Exclusive Q&A with O.W.L.S vocalist Toby Macfarlaine

409002_219224684828024_777037510_nO.W.L.S is new grunge band from England. Singer Toby Macfarlaine speaks about the formation of the band and the embrace for the term “grunge”

Q: Can you talk about the formation of the band and what O.W.L.S mean?

Toby Macfarliane: After Stone Gods had disintegrated I spent a few months in a hole, just not wanting to write music, not feeling inspired. Classic self medicated fug, basically. Lots of codeine and red wine. Then, for some reason, I decided to try to work out how to use Garageband on my Mac.

I didn’t have a microphone, or an electric guitar, or one of those interface things you need to plug instruments in. I just threw together some basic drum loops, held my little acoustic guitar up to the built-in mic on the laptop, turned up the gain so it started feeding-back horribly and suddenly all these riffs started pouring out. It was very natural. I just let whatever song it was sound like it wanted to sound like. There was no “I’m writing in the style of blah blah”. This is just what it sounds like when I let myself go, I suppose.

Before I knew it I had about eight or nine songs and just thought, well this is turning into a record. Maybe I should play it to some people and see what they think.

I played it to Stuffy, who plays drums with me in Graham Coxon’s band. He loved it.

I played it to Richie, who had been the singer in Stone Gods and at the time was on tour with Bullet For My Valentine (he’s Matt’s guitar tech) in America. He emailed me back really enthused and like, “if you want anyone to play extra guitars on it, I’m in, man!”

And I played it to Ollie who’s an old mate and he loved it too.

So all of a sudden I had a band. And it needed a name. And I thought O.W.L.S sounded cool. Like Swans, of Dwarves. Plus I’ve never been in a “The..” band and I didn’t want to change that rule. It does stand for something but I like the idea of leaving that to the imaginations of others. It can means whatever you want it to mean.

Q: How long have you guys been a band?

Toby Macfarlaine: We have been a band for a little over a year now.
Q:  I read that you guys are “unashamedly” grunge, what do you mean by that?
Toby Macfarlaine:  Well, let’s face it. This is a grunge band. For the longest time people have shied away from the term or gone, “Oh I hate that word” or whatever. “That was just a word invented by journalists to describe a stupid fashion movement in the 90’s.”Well, it wasn’t. It was a word used by Mark Arm from Mudhoney to describe how horrible his band sounded in a joke bad review he wrote.I only think you can say you are uncomfortable with being called Grunge if your band was from the Pacific North West in 1989. If you are from anywhere else, especially from a whole different country and in a different decade, get over it. If Grunge is how you sound, Grunge is what you are. Embrace it. More to the point, I kind of want to reclaim it. As a positive thing. As a power for good. Not the thing responsible for drug deaths… or fucking Nickelback.

Q: How do you feel about the grunge bands from the 90’s and their impact in today’s rock n roll?

Toby Macfarlaine: Grunge was the word for the movement that inspired me the most when I was a teenager. I was 15 and I guess that’s when you are at your most musically absorbant. I was anyway. I was a sponge for the grunge, maaan! It really changed my life in a positive way. I went from being a fan of Guns N Roses and that overblown hair-rock mentality of suddenly having the light of punk rock shine down on me saying, “You don’t have to be a sexist, homophobic, idiot to like rock music!” and Nirvana really opened a door for me. They introduced me to a whole new world.

I think initially a lot of those bands had such great humour and sarcasm and this brilliant kind of passive-aggressive arrogance. The whole concept of emblazoning yourself with the word LOSER, to me, was hilarious. It was like, “we’re so great we can say we’re shit and it doesn’t matter”. I actually still wear my LOSER shirt sometimes.

I’m loving the return of Alice In Chains and Soundgarden and the continuing greatness of Mudhoney and Melvins and Dinosaur Jr and Pearl Jam. Some people blame the Grunge thing for Nu-Metal and Nickelback and Puddle Of Mudd or whatever, which I suppose there’s an argument for, but I choose to totally ignore those people and rather focus on the fact that Grunge really made Punk Rock available. There’s a whole bunch of really exciting new bands like Metz and Pissed Jeans who are totally embracing that ethic and I just love it, I really do.

Q: Was there ever a musician or band that really made you want to be a musician or in a band?

Toby Macfarlaine: Well, all the aforementioned bands really. Apart from anything else though, honestly. The one person who made me want to pick up a guitar and start a band was Marty McFly.

Q: Your EP “The Rite of Spring” rocks so much, can you talk about the recording and writing process of it?

