Oliver on Daft Punk Comparisons, Confessions About Miley, and Getting Blanked by Tchami
...And the duo drop the realest of real talk about their ghostwriting side gig.
Oliver have been seeping their way into the dance music conscious subtly over the past couple of years. The formidable duo of Oliver Goldstein, an LA indie-dance veteran and sought after songwriter, and Vaughn "U-Tern" Oliver, a seasoned Vancouverite scratch DJ, has been lending skills to various artists since the turn of the decade, but 2014 has found them stepping into their own as an impeccable catalogue of releases lengthens and the profile of their DJ sets ekes higher up festival line-ups. Quite simply put, nobody does electro better than Oliver at the moment. They're untouchable.
My immediate reaction to hearing Oliver's new "Light Years Away" EP (after picking my jaw up off the ground, of course) was to make positive comparisons towards that which should never be compared: Daft Punk. I wasn't the only one thinking it, either. "We do get compared to them a lot," says Vaughn, "which for us is one of the greatest compliments we could ever get. For me that's the whole reason I got into dance music."
Although both members were hip hop aficionados for much of their lives, Goldstein cut his teeth as keyboardist in millennial dance-rock band Ima Robot (alongside Alex "Edward Sharpe" Ebert of Magnetic Zeros fame) and has since developed into a songwriter with credits ranging from Kelly Clarkson to Dizzee Rascal. Sometimes the extent of his endeavors is a surprise to even his partner. The two were discussing the origins of a sample used in "Fast Forward," and Vaughn was taken aback to learn that it had come from a song written for Miley Cyrus in 2009. "That's crazy," Vaughn laughed. "I didn't even know that."
Oliver have made no secret of the fact that part of their ascent has been due to relationships they've made in songwriting arrangements for other DJs, singers, and producers. "We've definitely done stuff, you could call it ghostwriting or whatever," says Vaughn. "If both parties are cool with it, It's fine. I don't mind at all."
Goldstein takes over: "The only thing that feels like a bit of a rub sometimes is that when you spend your entire life dedicated to a craft, an art form, and then somebody else just comes in…You just get a little jealous. It's like somebody going out and running a marathon for you. Back in the day, there was a different kind of role as a producer, though. There was more of an executive approach to the whole thing. I look at some guys like that."
"What people don't realize is that's a very important role to have," says Vaughn. "As important as the guy who sits at the keyboard. I'll use Diplo as an example: I dunno if he's sitting there making drum beats and stuff, but I feel like he's a guy that has a really clear idea as to what a song is gonna be, and knows how to put it together and bring people together, just like Quincy Jones was back in the day."
"But Quincy Jones wasn't the guy on stage," I respond. "That's true," says Vaughn, "but all a DJ really does is play records, so what's the big deal? At the end of the day, you're just listening to music. And if the music's good, who gives a shit? We're old enough to know that now, that's why we're not bitter about it," he goes on. "I had that attitude about it when I was younger. Calling people sell-outs? That doesn't even exist in my mind anymore. Oh, you mean making a living and supporting your family off of the craft that you love to do?"
"And I've learned something from everybody I've worked with," continues Goldstein. "Vaughn, when he came over here for the first time, he had a PC computer and little computer speakers, but the results he was getting were really good. Everybody you go in the room with, you can absorb something from them. If you're observant, you can pick things up. With songwriting, it's the same thing."
Another name on everyone's lips this year has been #futurehouse proponent Tchami. The Frenchman's remix of "MYB" was one of the tracks that brought his notoriety to another level. "I introduced myself to him once, but I don't think he knew who I was," Vaughn laughs. "It's cool to see his sound blow up a little bit. I've noticed a lot of people are jacking his sound right now as well...I just think it's sad when artists or producers don't have a thing that they do."
Goldstein interjects: "That's most people! That's because you can do that now. Before, it was really difficult to do. I think a lot of producers who are our age were shaped so much by trying to make beats that sounded like Justice that we learned how to produce that way. There were no real tutorials or drum banks. It was like trying to get those sounds but accidentally getting your own sounds."
The duo's outside work is a way of flushing out knee-jerk reactions to trends so they can move beyond them in their own music. "A lot of times, you're getting out of the way what it is that you don't want to do," says Goldstein, "But sometimes, the act of producing is more about the act of doing it. It's like exercising, meditation or something."
"When you go in just looking to have fun with it, occasionally something really good happens because you've cleared your mind," says Vaughn. "We kinda don't have a lot of control over what the final product is [with Oliver]. We like to have somewhere to start, but once it takes off…You just have to let it go where it's gonna go."
That leaves the further progression of their sound up in the air. "I still think we could be a lot ballsier," says Vaughn. "It might get weird."
"We're moving into it now. But that might mean, like, super pop songy. That would be weird for us," laughs Goldstein.
Jemayel Khawaja is THUMP's Associate Editor in Los Angeles - @JemayelK