November 18, 2022 Interview – Daniel Oliver of Nothing More
In an era where it seems parity and conformity has trumped free thought, there are a few beacons of light still daring to stimulate our minds. A time where technology has consumed our every move and informs our next reaction, fortunately there are bands like Nothing More to remind us of our humanity. A blue-collar band originating in Texas, Nothing More worked the underground independently for over a decade until making a tremendous impact in 2014 with their self-titled album. No doubt the product of self-awareness, a strong willed attitude, and independent thinking, since that time Nothing More has been nominated three times for a Grammy award, released a bundle of potent Hard Rock music, and toured all over the world.
Still scratching the surface of their potential, the hunger has not waned and now they return in 2022 with another blistering collection of songs with their album Spirits. Full of emotion that compounds the rage, sorrow, happiness, and despair we all feel, but are often told to medicate, Nothing More invites us to welcome it in, and as they say, “Stand in the fire and become what you are.” Provoking and striking, Bassist Daniel Oliver recently took the time to discuss the journey of Nothing More, the human spirit, their new album, plus more.
Cryptic Rock – Nothing More has been together quite a bit longer than some might know prior to the band hitting the mainstream. You have attained a great deal of success over the last eight years with the last three studio albums. You have been nominated for awards, been a part of many tours, and have continued to grow. How would you describe the journey of Nothing More to this point?
Daniel Oliver – I would describe it as an arduous yet very fulfilling learning experience. We got together when we were really young. Jonny started the band before he had even graduated high school. I think I was a freshman in college when he gave me the band’s first CD. I hadn’t joined yet, and for the first couple of years they asked me to be in the band. I was friends with them; Jonny and I played in a church group together and we also played in a school band together. So that is how I got involved. I did my own thing for the first couple of years of college, then I kind of quit everything in college, including music. I then had a kind of mountain top experience, came back to San Antonio, lived with Mark Vollelunga, and convinced the guys to not go to college or just drop out for us to pursue the band.
They all followed me into it and we spent almost ten years in the underground doing the weekend warrior thing. When you are first starting out, there is no one helping you. There is no one paying you to go do Rock-n-Roll, or telling you Rock-n-Roll needs to exist. We self-organized and divided the tasks amongst ourselves; Jonny did the booking and general management, Mark did all the social media promotion, and I handled all the money, transportation, instruments, and technical stuff. We just kind of divided and conquered. That even included Jonny taking an interest in producing. Making an album is ridiculously expensive! We self-invested, and all the money we did make touring, we put back into the band to buy studio equipment, etc.
We started down this path all by ourselves making our own music. From working on the vans, I got interested in metal fabrication and I’m the one who is responsible for the Scorpion Tale and Jonny’s drums on stage. I don’t know if we would have been the same band if someone had come in five or eight years earlier and told us we were cool and gave us a bunch of money. There is something very beautiful about struggling. Even though it doesn’t make financial sense to wake up the next day and do the exact same thing as hard as you can because you love it and believe in it, that is what we did for years. It changes you. It changed the art.
I’m really proud of where we are and what we’ve grown into. These guys are still my closest friends and we treat it like that. It’s a weird business/friendship relationship thing where we have to share secrets and write about them. We are a close-knit group and we have been for a long time. It’s pretty special, I think.
Cryptic Rock – Absolutely. And all the struggles and hard work is the right to build something. The proof is in the art… you have put out some fantastic material over the years. When you broke into the mainstream there was no question that Nothing More’s music was striking. The band does not beat around the bush; you experiment and are lyrically intellectually honest.
Daniel Oliver – Those words mean a lot to me, they really do. It has always been about art. When you are entering showbiz it is kind of a weird thing because you are merging art and commerce. What we write is from our hearts; it is what we want to write and what we want to say. I think where professionalism comes in, and what separates the men from the boys, is how well you can communicate that to your audience. We always decided rather than take shortcuts and write something that is an easier get, that we wanted those easier gets to also be the things we are most proud of if you will. Sometimes you will listen to a great record and you can totally pick out the singles; they are the most straight ahead and they are the songs that might quite not sound like the band or the depth they have. We just always thought to make all the songs the same.
We understand what focusing on a single is, but when we were writing the self-titled record back in 2013, we were still unsigned. I think we were about eight and a half years pursuing it on our own. We did a Kickstarter to fund the record, and I remember writing “Ballast” (or This is The Time as it came to be known). I just thought it was the coolest song we had written. We were trying to attract label attention at that point, and we had some songs in mind that would be better radio songs, and that definitely wasn’t one of them.
We were so pumped that the label decided that a ridiculously heavy and somewhat progressive song like “This Is the Time (Ballast)” was going to be our breakout single. I think that was really cool and set the tone publicly for the band. We didn’t come out with a song like “First Punch,” or some more straight-ahead Rock tunes which were on that record. Like I said, we always just want to be proud of what we are doing. The art always comes first. Our life is really just trying to put all our feelings into soundscapes and formats so that everyone can appreciate that. I’m so happy that’s coming across that way.
