'Cowboy emo' singer Oliver Tree promises something for everyone at gig March 9

Oliver Tree
Oliver Tree
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Oliver Tree is a study in contrasts.

The 28-year-old Californian singer-songwriter, whose songs are often poignantly emotional, presents himself in concerts and videos as a clownish figure, playing an outsized guitar, wearing a blond bowl-cut wig and riding a scooter.

He will be taking his show on the road to Kemba Live on March 9.

“The show is going to be a wide, diverse range of different styles,” Tree said, speaking by phone from his home in Los Angeles. “We cover everything from a good old classic rock show to a pop show to a country show to a hip-hop show to a house dance show. There's something for everybody. There's a lot of theatrics. You'll find anything from scooter tricks to belly dancing to WWF wrestling. The goal for me is to make something for everyone.”

Tree aims to unsettle.

“I love to make people laugh, and I love to make people cry,” he said. “I want to find the sweet spot where I can still be a very serious artist while not taking myself seriously. I'm turned off when people take themselves too seriously, or try to be too cool. To be uncool is the new cool.”

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His latest album, “Cowboy Tears,” is an example of his affection for bringing sharply contrasting tones together.

“For me as an artist, one of the things I set out to explore is juxtaposition,” he said. “That's pretty much at the core of what I'm interested in. Even the album title, 'Cowboy Tears,' is really two things that don't normally go together. At the end of the day, it's OK for tough guys to cry, and really it's important that everyone should cry.”

The result is a type of music that Tree labels “cowboy emo.”

“I really wanted to create my own sub-genre and aesthetic, and I figured this would be a cool angle, to mix together a couple different worlds to make something new, fresh," he said.

"Sonically, the album is inspired by this song I heard at Taco Bell when I was 5 years old. I was with my dad there. I don't remember what the song was. It's a memory of a memory of a memory of a memory. So essentially like a photocopy of a photocopy that's been distorted. For me, it's really about creating a nostalgic sound."

But not entirely nostalgic.

“If you listen to a song like 'Get Well Soon,' when the vocal drops, it's something that's a futuristic sound. I've never heard a folk song that goes there. It was like producing a folk song as if Kanye West was producing a folk song.

"In 'Freaks and Geeks,' you have this classic sound, almost inspired by Bob Dylan. And then by the end of it, it drops into these vocal chops. It's not something that would be part of that sound at all. There are more straightforward songs, but if you listen through the record, there are definitely some chances that are taken and some things that wouldn't exist in some of the older sounds,” he said.

“Cowboy Tears” is Tree's second album, and he's determined that it will be his final one. (Though he also said that about his first album, 2020's “Ugly Is Beautiful.”)

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He's been working on screenplays, and hopes to move on to producing movies.

“Music is more my day job. Once your dream becomes a reality, which music kind of has, it's not a dream anymore, it's just something that I do, and that I've done for many years,” he said.

“As someone who is a dreamer, I have new dreams, I have new inspiration to do more things. I want to move behind the camera and focus more on long-form storytelling, trying to develop these feature films as a writer and a director and producer.”

And so he has a warning for those who might be hesitating to get tickets for his show.

“If people want to go see the shows, this is the last chance that they'll ever have. It's going to be a special, unique show, and the last opportunity to see it.”


At a glance

Oliver Tree will perform at 7 p.m. March 9 at Kemba Live, 405 Neil Ave. Masks and proof of vaccination or negative COVID test required. Tickets: $34.50 (614-461-5483, www.promowestlive.com)

This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Singer-songwriter Oliver Tree to play Kemba Live in Columbus