Interview: obe talk about their new album

They are explosive. They are mysterious. They play with aggression but they will leave you feeling uplifted. Instrumentalists ‘obe’ are set to launch their new album Partners as Chaos Theory celebrates its return to Camden with the first Facemelter to be held at The Black Heart.

We caught up with obe ahead of the gig, as the band psyched themselves up for the launch.

Partners is crafted, layered, but unpretentious album. It has depth and range, and though they have been described as a post rock outfit, the band have managed to blend a panorama of sounds and influences to give this new venture a unique and captivating flavour.

The band believe they are a live act first and foremost, so the intention, they said, was to recreate the spirit and the intimacy of their stage presence.

It worked. This album grabs you, and it moves you and your are left with same satisfaction as you would having experienced a truly live performance. After listening to their work we couldn’t resist the treat of getting to talk to them about their process and what they hope to achieve over the coming months.

This is the first album in your current incarnation. How did you come together? 

Greg – As a band obe has been going since 2009 but Chris is now the only original member left! Our old guitarist left in Feb 2012 so we spent a long time looking for a replacement both within the scene and on web adverts, which end up in strange blind date situations usually in the Worlds End which is a depressing hole to make awkward small talk in. Especially when there’s only a small chance of getting your rocks off with the odd guy from gumtree. That went on for the best part of 6 months. At the time Dan was playing in a band with a hairy dude called Dave, they were old buds from teenage times and the guy could shred but it took us a while to come around to the idea of getting him in. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was the beard, and the fact he laughed a lot and always had sweets or baked goods to give out. It’s a combination I had been conditioned to be wary of. I now love these aspects of the man.

Dave – What Greg said! Dan and I have been in a bunch of bands together and I was a fan of obe (or O.B.E or whatever) from the outset. When they announced they were looking for a guitarist I was interested but not really sure if I would be a good fit. Plus they weren’t asking me. Eventually they got desperate and here we are.


obe facemelter

Photo by Magda Wrzeszcz

What are your plans in terms of building a career? Are you interested in getting signed, or is this an underground project? In the genre of music you are in, it seems that bands like yours build a following from the ground up. It’s based on trust, so is there any need for a big corporation?

Greg – I’ve built my career, it’s not in music. This is our passion but I’m not banking on ever paying a rent bill with the proceeds. We’ve all got ‘proper’ jobs so we have to find a balance with what we love doing what we need to do to afford rent and guitar pedals. If things ever take off I think we will all jack our day jobs in a second but to have ambitions above getting some tours and maybe a bit of exposure on 6 music is setting yourself up for a fall when you play the music we do.

In terms of the ‘big corporation’ thing the type of label doesn’t bother me, none of us have a political or moral view on it but the one thing that strikes me is that it must be very inflexible to work in their framework. Working with any label would be nice in as much as having someone to do the admin and promo stuff that we’re terrible at and having some extra help with putting out more records and playing some bigger shows. In terms of specifics, I think everyone playing similar music to us who knows their stuff wants to be on Sergent House, I’ll go along with that.

Is this new album a departure for you all as artists, or is this more a sense of things coming together, the journey’s natural course, so to speak?

Greg – I think there was a sense as we put these songs together that we were just doing what we did well together and what we enjoyed. I think in the past we would think ‘oh this bit needs to have a drop because that’s what bands like us do’. The discussions now are very much focused on whether it fucking kills. If the answer is yes then it stays and I think it’s given everything more energy. Plus we now have very few songs we don’t love playing live so it helps us in that regard too.

You have been described as post-rock, do you agree with that? 

Greg – It’s as good a label as any. I guess you need to be able to describe your sound in as few words as possible and people generally get the idea when you say ‘post-rock’. It doesn’t really fit us for all sorts of reasons and it also seems to have become a bit of a pejorative term in recent years but we don’t lose any sleep over it.

To me this album sounds like a very organic, back to first principles kind of project. The production is not in the way of the music. Is that the idea or am I way off track?

