The Canadian pop punk band Oakrest formed in 2016, as frontman Jacob Szabo was graduating high school, as an evolution from jamming with Blink-182 covers to writing their own music. The band released its first EP, This Story Needs An End in 2017 and a second EP — Annamaria Dr. — in 2019.
In 2020, Oakrest released the single “Nothing Serious,” which dives into a more poppier pop-rock sound and feel, a single which has been archived on several Spotify playlists and has received nearly 10,000 streams on Spotify and 8,000 views on Youtube, making it the band’s most successful track yet.
Oakrest is now at work on their first full length album, with a planned release for next summer.
Read on for our interview with Oakrest frontman Jacob Szabo, where we take a deep dive into his songwriting process, musical inspirations and aspirations for the future of the band.
How did Oakrest get started?
Jacob Szabo: 2017, we put out our first EP, but 2016 is the year I graduated high school and I wanted to start a band. We had a few guys that were on my street that always wanted to just jam Blink-182 covers, and that got that motion going. Last year of high school, I went to a new school and met this kid named Jacob Graves, who is still in the band now. From there on, it was about 2016, 2017 when we started jamming, writing our own songs. We went on to record our first EP, This Story Needs An End in 2017, and from there it’s history. You start off playing your favorite band’s music, and then you just start writing your own. It’s a great feeling.
Where does the name ‘Oakrest’ come from?
Jacob Szabo: I used to live in a small town called Keswick, Ontario. I live in Toronto now, but on that street I lived there basically my entire life. I lived on Anamaria Drive, and the off street was called Oakcrest. I wanted to be somewhat unique in a way, so I’m like ‘let’s take out the ‘c’ and do Oakrest.’ Basically it’s just a street name that I lived off of. Had a lot of memories there.
Can you go through the current line up of the band?
Jacob Szabo: In the course of from when the pandemic started to now, we’ve had a few members come and join, realize this isn’t what they wanted to do, and they’ve left. Right now, that’s left us with me on vocals, Jacob Graves on rhythm guitar, and Chris Zoubaniotis is our drummer. And right now, we currently have fill-ins for bass and lead guitar. We’re not really looking for a new bassist or lead guitarist at the moment. Currently we’re just sticking as a three-piece with just fill-ins.
I want to talk a little about your specific sound — bright, driving guitars, powerful vocals and automatic anthems — was this sound a natural evolution from playing Blink-182 covers? How did you arrive at this place, sonically?
Jacob Szabo: To be honest, I had no plan to get to this point. “Nothing Serious” was actually an inspiration from our other pop song off our EP Annamaria Dr. called Long Thoughts. And we realized a lot of people like that song off that EP, so I’m like ‘I’m gonna write another one.’ I honestly enjoy doing this more than rewriting pop punk songs over and over again. When I was 17, all I knew was distortion, all I knew was really fast drums and all that. Actually getting more into music and writing, you realize that just repeating that is a little cliche, you try to at least put some spin on it in some way, so that’s how it happened.
You released “Nothing Serious” in 2020 and it blew up a little — do you want to talk about the single and the reaction to it?
Jacob Szabo: It was definitely a surprise to us how fast the streams have gone up. It’s definitely our most streamed song. And again, we could tell that people liked our poppier pop-rock stuff, going off of Long Thoughts. So, we recorded it in May of 2020 and we were in a rush. We wanted it out at least before the snow came. So we released it in September of 2020. In that period though, we got the track back, recorded a music video super fast, did a bunch of things to help you get on algorithm playlists through Spotify, and thankfully it worked. For our first serious release, it worked. But since then, we have been kind of quiet. We actually have another single ready, but it’s the same sort of process again. We’re waiting for a grant right now to film the music video. Honestly right now, we’re still waiting so don’t know when we can have it out. We’re hoping probably about the same time as when “Nothing Serious” came out. And then next summer, the record release.
Can you talk about your writing process, take a song through to its production?
