I went down to Brighton to see new band O.W.L.S. serving up some hot grunge in the Prince Albert. I’d been excited to check this band out, having been a big fan of lead-singer and guitarist Toby and guitarist Richie’s previous work in Stone Gods, also featuring The Darkness guitarist Dan Hawkins. After watching their promising sound check it becomes clear that O.W.L.S. is a completely different band though. Before the gig I sat down to have a chat with Toby MacFarlaine and drummer Stephen Gilchrist.
Let me start by asking, how did your band get together?
Toby: Well, I had a dream… No, after my previous band Stone Gods kind of died, as it were, I started writing some songs on my computer, and they all sounded like the same thing. I played them to Stephie and Richie and they said they were up for doing a band, and then I met Ollie in the pub and asked him if he wanted to be in the band too and he said yes. Initially we just did a rehearsal as the three of us, me Stephie and Ollie, because Richie was away at the time, but then we got him involved and we loved it. So here we are!
How would you describe your sound? There’s a definitely some grunge in there, a bit of Bleach-era Nirvana?
Toby: That’s the vibe! That’s kind of it really. I really wanted to make a record that sounded like Bleach, but with a few sort of Alice in Chains-esque harmonies because there isn’t really anyone else doing that now.
Ok, I suppose I’m going to have to ask the obvious yet painful question; what happened to your previous band Stone Gods?
Toby: What happened to Stone Gods is The Darkness. Basically, we finished our second record and then Dan (Hawkins, of Darkness fame, ed.) started hanging out with his brother Justin again and they started writing songs and then I think the knock on the door just became unbearably loud. And when you’ve got a couple of kids you can’t say no to that promise of instant cash really. The Darkness was going to be the bigger thing of the two, so he had to do it really.
Was it never an option for Dan to go the Jack White route and have different bands at the same time?
Toby: No, the big thing for him was that if he did both The Darkness and Stone Gods at the same time then one of them would suffer, for lack of time and stuff like that, so he had to go with one or the other. I mean that’s not to say it won’t happen again sometime, I mean the second Stone Gods album will probably see the light of day at some point but I don’t think we’ll ever tour it again. Robin [Stone Gods drummer] wrote a lot of the record with us so we couldn’t really reform with our previous drummer Ed because that would have been weird, but Robin is in Los Angeles now recording with Bush.
All the bigger bands came calling again!
Toby: Yeah so I started my own bigger band! And you know, without all of that, there wouldn’t have been an O.W.L.S. Instead of one band there are three now, and you know iPods are getting bigger all the time, so there’s more than enough room for everyone.
Toby: Yeah I guess so, the EP we did was actually just going to be a demo. Our friend Padge from Bullet for my Valentine has a studio and he said (puts on funny accent) ‘you boys wanna come and record some bloody songs?’ He’s not from Yorkshire actually, he’s Welsh. So we recorded some songs and they sounded pretty good so we thought ‘sod it, we’ll put it out’. It served its purpose, got us out there, got us a bit of radio play and what not. And now we’ve got a single coming out on the 9th of December, it’s a double a-side vinyl with Hurt Janine and Vitamins. So hopefully that’ll put us out there some more, and then I guess we’ll record some more towards the end of the year.
Exciting stuff! What does O.W.L.S. stand for?
Toby: Yeah that’s the thing. What do you think it stands for…It can mean whatever you want it to mean. Perhaps all will be revealed, perhaps not.
Where would you like O.W.L.S. to be in a few years time?
Stephen: I’d like us to be doing at least 3 gigs a year…
Toby: No you know, maybe playing venues like Shepherd’s Bush, some Academies, that kind of level. I don’t think we’d ever be a stadium band and that’s not really what I want to be, that’s not the point of this band. We’re kind of the opposite of what The Darkness is trying to do.
Stephen: We’ve both done the arena kind of thing and it’s been great fun, but there’s the thing about charging people a 100 quid to watch you on a screen…
I heard the Rolling Stones are charging a grand…
Toby: Yeah, I’d rather people can actually afford to see us and we can be close to them and smell them.
Stephen: 4 tickets to see the Rolling Stones would be enough money for us to go and record with Steve Albini in Chicago. So if you’re thinking of going to see the Rolling Stones, don’t. Give us the money and we’ll go and record an album. And then you can come and see us live somewhere better!
So, you’ve both been on tour with many different bands, do you have any really good on-the-road stories?
Stephen: We met through both playing with Graham Coxon, so yeah there’s lots of stories… we’ve been touring for near enough ten years.
Toby: All those sorts of mad tour stories kind of blend into one a bit sometimes. You know, nice venue, nice gig, nice breakfast. Nowadays our touring stories are more like ‘we got there in the afternoon, did a bit of shopping, found a nice place for dinner’, it’s all very… nice really. As long as there’s the rock ‘n roll we can do without the sex and drugs, it’s a bit boring. I mean we did all that around 2005 but it got a bit dull, I got terrible hangovers and was increasingly making terrible decisions. I had to become a bit more sensible. There’s only so many times you can fall out of tourbuses.
Stephen: Toby is such a friendly chap, he’s great at meeting people. We were doing the Fuji rock festival and he goes up to the singer from Jet and just goes ‘hey mate!’ so I thought they were friends, but the guy goes ‘have we met?’ and Toby goes ‘Oh sorry! Toby MacFarlaine, nice to meet you.’
Toby: Yeah so we got to know each other, we had a great big party, and then their tour manager had to put me to bed.
That’s what tour managers are for right, they’re kind of like babysitters.
Toby: Especially this tour manager, just shortly before he put me to bed he managed to fall down into a trench while holding a full glass, and he came up and hadn’t spilled a drop.
Well that’s better than me, I fell into a ditch full of nettles the other week.
Toby: Oh well you probably met him down there then, he’s called Jack.