By Kevin Alan Lamb
Home is this beautiful, safe-place where we grow relationships like seeds in a garden, flee from to see the world, and retreat to for balance, comfort, and community. Each of us has different reasons for going, or coming back, but no matter the distances you travel, and storylines that seem to unravel, we are all better because of the people who we have grown to and away from along the way.
The story of Oliver Hazard, an indie folk band from Waterville, Ohio, is just beginning to be told, but it sure is a good one. It begins like many great stories do, with three best friends, in a town very few have ever heard of. Waterville is a southeastern Ohio town, where a mud bottom steam known as the Maumee passes through before emptying into Lake Erie, a few miles ahead.
“It’s an old canal town, just south of Lake Erie. If you blink, you’ll miss it. We live next door to a Chinese restaurant run by Henry and Pearl, serving the best (only) hot sake in town; we wrote a song about them,” Mike says.
Michael Belazis, Griffin McCulloch, and Devin East can’t wait to meet all of you and hear your stories, as they begin to tell theirs. Meaningful relationships last a lifetime, even if/when we don’t see one another, or take breaks because life happens along the way. We are all sensitive, dream-filled creatures who learn at the rates we’re able, but when passion and purpose connect our fate, it is only a matter of time, space, and intention that we find our way back to one another and our collective dreams.
“Devin works maintenance for the public school system in Toledo; Griff is a terrible salesman, formerly selling copy machines; and I (Mike) work as an instructor for Outward Bound California, just outside of San Francisco. We grew up together and recently reconnected when I came home to visit my family.”
I fell in love with Oliver Hazard the first time I heard them live, which just so happened to be the first time I heard their music. I remember wanting to spend some time with them after their three-show-run with the Michigan Rattlers, but they had to leave town almost immediately to report to their other jobs in the morning. So much so, I recently planned a trip to visit my cousin Bret in Cleveland, around their performance with Mt. Joy at Beachland Ballroom.
We arrived promptly before their set, exchanged some love with the guys, and settled into an evening in the ballroom. Part of our agreement for arranged entry into the show, was to get the crowd stoked and dancing, which goes without saying on my end. With most of the room standing still, it was easy to identify the five lovely ladies in the center of room who were wiggling. We made are way to them and wiggled with it all the way to a brilliant, and joyfully received Oliver Hazard performance.
Mike, Grif, and Dev wrote and recorded their first album, ‘34 N. River’ in three weeks at their home, on 34 N River Street (listen here).
“Our house is our musical Mecca, our cultural refuge, our Waterville haven. And beyond it’s unique ability to affect our songwriting capabilities, it has great lighting. The interior gives off a warm yellow glow seen through the front window. Between the countless lampshades and fake candlestick fixtures, all of griffin’s thrift store knickknacks covering the walls are lit up by old light bulbs. This is the space that we practice our songs. It is the space where the band was formed, and it is the space that we are reluctant to let go of if we hit the road…When we hit the road.”
In July they learned (from a local newspaper) that their house is being auctioned off and potentially tore down.
“Our house at 34 N. River is right downtown waterville. Griffin and Devin lived there for years before I stumbled into their lives. It now serves as a main cultivator of our creativity. The city has been trying to sell the house, and all of the while, it has also been threatened to be torn down because of a new development project.”
Transition is as inevitable as waking life; resisting what’s to come is to limit your potential. With each passing present comes a struggle or obstacle we hadn’t seen coming, and with it the choice of how and when to proceed. Our emotions have a tendency to consume us when we find ourselves swimming against the current, but simple routine and function will help us navigate resistant waters. Learning to embrace struggle affords the opportunity to recognize immediate benefits from a transition otherwise perceived as negative.
“It is a bittersweet feeling to lose the comfort of the home. But at the same time, its loss could push us to go outward, beyond our normal comfort zone, ultimately helping us grow as a band.”
My visit was filled with serendipity. Our party of three was dancing our way around the room when my cousin Bret looked at me and said, “I know these guys! They’re on several of my playlists.”
The name Oliver Hazard hadn’t meant anything until just then. The song was “Hey Louise”.
