The Greenville-by-way-of-Michigan duo Brother Oliver has always called its music “psychedelic folk- rock,” and their new single “Coffee and a Cigarette”, available exclusively from the Greenville Journal at the private link below, fits that description perfectly. Kicking off with the dueling guitars and electric mandolin of siblings Andrew and Stephen Oliver, the song is a bouncy mid-tempo charmer that brings in some late-Beatles-era “Penny Lane”-style trumpet and layers blissful vocal harmonies over top of a churning groove.
It occasionally sounds like the expansive jam-band explorations that Widespread Panic is so good at, but the Olivers never lose sight of the song, keeping “Coffee and a Cigarette” tightly arranged but lively throughout its five-minute runtime, throwing in an echo-coated guitar solo and one more flourish of the mandolin before letting a peaceful drone close out the song.
It’s both a continuation and a refinement of the more ragged rock of their 2017 self-titled debut album, and it’s a song that Andrew Oliver, who produced the single, believes is a definitive example of what Brother Oliver has been trying to do since forming in 2013.
“It’s more or less a rock ballad,” he says, “but the whole thing I’ve wanted to do with Brother Oliver is add layers, and that comes into play during the last part of production after I’ve got the core of drums, bass and guitar. A lot of times it’s this atmospheric style with my brother on electric mandolin or me playing synthesizers; it’s a spooky vibe or that psychedelic feel. That’s our signature; that’s where our character comes from.”
The lyrics to “Coffee and a Cigarette” are an interesting juxtaposition with the brightly-produced music, however.
“I stare through these eyelids/Hoping the darkness reveals what I hide,” Andrew sings in a plaintive, vulnerable cry. “I keep living off coffee and dying off cigarettes.”
The lyrics take on the band’s somewhat worn-out perspective after a year of heavy touring outside their home-base of the Upstate.
“We’ve been on the road a lot recently, so we were getting a little burned out,” he says. “And the chorus is just about how life can be so cyclical, and everyone feels the repetitiveness of it.” The interesting thing is how skillfully the song’ singalong melody masks the somewhat desperate tone of the lyrics.
“I like that in songwriting, when the lyrics are one emotion and the instrumentation is another,” Oliver says. “It creates an interesting balance.”
Despite the production flourishes, the song was recorded much as Brother Oliver performs the song live, simply because they’d tested it out onstage and gotten a strong reaction.
“People have really responded to it really well,” Oliver says of the single, which will be officially released to the public on Friday, “so we wanted to release it pretty much the way we play it live.”
Andrew says that the clarity and crispness of the production on the song reflects a newfound confidence in the studio.
“When we first were putting out songs, it was really hard for me to work in a way that my mind would stay clear,” he says. “Early on, I was second guessing everything. I wasn’t sure if the song was good or if the mix sounded good, or if it just felt good in the moment. But now I have more of a sense of confidence; I feel like I know more when it’s right. I don’t beat myself up over things that people aren’t even going to notice.”
“Coffee and a Cigarette” serves as a calling card for Brother Oliver’s second album, which will most likely be released this summer. The band put the single out first essentially to whet their fans’ appetites.
“2018 was the first year that we didn’t put out an album or EP,” Andrew says. “That was a first for me; I used to think that we had to put out an album every year. But we decided to take our time; the feeling was ‘Let’s make the next album count.’ I want people to anticipate it.”