Brother Oliver’s new self-titled album begins with a few moments of a very young Andrew Oliver talking into a tape recorder for a few moments before his mother can be heard calling him in the background. It’s somewhat ironic that that’s where the duo (Andrew and his younger brother, Stephen) decided to begin their eight-song collection of melodic folk-rock, because they never heard any folk or rock music until they were well into their teens.
“We were home-schooled most of our upbringing in Michigan,” Andrew Oliver says. “Our mom wanted us to take music lessons so we could play in church, but we weren’t allowed to listen to any music with any drums, or any popular bands. It wasn’t until we got into high school that we rebelled against that and started listening to the radio.”
Andrew had already started playing guitar by the time he left home and moved to the Upstate to attend college, and he’d formed a strong musical bond with Stephen, who was quickly becoming skilled on everything from banjo to mandolin to ukulele.
The pair began recording as they visited each other in Michigan and South Carolina, eventually making two albums of hushed, intimate acoustic folk, which Andrew says was the only choice they had.
“We started out making softer, lighter music just because of our skills at the time,” he says. “That’s all we knew how to play.”
That’s what makes the new Brother Oliver album so surprising and so effective.
With Andrew on guitar, lead vocals, and synthesizer, Stephen on electric mandolin and dulcimer, and their friend Devon Taylor on drums and bass, the trio made a deeply emotional, multilayered collection that immerses the listener in sound.
The guitars ripple through the arrangements with crisp precision, there’s a satisfying crunch in the rhythm section, and Stephen’s mandolin accents lend an almost metallic edge to the songs.
As a vocalist, Andrew is emotional seemingly to the point of tears, wringing everything he can out of his sturdy tenor voice.
It’s a startling transformation for the band, and part of the album’s urgency might come from the Olivers’ late start as musicians. “It made us really appreciate music,” Andrew says. “When we started getting into it, it was like, ‘This is amazing.’ It felt amplified. Maybe that’s why we’re going so aggressively at it right now. It feels fresh. The creativity is borderless. It’s an interesting place to be.”
After those early attempts at making music, Andrew says that Brother Oliver, who will play at Quest Brewing Company next Thursday, finally felt comfortable with what they were doing.
“For the first time since we started playing, we made what we set out to make,” he says. “The album is self-titled for that reason; it feels like that’s what we were supposed to be all along.”
The Olivers recorded the album at their home studio with Andrew behind the boards and are releasing it on their own label, Forthright Records. Andrew says, “I wanted our albums to look and sound as clean and serious as possible, because there’s so much music online, that we should be as professional as we can to stand out.”
Andrew actually has one more theory about why Brother Oliver started to click after both he and Stephen moved to the Upstate: the local music scene itself.
“There’s been a lot of talk about Greenville’s music scene, and people can be really negative about it,” he says. “But I moved down here with no experience, and I stayed because of the connections and friends I made on the scene. And there have always been opportunities and places to play. We’ve gotten out of it what we’ve put into it, and that’s all we can ask for.”
Quest Brewing Company, 55 Airview Drive, Greenville
Thursday, Aug. 10, 7 p.m.