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More Fun than a Poisonous Flower: Exclusive Interview With Oleander As They Gear Up For A Joyride

By Jeff Kerby, Contributor
Saturday, April 19, 2003 @ 9:32 PM

Jeff Kerby Speaks To Oleander

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Oleander is a rock band—they aren’t a really metal band, and that isn’t a crime in itself as long as the music they create is strong and honest. When I first heard that this group had toured with the likes of Creed, I was expecting some sort of Nickelback-3 Doors Down clone, but instead, what I discovered was a band that has been around for about a dozen years and whose latest album, Joyride, shows a progression that started with the group’s first album entitled, Unwind. The songs contained herein are more consistent both in quality and style than either of their predecessors. Although I completely abhor most of the bands that lead singer Thomas Flowers seems to identify most closely with in this interview, I was still able to enjoy this CD for what it is which is basically just eleven songs created by a group that seems to have finally settled in on playing the type of music they’re comfortable playing—regular ol’ rock and roll—and they manage to do it without sounding like pussies or exploiting some mallrat sense of spirituality.

If Oleander is ever able to present themselves as a quality band and not just some milquetoast trendy knockoff, they are bound to find a sizeable audience for their music. Their choruses are tangible, and the subject matter covers a variety of experiences that a wide range of people can relate to. Obviously, the group originally intended to tour extensively in support of Joyride starting this month, but an injury to one of the group’s members has those plans in jeopardy. This frustrating obstacle is really unfortunate considering that a person would get the sense while talking to Thom that he, like many people, currently in their 30’s, has endured plenty of sketchy scenarios throughout his life and is just now starting to get a sense of normalcy and comfort about his existence. Even if you eventually find yourself listening to such Oleander offerings as “Hands Off the Wheel” and “Fountain & Vine” and it isn’t quite what you’re looking for, you just can’t find yourself disliking a guy with the spirit to aspire to bite Shaquille O’ Neal’s ear off. Those types of dreams are to be respected and supported--I imagine he would settle for the Sacramento Kings winning a World Championship, though. What the hell? So would I.

KNAC.COM: A lot of people are aware of who you guys are, but for most, this album will be the first time many listeners will be exposed to you. Could you just explain a little about the band’s origination in northern California?
FLOWERS: We started in Sacramento, and we were like your local little band. You know the type—we would start up, break up only to start back up again. Me and the bass player have been playing for fourteen years. We got the guitarist seven years ago, and our latest drummer has been with us for two and a half years, and this album is our third. We have a different label now, and things couldn’t be better.

KNAC.COM: What were some of the problems with the previous label? I know you’re on Sanctuary now.
FLOWERS: Well, basically they just wanted us to remain exactly who we were at the moment they met us. You know how labels are: The bigger the label, the bigger the expectation. We were kind of unhappy, and Sanctuary was really, really hoping to acquire a band that was current that could possibly establish them in the big dog circuit. You know, Wind Up records has Creed and Roadrunner has Nickelback, and hopefully Sanctuary will have the same type of situation with us.

KNAC.COM: Considering whom you have just sort of compared yourselves with, how would you categorize yourself?
FLOWERS: A straight-ahead rock n’ roll band, man. We’re almost kinda a throwback in our attitude.

KNAC.COM: Which is what?
FLOWERS: Which is just to have fuckin’ fun, man. Come out and have fun. No bullshit—whiners aren’t allowed.

KNAC.COM: Being positive has probably been the attribute that has helped you succeed the most, wouldn’t you say? Can you think of a time when even you thought this might not work?
FLOWERS: Yeah, everyday.

KNAC.COM: Really?
FLOWERS: Dude, the business loves to keep bands thinking they’re lucky to keep doing what they’re doing and sometimes the bigger the label, the bigger the threat you’re gonna have to go back to your bus driving job or your brick laying job or selling drugs—which some of us are good at—that’s the motivation, though.

KNAC.COM: That’s how they get you to sign contracts that aren’t in your best interests in the first place—
FLOWERS: It’s to any record label’s benefit to sign a young band for next to nothing because they have everything to gain and nothing to lose except for an inexpensive plane ticket home. We had much success with our first album, and the second one tanked by industry standards which blows my mind because we had a song that topped at number five on that one and a song that hit number one on our first.

KNAC.COM: I’m assuming that even when you were charting and stuff that you still weren’t all driving around in a brand new Mercedes either.
FLOWERS: No, and the funny thing is that even if we go multi-platinum, or diamond platinum, we’re still not that type of band. We’re the kind of band that buys inexpensive cars and one-story houses.

KNAC.COM: So you won’t be on MTV Cribs any time soon?
FLOWERS: Nah, if I can’t hear what’s going on in my house from my bedroom, it spooks me.

KNAC.COM: What have you learned from the bands you’ve toured with, whether it be Candlebox or Creed?
FLOWERS: We learned a lot from every band. I mean, you learn the whole goal of going out with bands it to learn as much as you can about every aspect of the business. You learn what to do and what not to do, and we were fortunate we went out with some guys who were the best at what they do. I mean, Candlebox was our first tour, and they were the rock band for the ‘90s, and in ‘99, they put together the baddest rock band that I have ever toured with—they were the baddest.

KNAC.COM: Most people wouldn’t expect you to say that, especially since the perception is that they sucked after that first album.
FLOWERS: They just got pigeonholed, and then we moved on to Creed and Our Lady Peace, and then we got to tour with Fuel and 3 Doors Down. Everywhere you go, there is a chance to learn, and this is a business. It’s not just about getting out there and being crazy and playing rock music.