Cryptic Rock – Yes it certainly is. You mention “This is The Time (Ballast),” and believe it or not it has been eight years since then. That song really spoke to people about the state of humanity. Keep in mind this is almost a decade ago, and now, it feels like the decay of humanity is at a fever pitch. Now in 2022 we have the new album Spirits. In a way it feels like “This is The Time (Ballast)” was a warning, but now it feels like – are we too late?
Daniel Oliver – It is kind of funny how everything came about. This band has always been really interested in human experience and human behavior. We have always been interested in what makes us who we are and the things we do, for better or for worse… especially for worse; that is what we are always trying to figure out.
We went to go into writing Spirits and the pandemic kind of happened right at the same time. It was kind of hilarious… because what better way to study human behavior than the entire planet was thrown into COVID and we got to watch it. Everyone is always cool and normal when things are going well, but when there is a crisis and a reason to panic, that is when you see what people are made of. It was discouraging. I felt the level of toughness in everyone was so low. Everyone was so ready to grab onto fear and let that rule the reign.
At the end of the day, I’m an eternal optimist and I think something will always come to turn it around. The fact that we have made it this far as a species period speaks to me that harmony has won over dissonance. We didn’t destroy ourselves; we’ve made it a couple thousands of years as conscious beings that hate each other and hate ourselves.
Jonny was working on something three to four years ago called the spirits test; it’s kind of an aptitude/personality test. Jonny had an idea to make a blend of something like the zodiac which is very mystical, interesting, and oddly accurate, but based on nothing scientific. We feel like the more you know about yourself the better your experience on this planet is. That was the idea behind the spirits test. It is for people who wouldn’t normally go out of their way to find out what their strengths are. It is a free thing to learn more about the spirit of yourself. I think the strength comes from that. It helps people find their flows, find who they are, and not have to beat their head against the wall all the time. Hopefully it will be a little positive piece of the solution of us getting our shit together.
Cryptic Rock – People should certainly check out the spirits test… even for personal curiosity. You speak of singles, a leading release from Spirits, “Turn It Up (Stand in the Fire),” is extremely powerful. This song is unapologetic and intense. Did the label give you any kickback about releasing the song as an early taste of this album?
Daniel Oliver – The label was all for it. In the entertainment industry, unless you are doing something really ridiculous that is going to sink your career, the stronger you feel about something and the more it pushes people if they love it or hate it, the better it is. I think everyone was very happy about how strong and polarizing “Turn It Up” was.
Cryptic Rock – Well it certainly makes a statement and is a great first single! Spirits has a load of great material and goes through a wide range of emotions. What was the writing process like this time?
Daniel Oliver – For this one we went into pretty much like any other record. The last record we were all together in San Antonio. Ben (Anderson) was the new edition at that point and that was really the first record we had written without Jonny on drums. We started the same way with Spirits. Mark usually comes in and is a magical musical generator; he is a body of riffs if you will. We will take a riff and me, Mark, and Ben will start constructing music around some preexisting stuff, but a lot of making it up in the jam room. We spent the first month without Jonny getting fifteen to twenty instrumental tracks going.
Another way songs start a lot of times is Jonny will come in with a programming idea. Jonny doesn’t really write on guitar or piano, for some reason he writes with crazy sounds. We will get a body of music, then me, Mark, and Jonny will get together to start crafting lyrics, melodies, and just seeing what the mood is. I will start writing from scratch or take something one of us has already written and apply it to it. It is that point, where once we have music and vocals demoed, is when we go to the musical side and rework it for the vocals. That is a rough outline of our process.
When it comes to the actual recording, with Spirits, Stories We Tell Ourselves (2017) and the self-titled album from 2014, we did them similar where we stayed in a big studio for about ten days to track all the drums, got scratch guitars, bass, and vocals. We would take the files home, and at our home studios, we add the guitar, bass, and all other layers.
For previous records Jonny had done most of the record by himself or with our manager, Wil Hoffman. For Spirits he did the vocals with the lead singer of Ra, Sahaj. For the process of Spirits, because of COVID, and other people we usually work with not wanting to work in-person, there was a lot more isolation, causing things to take a bit longer. We were also a little more spread out, but we all met in San Antonio and did a lot of work there. For the majority of the rest of the record… Jonny lives in Louisiana now, so he did his producing there; Ben’s in Phoenix, so he was producing from there; with Mark and I in San Antonio where I did all my bass with Mark engineering it.
We kind of trade time for money because it makes the record way cheaper to do it ourselves, but it takes a lot longer. At the end of the day, we are ultimately happier with the product we get. The record after Spirits we are already lining up a producer to go into the studio with. So, the next record will be done in a little bit more of a traditional fashion. I’m really pumped about that too, just to shake it up and try something else.