Much has been written about Thomas Oliver's musical pedigree in Hawke's Bay.

The son of two creative parents, Oliver first started playing the guitar aged 10, having been inspired by his singer-songwriter father.

Returning home to play two shows as part of this year's Harcourts Hawke's Bay Arts Festival, the internationally-renowned musician says he was lucky to have an appreciation for music instilled in him from a young age.

For Oliver, however, the turning point to pursuing a musical career came when he was 18 and studying music in the capital.

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"I made the psychological commitment to become a professional musician," says Oliver. "If you want to do music, you can't have a back-up plan - you just have to go all in."

Going 'all in' has proved to be a winning formula for the 31-year-old artist. Throughout his career, he has taken risks and backed his choices, including his decision to pursue a career as a solo musician in 2013.

Going solo has allowed him to find his own distinctive style, which he describes as "more tender, a little bit more soul and with more of an electronic influence", while still retaining the blues and roots vibe The Thomas Oliver Band was known for.

Going solo has also enabled the Wellington-based artist to pursue his passion for the Weissenborn lap-slide guitar.

Oliver first discovered the unique sound of the Weissenborn listening to Ben Harper as a high school student. He tracked one down and taught himself to play by listening to Harper's albums. Part of the appeal for Oliver was the uniqueness of the instrument.

"No one else was doing it," he says.

In 2013, he released his first solo album Beneath the Weissenborn - the world's first full-length, all instrumental, Weissenborn album. It was an interesting departure for the talented vocalist, but one that would ultimately prove incredibly successful.

The album hit the charts in New Zealand and garnered international attention, particularly through the slide guitar community. A large fan base followed in its wake, which opened the door to touring internationally.

"In an ever-increasingly saturated music market, it's more important than ever to have a point of difference," says Oliver. "If you're going to do something that no one else is doing and do it well, people will take notice."

In April this year, Oliver released his first vocalised album, Floating In The Darkness, which saw him return to his singer-songwriter roots. Oliver recorded, produced and mixed the album almost entirely himself, taking more than two years to get it to a point where he was happy with the finished product.

His perfectionism paid off with the album reaching number one on the New Zealand iTunes singer-songwriter chart, and debuting at number three on the New Zealand Album Charts overall. It features the single If I Move To Mars, which won a coveted APRA Silver Scroll, the most prestigious songwriting award in New Zealand.

Much of the album is autobiographical, none more so than Boy - a coming of age story about a boy on the threshold of manhood.

In May and June, Oliver toured New Zealand and Australia to promote the new album and is about to embark on his third European tour, where he'll play 14 gigs in just over two week, mostly across the Netherlands and Germany.

On his return to New Zealand, he will barely have time to catch his breath before heading to his hometown for the Harcourts Hawke's Bay Arts Festival. Backed by a four-piece band, Oliver will perform songs from the new album along with some of his old favourites.

"I'm super excited to bring this new band to the Bay! It will be a dynamic show; sometimes delicate and sometimes bold and intense. A journey of heart songs. And what a beautiful venue in which to play music."

Now hailed as one of the world's most talented Weissenborn guitarists, and having shared the stage with the likes of Joe Cocker and Eric Clapton, Oliver is proof that going 'all in' can be worth the risk.

Not bad for a guitar-playing boy from the Bay.


*Thomas Oliver
October 2 and 3, 8pm
Spiegeltent, Havelock North
Book now at hbaf.co.nz or iSITES Hastings, Havelock North, Napier and Wairoa