Toby Macfarlaine: I pretty much covered the writing process at the start, really. Everything was formed already before the first rehearsal. Apart from Kibosh. I actually had that all the other way around. The chorus was the middle 8 and vice versa. Richie and Ollie told me to change it up during that initial rehearsal. They were very tentative and sweet about it “Err, Tobes… We think that middle 8 should be the chorus… Only if you want to, like…” They were totally right, of course. The recording session came very suddenly. I think Richie had been talking to Padge, the guitarist from Bullet For My Valentine and he was “Oh, you know, I’ve just built a recording studio above my garage in Wales” and Richie was, “I’ve got a new band.” Padge just said, “Well, I don’t know how everything works yet, but if you wanna come up and do some recordings, let’s have it!” So we did. We all just piled into Richie’s car, drove up to Bridgend and just had a wild party for three days. All these brilliant local characters would pile into the studio at about 3:30pm with cases of beer and jars of boiled eggs pickled in a mixture of 90% proof moonshine and LSD. Some how, at then end of it, we were driving back to Brighton with a seven song EP on a CD and a gargantuan hangover.

Q: What are some of the main themes or points you’re trying to make in the song “Only Joking”?

Toby Macfarlaine: “Only Joking” is basically about the process of getting over a painful break-up. You go through that initial period of, “Oh God, why did she leave me? Everything’s my fault, I’m such a pathetic loser” etc you know, writing little twee acoustic boo-hoo songs and eventually you kind of turn a corner and embrace the whole, “Actually, no, you know what, fuck you. I knew it all along,” and plug in an electric guitar. Haha. It’s not very clever but it’s true. That’s why it goes from “She said Only Joking I was instant and a mess” at the beginning to “She said only joking, I was instantly impressed,” at the end. And “This has never been so hard for me” to a self affirmation of “This WILL never be this hard for me”. It’s realization and acceptance and ultimately freedom.

Q: Is O.W.L.S currently touring any specific area?

Toby Macfarlaine: At the moment we are stuck to doing shows in England. This is purely a financial concern. Without a label backing us, we don’t have the funds to put together a tour elsewhere. It’s a bummer because I want nothing more than to take this on the road in the States.

Q: Who would you like to see O.W.L.S tour with?

Toby Macfarlaine: I would really like to tour with some of the bands that have inadvertently made this band. I’d love to tour with the likes of Mudhoney, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, Melvins etc. Larger bands so we can play to larger audiences and hopefully get people switched on to us. We wouldn’t turn our noses up at a Foo Fighters support, should such a thing arise. Also newer bands I dig, like Red Fang. Those guys are immense. And hilarious. Two of my favourite things.

Q: Have any funny or interesting stories from live performances?

Toby Macfarlaine: We played in Birmingham just before Christmas and we’d done our last song. The crowd were screaming for more, but we had literally played all our songs.  Stuffy and Ollie had already left the stage but Richie started strumming the chords to Slade’s “Merry Christmas Everyone”. Stuffy ran back onstage saying, “Are we REALLY going to do this?”. “Yes we are”. Cue a mass stage invasion with most of the members of the support bands, most of the audience, I even think some of the bar staff were up there screaming “IT’S CHRISTMAS” etc. I was wearing an elf hat at the time. The Christmas spirit got into all of us that night.

Q:  What do you like to do besides play music?

Toby Macfarlaine: I love cooking. I’ve gotten pretty good at it. Actually, we’re all really quite accomplished in the kitchen, us O.W.L.S. Cooking is the new rock n roll. In many ways, I think it probably always was.

Q: What do you guys think about the relationship with young bands and social media?

Toby Macfarlaine: I have kind of embraced it. In fact I am horribly addicted to Twitter. Sometimes I wonder how great of a thing it is. The lessening of the perceived gap between performed and audience. There is part of me that still likes my rock stars to have an element of mystery to them. I can’t imagine demanding a retweet off Kerry King, you know? Getting all bent out of shape because Dave Mustaine didn’t favourite my link to my blog? It’s strange.

Even I have experienced the “Give them an inch and they want a mile, and a free t-shirt, and tickets to every date on a South American tour, and a look around the tour-bus” etc. Some fans can get REALLY demanding if you engage them. I think as long as you take it all with a pinch of salt, it can be a very useful and rewarding medium.

Q: Any other comments?

Toby Macfarlaine: Tell all your friends. Especially if they own record companies in America and want us to come over and tour. Or if they happen to be members of any of our favourite bands. You know, the usual.

You can download their EP on their website, just click here.

Interview by: Eriq Rivera





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