Interview – Thomas Flowers of Oleander

Many may remember the rock band Oleander back from the early 2000’s with their killer hits “Why I’m here”, “I Walk Alone”, and “Are You There?”. After years of relentless touring, recording, success and let downs the band all but disappeared in 2004. Nearly a decade later Oleander have reformed, rejuvenated and ready to rock with their new album Something Beautiful. Recently we sat down with lead vocalist and lyricist Thomas Flowers for an in depth look at the resurrection of Oleander.  You formed Oleander back in 1995 and you guys had success with the albums February Son in 1999 and Unwind in 2001. Both albums had many great rock tracks heard on rock radio like “I Walk Alone” “Why I’m Here” and “Are You There?”. In 2003 you guys released the album Joyride which was a great album but for whatever reason didn’t get the right exposure and wasn’t very commercially successful. The band went on hiatus for almost 6 years until 2009. First and foremost what caused Oleander to take such a long break?

Thomas Flowers- Well, I think you have to take into consideration how much time and effort we had been putting into promoting our career from say 1999 all the way up until about 2003. We were constantly writing, recording, and touring in support of album after album after album. That is an awful lot of time to put into just one thing. As you know every minute on the road is a minute away from home, it’s a minute away from your friends and your family. We just felt it was time to take a break and maybe pursue some other interests for a little while. We had no idea how long we were going to stay away. Once we got home we realized life was really… good (laughs). We found ourselves not in a big rush to get back to that grind, or that treadmill I call the music industry. It was an opportunity for us to get home, to get our bearings, to kind of just discard some of the clutter and baggage we had accumulated over many many years of grinding it out on the road. Absolutely, one can imagine that it is a grind, and it’s very difficult to be away from home and putting so much time and effort into the music. After such a long break what ignited you guys to reform Oleander after so many years apart?

Thomas Flowers- You know we started passing ideas around to each other, and they were really good ideas. Look man, you can take the guys out of the band, but you can’t take the band out of the guys. After a while we just had this gravitational pull to get back into the same room to start working on new material. That’s what we do, it’s a huge part of who we are, both individually and collectively. You know the old saying absence makes the heart grow fonder, well that was absolutely the case for us. I am just going to take it back to when we were touring relentlessly, you know you are around each other pretty much 24 hours a day in very confined spaces constantly moving forward. Everything loses its luster, everything starts to become a little bit of a chore, and relationships can tend to take it on the chin a little bit. Certainly for a group of guys who are constantly working. You take us off the road and we go to our four corners and eventually we miss each other. We miss the writing process. We miss being in a room together, we miss being around each other, and doing what we do best which is write, record and play music. It was just a matter of time. We felt it was the right time, we felt like we had enough solid material in its ideal form for us to get back together. Once we got into the room, within the first 15 minutes we had written a song off the album called “daylight”. We knew we had something very special going on. That time away allowed us to be excited about it again. Now you guys are back together, it’s been since 2009.

Thomas Flowers- Yea we started to get back together in 2009. We paced ourselves. We would get together when it was opportune. Little by little we would work here and work there. One of the things was we had the luxury of time with this record. That’s something we had not afforded ourselves since 1999. Now we had all the time in the world and zero pressure from outside influences. For the first time in a very long time, how we were going to work on this album that would be tailored to the way that would be beneficial for all of us, not just in the album, the band, but also our home lives. In a lot of ways that’s why the album is as strong as it is, we had the opportunity to spend as much time as we wanted on each particular track and pay attention to every detail. The new album Something Beautiful was released in April and it’s really an excellent album. When you guys went into the studio you said you had time and that luxury and that’s why the songs are such high quality. Did you have an idea of what type of songs you wanted to write for this album?


Thomas Flowers- Well.. not particularly. We really walked into this writing session the way that we always have. Everyone brings to the table a few really rough ideas and we just kind of brainstorm when we are in the room together. We didn’t give too much thought to it outside of let’s just get together in a room and see what happens, and what happened was something very special. Now it seems like most of the tracks for Something Beautiful have been written for a few years now. With “Daylight” released back in 2010 and “Fight” in 2011. With most of the songs probably completed for over a year and a half now, you must have been very anxious to get all the material out there. We both know you need to have a thick skin to be involved in the music industry. How rewarding is it to finally have a complete album out there now?

