What’s in your bag? is a recurring feature where we ask people to tell us a bit more about their everyday gadgets by opening their bags and hearts to us. This week, we’re featuring vocalist, producer, filmmaker, and professional scooter rider Oliver Tree.
When Oliver Tree walks into The Verge office, everyone snaps their head. It’s impossible to not notice his ostentatious presence: massively wide JNCO pants, a violet and fuchsia ’90s ski jacket, Gucci suitcase, and... a bowl haircut. Oh, and he’s got a Razor scooter with him too. It’s not unfair to say that Oliver Tree is a walking, talking meme. The visual schtick, along with accompanying deadpan humor persona, were deliberately crafted by Oliver Tree to appeal to a meme-friendly generation. And through that lens he serves up catchy, hip-hop infused pop with an electronic kick. Come for the memes, stay for the music.
This combination has been integral to Oliver Tree’s success. His single “When I’m Down” went viral in 2017, racking up tens of millions of plays online. He replicated the formula for “Alien Boy” and again with “Hurt,” nailing down a very specific vision that’s designed to cater to people’s eyes and ears. “Hurt” in particular was a flag plant for Oliver Tree’s ability to create infectious melodies — the song spent 16 weeks on Billboard’s Hot Rock Songs chart, peaking at position 12. Now, he’s released another new single, called “Fuck,” and is preparing for his full-length debut, which will be released this year. In the meantime, Oliver Tree treats us to a peek inside his world, which includes lots of scooter stories, a busted iPhone, and mountains of Cheetos.
First of all I really need to know about your pants because I had JNCO pants and you don’t see them very often.
These are JNCOs that are no longer for sale. JNCO shut down last year, but I was able to pick these pants up through a buddy who lives north of the Rockies, this guy Little Ricky. He’s a JNCO dealer and he has a warehouse with 300 pairs of JNCOs. He basically has every type ever made: khaki JNCOs, short JNCOs, leopard JNCOs, he has it all.
To be honest I was surprised that they lasted so long.
It’s kind of the end of an era.
Tell me about your style.
This outfit is made up from everything I really thought was cool as a child. So these were the pants I always wanted. These are the sunglasses I used to wear. This is the haircut I’ve had my entire life. I was too scared to get any other type of haircut. My mom picked it for me. The jacket I stole from my mom, but she wasn’t really using it so I don’t think she misses it too much. And then socks and sandals is just my favorite footwear combo.
Who do you think has the best style right now?
My biggest fashion inspiration is Lloyd Christmas from Dumb and Dumber. Solid. Him and my parents. My parents showed me how to really unharness my swagger.
Let’s move on to your bag.
This basically has my raw essentials. I take this everywhere I go. It’s a fake Gucci bag I got in China in the underground market. Well, I guess I should just show you.
Yeah! Let’s get into it. Your suitcase is filled with Cheetos?
I’m traveling a lot, so one of the main things I need is a source of energy. There’s not many great food options on the road. So I just bring my main food with me everywhere and my main energy source.
Do you have any favorite flavor?
Traditional hot. You can have one too. My treat. I’ve got plenty. I bring them to share.
How many Cheetos is a meal?
Well it depends if it’s the big bag or a little bag. If it’s a little bag I can do about 13, and if it’s a big bag I only need two. I also have one liter of Mountain Dew here.
So what if someone offers you a salad?
Sometimes I’m feeling healthy and I’ll take a salad and crumple up a couple of Cheetos on there. Usually I say flat out no though.
I can’t think of a more perfect substitute for any type of food. It’s perfect on any occasion for a meal. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I’m an intense energy person and these things really keep me on the edge. They keep me going and keep my chi really high. It’s basically the ultimate snack.
And then I have a portrait I painted of myself. I keep that with me just in case I ever lose touch with who I really am.
If you forget your passport just show that.
I pretty much use this as a legal form of identification.
Not a lot of people know this but I’m big into watercolors and pastels. I think this thing took me about a month to make. And I don’t have a house so I bring it everywhere.
The eyes are really intense.
That was based off of the music video where I died, and this is the white-eyed version of it. That’s my understanding. When I painted it though I was a bit drunk so I can’t remember. It’s an emotional piece and every time I look at it I just see so much of myself.
That’s from a newer music video, right?
