, and even with the pandemic? 

GM: Uh. I mean… 

DE: You’re always talking about it. 

GM: You can’t stop me from talking about it. I mean, I don’t know. EDM didn’t exist 20 years ago, because electronic dance music wasn’t around. And even prior to that in the 80s, those drum sounds that they’re making, those electric drum sounds. I mean it’s more a reflection on technology than anything else. 

MB: Yeah, definitely. And the topics that people are singing about these days. It’s totally, it’s coming from Flaming Hot Cheetos to sliding into people’s DMs. I mean there’s just like. 

GM: They’re like the vernacular changes. 

MB: Yeah, exactly. But yeah, I think if I was to tie it to what we’re doing, I think it’s all, it’s definitely adjusting with the times, but it’s also a maturity thing. You’re constantly judging how much growth you’ve been able to obtain and also how much you can still grow. Historically after events of this magnitude in history, there’s always typically a pretty big bounce back in society where there’s some sort of “Golden Age” that may or may not happen. Because there’s a lot of pent-up creativity. There’s a lot of pent-up energy. And I think we’re hopeful that there’s gonna be a pretty rosy future. 

SC: Well, thank you guys for joining me today on “the midpoint.” I think we’re all kind of inspired and encouraged to continue exercising our creative energies in whatever ways that we can and appreciate you guys coming on the show. 

MB: Thanks Sam.

DE: Thanks for having us. 

GM: Thanks. Nice to meet you. 

MB: I appreciate it. 

SC: Thanks for joining me today on “the midpoint.” Home is certainly a constant that can drive creative expression and inspiration, and definitely for Oliver Hazard in this moment of crisis and pandemic, it can be a source of a lot more inspiration for local musicians. If you enjoyed our conversation about home, about music, consider giving us a like, a share, or a comment, and as always stay home, stay safe, stay healthy, stay human. I’ll see you soon.

1 COMMENT

  1. Thank you for giving a pandemic stage to Oliver Hazard. The times are tough for musicians and it makes reaching their audience a challenge. This band is more than their music, which is really good, but they are also smart. They have a marketing that is clever and fun and attracts attention. The bathrobe and billboard story shows their creative outreach. The Oliver Hazard Day is a great way to bring attention to Waterville and to their music. I have loved watching them grow and wish them the best.

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