The gentlemen of Overland recorded a fantastic video to win the folk category in our YouTube Battle of the Bands earlier this year. For their prize, the band elected to answer a few of our question in an interview. We encourage readers to check out the band’s website and support their musical efforts.
1) How did you get your start?
[Ray] Let me start at the beginning, and when I get to the end. I’ll stop. Mark and I picked up instruments together in high school. We had a band back then, but it wasn’t too serious since we were silly high schoolers. After we graduated from college, and I used my elder brother powers to get Sam into percussion. We started playing together and decided to formalize our efforts by becoming a band. We named ourselves Overland as a homage to our late grandfather, who passed recently before the joining of our band. Overall, organizing the band was pretty natural, since we are buds and like to hang out in our parents basement (and drink beer).
2) How do you see your history (or your great grandfather’s story) influencing your music?
Sam: We sorta see ourselves as having a similar aim in our music as our great grandfather did with the Overland hotel and restaurant he opened after immigrating here around 100 years or so ago. I’m sure his main goal was earning a living, but his hotel also was a place of community, especially for his fellow immigrants. So, I like to think of our music providing some sort of medium to bolster community. Especially when we are blessed to play at one of the few really cool places around here, like Epicure Cafe or Caffe Amouri.
Our grandfather (who was born at the Overland) gave me my first experience with playing an instrument. I often think of him when playing.
3) Your website explains that you’re all self-taught musicians. That’s pretty impressive! How do you describe your music and overall playing styles?
[Mark] It’s probably best described as modern folk, although that wasn’t intentional or even necessarily conscious. Ray and I just love writing music and both organically arrived here. That’s sort of how everything happened, really. We got better as a natural consequence of having fun doing what we love doing. All of a sudden we found ourselves writing in a particular way. The real focus is on trying to make music that moves people, and improving ourselves in order to do so.
Our impetus to developing our skills as musicians is to find better melodies, compelling movements, and to captivate a listener. Though there’s always room and necessity for improvement, we would each rather spend time finding a new melody than drilling a methodology or pattern.
4) Congrats on winning our competition with your original song “Flight of the Owl.” Can you give us the “behind the music” story about that song?
This song was written over the course of a year. The musical theme came to mind while walking through a data center at work. I used a loop pedal and my acoustic guitar to put the idea into sound. I recorded that session, and sent to Mark for judgement. Mark loved it. In the following weeks, inspiration landed me the name of the song. Weeks after that, I developed lyrics. The lyrics describe the personal struggle to cope with a death in the family. After additional mulling, the song was first performed at our last full band show at Epicure Café in Fairfax. Just a month ago, I finally finished the song, recorded it, and played it for my wife and son (you can hear him hiccup in the recording). We then decided to tweak it and record for the battle.
5) What does the songwriting process look like for you?
[Mark] Inspiration is key. That can sound a little silly and self-absorbed, but I think it really is inevitable. I could be about to do something important, and then, all of a sudden, that’s when I have a great idea. In fact, I feel like creativity comes at the most inopportune times; late nights when I have work in the morning especially seem to be fertile. I usually write in the bathroom – I definitely would recommend this to young musicians aspiring to greatness. Seriously, though, I have a personal theory that inspiration comes from a subconscious synthesis of experience. If you want to lay the foundation for creativity, immerse yourself in that which you would explore. At some point you should take your foot off the gas, so the material you utilize can remain distant enough that it is indecipherable in the form wherein you reassemble it. Prime the subconscious, focus the conscious. Use the subconscious to produce material, use the conscious to critique and trim the fat.
One has to be flexible and willing to suspend self criticism when writing. Flexible to let inspiration strike when she is ready. Willing to let mistakes happen, in hopes that a song will come to fruition. I’m beginning to believe that “inspiration” is just a retroactive phrase that describes act of following a rabbit down a hole that leads to a happy ending. I find it very important to record and take others opinions during the writing process. I don’t write songs quickly, but I like to think that I’ve done my best.
6) Where do you get inspiration for your lyrics?
[Mark] Speaking for myself, I would have to say that my primary focus with lyrics is their not sucking. It takes forever. And not that I necessarily succeed, though I do try to talk about things that I consider meaningful. Sometimes I talk about real life, sometimes I make up stories as a vehicle for topics.
Most of my lyrics are either relationship based or have some type of self-aspirational theme. For the relationship based lyrics (Flight of the Owl, Light lift me up). The other types of lyrics are more for the purpose of furthering myself, pushing myself to strive to something greater. (Harbor, Wilderness, for example). Ultimately, no lyrics happen unless I have 2 or more cups of coffee in my system… coffee is my inspiration.
7) What are your primary musical influences?
[Mark] We all have similar tastes in many ways, yet at the same time those tastes diverge. The intersection is key in forming a coherent body of music, while the union minus the intersect is key to keeping it funky fresh. We all like The Band, Paul Simon, and modern folk. While Ray is more into the contemporary scene, Sam has the comparative advantage on Jazz, and Mark listens to Classical Music, Film Scores, and Skyrim.
8) What would be your ideal musical gig? Who would you love to share the stage with one day?
[Sam] Well if we could break the laws of heaven for a few hours, we’d like to stand alongside The Band as they ripped through the brown album. And maybe for the encore Van and Dylan could come out. And maybe we would be in Floyd, Virginia as the sun was going down. I’d ride back to heaven with Levon after that, for all I care.
9) What are your current projects? Are you planning on touring beyond the northern Virginia area anytime soon?
[Mark] We want to focus on recording, writing new music and finding cool new coffee shops and the like. Sam and Ray are doing a week long tour in the Outer Banks (i.e. family vacation) – you could check us out there.
10) What would you like our readers to know about your music?
[Ray] Just that we are thankful to anyone who has taken time to listen to it. Especially through this website, since we all think Ear to the Ground is legit. #legit