Oliver Tree is stoked. Yeah, his Atlantic Records debut album, Ugly Is Beautiful, is slated for release in six weeks. He’s probably got some crazy video to launch it that costs more than the yearly salary of Beyoncé’s on-tour nail tech. But if you corner this savant of provocateur pop about it, he’ll shrug it off. See, he’d rather talk about scooters.
Fans of Tree’s videos know about their boy’s obsession with the things. You can see him tooling around YouTube on them. There’s an uber-scooter that’s five times the size of the car he landed on in the crash-landing sequence of “Hurt.” Clearly, the dude is obsessed with them. He’d even set his music career on fire if it meant rolling down Pacific Coast Highway on one.
“I mean, at this point, if I wasn’t focused on the Oliver Tree project, there’s no doubt in my mind that I’d be competing in freestyle scooter contests,” he says. “That was always my childhood dream, to be a professional scooter rider. And if I wasn’t so focused on this, I would definitely be focused on pursuing that as my main source of income and my main passion.”
Professional scooter riders don’t have to worry about making pennies on streaming services. The thrills they conjure are pretty much download-proof. But to Tree, it makes more sense to be signed to a record label and recoup the costs of making his vivid micro-movies.
“Oh, it’s just a lot easier to be able to survive doing art than just survive in something as niche as freestyle scooter,” he says. Not kidding: He speaks with the air of someone who’s done all the research. “Very hard to make a living. There’s only, like, 10 people in the world who are comfortably living doing that sport. It’s like being a harpsichord player: It’s really hard to do. There’s five of you competing for making a living. Whereas in music, you don’t have to be the biggest artist, and you can still survive.”
One question Tree gets frequently focuses on how much money he sinks into his videos. Such as spending too much cash only to scrap an entire project. You know where this is going right now…
“This is my whole life in a nutshell,” he begins. “The main thing that comes to mind right now is this project I’ve been working on for the last two years. I’ve been attempting to build the world’s biggest scooter and break the Guinness World Records. Not just building it, but also riding it. We’ve been working on this for over two years, having multiple engineers helping trying to design it.
“We’ve gone through a course of trying to find funding investors,” he continues enthusiastically. “There’s been multiple times where we almost gave up. We had to stop production because of lack of funds.”
He then lets AltPress in on a big secret. “This is not something that I said before, but we have just been greenlit and given permission and approval by financiers to build the world’s biggest scooter. I am extremely excited to say that is something that will be developed in the next few months. And I can’t really get into the timeline on that.”
Tree can’t talk about who’s bankrolling his big plans. He does describe securing the money for the project as taking him “through hell and back.” He’s not talking specs on the project either, fearful someone with deeper pockets than him will pull it off faster.
“We’ve gone through literally four different designs, and we’ve got it down to the cheapest, most realistic, practical way,” he says like some playground version of Elon Musk. “If I give away any of the engineering that we had to do to overcome the finances and the timelines, it makes it easy for someone else to do.”
Who’s dropping serious coin on Tree? Private equity firm? Venture capitalist? Usher? Jay-Z? Tree’s not saying. We definitely know who’s not pulling out the checkbook for this. Namely his label, Atlantic. And you’ve seen what kind of stuff they ponied up for previously.
“I think there’s some things that [are] really tough to pay for and justify,” Jeff Levin, senior director of A&R, says. “One of which being the world’s largest scooter. You know, the scooter is going to be what he probably talks about even more than the music.”
Ugly Is Beautiful comes out March 27. Oliver Tree (but not his “attorney”) appear on the new issue of AP, available below or here.