INTERVIEW WITH SANTA CRUZ’S OWN OLIVER TREE BY JOHN MALKIN 9/15/22
ONE LAST RIDE: OLIVER TREE COMES HOME WITH COWBOY TEARS
By John Malkin
Oliver Tree has gone from DJing at local Santa Cruz parties to performing in front of massive audiences at San Francisco’s Outside Lands with artists like Green Day and Pussy Riot. Currently Tree is on a twenty-six-city tour that includes Oklahoma, Montana, Las Vegas and New York. On Saturday, October 1st Tree will return to his hometown for a lively show at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium. The Sentinel recently spoke with Oliver Tree about life on the road, true happiness and working for peanuts.
COWBOYS DO CRY
JM: “Your latest album is called Cowboy Tears. How is it dressing like a cowboy and singing those songs, some of them about being a man and allowing yourself to feel emotion.”
Oliver Tree: “It’s been an amazing experience getting to spread this message. In the show I say, “It’s okay for a tough cookie like me to cry. It’s okay for tough cookies like y’all to cry. It’s better that we let it out in our emotion – in our sadness, in our tears – than to hold it in and let it outburst in violence. That’s a big message I’ve been spreading about toxic masculinity.
At the core, I really just want to show people how to be themselves, let their freak flag fly, and not need to assimilate to everyone else’s beauty standard. Just be yourself. That’s the culture I’m creating. I’m embracing just being yourself. Individuality. Bringing together all these people who are oddballs and people who don’t fit in. And the truth is, it doesn’t matter who you are; at some point in your life, you didn’t fit in. It’s a relatable thing. In the world of pop, everyone’s trying to look hot and blend in with everybody else. For me, it’s like, “How do I do the exact opposite? How do I create the ugly Justin Bieber?” And I think I’ve done it.”
JM: “I think you have achieved that goal, the ugly Justin Bieber. You’re also up there on stage, feeling comfortable enough to perform sitting on a cow, and then sing from an outhouse while you’re doing your costume change.”
Oliver Tree: “I think this is really important. Like every generation, young people feel like outcasts and outsiders. And you’ve got to find ways of having fun with that. I like my live shows to be like a roller coaster. That’s the goal, to take you on a ride. Not all art needs to make you feel good. Sometimes it just needs to make you feel and sometimes you’re confronted with being uncomfortable. That’s an important part of art. Although most people just want the Disney story. Playing a live show is this energy ritual. I give my heart and my soul and I put everything into it. What the audience gives back either amplifies that or diminishes it.”
JM: “My favorite song of yours is Cash Machine; it’s making fun of capitalism and greed. And yet now you’re living in Hollywood…”
Oliver Tree: “I don’t live anywhere, to set the record straight. I live in hotels. This year, I’m doing one hundred shows. I just go from one hotel to the next. Even when I spend time working in Hollywood, I’m just in hotels. I have no home. I’ve got a suitcase. And I’ve realized; you don’t need much to be happy. The reality is the three essentials; underwear, socks and hopefully clean shirts. Maybe a toothbrush.
I do have stuff in storage. I have vehicles and things I accumulated while I was living in a place during Covid for one year. I’ve not once thought about them and said, “I really miss having this thing or that thing.” None of it brings happiness. That happiness is either inside you or it’s not. To think material objects are going to bring you happiness is a delusion. I really live on the cusp of minimalism. Of the last six years, five of them I’ve been living out of a suitcase in hotels. It’s been a humbling experience.
I have friends who are shopaholics and constantly need the next thing and it fulfills them for about five minutes. For me, I search for fulfillment in other ways. And it’s been a beautiful experience, recognizing that none of that stuff is going to do anything for your soul. It’s been wide awakening. I talked to a friend about it and I was like, “Yeah, I moved out of the house.” She’s like, “What? The house was you! All those things were you!” I said, “Excuse me? I don’t even miss one single thing. None of that was me. This is me! I’m this guy who looks like this with this funny haircut. Shitty goatee. That’s me. I’m stuck like this.”
SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE
JM: “Last time you played in Santa Cruz it was a benefit for local homeless folks. How did that feel and how did that work out?”
Oliver Tree: “Getting funds to people in need here felt great. There was an absurd amount of food that was gathered that night and a lot of money was given towards the Homeless Garden Project. That show was a very last-minute kind of thing. We threw it all together and I had some local childhood friends play the show with me.
This show at the Civic is the real deal. You’ll get to see my full production with seven outfit changes, mini motorcycles, cows, horses. I’m bringing Little Ricky, my friend who’s an eight-foot-tall alien. We have rock, pop, hip-hop. We’ve got songs for you to mosh pit to. Dance music, house songs. The goal is to create something for everyone. And that’s just the music side! We have storytelling, motivational speaking, some stand-up comedy in there. Scooter stunts, WWE wrestling, karate, even belly dancing. There’s a lot of performance art that gets thrown into this. So even if you hate every song, there’s still a great chance there’s ‘gonna be some epic moments for you.”
JM: “Wait a second, did you say motivational speaking?
Oliver Tree: “Yes, that’s a big part.
JM: “Give me an example.”
Oliver Tree: “Well, let’s see. At the core; if an ugly looking guy like me can do this, you could do anything you want. You could do something much better even; be a doctor. Be an oil tycoon. Anything is possible. If a guy like me has tricked all these people into coming to his concerts, anything is possible! And this show will sell out. This is not going to be a quarter of the people fit in; it will sell out well in advance. This is your last chance to ever see me because this is the final tour I will ever do. This is the last chapter.”
JM: “I feel like this might not be the last chapter.”
Oliver Tree: “I wish you were right. But I don’t know. Today actually is a very big day because I’m getting into the nut business. I’ve partnered with Planters Peanuts.”
JM: “Seriously? Is that because you’re a nut?”
Oliver Tree: “Okay, I’m taking offense to that. But I think you have a good point there. Really, I’m a new creative director for Planters Peanuts. At this point I’m kind of moving away from music and I’m moving into nuts. I’m already breaking into the whole peanut side, which is pretty much the top tier of the nut market. But next we have cashews, walnuts and then of course, almonds. The thing is, I’m going to really hit the cornerstone in the nut market so I’m looking at a lot of different options, all of which exclude music from the equation.
I’ve been doing a lot of other things like voice acting for cartoons. I’ve been writing screenplays for feature films; I just finished the third one. I have plans to go to Antarctica to play a show to raise awareness for global warming. The reality is Antarctica may only be around for seven more years. It’s melting at that rate. And only two other people have ever played in Antarctica. I will be the official third person to ever play there. This weekend, I talked with one of the people who played there; the drummer from Metallica. He said, “You need to go now if you want to do this because the clock is ticking.” It’s destiny. I’m so close. It’s my main goal in life right now outside of the peanut industry.
I’m also working with a team of scientists and the first thing we did were experimental growth hormones and I have this product called Goatee Grow. I wasn’t able to grow one chin hair before. And now I have this beautiful, lush goatee.”
JM: “Jungle like.”
Oliver Tree: “Before, I couldn’t grow at all. I worked with scientists in Morocco for two months. Really, music is just a small piece of what I do. I have a lot of other destinies. I’ve had a great run with this music thing. It’s been incredible getting a chance to embrace making music and spread all these messages and do many beautiful things with the art of music. But the clock’s ticking. My time’s up here. And this is the final installment; it’s Cowboy Tears. One last ride. It’s the final chapter.”
This interview with Oliver Tree was originally published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel and broadcast on KZSC 88.1 FM / kzsc.org on Transformation Highway with John Malkin on September 14, 2022. LISTEN TO TRANSFORMATION HIGHWAY ON THURSDAYS AT NOON PST ON KZSC 88.1 FM / KZSC.ORG.