Devin Oliver of I See Stars: "Sometimes You Have To Scream."
Interview by Shannon Shumaker
As they gear up for the release of their ambitious fifth full-length album Treehouse, I See Stars are charging full speed into one of their biggest years as a band. With busy schedule on the Vans Warped Tour all summer after the June 17th release of Treehouse, their first album with frontman Devin Oliver taking on double duty of both clean and unclean vocals, the band is back and better than ever, and Oliver couldn't be more proud. When I caught up with the vocalist a week before the release of the new album, he was more than excited to chat about the successes of I See Stars, their bright future and the pride he has for himself and his bandmates, and it all comes with good reason. Treehouse is a massive release, filled to the brim with the same wild energy and aggression that make an I See Stars show a must see while giving listeners something new to chew on with some of the band's best written electronic melodies and lyricism to date.
No two I See Stars records sound exactly the same, and Treehouse promises to up the ante once more. Catch I See Stars on the Vans Warped Tour from June 24th-August 13th and pick up Treehouse on June 17th - pre-orders are available HERE.
The Prelude Press: You guys have been working on a lot lately, one of those things being your new album Treehouse, which drops this week - what are you most excited for people to hear?
Devin Oliver: I’m excited for people to hear the whole thing. I mean, it’s got so many colors from front to back that that’s actually been kind of the struggle of this whole roll out, figuring out which song we want to release next. I feel like everybody on my team is super passionate about a different track. Each one of us has our own track that we gravitate towards, so it’s been hard to choose. I have a special place in my heart for every single song on the record.
I am excited for everybody to heart the title track. I think that that song has kind of like a more rock element that we haven’t really demonstrated too much within our band, so it’s going to be pretty cool to show people that.
I feel like there are also certain songs on the album that are more hip-hop influenced, and then there’s the heavily electronic songs, so it’s cool that there is that nice mix.
Yeah, there definitely is a little bit of hip-hop that we introduce on this record, which we haven’t done since 3-D, when we had Bizzy Bone on there, and I’m excited for that as well.
How do you sort of begin to take what you’ve experimented with in the past and mesh it with these new ideas and new sounds?
Me and my boys, we’re always writing music, so I think that we don’t really plan what the next step is or where that next step is at, we kind of just let it happen. As a musician, I’m always evolving. A lot of people, when I talk to them about this record, a lot of people say it has matured, but I don’t think that’s the right word. I don’t think that necessarily what we were doing was immature, or that hardcore music in general is immature, I just think that we’re evolving, and we’re growing up not just as musicians, but as people. But as a musician, I am growing up, and I’m becoming so inspired heavily by so many different kinds of music. You know, I don’t really have a ceiling to what I listen to. So I don’t really premeditate my direction, it’s more so just natural, and all of my influences kind of take me to where that goes.
I think there’s more freedom in that too, rather than worrying about fitting into a genre or what you can and can’t experiment with.
Absolutely. I think there’s so many people that go into a record thinking so much about - don’t get me wrong, we think about our fans, we keep them in mind - but so many people tend to overthink and underthink, and I feel like I have this really great medium. I go in, and I just do my thing. And I’m able to do my thing and then listen to it and take a step back and think, can an I See Stars fan get into something like this? And if so, I build around it. I think that’s what’s really great about our band. We’ve always kind of prided ourselves on opening our fans’ minds up to a whole new genre, whether it’s electronic music or hip-hop music or R&B or rock… You know, I feel like our fans are so open minded, they really do appreciate every color we bring to our music.
Well I know as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more open to different artists and different genres of music that I wouldn’t have given the time of day when I was younger. It’s kind of eye-opening in a way.
Yeah, absolutely. I think that as a musician it’s hard to close your mind off to something that the general population is gravitating towards. I feel like a lot of people that are in the rock scene alienate themselves from ever trying to figure out this electronic world that is growing so vastly and becoming one of the biggest genres of our time. It’s a little bit prideful, I think. For me, I’m a fan of electronic music, I produce electronic music as well, and so does everyone in my band, so it’s a little different for us. But we started off as a rock-electronic band from the very beginning, so when this electronic world started honing in on the musical population, it was interesting. It wasn’t upsetting. There are so many musicians out there, so many rock musicians, that tend to get a little frustrated with it.