Spot on man. This record was recorded by our bro Jarrad Hearman who helped us out massively in getting the kind of sound we wanted when none of us could really explain it. Originally we wanted to cut the whole thing live but for various reasons it didn’t turn out that way. Our live set is really one of our strongest elements as a band so we wanted to maintain that energy and the vibe but we also felt like the kind of music we make would benefit from a cleaner more ‘studio’ sound. Basically, Jarrad did an amazing job of getting our ideas down and hopefully the ‘live’ sentiment stayed with the record.

Do you have a sense of who your audiences are? Do you know the kind of person that responds powerfully to your stuff? Does it matter? 

Greg – That’s hard. I think to be honest we are our own audience, most of the time when we play or write I try mostly to bust out riffs that will make Chris and Dave either laugh or throw some horns. So I guess the audience is an extension of the band, ie sludgy dudes with a love for the riff and a sense of humor. It sounds very narrow now I’ve written it down, maybe an explanation why we’ve not had major label interest.

Dave – Seconded, I think we write and play for ourselves and hope that other people enjoy it too. Generally speaking, the kind of people who make the effort to come out to shows, buy merch or participate in the kind of DIY scene that we’re involved with are just into music – it doesn’t really matter what genre you dice it up into. If you’re genuinely into what you do then it resonates with those people.

Was there an idea that inspired the album or is it more just a case of just seeing what works and what doesn’t, in a more organic way? 

Greg – Very organic, these are tunes we’ve had for a while. There’s certainly no thematic link in there other than the overall tone. I think of it more of a celebration or welcoming of a new riffing bro, via the medium of the riff. That’s why it’s called partners in my mind.

Dave – For me it was just the recurring themes of being in this band – friendship, enjoying yourself, sharing experiences with people around you. That and crushing tone.

The impression I get from this album is that it is uplifting. There is aggression and a great deal of power, but it’s very positive. I feel that’s a unique combination. Is that something you set out to capture, or is it something that evolved that way? 

Greg – I’d go along with that, we’ve always been suckers for an ascending melody line. I think it comes from the guys we are, there’s no angst in the band, we’re not a protest band we’re wet lefty liberals! We only do uppers. We just want to play as hard as we can and we love doing it so I guess that comes through.

A lot of heavier music gets labelled as aggressive but for me there’s no negativity in the group so I don’t see why it should come across in what we play. We love the sound of distorted guitars, bass and loud drums but it’s definitely celebratory, not melancholy. That’s us and that’s the sound we make so as far as Partners goes, I guess we set out to capture that sound.

Recorded and mixed by Peter Junge

There is a lot of variation in this album, from hard to mellow, power to more contemplative moments. How do find this translates into live performances? Does it add an extra challenge to recreate that breadth on stage, or is it something that helps you as performers? 

To be honest, it gives us a chance to have a breather! It also breaks things up for the crowd so when we’re loud we can be crushingly so and I think it’s best we get quiet every now and again for everyone’s hearing and sanity. The light and shade of the songs is what creates the emotion and impact and although originally it’s a compositional thing it does translate well live. Let’s face it, you start with the live show – that’s just what you sound and look like. The tricky part is recreating that on a record.

This is a very organic album, in terms of the instrumentation and musicianship, but I can hear an influence of more electronic music in the way you create an atmosphere with in each track. Would you say that was accurate?  

Dan and Dave are big fans of electronic music so yeah subconsciously it probably comes across in the way we write. Dan used to produce drum and bass/techno and a lot of the tracks originate as demos on programs such as reason so it is logical that the electronic influence remains to an extent. It’s not deliberate, but any influence you have will always make it into your music in some way and we view that as a positive.

 

You are a difficult band to pin down. In an industry that is difficult to stand out in, do you feel the variations of style give you an advantage compared to other bands working in a similar field?

Not really. We have played with some fantastic bands over the years and they all stand out to me based on the attitudes to their passion and how much energy is projected into their performances. It is a very difficult scene to stand out in, maybe that’s due to the quagmire of bands that are available now thanks to technology etc but maybe it’s because of the standard of bands? I don’t know. I do know there are some real good bands out there right now.

We don’t really try to stand out by doing anything different or weird or anything like that. We have a strength in our live show which we hope is very apparent and I guess we would like to be known and appreciated for how we approach and love what we do.

Interview by James Black