Planetary Group took some time to get to know Oliver Rodley, a longtime session musician & music director who has been venturing into the world of lo-fi hip hop.
Planetary Group: Tell us about your latest release. How did you come to create it?
Oliver: This latest project, Sweet Green Tea, came about when a friend of mine who was an indie label owner that I’ve known for many years approached me about making some music kind of in this lo-fi hip hop space. He already had this concept of ‘sweet green tea’, kind of drawing from the Japanese culture of drinking green tea and kind of mixing that with the culture in America and throughout the south, where they drink sweet tea. So he came up with this idea of ‘sweet green tea’, and we thought we would try to mirror that also with the music. So really drawing a line from Nujabes and this Australian artist named Taku, who we felt made some really interesting records that were even pre this whole lo-fi era, and [were] laying the groundwork for what’s going on now in the low lo-fi hip hop space. We both really admired those artists,looked to their work and we said hey, maybe we can create something interesting in that space.
So that’s where the concept of Sweet Green Tea and the album came from. And then as we got more into it, the songs were coming out. Really kind of special for us. And we thought hey, we might as well make a record out of it as well. Cause we were originally thinking it would probably just go to library and licensing, places where you try to get music into film and TV and commercials and that kind of thing. But, as it started to come together, we realized that we’ve got a nice body of work here that would kind of stand as an alb.
And that’s really got me more motivated in terms of just the creative aspect of it – we were just kind of free to create and try to do something special or, our own unique take on that genre, bringing our own influences. I come from a jazz background, I’m a piano player and music director. I have done a lot of work just as a side man, but this was a nice creative outlet to try and take those skills that I have and apply them to the lo-fi genre.
PG: Share a bit about your musical journey, from when you first started making music until now.
Oliver: My musical journey in life has been really twofold. My day job in music has been as a touring side man and music director, and I’ve done some nice tours with various artists and been music director for quite a few artists. And that’s kind of how I paid my bills. And then the other side has been more pursuing interests that I have as a composer, which is not necessarily the same as say, the main [stye that I] might be for the artists that I’m playing for.
From early on, I’ve been really interested in jazz and I come from a jazz piano background. And that has taken me through a straight-ahead jazz, through acid, into the drum and bass sound and particularly Roni Size’s experiments in drum and bass that really had a heavy jazz influence. Also the work of Dilla throughout the nineties who was kind of pioneering sampling these jazz records, and bringing it to hip hop. All of that resonated with me as a composer. That side of my musical journey is really what’s connected to this record Sweet Green Tea.
It’s really about seeing what I could bring to this lo-fi hip hop genre. And it’s really interesting for me because all these genres that are kind of lo-fi hip hop – [which] is really kind of a sub genre of hip hop -, I guess you would call it – it’s pretty underground. It’s not like on the radio and so there’s a lot of room for creativity, which is what really interests me. So it was interesting to write compositions that really came from a jazz background, but also a sampling background and this love of hip hop and electronic music, and just kind of mashing them together and in my own way to create this album.
PG: Let’s talk about the music that you love. Pick one album for each category below & tell us a bit about it!
- An album you grew up listening to:
Oliver: The Low End Theory by A Tribe Called Quest that came out in the early nineties. I felt like it was a real turning point in hip hop and that it took it [to where it] no longer had to be totally for the dance floor. They were sampling these jazz records and it allowed the artists to actually talk about some other subject matter, and really opened up the genre, I think, to some really creative possibilities. And so that’s one of my favorite records of all time.
- The album you currently have on repeat:
Oliver: The Voodoo record by D’Angelo which again, I felt was yet another turning point. Kind of at the beginning of the Neo soul movement for lack of a better word. It was this record that kind of was, I don’t want to say a throwback, but it would remind people of what was possible in RnB music.It was a lot of live music on it; not so much sample-based, and just great singing without Auto-Tune. Live drums, live bass on a lot of it. But yet still forward-looking- it didn’t really sound like anything that had come from before, but you could see the lines where it was connected.
- The album you currently have on repeat:
Oliver: The record that’s probably still on heavy rotation for me right now is a record by an artist named Jordan Rakei. He has a record out now called Origin that I just cannot get enough of.
So there’s a little bit of hip hop influence, there’s definitely a Neo soul aspect in there, but it’s really creative writing. You just never know where the compositions are going to go or what songs are going to sound like from one to the other. And it’s just a beautiful record.
PG: What do you want people to take away from your music?
Oliver: So much about lo-fi music is about setting up a vibe and a tone. And what I try to do compositionally is not only do that, but also kind of turn a corner in the compositions so that they take you on a little bit more of a journey. Anytime you try to create something that’s, you know, in a particular genre, you still want to bring your own creative stamp to it. And it’s challenging because, you know, if you go too far in one direction, all of a sudden it’s outside of the genre. And then if you stay too far inside the box, then it becomes derivative and people say, well, we already have that. So there’s a lot of experimentation in these songs.
So the thing I really wanted people to take away from it is still that feeling of… these songs put you in a particular mood and a vibe. And we even colored a little bit outside of the lines; there’s a boom backtrack in there, and there’s a little bit of EDM. I just want people to walk away thinking wow, I went on a journey with that this music took me someplace and I want to hear it again. That’s what I want most.
PG: What’s next up for you?
Oliver: We have quite a few remixes that we’re doing and we’re really opening up the creativity there, exploring just wherever we can take the compositions. It’s great to work with a label, um, that says, “Hey, do something. Let’s see what comes out.” And so it’s been great to just kind of like go back and just chop up the songs and try to create something different.
Performing live – we’re going to work out how to make that happen. I’ve been DJing as well, and because I play, I’m trying to incorporate that into the DJ set, coming up with interesting ways to present that in a club environment.
You know, when you release a record, it’s just like a snapshot of where we are right now. This is the music we just did over the last couple of years, year or so. And then here’s another one. So we’re looking forward and looking towards what that next record is going to be, kind of based upon the response to this record, and different things that are going on and where we can take things in the future.