And you’ve mentioned before that one of the big goals for this album was for the electronic parts to stand apart on their own, so what goes into writing those kind of songs?
Oh, so much. [laughs] Our kind of music has so many layers. It doesn’t ever start the same way and it doesn’t ever end the same way. There isn’t a strategy going into writing for me, it’s all about what I feel. If I feel like picking up a guitar one day, that’s what I do. If I feel like going on my computer and just pulling up a session and writing piano and turning it into a more electronic-based song and then building off of that and making it more of a rock-electronic song, I’ve done that plenty of times. I’ve written every which way. I even in some cases have a melody and some lyrics that I want to lay down and I’ll get in front of a mic and I’ll track it and then I’ll write around that. So there’s not really a rhyme. It’s all about what I wake up and feel like doing that morning. It’s so organic, it’s not like a machine. There’s not some cookie cutter formula for writing music for me, it’s always different and that’s what makes it so special.
"...I was really able to dig deep into my heart and find some lyrics that I’d never really felt comfortable opening up about."
Was there anything lyrically that you wanted touch on with Treehouse?
There’s a lot going on on this record lyrically. One thing I can say is I’ve never been huge into writing about heartbreak. I usually write - me and my brother, we tag team all of the lyrics and melodies together - we usually gravitate towards writing about family issues or problems in the world. We just feel like those have not only been problems that we can relate to in our life and that our fans can, but we think that world problems are bigger than relationship problems, and even family problems are bigger than relationship problems. But for me, it was an interesting time when this record started developing, because I had been in a six year relationship up until two years ago. We split up, and it was really difficult for me and I think that I was really able to dig deep into my heart and find some lyrics that I’d never really felt comfortable opening up about. There’s a lot of heartbreak across this record, as well as a lot of proud songs. I think that “All In” with the hip-hop vibe is kind of really discussing how proud we are of the band we are, and how we never hold back. I really love listening to that song, it makes me feel good.
And then we go back to family issues with “Treehouse,” and I discuss problems within my family, disagreements and growing up. I feel like a lot of my family issues that I talk about in previous records are more so about being a kid and being angsty, and now it’s like I’m an adult and I’m still dealing with some of the same bullshit, but it’s different. I perceive it differently now, so it was interesting to write about it.
“Light In The Cave” is one of my favorite songs lyrically, but my brother Andrew actually wrote most of that song. But it’s so crazy because I feel like Andrew and me have this really great connection when we write lyrics. He’ll write a song lyrically and I swear he just went inside my brain, dug around, saw what I was feeling and put it down on paper for me. When I listen to that song it’s crazy cause I wrote a great deal of lyrics on this record, but on that song I didn’t write a thing, but for some reason I fucking feel more with that song than any of the songs on the record. It’s interesting, you know?
It’s almost like connecting with a song that another band or artist wrote.
Yeah, it was really cool. I think that’s what’s so great about my band. A lot of bands have this guy writing the guitar and all the music and the vocalist writes all the lyrics and no one else writes the lyrics and that’s just the way it is. But for us, we all write the music together and me and Andrew tag team the lyrics, so we’re able to deliver all sorts of vibes across the board, not just my vibe. I don’t think that Andrew’s vibe is much different from mine, but I do think that he has different inspirations, different musical interests, and I think it brings something interesting to the table and it keeps the record colorful.
With I See Stars' recent lineup change, where there any big changes you had to make to accommodate fewer band members? I know you specifically took on clean and unclean vocals so what did that mean for you?
It was a tough decision. I was very nervous about risking my vocal cords. The last thing I wanted to do was risk that. I mean, I’m a singer, I’m not an unclean vocalist. I can do it and I knew I could, but it’s not my passion. That’s how I felt about it at first, and I worked with my vocal coach and we strategized how to do it without destroying my cords or even harming them. It’s like learning a new language, you know?
It’s interesting because it wasn’t until I went on tour and actually did them that I realized that sometimes singing isn’t enough. Sometimes you have to scream. Sometimes lyrics are too powerful to sing. That was an interesting moment for me, and I’m really excited to take that onto Warped Tour. We’ve been rehearsing like crazy over here and my vocals are still great, my unclean vocals are still great. I’m really glad I took the time to learn the proper way, and I strongly advice any singer that also does unclean vocals to make sure they’re doing the same because you don’t want to harm your vocal cords.