“Hey Louise is an interested song. We actually considered scrapping the song because it felt so personal and emotional. We were just shy, and perhaps not brave enough to share such a personal song with the world. We always like to say that ‘everyone has a Louise — the song represents a love that comes in and out of one’s life and the perils that accompany it.’
Everyone has a Louise; most everyone is unwillingly removed from a home they love; and if you’re not displaced from some of the ones you love, you’re not loving enough. Displacement doesn’t need to mean we lose our connection with one another. Sooner or later all of our storylines connect and it is up to us to decide how meaningful we want those stories to be. Some friends decide it’s time to lose the nine-to-five disguise and unleash a “ramshackle of uprooted and melodious folk-stomp” into the world.
I’m grateful to build a foundation with Mike, Griffin, and Dev as they reach this monumental juncture in their lives. Their lyrics are vulnerable and honest, character evident, and their three-part-harmonies are seemingly tuned to intertwine their fate. Their music makes me want to grab an instrument (any instrument) and shake it, bang it, and sing lyrics from the top of my lungs that I’m just learning.
KAL: Having only recently reconnect and writing music together, did you stay in contact while you’ve been living outside San Francisco?
Mike: Yes, we were actually writing a lot of music while i was in San Francisco. I would send voice memos to Griffin and Devin, and they would send ideas back. I would drive around San Francisco trying to harmonize with some of the recordings that Griffin and Devin would send me. During our time apart, I think I made it home 4 times. Each time, we would try to play a DIY show in town.
KAL: Your bio on your website is especially sweet and endearing. What’s your favorite dish to accompany hot sake at Henry and Pearl’s Chinese restaurant?
Mike: Devin always orders the crab rangoon. He swears by it.
KAL: Sorry I missed your show Sunday, but I learned The Avett Brothers were headlining InCuya festival. Tell folks about Oliver Hazard day this Friday, and your emotions leading up to what has to feel pretty good to be doing in your hometown, Waterloo.
Mike: Oliver Hazard Day has been a pretty big endeavor. We have put a lot of energy trying to include as many community members & local businesses in planning the event. Ever since we announced Oliver Hazard Day, we have noticed a pretty considerable buzz around town, and we are very humbled by it. This has by far been the most positive & warmest response from our community, so we are excited to see if the energy is similar.
KAL: Tell us about The Battle of Lake Erie, and Oliver Hazard.
Mike: The battle of lake erie was a monumental moment during the War of 1812 against the british. Oliver Hazard Perry was a commodore during the battle, and he became famous for his leadership on the water. As we grew up here on lake erie, Oliver Hazard is a very familiar historical name in Northwest Ohio. We decided to adopt his name as we wanted our name to represent the places that we grew up.
KAL: Have you been keeping up with the Michigan Rattlers?
Mike: Yes, we keep up with Them Snake Boys. We message on Instagram and share one another songs. Funny enough, we ran into them down in Manchester Tennessee at Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. We had the pleasure to hang out with them for a little while.
KAL: Tell us about the map, and some of its wittiest contents.
Mike: The Map is a living thing at this point. Everyone who enters the house writes something on it, and we really can’t control the process at this point. Some of our favorite additions are when folks are able to spell their name by using pre-existing geographic features/words on the map. I think I wrote the word “Hey” in front of Louisiana as an ode to “Hey Louise.”
KAL: You’re in an exciting place, about to release some new creations into the world. I watched Welcome To Waterville while I was still in Cleveland and got chills… Gotta imagine your feeling the same thing right about meow.
Mike: Yes, we get the chills every time we watch Welcome to Waterville as well. It reminds us of where we come from but also where we are heading. All three of us are looking forward to heading out on tour again this september (I attached tour date for the “Take Me Back Tour”)
KAL: Can we please have more kazoo?
Mike: [Laughing] We have plenty more instruments heading your direction. Especially some added piano from Griffin and electric guitar from Devin who is a phenomenal guitarist.
For a sneak peak of their latest single, “Take Me Back”, click here.
To see if Oliver Hazard is coming to a city new you on their Take Me Back tour, visit here.
And just in case you were listening for one, This is a Good Sound.