KNAC.COM: There’s nothing wrong with admitting that you are cognizant of the business side of things either, is there?
FLOWERS: God no, man.

KNAC.COM: Many musicians won’t come right out and state that either. The stock answer is usually something like, “We just play for ourselves regardless of how many albums we sell.”
FLOWERS: Well, they’re full of it.

KNAC.COM: If you don’t keep the boat afloat, pretty soon there is no recording and there is no touring.
FLOWERS: Yeah, it’s totally fine with me if they want to play every IHOP around the country, but it isn’t what we’re about.

KNAC.COM: How hard is it to go from opening for Nickelback in large venues and then playing club dates? Does it make any difference to you?
FLOWERS: Ya know man, it really doesn’t make any difference. The transitions between the big stage and the little stage are easy. Some of the more enjoyable shows are the ones we play for thirty people. I guess getting on the main stage in front of 25,000 is great for the ego, and it’s good for you to learn to manipulate a stage that size, but I think that in order for you to be the best that you can be, you’ve got to be able to utilize any size stage anywhere.

KNAC.COM: Being the front man of the group, do you find yourself making more exaggerated movements on a bigger stage and constantly trying to make everything larger?
FLOWERS: Well, some people do, but I don’t. I’m just one of those guys that the bigger the stage is, the bigger I am. I just love it. There have been many times where we’ve been on these gigantic stages, and I literally had to run full throttle across the stage to get to the microphone to sing the next set of vocals. I’m into adventure in all shapes, sizes and venues.

KNAC.COM: What besides your positivity has had an impact on you being in the business this long?
FLOWERS: We’ve all got families, friends and each other. One of the things we’ve learned over the years in the industry is that the bands that make it in this industry are the ones that maintain a sense of normality because you know there’s these bands that get in, make a lot of money, but are gone two years later. Then there are these bands that grind it out for 15, 20 years, and if I had a choice, I would be in the band that made good songs and made a mark in history for 20 years.

KNAC.COM: If people mention you in the same breath as Nickelback and Creed, would you take that as a compliment? If so, why?
FLOWERS: I would take that as the ultimate compliment. I would most definitely take to heart that we are of the same caliber of quality of showmanship and musicianship.

KNAC.COM: What is important when you are on stage as far as making your music as compelling as possible?
FLOWERS: Well, our intention is to never just go out and reproduce the sound of the album. It’s our intention to go on stage as a four-piece band and play the songs to the best of our abilities. You know, just turn up the amp to its fullest capacity. When we go on stage we are a rock band and our main focus is to put on the best show we can and rock the house down.

KNAC.COM: What else is important about being on the road besides the actual performance? What is cool about it?
FLOWERS: I love being able to see the country. The most gratifying thing for me is to look out into an audience and to see people singing the lyrics to our songs. When we meet them after the show and they express how important our music has been to their lives, it makes everything worthwhile. I know how cliché that sounds, but in reality it beats any amount of money we’ve ever made. It beats any award we’ve ever gotten. When I wrote songs in garages and when I was homeless, I never thought for a moment that these songs would translate into people’s lives. We’ve been very fortunate. There’s a saying that one percent of bands get signed and even less sell albums, and we’ve done both, and God willing we will continue to so.

KNAC.COM: How long did that period of homelessness last?
FLOWERS: Well, basically it lasted every time my ex-wife kicked me out of the house. It became pretty frequent there at the end. I guess Journey put it best when they said that “loving a music man ain’t always what it’s supposed to be.”

KNAC.COM: Wow, a Steve Perry reference. Amazing. Anyway, I’m sure being on the road does put a certain amount of strain on trying to raise a family.
FLOWERS: It’s incredibly difficult. I basically have two children and a wife that takes care of those children. She does an admirable job of raising those kids. I don’t want to be away from them, but God put us here for a reason and gave us these opportunities for the sole purpose of fulfilling his will, and it will all work out.

KNAC.COM: Do you find people wanting to open up and divulge all types of information to you?
FLOWERS: Oh yeah.

KNAC.COM: Is it strange to be such a large part of their lives while not really knowing them yourself?
FLOWERS: Yeah, totally.

KNAC.COM: Is there one conversation in particular that is more memorable to you than some of the others that you’ve had?
FLOWERS: Yeah, I had this lady tell me once that she was on the verge of committing suicide and that our song, “I Walk Alone” stopped her from doing it. That disturbs me to the bone. There is no reason in this world to end your life so roughly over anything. The ironic think is that one of our songs gave her the opportunity to think about it. I just try to encourage kids to stay in school and not get divorced. Basically, I just want them to do the right things and music is a part of our lives—it shouldn’t be our whole life.

KNAC.COM: Hmm, if music isn’t our whole lives… maybe basketball should be included somewhere. How would your outlook change if the Kings won a world championship?
FLOWERS: Dude, the world championship for the Kings is on the way.

KNAC.COM: I don’t even care too much as long as it isn’t the Lakers again.
FLOWERS: Man, I lived in Lakerville for so long, and I’m just sick of them.

KNAC.COM: Me too. I was hoping they weren’t going to make the playoffs again just because any time they do make it, there’s just this feeling of “here we go again.” Even with Shaq and Kobe being as good as they are, the rest of the team should have gotten a facelift over the summer.
FLOWERS: I would literally let Shaq beat the hell out of me just so I could pull one of his ears off.

KNAC.COM: So you could wear it around your neck?
FLOWERS: Nope, I’d consume it.


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