If you live long enough, it’s inevitable that you will witness, to some degree, the culture of your youth being recycled into a subsequent generation. I can recall, as an adolescent, the bewildering reemergence of bell bottoms, middle parts, and circular peacenik sunglasses. The past couple of years have seen the zombie-like reanimation of mom jeans, synthwave, and the ubiquity of Tron-style ’80s-neon-pastel futurism so prevalent that it’s even used in Taco Bell commercials. I suppose it was only a matter of time before so-called “grunge” — the ’90s primal scream/death rattle of rock music as the dominant mainstream genre — would find its way into a new generation.
One group that draws a great deal of its musical lifeblood from that era of waist-tied flannel and combat boots is Olive Vox, the brother duo of Parker James and Caden Shea. After releasing a series of singles over the last year and playing a handful of shows, the duo is putting out its self-titled EP Friday.
“I like the whole grunge scene — the whole destruction, the distortions,” said guitarist Shea. “I feel like there’s not a lot of people that are making that kind of stuff anymore. I just want a new generation to explore all the music that’s out there.”
No mere derivative quiet-loud-quiet Nirvana throwback, on the unambiguously titled Olive Vox EP, the pair effectively blend the thick distorted-guitar assault of Mudhoney with a trippy Ty Segal psychedelia, resulting in a sound that is simultaneously aged and ageless. Recorded at Denton’s famed Echo Lab by producer Matt Pence (Centro-matic, South San Gabriel, Sarah Jaffe), with Shea playing all the instruments except drums, the five-song effort is right if you like Northwestern turn-of-the-century guitar-driven alt-rock like Screaming Trees or the lava lamp-friendly groove of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club alike.
Olive Vox is officially just James and Shea. Onstage, however, they are backed by drummer Bryson Nix, longtime friend Dayton Phillips on rhythm guitar, and bassist Ben Reed.
Though their biggest inspirations may be bands whose careers ended a quarter century ago, the pair themselves are still in their teens. Perhaps the irony is that the music that James, 19, and Shea, 15, draw from is from a time when teen angst practically became a lifestyle. Far from insecure about their youth, the brothers see it as an asset.
“I think it’s a huge aspect [of our band] that we’re young,” said vocalist James. “A lot of people are surprised when they find out how old we are. They will come to our shows and like us and ask us how old we are, we’ll tell them, and they’ll get all freaked out, like, ‘Whoa! That’s crazy!’ So I think it’s a positive thing.”
Shea is a bit more candid about the influence their age plays on their listeners. “I think if some maybe 40-year-old dudes were making the music, who had literally grown up in that era — no hate, you know — but I don’t think it would be as big of a thing. I wasn’t even alive when all that happened. Neither of us were.”
Coming from a very close and musically minded family — their mother played guitar and their father was a drummer who also sang — James said it was only a matter of time before he and Shea would start a band. Due to a five-year age gap, James said he just needed to wait for Shea “to catch up a little bit,” but once the young brother began to play guitar, James knew they needed to work together, with Shea forming the musical foundations and the two of them working out the lyrics and vocals together. Some of the songs in Olive Vox’s catalog, like their first single, “Bury Me Low,” date back to when Shea was just 12 years old. When asked whether they’re worried about sibling rivalries, James dismisses any concerns.
“We’ve always been close,” he said. “I don’t have many friends. I mostly just like to hang with Caden. The guys in Oasis have their own issues.”
From playing their first show, a set at Doc’s Records & Vintage for last summer’s Record Store Day just six months ago, to playing in front of a crowd of hundreds at last month’s NOT STOCK Festival at Tulips, Olive Vox is picking up quite a bit of momentum despite being practically newborn working musicians.
“It’s been a work in progress for a while,” James said. “We’re just going into it headfirst. Now we’re out on the road pretty much and releasing the album. It’s pretty cool to see things go from zero to 100.”