Jacob Szabo: I, right now, am the only one in the band that knows how to write music and rhyme words that make sense. It’s a big job on me, but I love doing it. It’s literally one of my favorite parts of being a musician. It’s very time-consuming, it keeps me busy. But basically, it’s always been just me starting out with a guitar and an amp and just writing about what’s going on in my life. From the first songs we wrote up until now. Obviously, with This Story Needs an End, the problems were a little more immature and high school, which is what made the punk rockness kind of peak at that point. But being a little older now, and kind of getting it, that changes. Your problems turn into other, more mature problems.
During the pandemic when we said ‘let’s do this’ — I didn’t want to put out another EP and they didn’t either, because we feel like we’re definitely past that point, basically we sat down, said we want to do a full length, and it was mainly just put onto me. Any sort of free time I had on my weekends, after work, I would literally just sit there and try to write. Think about what’s been happening. I feel like I wrote the best songs for this next record here in Toronto. Which is surprisingly because I was so limited to space and with what I can get out of my tone. Honestly, it’s been very eye-opening trying to write during Covid.
As the lead songwriter for the band, do you want to just talk about how you got into music and songwriting in the first place?
Jacob Szabo: We can go all the way back to when I was 8 years old and when I was given the choice to do karate lessons or guitar lessons. Funny enough, I got to do both. But I left karate after a year — with the more music I’ve discovered, I don’t like to be disciplined. The bands I get into it’s all punk rock and that’s the main message behind it. The whole theme and lifestyle of punk rock is literally ‘do whatever the fuck you want and fuck people who tell you to do shit.’ But I was 8 years old, I got the choice to do guitar lessons. My entire family came from a musical background. My mom was self-taught on guitar. My dad played piano. They both did live theatre. It’s been around my entire life. My parents were always playing the radio and I’d be introduced to Elvis and anything on 88.5 The Jewel.
Anyway, I was 8 years old, and I got to learn how to play guitar. That turned into me learning how to play electric guitar. Because I said ‘fuck theory, I don’t want to learn it. I want to learn power chords.’ It all started there, just the first time picking up a guitar. I stuck with it and I would play at all my high school’s coffeehouses and all these events, just because I wanted to play music. And I knew from that point, the first time I stepped on a stage, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. At that time, being very young, that’s the time when bands like the All American Rejects put out Move Along; Simple Plan put out No Pads, No helmets… Just Balls, and those albums changed my life.
Did your EP Annamaria Dr. have specific inspirations that fed the songs, since it deals with heavier themes?
Jacob Szabo: I was heavily invested in bands who influenced me. I would watch interviews, any videos of them talking about the same thing that we’re talking about right now: inspiration behind lyrics, themes, just because I honestly wanted to learn how to do this properly. I would say the main inspiration behind all of these songs that have sort of heavier meanings behind it, rather than ‘a girl broke up with me,’ I started writing about mental health. Probably around that time, too, I was going through the whole ‘discovering myself’ phase. During the time I was going through the process and writing about it, too, which is honestly what helped me get to the point where I am now. The main inspiration for the whole mental health songs was probably from Neck Deep. They write songs about mental health and not just girls and really immature problems, being in a pop punk band. It hit home with me. With my lyrics, I drew a lot of inspiration from Blink-182, when they said their lyrics are deep and meaningful but the music behind it just sounds very fun and very catchy. But then you look at the lyrics and you’re like ‘oh shit, he’s trying to tell something here.’
Is there a song that you’ve written that means more to you than other tracks?
Jacob Szabo: Currently with this new record, it’s written and done, we’re just waiting to record it in December. But honestly, I toned down the whole really, really meaningful lyrics a little bit on this new record. I chose a theme; that theme for this new record is honestly relationships. For the first time in my life I’m in a committed, serious relationship. I don’t know if I can decide on a favorite. It’s between two. It’s a track called Olivia and a track called Love For One Day. Both have two different meanings. Olivia, I drew inspiration from Stacy’s Mom – these poppy songs that are about a crush on a girl that you’ll never be able to achieve and satisfy in a way. And Love For One Day is about a relationship that’s failed in the past that really felt so real. Both of them are very poppy and catchy — the lyrics have meaning behind them, but it sounds like a fun pop song.
