|Toby Macfarlaine - O.W.L.S - Interview Exclusive|
|Written by David Whistance|
|Sunday, 08 April 2012 05:25|
Describing their music as "feedback, bang & crash, shouting in tune, make with the funny, no precision solos or fireworks," O.W.L.S resurrect the spirit of grunge with smiles on their faces, and what's more they'll make you smile too. I caught up with band leader Toby Macfarlaine recently to find out all about what the quartet has to offer the average Uber Rocker, plus I just couldn't resist dropping in a few sneaky Blur and Darkness questions along the way (due to Toby's close involvement with members of both band camps), well it would have been rude of me not to wouldn't it?
Here's my chat with Toby in full, so read on and discover yet another great new band thanks to your chums at Uber Rock.
UR: Toby my first question is the rather obvious question, but I have to ask this... What does the band name O.W.L.S actually stand for?
Toby Macfarlaine: Well, my first rather obvious answer is that O.W.L.S can mean whatever you want it to mean. I like leaving it ambiguous and frustrating. Maybe we'll reveal it one day but for now it remains shrouded in mystery.
For any Uber Rock readers yet to discover O.W.L.S how would you describe the band to them?
The band is a four piece rock band unashamedly influenced by the noise that came out of the Pacific Northwest around '88-'92. It's a sort of punk rock ethic that means we're morally opposed to precision guitar solos and fireworks and we really don't take ourselves too seriously.
The thing about "that word" (The word is grrr-unge) is that people these days think it was all depressing and covered in heroin and sadness and death, when actually that 'scene', for want of a better word, was mainly a bunch of pretty hilarious people having fun and doing dirty little punk rock shows and jumping around and having a great time. If we could hope to remind people of anything about that era, it's the positive fun stuff to a soundtrack of sludgy not particularly well-played heavy rock that I want to point people towards.
Richie Edwards along with yourself were members of post Darkness band Stone Gods, how did you both feel when you heard that Dan Hawkins was returning to The Darkness?
A little like jilted lovers. Like we were mistresses and he'd gone back to his wife... Hehe... Kinda... I mean, I get it. I think Stone Gods was becoming a pain in the arse for Dan, just a daily constant struggle, like trying to run in a swamp and suddenly the clouds part and a light shines down with a high falsetto chorus and the ping of a springing-open cash register... "Hallelujah, Bretherin, you are saved!"
You know, it is what it is and it ain't what it ain't. It is a shame but it isn't worth slitting your wrists over.
Did you consider continuing with Stone Gods without Dan or was forming a new band inevitable?
No, it wouldn't have worked. Honestly I was so burned out and bummed out when it ended that I didn't want to be in a band at all. I'd co-written this great album that suddenly wasn't going to come out any more and I hit a songwriting wall. I just thought I'd concentrate on playing bass with Graham Coxon, maybe do some other session-type stuff, but I didn't feel emotionally capable of anything more creative than that. At that time.
As you mentioned there Stone Gods had completed a second album before their demise, giving that the band had a loyal fan base myself included do you think the album will ever get a release?
I hope so, because it's a really good record. There are some awesome songs on there. I'd like to think it will eventually surface, yes. I doubt very much that we'd ever go out and play it live, but it will, at some point, be set free into the world, yes.
You were the bass player in Stone Gods along with playing bass in Graham Coxon's band, how did you make the decision to switch roles to lead vocalist in O.W.L.S?
Well I started out as a frontman in a band called Inertia. We released an E.P. through Parlophone offshoot Regal in '96 and then kinda imploded and I ended up playing bass and singing back-up vocals with a group called Thirteen:13. We signed to Polydor and did a bunch of singles and an album, which got shelved, and I'd started playing bass with Coxon in 2001, I think. Then I played guitar with JJ72 and did a stint on guitar with Charlotte Hatherley (and if anyone thinks girls can't play guitar, they can kiss my arse because Charlotte can outplay fucking anyone). Really I'm a guitarist that people kept asking to play bass and I kept saying Yes. It wasn't really a "switch" for me, it was just moving into the other room, you know?
Given that Richie Edwards did such an impressive job as front man in Stone Gods are you worried that you have some pretty big shoes to fill with O.W.L.S?
Richie was and is an amazing frontman and if this band was a similar type of band to, or indeed a continuation of Stone Gods then I probably would be worried. But O.W.L.S is really my baby, so to speak, so, you know, the only shoes I have to fill are my own battered old Converse.
So was it a collective decision of the band as to which band member would take on the role as lead vocalist?