Thomas Flowers- Well it’s very rewarding to get the album put together, to get it packaged, to get it delivered to management. It’s very rewarding to release it and to have people that have been fans of the band for so many years embrace it the way that they have. It’s very rewarding to have a whole new generation of fans become aware of us for the first time because of this album. It’s fantastic. It’s also something you have to be very careful to wear your emotions on your sleeve because outside of the fact that we were in control of writing and recording the album, we’re not really in control of anything else. What the markets are going to do, what people are going to say, if radio is going to pick it up. That stuff is kind of out of our hands. You can go crazy (laughs) wanting what you want to happen and it might not. Which was exactly the case with Joyride, for example, you talked about Joyride. Joyride was an album that we were extremely proud of and very much looking forward to it being released. We felt like it was our strongest record to date, certainly our most cohesive record to date at that time. A perfect example of things not being in our control once we delivered it to the label at that time the marketing and managing off it was blown. It didn’t see the light of day… it really didn’t see the light of day. What do you do in circumstances like that? You know you just lick your wounds and you limp off into the distance and figure it out.

For us at the tail end of that cycle with Joyride, the best thing that we could do was go back home, regroup, take some time, and figure it out. The best thing that happened was that we came up with Something Beautiful. Now that it’s out into the public we’re once again hoping that the world picks it up. I think that this time that keeping our expectations low is going to serve us well, because we know that we put together the best album that we possibly can. Everything else is the great unknown and I think that we’re a little better prepared to deal with it either way. We experienced some success in the past, we know how to deal with that. We also have experienced some let downs and we certainly know how to deal with that now. I think we’re in a really good spot, you know, the music is there. We’re healthy, we’re happy, I think we’re pretty well grounded, and with a little luck someone’s going to pick it up at a key radio station or we’re going to catch a break and more and more individual’s will have an opportunity to hear it. I’m hoping that they enjoy it as much as we did recording it.

joyride The record without question deserves to be heard and it should be picked up by radio stations and heard. What I want to ask you is being part of the rock scene and in the industry for almost 20 years now. What do you find to be the biggest changes since the release of Joyride back in 2003, now it’s a decade later and you kind of stepped away?

Thomas Flowers- Well obviously we’re living in a digital age and a single driven market. The record industry has changed dramatically since we were coming up. Back in the old days you had to sell 250,000 copies to be considered a success or to be given the keys to the next record opportunity. These days you’re high fiving each other if you can sell 10,000 copies of your album. I think that’s fine, it is what it is, you just adapt and adjust. I think there are some advantages to brand awareness through social media. Again back in the old days social media was how many individuals you could meet before, during, and after a show before getting back into a vehicle and driving to the next gig.

These days you have an opportunity to connect to millions of individuals that will never be able to get to one of your concerts over the internet. That doesn’t necessarily translate into album sales or single sales, but it does provide a platform for you to at least get your name out there to a much wider audience. We are very happy about that, I mean my goodness again back in the old days we would tour relentlessly because that was the only way you could effectively or for the most part effectively promote your album or music. You know I think that some dramatic changes have taken place over the years with the industry. Not so dramatic that it’s completely foreign, the concept is still the same, you got to make people aware of what you got, you got to have a quality product. Someone got to be behind you enough to make sure that music is getting heard and is accessible in key mediums. I mean I’m sounding very businesslike but at the end of the day you know this really is a business. Completely understood.. It is a business but it’s about the music of course to you and the guys in the band but you have to look at it from all different aspects and completely understand what you are saying. I wanted to ask you about your lyrics. Your lyrics are often about the struggles we face in life and the wide range of emotions that go along with them. The one thing you always manage to do is keep the message positive and encouraging in all your songs. Do you find writing lyrics and music to be therapeutic? And these lyrics from very personal experiences?

Thomas Flowers- Yea. I’ve always made a commitment to describe or narrate my personal experiences in the songs that I write. I can only use things that I understand and If I am going to be completely honest in the music I am putting forward then it’s got to reflect things that I know the best. For me, giving you an opportunity as a listener to kind of peek into what my world like is both therapeutic and I would hope that it’s somewhat interesting to the listener. I would hope that I have left the listener with an opportunity to feel like they can identify with somebody else. I would hope that I have left them with a feeling that they have gotten to know me a little bit better. I’ve always done that and always written from whatever is going on with me. That’s another reason that we took so much time between albums, it was a great opportunity to build some life experiences from which to draw upon. I think that it lent itself to us once again being able to put forward a very strong album. As far as the hopefulness, if I don’t have that, what do I have? If I don’t find a silver lining in everything I’m going through, then I’m eating a bullet because what else can I do? Also, look man, it’s rock n roll. It’s never meant to be so deep but I’ve always thought that if we can be helpful, if we can provide a sense of hope for somebody, or if we could just help somebody to be able identify with something that I’m going through, that their going through and they feel don’t alone then that’s a pretty cool thing. Absolutely, and you have identified with many fans over the years. The band has its very own sound that is unique to many other rock bands out there. Briefly tell me about some of your musical influences?

