Web developer by day, musician all the time, the band Oblee’s Eric Kiefer doesn’t want you to be bored.
The former Aftergrass member sat down earlier this week to talk about playing shows online, looping and being a solo act.
You can catch Oblee on June 2 at Moe’s and again June 13 at the Animas City Theatre.
Q: How long have you been doing Oblee?
A: It was sort of the demise of Aftergrass that got me started playing myself. Aftergrass was always looking for ways of playing – because we’re so geographically isolated here, when a band has to go on tour, we have to drive four hours just to get our first maybe-gig ... it’s so hard to tour in our area, especially when you’re not a big band with a lot of support and a nice bus that you can drive and get somewhere like to the East Coast or to the West Coast and then start stringing some things together. So we started playing online. ... And I’m still doing it from home. And the big reason is because I use the looper.
When I play live, a lot of times, sometimes I will bring a drum set with me, or just a kick and a snare, and then I have a synthesizer and then I have a bass. I just got a pedal that drops my guitar an octave, so I don’t have to bring my bass anymore although it’s not quite the same; it doesn’t sound as good as a real bass, but it’s just a lot less to carry. When you’re a solo act, and all of a sudden you’re carrying a whole band’s worth of stuff ...
Playing from home, playing over the internet really opened some doors for me because I have a piano at home, I have a Hammond organ at home, I have a bunch of vintage synthesizers and congas and djembes – all these different instruments. It really kind of helped me develop my show playing online, and it was sort of something that when Aftergrass kind of lost interest in it, I stayed, and I was like, ‘There’s people on the internet who are listening to music; this is really cool.’ ...
The online thing – I play one or two shows a week – they’re on my website, so you don’t need any special software, you can just go to my website to listen. There are a lot of different places you can go listen, and then there are places you can interact with it, and then there are places where people can go and tip me, even. There are places that pay me to perform: They want to host an event or they want to have a virtual reality event or something, or they just want to get people interested, so they’ll pay me to perform. The hourly pay is the same as if I play (a place).
I get to use all my instruments, so I start looping, and I have my full drum set, so I can put down a really cool drumbeat, and then I can jump over to the piano, I can put a piano part in. My looper has sort of multi-layers, so I can turn one off and turn one on and kind of make it interesting, too, so it’s not just a loop because that can get really boring.
Q: Explain looping.
A: At the very foundation of it, you’re just looping a phrase of music. You’re recording on the fly. It’s a little pedal – you click once, it starts recording, you click again and it instantly plays back what you’ve been recording. So, a lot of times, I’ll start a drumbeat, I’ll play a drumbeat on the guitar ... it can be different for every song.
Q: So how did you figure this out?
A: Boredom. (Laughs) I wanted to play, and I had an old band member use one of the early loopers, and I tried it out and was like, ‘This is so neat.’ But that thing just had one (channel), so you had to just keep building on top of whatever it was. With my new looper, I can have a chorus, I can have a verse, I can have various different parts of the song, even a bridge. And so then, it’s kind of up to you to make it interesting.
For me, the thing that became very important was to make a song just like any other song, so it’s not, I don’t really promote it as ‘Hey, I’m a looping guy’ because to some people, that says ‘repetition,’ it says ‘boredom,’ it says ‘uninteresting.’ And it says ‘long,’ too, especially when someone says, ‘Oh, I’m a looper,’ it’s going to be a 10-minute song with the same two chords in it.
One of the big things for me has been trying to, my background and my original music is sort of more of an indie thing, even though I played in jam bands, and I love the jam band thing, I really don’t incorporate it very much into my home set. It’s kind of an indie thing.
The songs, I want to keep them short; I want my songs to be five or six minutes, even three minutes if I can. I don’t want to bore people; I want to go into my next song. I guess my songwriting’s always started with lyrics, and so for me, I want to get the lyrics out, tell the story and then boom, next song. Whereas a band can really jam together and pull each other in different directions, like a jam band, I think a jam-looper is quite a bit more boring because you really can’t – how far can you pull yourself when you’re stuck in this confining (place)?
And I also play a lot of songs without the looper, some songs I just play acoustically. Or sometimes I play an electric guitar. For my show at Moe’s, I’ll be playing an acoustic guitar with some percussion and a little synthesizer for bass parts.