Mike Oliva is smiling as he recalls a surreal evening in Atlanta. The Harlequins played there July 2 — and, to their surprise, the club was sold out. The loving crowd even showered the band with comments like “Move to Atlanta!” and “What the fuck are you doing in Cincinnati?”
“After the show we went to the coffee shop where a lot of the other people in the bands that night work at … they opened it up at 4 or 5 in the morning and we had a David Bowie dance party,” says the guitarist/singer, sitting at Highland Coffee House in Clifton with drummer Rob Stamler and bassist Alex Stenard.
“I think I had a better time that night than these guys,” he adds, grinning at the two. They erupt with laughter. “Random hook-ups are fun.”
He smiles. “Seriously, man, the ratio of hot chicks …”
Oliva and his band will head back south with the release of The Harlequins’ debut, Baron Von Headless, a fitting title for a collection of spectral Pop songs peppered with dissonance (and airs of In Utero and Syd Barrett, Oliva might say).
“I felt like it was a good title for the times,” Oliva says, adding that it first came to him as a song title. “When I thought about using it for an album title, all of the sudden the shit with the economy started happening. And then Bernie Madoff stole all that money. I really don’t think anyone truly knows what they’re doing anymore.”
Neither does Oliva. After all, the 23-year-old is a self-described absent-minded leader and a singer-songwriter in love with subtext.
“I don’t like bands that sing about real shit that’s so straightforward it’s boring,” he says. “I’m a big fan of Buddy Holly and all that stuff he did. Like that song ‘Oh, Boy!’ I’m pretty sure that was him trying to come out of the closet in the ’50s, but no one else picked up on it. ‘All my love, all my kissin’/ You don’t know what you been missin’/ Oh, boy!’ I love that kind of stuff.”
Oliva checks in online a day after our sitdown and shares an e-mail he sent someone.
“Bob Dylan also ruined music and artistry,” he writes. “He made everyone think they can be deep and prolific and instead of entertain people, he made people think they could enlighten people.
“It needs to go back to entertainment, euphemisms, etc. ... the ’30s and ’40s were fucking terrible in America, but it has some of the most beautiful music and lyrically isn’t dark or prolific at all ... same with the ’50s. People need to start singing about serious shit, in an (ambiguous), artistic and not serious way. Fuck those Emo assholes who think they are the only ones with feelings.”
At 20, Oliva had a solo album ready, but his tuneage took a sexy turn, he says, when Stenard came along. “I think I still have 200 CDs (or original music) laying around in my room,” he says. The No. 1 Harlequins Fan — Stamler — joined about two years ago.
“I was in a band at the time and I wasn’t happy with it,” he shrugs. “It was like a ... I’m embarrassed.”
“The singer had a devil lock,” Stenard adds. “If they tell you to wear black before the show ... that’s when you should say ‘I gotta get out of here.’ ”
The trio magnified its psychedelic edge by recording Headless in a rundown Camp Washington church. The setting was a blessing for songs such as “I Kill Moon” and “Living in Sunshine.”
“It seriously looked like some crazy artist/serial killer’s residence,” says Oliva, mesmerized by Soap Floats Recording’s equipment, religious artifacts and the old hippie “Rich” who builds drums in the basement. “There was so much shit scattered everywhere."
Rave worthy? “You could have some crazy parties there,” the singer/songwriter says, noting that the band might host a big shindig there in the near future.
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