No. Basically what happened was I just began trying to learn how to use garageband on my Mac and so I started writing a bunch of songs and they all suddenly has this sound and, sort of, theme running through them. Before I knew it, I'd written an album and it was kind of, "Well, shit, I guess I better start a band". So I fired off some songs to Stuffy and he got excited and said we should do it and then I sent some tracks to Rich to see what he thought of them and he got so excited by them that I just went, "Well, hey brother, d'you wanna come play guitar with me?" You know, if you're gonna have a second guitarist in a band there is literally no point in having anyone other than Richie Edwards. He's just so "on it" as a player. I'm a pretty sloppy guitar player, so Rich's natural ability to tighten things up is just perfect. Plus I realised I just really missed being in a gang with that guy. And with Ollie, he and I had been talking about doing something together for ages so it was just like I'd finally pulled my finger out and written some fucking tunes.
Yourself along with drummer Stuffy make up the rhythm section in Graham Coxon's band, that's a pretty impressive gig, how did you both get involved with the Blur guitarist?
I got to know Graham in about '99/ 2000 when he and I were both terrifyingly regular visitors to Camden's The Good Mixer. We were sort of drinking buddies and at some point I got a phone call saying, "Ere, Tobes, d'you wanna do a band?" At that point the band was Rod from Idlewild on guitar and Dave Rowntree from of off the Blurs on drums. Stuffy got involved a couple of years later through a mutual friend and he and I have been in love ever since.
You and Ollie played in rival bands whilst you were in school in Brighton, was there ever any animosity between the pair of you or was it strictly friendly rivalry?
No, it was always a really friendly rivalry. I even did a gig playing guitar with them because their guitarist had exploded or something. It was great, his band was called The System and were all from the year below me at school. We did quite a few shows together. They always supported. Haha! I don't think it's possible for anyone to feel any real animosity for Ollie. He's an absolutely glorious young fellow. He's so likeable I hate him.
A question we always like to ask in Uber Rock is have you ever experienced a gig from Hell moment either as a band member or as a fan?
Not as a fan, I don't think. Apart from going to see Sebadoh years and years ago when I was still pretending I liked smoking weed. Someone passed me a joint, I chucked a whitey and sat at the back of the venue concentrating on breathing and missed the whole gig. That was pretty hellish. As a band there are lots of gigs that can feel like hell. When suddenly none of the equipment works. When audiences aren't into it, for whatever reason. When you're just not able to get into it yourself, that's the worst. Sometimes you just have a mood wall you can't get over it and you're just going through the motions. That's hell. Because that's faking it and that's sort of anathema to what I believe is the whole point and spirit of rock n' roll. Luckily, it's also extremely rare.
Uber Rock have also always been proud to support new and upcoming bands, what bands are currently rocking the O.W.L.S camp?
I love OAF. It's Dom Lawson who writes for Metal Hammer. They are a fucking amazing punk band that have a song called "Fuck Off Seagull" which is just about a really big seagull. Genius. I also really like Gentleman Starkey who are a Brighton band. Katy Cruel is very cool. Olly plays bass with her too. Richie played me a folk record by Lucy Ward the other day, which blew my head off. So lovely. Those are the new things I'm into. Other than that, honestly, I mostly just listen to Melvins and Tad at the moment.
And if you were to select your I pod to random what would the first three songs be?
I don't really ever do the shuffle thing. Actually, I tweeted something about this the other day which went bloody mental all over the Twittersphere and even Graham Coxon got asked about it in an interview because he'd foolishly retweeted me, (laughing) (You can follow me at www.twitter.com/tobelorone if you like that sort of thing)
I'd said something like "Do Kindle's have a 'shuffle all chapters' feature? No, of course they don't. Stop shuffling your music. Listen to albums in full". Bit flippin sanctimonious, I know, but I still feel it's a shame records don't get to exist as bodies of work or as a whole experience very much these days. Yada yada,
Ok I'll do it. Just for you guys. As an experiment... (laughing)
The first three songs are: 'Cold Metal' by Iggy Pop, 'Turnover' by Fugazi, and 'Love Me Two Times' by The Doors. That's fairly cool, isn't it?
I have literally been sitting here going "please don't be Coldplay, please don't be Coldplay" (laughs loudly)
More seriously then Toby what does 2012 hold in store for O.W.L.S? Any live shows planned in the future?
Yeah, at the moment we've got a London show, a Birmingham gig and another Brighton one. I think this year is really about "setting up shop", so to speak, so we're going to try and jump on a few support slots with relevant bands for the rest of the year and then I guess next year really gig the shit out of this thing. We're aiming to have this E.P. (although it's really more of a mini-album) released, digitally, on April 13th (yup, it's a Friday). We're going to make the opening track, 'Only Joking', available as a freebie through our website (www.owls-world.com) and the rest will be on iTunes or Amazon or whatever one of those things you prefer.
And finally do you ever envisage yourself riding above your audience on a giant pair of Breasts in homage to Richey's time spent in The Darkness?
Absolutely not. There are enough tits in this band already (laughing).