What would be the best feedback you could hear from friends or fans on the new album?
I guess I would really like to hear some opinions from people who weren’t necessarily too into our band at first. Like I said, I think that this is such a colorful album that there’s something for everybody. I know that our fans are going to love it, so I’m interested to hear what my grandma feels about it. [laughs] Somebody that hasn’t necessarily taken a liking to what we’ve been doing in the past, I’d love to hear what they think about this because even though it’s still aggressive, it’s a little more evolved. We’re really trying to break the ceiling and not try to keep ourselves in the confined walls of the hardcore scene. I think that I work with so many great writers and musicians that it’s crazy to think that we can’t make a record that can do something a little bit more significant.
If you could change anything about the music scene what would it be and why?
I would just completely eliminate the comments section in any forum. It just leaves so much room for hate. It’s sad for me to read how hurtful the world can get. It’s like driving in a car and someone cuts you off and hearing the words that come out your mouth at that moment, it’s probably something you’d never say to somebody to their face… So you put someone behind a computer and an anonymous screen name, they’re going to sit there and say how they really feel. It makes me sad to read some of these things, and it’s not even about my band in particular. I’ll have friends who release some music, and I’ll go listen to it and look at the comments section and it’s just people, it feels to me, just trying to say the worst thing. They want to say the meanest thing they possibly can to get that attention. I think that’s something that any artist that puts themselves out there can relate to, they know how it feels to have somebody go out there and just smash it.
There’s definitely a big difference between constructive criticism and just talking shit.
Exactly. And I’m one for constructive criticism. I always love when somebody can tell me what they think could be better about my music and my art, but there’s a difference between saying, “Hey I think it could better in this way,” and saying, “This is garbage, it sounds like some horses getting slaughtered.” [laughs]
I know it’s kind of a big question, but where would you like I See Stars to go from here if Treehouse is the pushing off point for you guys?
I’d like to see us play some of these bigger festivals like the Coachellas, the Lollapaloozas, the Bonaroos… That’s always been a dream of mine. I go to these festivals and the one thing I see in common is they don’t have any bands that have screaming in their music. So I think that I’d like to be the band to change that… I’d like to be the band to show people that there is something that you can find in a more aggressive light I suppose.
So I See Stars are hopping on Warped Tour later this month and the album is out this week, what else is coming up for you guys?
Yeah, Warped Tour starts this month, we head out on the 24th, Treehouse is out on the 17th. We should have a new video out that day as well, so there’s a lot of cool stuff going on!
Catch I See Stars on the Vans Warped Tour:
6.24 DALLAS, TX
6.25 SAN ANTONIO, TX
6.26 HOUSTON, TX
6.27 NEW ORLEANS, LA
6.29 NASHVILLE, TN
6.30 ATLANTA, GA
7.1 ST. PETERSBURG, FL
7.2 ORLANDO, FL
7.3 WEST PALM BEACH, FL
7.5 CHARLOTTE, NC
7.6 VIRGINIA BEACH, VA
7.7 SYRACUSE, NY
7.8 PHILADELPHIA, PA
7.9 NEW YORK, NY
7.10 HARTFORD, CT
7.11 SCRANTON, PA
7.13 BOSTON, MA
7.14 BUFFALO, NY
7.15 PITTSBURGH, PA
7.16 COLUMBIA, MD
7.17 HOLMDEL, NJ
7.19 INDIANAPOLIS, IN
7.20 CLEVELAND, OH
7.21 CINCINNATI, OH
7.22 DETROIT, MI
7.23 CHICAGO, IL
7.24 MINNEAPOLIS, MN
7.26 MILWAUKEE, WI
7.27 ST. LOUIS, MO
7.28 KANSAS CITY, KS
7.30 SALT LAKE CITY, UT
7.31 DENVER, CO
8.1 ALBUQUERQUE, NM
8.2 PHOENIX, AZ
8.5 SAN DIEGO, CA
8.6 SAN FRANCISCO, CA
8.7 LOS ANGELES, CA
8.9 LAS VEGAS, NV
8.11 BOISE, ID
8.12 SEATTLE, WA
8.13 PORTLAND, OR