When it comes to Santa Cruz musicians, there’s nobody like Oliver Tree.
At 28, he’s played massive festivals like Outside Lands and Coachella. He’s performed on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and The Late Late Show with James Corden. He’s written and directed his own music videos, as well as videos for other artists, like hip hop musician Lil’ Yachty. Tree’s video for his song “Hurt” currently holds the number 34 spot in the top 100 most expensive music videos ever created; he tricked his label into making, as seen in the behind-the-scenes documentary on YouTube. He has a following of over 10 million on TikTok, and 20.4 million monthly listeners on Spotify. Plus, he holds the Guinness record for the world’s largest scooter kick.
His songs have permeated the consumer world through commercials and video games, and his single, “Life Goes On” is a certified platinum hit, inspiring memes and fan art around the world.
“They were even playing it on the radio in Morocco,” he recalls of a recent trip to the Middle East. “It’s amazing that it’s transcended on such a global scale.”
So where does Santa Cruz’s biggest pop anti-star go from here? Back home for a benefit concert, of course.
In collaboration with Carmel’s 101.7FM The Beach, Tree returns to the Rio Theatre on Friday, Dec. 3 for a surprise show in his hometown.
“Hopefully it inspires a lot of kids who are artists themselves,” he tells GT. “There’s such an absurd amount of creativity in Santa Cruz, and I hope to be an example of taking it to the next level and making an impact.”
If there’s one thing Tree knows how to do, it’s make an impact. And he does it in unexpected ways—for example, this show will be free. He is renting out the room himself and fans will be able to attend on a first-come, first-served basis. Because of this, he admits it won’t be a normal Oliver Tree show, since he won’t have all the components usually at his disposal. However, that just means his message has to hit even harder.
“Anyone can do this, it’s just a matter of getting your hands dirty and dedicating your life to the craft,” he says.
Even though he now lives in Los Angeles, Tree’s roots run deep at home. His band consists of longtime friends and collaborators Casey Mattson on keys and Amir Oosman on drums, both ex-Santa Cruzans themselves. Along with Southern California artist Contradash on the bill, Tree enlisted opening local acts Ray “Marcellous” George and Shelf Nunny, a Santa Cruz native who is now an Seattle-based electronic artist and was a prominent collaborator in Tree’s early high school and college projects.
If that’s not enough local love, attendees are encouraged to make a monetary donation—with proceeds going to the Homeless Garden Project—or to bring canned food, which will go to Second Harvest Food Bank.
It seems Tree is going out with a bang after his recent announcement he will be retiring from music.
“My new album I’m making—this country album, Cowboy Tears—will be my last album ever,” he says. “But in a lot of ways, it will be my first, because [2020’s] Ugly is Beautiful was selected works of music made over the course of five years.”
The news sent shockwaves through his fan base, with the internet speculating it to be some sort of publicity stunt—a valid theory, as Tree has made a career out of satirizing current pop culture through YouTube, TikTok and a plethora of memes. Even his signature style—large JNCO jeans, a pink and blue windbreaker jacket and bowl-cut hair—was an “ugly is beautiful” statement on celebrity that he carefully curated for memeing. He’s recently changed up the bowl cut for a long, bleach-blonde mullet in line with his country theme.
Ahead of his possibly final album, Tree plans on one final world tour, first hitting the U.S. at the beginning of 2022 and then touring South America in an attempt to visit all seven continents before the age of 29. There are even plans for a possible Antarctic show in the works.
After that, he plans to continue writing scripts and focusing on film through his production company, Alien Boy Films, which he started during the 2020 quarantine.
“I’ve been focused on trying to segway into film, that’s the next big goal for me,” he says. “We film way more than we can edit. So right now we’re focusing on filling out our roster of editors so some of these things that are four or five years old can see the light of day.”
Oliver Tree will play at 7pm (doors 5:30) on Friday, Dec. 3, at the Rio Theatre, 1205 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. Free; seating is first-come, first-served. (831) 423-8209.