In 2004, Oliver Hofer was playing in Blue Man Group in London. A guitar player by the name of Michael Maddox was in town, as part of a European tour with the Los Angeles-based band Vain. The two met each other after Vain’s London show, got “blitzed,” according to Hofer, and swore that one day they’d work together. Well, Maddox subsequently got the guitar gig in the Broadway jukebox musical Rock of Ages, and when it came time to put the band together for the national tour, he remembered the pact he had made with Hofer and called. “He never even heard me play,” laughs Hofer. “It was all about the hang. I guess my resume gave him an idea, but that was it—15 years in the making.”
Hofer grew up in Germany and says that he was “subconsciously” influenced by rock music from the age of nine-years-old. “My first vinyl, a birthday present from my sister, was The Best of Uriah Heep [Bronze/Mercury, 1976],” he recalls. “I still absolutely love that band. I did not become a musician until I was 17 years old, but the bass parts in particular were amazing. Just listen to ‘Sweet Lorraine.’ It sounds like James Jamerson sitting in with a rock band—absolute killer performance by Gary Thain.”
Hofer subsequently attended Bass School Munich for a year. But back then, he admits he wasn't into the academic side of things. “I wanted to play rock music and enjoy everything that was part of that magic, or what I thought was part of it,” he recalls. “Not the best choice, but I enjoyed it anyway.” He moved to New York City in 1999 and started studying more seriously, including private lessons with renowned teacher and Bass Magazine columnist Patrick Pfeiffer. Nowadays, Hofer says there are two things that act as the foundation for his ongoing studies. “I keep going back to a Billy Sheehan interview where he said, ‘If you learn the entire Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band [the Beatles, Parlophone, 1967] album you will come out on the other side a better player. And then you pick the next album.’ I believe that to be true 100%.”
The other tenant was a bit of wisdom from Pfeiffer. “I said to Patrick, ‘Hey, I am invited to audition for We Will Rock You. I am going to audition for Brian May and Roger Taylor. What should I do? What do they expect?’ He said, ‘You want to make sure you are 100% yourself. Don't pretend you are someone else. They might look for you, but they won't see youif you're acting like someone or something you think they're looking for.’ Make sense?”
We caught up with Hofer in New York City while he was subbing on Blue Man Groupdates. He had just wrapped a nine-month-long national tour with Rock of Agesand was candid about playing in some of Broadway’s hottest and Off-Broadway’s longest running shows.
Did you have to read charts for Rock of Ages?
This gig is different from a typical Broadway pit gig. We appear on stage for most of the show and look like an LA rock band from the Sunset Strip in the ’80s. So, there are no music stands, except for the Musical Director/Keyboard Player. We were given a score before rehearsals started, but years of development has led to a mix of what’s in the score, the original recordings of the songs, and what past musicians have played, from show recordings that had been forwarded. On top of that, when you're touring for nine months, the [current] band will find its own little sparkles and confetti, so to speak—things that might sit better with the particular choreography of that particular production. Basically, it’s like playing with a real band.
How does one prepare for performing in the "pit?"
I’ve only played in a handful of rock musicals. Namely The Who’s Tommy, We Will Rock You,Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Blue Man Groupand Rock of Ages. Of those, Tommy and We Will Rock You were proper pit situations. I had to get my reading up to speed, which I don't use often in live situations. I prefer to be independent and not glued to a piece of paper. There is so much to enjoy when playing live and when you listen and pay attention to what’s happening around you. Funnily enough, I am usually better prepared than I think. I remember during a Rock Youshow early on, we were about to play “No-One But You (Only The Good Die Young),” a ballad with just piano, bass and vocals. It was my “sweaty hands” number in that show. The keyboard player’s fan blew the chart off my stand and voilà…I just played the damn thing. I never looked at the chart again. There are more complex scores out there where it is definitely important to be a good reader. You also want to learn to adjust to the way your MD is conducting—pay attention to that early on. Everyone is a little different and your interpretation might need some adjustment.
How does being a Broadway sub differ from being on the national tour?
Well the biggest difference, is that on tour it was my chair. And, to an extent, I played my show—a little lick here, a slide down there, and so on. When you sub, especially on Broadway, you need to sound as close as possible to the fulltime musician, in this case, the incredible Winston Roye. The goal, and unwritten rule, is that the cast, and band, don't miss the guy who is usually there. Beyond that, you don't want to walk in thinking you know it all because you just came back from tour and that's how wedid things there. It really means squat in the next situation and you’ve got to leave that all at the door.
You're also a sub for Blue Man Group. What's that like and how does it differ from the Rock of Agesgig?
While I am a sub here in NYC, I've been with that brand for almost 15 years and played full time between 2005 and 2012 all across Europe. In the beginning, you need to forget a little bit of everything you think it is to be a musician and be open to alternative approaches that seem weird and against everything you ever learned or thought to be true. That is the hardest part to landing that gig. I was part of the auditions and saw absolute monster players walk in and not get the job because they did not show the ability to let go of what they had known to be right their entire life. The music is written...ish. It’s a very recognizable aesthetic that is easily identified as “Blue Man Music”—almost circus-like. Everyone involved in the composition of the core catalogue is very much responsible for making it sound like “Blue Man.” It's a thing—a special sauce not many know how to cook with.
GEAR (Rock of Ages National Tour)
Bass Schecter Michael Anthony USA Signature
Amps Positive Grid Bias Head (power amp-only, with flat settings)
Effects Darkglass Microtubes B7K Ultra, MXR M87 Bass Compressor (both for dialing in tone)
Strings Ernie Ball 2833 Hybrid Slinky .045-.105
Accessories Jerry Harvey Audio IEMs, Aviom A-16II Personal Mixer
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