“Grand prize,” the first song on Oscar DeLaughter’s self-titled debut, feels instantly familiar in the way that a good song usually does. With breezy, Chic-y guitars and strutting horns, “Grand Prize” is a summer jam that happened to be released in January, aiming for pre-Thriller Michael Jackson and landing somewhere around Justin Timberlake’s “Suit & Tie.”
It’s an assured first effort for a kid who just turned 19, but not really a surprise coming from someone who has been around music since he was born. “I was on the road, yeah, my first five years of my life, six years, seven years,” he says, sitting in a booth at Char Bar on Lower Greenville on a February afternoon. “Once I got to be like 6 and 7, I was starting kindergarten and first grade, so it was more during the summers and breaks.”
If Oscar’s surname also feels instantly familiar, it’s the reason he was on a tour bus as a toddler. He is the son of Tim DeLaughter, who has been bouncing around stages with Tripping Daisy and The Polyphonic Spree since the early 1990s.
“Writing and all that is great. But performing, that’s where all the feeling and everything comes into play.”
But you won’t get the same spark of recognition from his music. Maybe—and likely only if you know the connection beforehand—you might hear a bit of the father’s quavering high-end on the spare, building “Lost.” Even then you have to sort of squint with your ears. There is no avoiding mentioning the elder DeLaughter, but he very quickly fades into the background, an interesting bit of biography rather than any direct influence on the music his son is making.
“When I’ve got something new or a song and I’ve already recorded it, I’ll show him and he’ll tell me, ‘Oh, I like it, that’s cool,’ and that’s about as far as it goes,” Oscar says. (His father’s biggest impact was probably letting his son open up for the Spree’s annual Christmas concert at the Majestic Theatre in 2016.)
Oscar started writing songs when he was 10 years old. “I wouldn’t say that there was a bridge and a breakdown in every single song, but there was a verse and a chorus there,” he says. He began working on “Grand Prize” and “Lost” in 2016 at The Kitchen Studios on Garland Road, with producer John Painter. He took a year off from attending Woodrow Wilson High School to concentrate on the recordings (he took courses online) before returning for his senior year. College is on hold at the moment, as he sees what happens now that he finally has music people can listen to. For one thing, he can perform more. He’s kicking off this month’s Homegrown Music and Arts Festival.
“It’s honestly my favorite part of it all,” he says. “Writing and all that is great and that just naturally happens, but performing, that’s where all the feeling and everything comes into play.”
Sitting across from him at Char Bar, it’s hard to picture him onstage. He looks just like a normal kid, not the suited-up man on the cover of his EP. Still someone’s son.