How has the process for writing this first full-length record been different from the EPs you’ve released?
Jacob Szabo: With the other EPs, we would write the amount of tracks we wanted recorded. With this record, I totally threw that out the window. I first stated that I wanted to write 30 songs and choose 10 out of those; I actually cut it down to 18. From the course of last March until now, I wrote 18 songs, only 10 of them made the record. Definitely, that’s what changed. I wrote more than I wanted and I was actually able to choose. We all thought these 10 that I chose, they all flow very well, they have a lot of dynamic to it. When I was writing this full-length record, I would listen back to other records bands had put out, to make sure I’m doing it right. I would listen to when the dynamics change. We start off with the singles and bangers in the beginning, go down to the slower songs, and then come back with the faster songs and that’s the record. I really got into Fountains of Wayne while writing. Weezer. All these bands that use a lot of synth. It obviously struck something because I wrote so many of these songs that included so much synth and I’ve never done that before. As December hit, that’s when the moodier songs came out, a little bit of seasonal depression came out too, and I wrote one acoustic track that I’m really proud of that I feel like is gonna tug at a lot of people. The rest of the record, I don’t think I can say too much more. But it’s definitely been eye-opening listening to what I need to write and where I need to put these songs in order for it to flow and feel good.
Has this longer, more drawn out process of writing an album served a therapeutic side for you?
Jacob Szabo: I’d say probably. It took up literally all my time. My girlfriend wouldn’t see me until nine o’clock and I get off work at four-thirty. I would just be down there for hours and hours until I came up with something good. At different times, I wrote different songs. Like last march, going into the summertime, the springtime, that’s when you write the happier songs. Summertime, you write the pop bangers ‘cuz it’s summertime and everyone’s happy. Fall/Winter comes and that’s when I found myself listening to a lot of John Mayer, a lot of softer shit, and a lot of that came out in the writing, because that’s what I’d been surrounding myself with. It’s definitely been very eye-opening. Now that the record’s done, I’ve been taking a complete break from writing, playing music, just ‘cuz I let this consume a whole year of my life. I’m just gonna chill out until shows come back.
When you’re spending hours ‘finding something good,’ what does that process look like? How do you find the good stuff?
Jacob Szabo: I would just sit down there and come up with these chord progressions until I really got that spark. And then with what that chord progression felt to me, that’s what I would write off of. If the chords were very major and positive, and they sounded happy, that’s when I would write a song about my girlfriend and how great she was. It wouldn’t be the same song over and over and over. I would try new things, maybe turn off the distortion, turn on the delay a little bit, do all this experimentation. I would just force myself to stay down there. Once I got that first line — which was always the hardest part — it just sort of flowed to me. You get a melody in your head. I would sit down there and then once I got that train of motion going, I wouldn’t come up until I was satisfied. In one night, I could write an intro, verse, pre chorus, and then the chorus, and I’d be like ‘okay, that’s it.’ Fastest song I wrote on this record was probably one evening, where it just flowed so naturally.
What does the future of Oakrest look like?
Jacob Szabo: I mean, realistically, we’re hoping to get picked up by any sort of label. As I mentioned, this is what I’ve been wanting to do since I first went on stage when I was a kid. This is, I feel like, the only thing I can do, in a way. Anything else I tried, it never seemed to click like music. Especially with past events that have caused me to have a reawakening as to what I want to do with the rest of my life, you don’t want to take anything for granted. From that day when I hit my head really hard and had a reopening to what life actually means to me, that’s when I decided that music would actually happen. We’re gonna put out our first full-length next summer, hopefully, have this next single out soon with the music video, and Canada’s slowly re-opening, hopefully, we can get some tours, shows, weekend runs, anything that can get us back to doing what we love.
You can listen to Oakrest’s music here.