Thomas Flowers-Well you’d be pretty amazing at what we listen to. We have a pretty eclectic library of music that we tab into. None of which kind of comes through with the music that we put forward. I mean look bro, I was raised on the classics. I was raised on the Beatles, Zeppelin, Aerosmith, and all that good stuff. I was also raised on Motown and American bandstand type stuff (laughs). I know that’s kind of funny. These days I am listening a lot to some more current bands. I am listening to a band called In This Moment. I’m listening to a band called Heaven’s Basement, Papa Roach. I never shy away from a good song, I never shy away from good music. While I certainly never go into a writing situation saying hey we need to put together something that’s just like this. I think that on a subconscious level that everything that is important to me musically finds its way kind of into the songs. A couple of solo artists that I am fond of are a gentleman named Elliot Smith and a gentleman named Jeff Buckley. I don’t know if anybody out there is going to be that aware of those two individuals but they are a huge influence to me. It’s just one of those things where I’ll listen to everything from Mutemath to Mastodon and everything in between and I am sure it filters through. It definitely does filter through. It’s good to have a wide range of musical tastes. Like I said, you guys have your own sound and it’s very dynamic.

Thomas Flowers- You know that thing you said about our own sound I really appreciate that you said that. If we have our own sound it’s only because when we get together we really collaborate as a band. I mean everyone pulls their weight in the writing and the recording. We’ve always really prided ourselves on that collaborative effort. The guys in the band, we’re all getting pretty good at what we do. I think this is the 4th album now that we walked into working together. I am very proud of the fact that people feel like we have a signature sound. I think that’s a direct result of the fact that we work very well together and we take it very seriously. It definitely shows in the music. You said you feel like you guys are getting better and mastering your trade. I’m sure what many Oleander fans are wondering is this just one album or are you guys looking to the future?

Thomas Flowers- No, I feel like we are just getting started. Honestly, I feel like we’re stepping back for the very first time and rolling up our sleeves. I feel like we’ve yet to put forth our best material. I know the rest of the guys feel the same way, again I think that’s a direct result that we had some time to step away from the grind. We’re a much wiser band which has gotten a lot better at their craft. I’m sure a lot of fans will be excited to hear that because you do have a nice fan base out there and hopefully it will continue to grow. My last question for you is regarding films. is a rock/metal and horror news site so we like to focus on all genres. Are you a fan of horror films, and if so, what are some of your favorite horror films?

Thomas Flowers- The Evil Dead series has been one of my favorites. Dude, for me, 28 Days Later is one of my all-time favorites. I love that. When I was coming up, movies like Amityville Horror used to have me sleeping in my parents room (laughs). It’s funny because in my house I have a couple of kids, young kids, and I have a wife who is not very into horror films so I don’t get an opportunity to watch too many of them unless I am out on the road with the guys. We are just getting ready to go out in about a month. We’re going to leave for a tour with Daughtry and Three Doors Down. We always bring films with us on the road because it’s very helpful to get through a tour. I wouldn’t be surprised if there aren’t a handful of horror flicks in the pile. That’s awesome, now you just said you are going on tour with Daughtry and 3 Doors Down?

Thomas Flowers- Yea we’re going to be going out toward the middle of the July, we’re going to go out for about a month. Are you going to be hitting New York?

Thomas Flowers- I don’t believe we are going to be hitting New York but that might change. I didn’t see New York in the routing for this particular tour, but management is putting together some touring opportunities for us that will have us back on the east coast before too long.

 Tour Dates:

Jul 17 The Black Sheep Colorado Springs, CO
Jul 19 Spicoli’s Grill Waterloo, IA
Jul 20 Trendz Creve Coeur, IL
Jul 22 DTE Energy Music Theatre Clarkston, MI *
Jul 23 PNC Pavilion at Riverbend Music Cincinnati, OH *
Jul 25 The Venue at Horseshoe Casino Hammond, IN *
Jul 26 The Machine Shop Flint, MI
Jul 27 The Altar Bar Pittsburgh, PA
Jul 29 The Covelli Centre Youngstown, OH *
Jul 31 Stir Cove at Harrah’s Casino Council Bluffs, IA *
Aug 02 Farm Buereau Insurance Lawn @ White River Indianapolis, IN *
Aug 03 Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica Cleveland, OH *
Aug 05 Vaudeville Mews Des Moines, IA
Aug 06 The Riot Room Kansas City, MO
Aug 08 Moe’s Englewood, CO
Aug 14 Pechanga Theater Temecula, CA *

* Dates with Daughtry and 3 Doors Down

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