The record is called “Hurt.” It’s a song I made about a scooter accident I had when I was 18. It was a semifinal run at a pro competition. I’m in this 20-foot roll in and out of nowhere this little pebble shows up. I hit this thing and just go flying — break my left wrist, break my right wrist, and break the joint that connects the thumb to the hand. At that point I had to start considering other career options because scootering was just not safe. I needed something that had a little bit more longevity for a career choice. So I started making a segue out of the professional scooter world and focused on this Oliver Tree project.
We went to Ukraine to film the music video for “Hurt,” and made that with a small loan of a million dollars. Atlantic Records supported us. I want to shout out Craig Kallman and Julie Greenwald - they were really the people who helped finance this and bring it to life. It took us two years to sort out the financial side, and I don’t think we could really be happier with the outcome.
What phone do you use?
This is an iPhone X. Let me turn it over because it’s busted and that’s even funnier. I was in Madrid, out clubbing and blogging and it fell off the stick. And I have a Juul. Strictly marijuana. There’s no tobacco in that.
How did you get the Solo cup design put on your clothing and the monster truck for “All That”?
From a legal standpoint, it was hell. And we’ve been asked to not use the logo anymore. We couldn’t use it in other videos. The whole coffin scene in “Hurt” was supposed to be Solo cup, but they were not too thrilled with the idea. After the last video they just said, “Please never use our stuff again.” But we don’t care because I already got to use it in the first video.
The original designer is a woman who basically got ripped off by the company. She worked for the distributor and submitted it for a company contest, but didn’t get any of the royalties from it. It ended up becoming a phenomenon, but they owned her design at that point. Her name is Gina Ekiss.
Are there other wheeled activities that you’re into?
I’m really big into scooters and electric scooters. I’ve got like, 13 pocket rockets. I drive monster trucks. I actually spent five months training for my first music video learning how to jump monster trucks. This guy only let one other person drive his monster truck, which was Jay Leno, so I’m very honored that he trusted me. It’s in the first music video for “Alien Boy.”
I was surprised that the guy would let me borrow this truck because these trucks are like, half a million dollars. It’s a huge liability. You have to be properly trained by a professional.
Do you record on the road?
We’re making films on the road. We’re working on a documentary. We’re doing half hour, 45-minute films on the trials and tribulations of what a starting out project looks like in all reality. The drama, the violence, the frustration, the suffering. We cover it all. We have already put on a couple videos. We did a behind the scenes for “Hurt.” It’s how to make a million-dollar music video.
What’s your songwriting process?
I don’t do any songwriting on the road because I’ll go live life for three months, and then I’ll go write music for two months straight and write every single story I have to tell. Once I get burnt out on it and start making the same songs, I go back on the road and experience life. If you don’t live enough experiences you have a limited spectrum of things you can write about, so it fuels the fire.
There’s a lot of hats artists have to wear nowadays. If you wear the same hat every day it gets really old. So it’s refreshing to be able to have it broken up into different parts of the year: This month we film, this month we tour, this month we make music.
I produce and write music with other producers, but with vocals I’m essentially improvising all of that, besides maybe a song or two here and there. I freestyle and see what comes out. If it doesn’t make total sense but I like the idea I’ll carve out and chop up all these little parts together and then I’ll rewrite lyrics to it. I would say about 85 percent of the lyrics are improvised.
So backing up to the bag...
Couldn’t afford the real one. I had a friend who told me about this market and was like, “You gotta go here, this is the best underground market in Shanghai.” So I went to check it out. It’s illegal to sell Gucci there because there’s actual Gucci stores. It’s really hush hush. They can sell all these other items like Supreme, because there’s no Supreme dealers there. But there’s tons of Gucci stores.
Because it’s sketchy for them you have to ask for Gucci and they’ll pull you to these back rooms, or take you to a whole different store a block away and into a little room covered in fake bags. Then they ask you to pay ridiculous prices for it, thinking you think it’s real, but all you have to do is negotiate. They really want to make a sale so they’re prepared to negotiate pretty heavily. I was able to negotiate a couple bags and this was the the real pride and joy and what I decided to take on the road with me.
The real reason I’m buying the fake stuff is because I love the idea that people think it’s so cool and it’s a $2 item. That’s why I bought tons of fake pairs of Yeezys. I would tell people that they’re fake and my fans thought it was hilarious. People like Yeezy Buster would try calling me out, saying, “This guy’s got fake shoes!” I loved it.
Photography by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge
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