An Ohio native, Oliver Hazard singer Mike Belazis was spending most of his time on Outward Bound backpacking trips in California, but he’d return to his Waterville, Ohio home during slow periods.
When he was back in 2016, he had a “bucket list moment” and decided he wanted to play a show before the year was over. He secured a slot at a local bar and started writing material. He called his musician friends Griffin McCulloch and Devin East, and they rehearsed a few different songs and formed Oliver Hazard.
“We had that moment of chemistry, and there was a spark,” says Belazis. “It’s an inexplicable thing.”
That same week, the band won a Facebook raffle for one song's worth of studio time, but instead of just cutting one song, it played 10 tracks straight through live, producing what one publication has described as "a folk-pop masterpiece."
About 100 people came to the show the band played in Waterville right before the end of 2016.
“We got so much acclaim from people at the bar that it made us think maybe we were playing good music,” says Belazis, who returned to California and stayed there for most of 2017. "We have played one special show about every three months, but it worked out because we haven't burned out our fanbase and we have seen measurable growth.”
“The Toledo and Waterville music scene isn’t reflected in our music,” says McCulloch. “It’s a heavy metal and hardcore scene that doesn’t resonate with us. There's nothing against that genre. We have a lot of friends in bands who play around Toledo, but we don’t fit."
The twangy “Caesar Knows” benefits from harmony vocals and sounds like something that might be by Avett Brothers or Lumineers. The song received 100,000 listens in the first month on Spotify.
“It was refreshing that our song was being heard by so many people,” says East. “People are liking what you’re doing, and that’s reassuring. We never had this appreciation with any of our other bands.”
The band’s forthcoming single, “Hey Louise” possesses a similar vibe to “Caesar Knows” and features a bit of glockenspiel.
“I would say the song is one of more emotion-driven songs,” Belazis says of "Hey Louise." “It’s very forthright, but it can still stand out amongst our other songs. It’s more of a ballad on this album. If we had a love song, that would be it.”
The group’s success on Spotify has helped secure a gig at Bonnaroo this summer. Belazis says the hullabaloo has been “surreal.”
“It feels like a weird dream,” says Belazis. “We’re elated, but it almost doesn’t feel real. We still have so much to do.”
After playing a SoFar Sounds show here this past weekend, the band will perform at the Grog Shop with By Light We Loom and the Mason District at 8:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 2.
“The SoFar Sounds show was the first show we played where no one was talking,” says Belazis. “Folk music has a lot of storytelling, so that was great. It was amazing to see people pick up on that and there was an explosion of applause after each song. I think some of those fans will come to the Grog Shop show.”