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Image: Warner Music
Image: Warner Music

Oliver TreeJuly 17, 2020

Ugly is beautiful and Oliver Tree is modern art

Image: Warner Music
Image: Warner Music

Oliver Tree is a semi-pro scooter athlete, a brilliant character actor, and a musician with a breadth of experience rare for any millennial. And he’s finally released an album.

That skater-emo voice, those dirty pop beats, the tearing lyrics and absurdist videos – and then, out of nowhere, ska.

Oliver Tree’s inspiration must come from the same well tapped by 21 Pilots, 3oh!3, and Mac Miller. A well with walls slapped by water that’s got bubbles in, glugged by equally effervescent musicians who want to grate at your monkey brain. He sings like a douchebag, and looks like a Little Britain character. 

His JNCO jeans are all flare, wide enough to take three legs each. He wears socks and sandals and tiny sunglasses. He reps the Solo Jazz cup blue and purple squiggle, hard. He claims to be one of the 3% of people who can pull off a bowl cut.

In short: Oliver Tree reminds us that art is subjective, and that the actual music is only half of what an audience must be subjected to.

Whence grew the Oliver Tree?

He’s no TikTok artist. He’s a ripe millennial at 27 years old, and was forged in the fires of high school parties, Vine, and live music. No shortcuts. He may look like a meme, but his persona nicknamed “Turbo” fronts for a multidimensional artist with a serious amount of experience and talent.

His parents met in a flute class, and young Oliver Tree Nickell began to learn the piano at three years old. As an adolescent he played in a ska band called Irony, before evolving into a dubstep DJ in high school. As he entered adulthood he delved into folk rock and first generated indie hype with a cover of Radiohead’s “Karma Police”.

He attended the California Institute of the Arts, and released “When I’m Down” in 2016. This got him signed to Atlantic Records.

Turbo’s early outings were on Vine, where he claimed to be a 32-year-old selling ecstasy to children. Even now, his “behind the lyrics” videos reek of parody. But the joke is Turbo, not the tunes. Tree’s music would be good independently of Vine, or Tiktok, or music videos littered with comically small scooters and motorbikes.

Why do his tunes slap so hard?

He holds himself to a high standard. His song ‘Let Me Down‘ is apparently sung from a fan’s perspective, begging Tree not to let them down, to please make and release a decent album.

‘Let Me Down’ is great, but one of Tree’s most celebrated tunes is ‘Hurt’, a grimey pop lament that, on first listen, is about a dying relationship.

It’s not, it’s about a scooter crash. Yes, he’s a professional scooter racer. When he was 18 he was in a semi-pro freestyle contest and hit a pebble at full speed, breaking both wrists and a thumb. “I don’t do this shit for money,” he’s said of his scooter career. “The money comes after. I just do this for the culture.”

It seems to be the same with his music, and his visual art. The video for ‘All That x Alien Boy’ nearly destroyed a relationship, according to Rolling Stone

“I fell down to Earth from a hundred miles away and somehow I still make it work,” he sings on the track. It doesn’t seem like hyperbole. He looks and sounds like he was picked up by a tornado in the 90s and spat back down at full force in 2019, and it really, really works.

He’s a well-trained musician, a character actor, and a professional athlete. If he can make being unable to wipe his ass for a whole summer universally relatable, and razor scooter tail spins the least ridiculous part of his existence, he can do anything.

I’m scared by everything you’ve told me. How do I safely begin my descent into dub-ska hell?

His latest release, ‘Bury Me Alive’, puts emo and 90s hip hop in a blender and pours out something thick, juicy, with testicles strapped to its chin (no joke). He gets a little roughed up in this one, but in ‘Hurt’ he gets decapitated and crucified to a scooter and in ‘Alien Boy’ he’s run over by a monster truck, so ‘Bury Me Alive’ is a more PG place to start.

I’m hooked on Oliver Tree. When will he bear more beautiful fruits?

His album Ugly is Beautiful has had its release cancelled and postponed several times. This wasn’t something he thought anyone would care about. “Apparently I was wrong,” he told Genius. “The night I cancelled Ugly is Beautiful I lost over 150,000 followers on Instagram.”

He promised not to let us down. “I will eventually let this album come out at some point in the next five to 10 years,” he said. It’s actually out today. Enjoy.

For those following his other career: at 4am tomorrow (NZT) he will live stream his attempt to ride the world’s biggest scooter (six metres high). He’s truly got something for everyone.

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