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Interviews

Interview: The OBGMS Talk “The Ends”, Being a Black-Fronted Band in 2020, & Being Creative During COVID-19

By: Freda Looker – 

The OBGMs. (Photo: Amanda Fotes)

Toronto’s The OBGMs are paving a new wave for the punk and rock scene since their first self-titled album in back in 2017 with outstanding tracks like “Torpedo” and “Beat Up Kidz”.

The OBGMs are known for breaking genre barriers, and crafting their own unique sound. Densil McFarlane, the group’s lyricist, focuses on the loudness of a piece, and is attracted to artists who demand attention. The OBGMs relate to artists such as Prince, Kanye, Nirvana, and Jay-Z -not for their music, but the vibe they curate.

Talented helping hands coming from Stefan Babcock (lead vocalist of PUP) and Dave Schiffman were included for The OBGMs latest album The Ends. The album includes ten tracks that are an ode to all the emotions Denz experienced throughout the band’s two-year creative block. While listening to the entirety of the album listeners can feel anger released, and the overarching theme of “wanting to be heard for who they are”. Check out our brand new interview with McFarlane below, and buy The Ends here.

What were the inspirations for the album? 

I would say my biggest inspiration came from anger and loneliness. I was at a point in my life where I felt like we needed to be paid attention to and people need see how desperate we were for that. Like we are really, really hungry for this and we are willing to fight for it. I feel like we spent our career writing songs in a community that really appreciates us and we still have to play the game. Basically most of the songs are like, “I’m not playing with you anymore, take it or leave it”, and most of them are like that in any shape or form.

Does the loneliness and grit to write derive as a collective or personally?

Yeah! I would say more personally since I’m typically writing the songs in room-with liquor with me. That’s literally what it is right? I would say that at that time I was dealing with a lot of personal issues that were lingering, and being stuck in a box while dealing with them made me kind of forced to confront those instead of confronting them in a happy and nice way. I then got to actually show people what I’m thinking which is fuck everything. 

My favourite track is “to death”. I have to ask why lowercase for the title?

Awesome for you to notice that! It’s nothing too big, but my manager actually noticed it as well. It is suppose to be lowercase because it comes at the end of the sentence. It’s literally representing a closing of a chapter for me in my life. A separate note is what I really struggled with was questioning if I am going to end the whole album with this song? It was really a choice between “Move On” and “to death”. I specifically ended up picking the title “to death” to make sure that people were paying attention to the lyrics of the song-it should technically be ellipsis to death, but can’t change that now.

What is the group’s favourite track(s) and why?

I love all my babies! They are all the best songs ever written, joking…maybe not. I would say the song I like the most is the intro “Outsah”. It’s my favourite because when I wrote the song I was scheduled to take a flight to LA the day after at 6AM and I was like, “I got it! This is awesome”. I had an intense feeling that this is what I had to do. One another moment that I will remember for the rest of my life is when Dave (Schiffman) was in the room and I was doing something with the board. We originally had something a bit different and Dave was like, “We’re going to switch this around and start the drums with the verses like that!” Dave then took a step back and said, “I’m the man, this is how you start a record!”.

While working with producer Dave Schiffman (Trash Talk, PUP, Rage Against The Machine). What did he bring to the table? Did PUP serve as inspiration for the album? 

I wouldn’t say that PUP served as an inspiration for the album because they weren’t apart of the process, like a lyric writing process. I would say that I want people to understand how amazing Stefan Babcock (lead vocalist of PUP) and PUP are as a band. Stefan is a genius and I don’t think people understand the level of genius this guy is! I believe that every genius has some level of obsession with their craft, and this guy is obsessed with music and art. Stefan was involved in structuring songs and thinking outside of the box. I typically lay tracks down with beats, and make few alterations with them because I have it the way I want it to be. Now, what Stefan does is he slows my process down by considering other melodies, emphasizing certain parts to a song, and if not here are four different options for you. I can’t say this enough Stefan was on a seven week tour when this was all happening and he was sending me back and forth OBGM ideas as he’s stepping off from playing sold out shows all over Europe. Again, I can’t emphasis how incredible PUP is and they’re all talented GOAT status level.

To come full circle in the way the universe works, my first rock concert was the Horseshoe Tavern’s secret Billy Talent show. Stefan at the time mentioned The OBGMs somewhere on his social media and a man from Billy Talent waited for the album to listen to it. He obviously loved it and he mentioned it online! I took a step back and was like, “I’m done, I don’t need to do anything else.”

You’ve mentioned in your Horseshoe Tavern live stream that you were put on this planet to release this recent album-go off on that.

You are not the only one today that has actually brought that up to my attention. I totally understand because it is an odd thing to say. I think I speak in codes a lot and I am scattered brain, but I do deserve the right to change my mind. So when I first started this album I didn’t know if there was going to be an OBGMs. I was questioning everything and asking myself, “Is this is where I am suppose to be?” The intention for this album was to be my first solo album, but then I changed my mind and it became great with the full band. Also, by having “Move On” close the album it leaves less room for interpretation from others aka take it or leave it. The end leaves room for something more and I already have the idea for the next album and I’m ready to start!

What do you think about paid livestreams versus your album debut show at the Horseshoe Tavern?

I think all live streams should be paid and I don’t think what people realize is that these things cost money. Like we lost money to have that album debut livestream. The debut stream was like us paying to be in your company. We have this devoted team and streaming partner who executed audio, lighting and etc. So yes, I do believe that live streaming should be paid, unless the artist chooses to make it free. I would truly vouch for fans to support their favourite local artists. For example I was happy to pay for PUP’s live stream, which was the best thing ever and brought livestreaming to a new level!

Since everyone is at home due to COVID-19, does that impact the feeling that an artist’s location defines their popularity?

This is interesting, because we are a band that is notorious for being the “live show band” that you want to go and see. So taking that element out of things, we really had to focus on the music. It’s not like we don’t focus on the music, but there’s this new intensity and emphasis to it. So what does popularity mean to me? I know people are still listening to music, but it’s how they consume it, which is different. To be honest, we are still trying to crack the code of where that place is and the strategy to it. I have always wanted one hundred million streams like Ariana Grande, and with Trump being president I mean I think anything is possible. We are mainly placing our attention on streaming numbers, and how we can improve our reach.

I feel like I’ve heard of OBGMs one day and the next I hear that you are on Black Box and more and more mutuals are recommending you. What do you contribute to your rapid spread?

Why are you playing in a band? Why are you playing that note? And of course when you get your head into the game you want to aim high, so goals were set. For example, I put an emphasis on accessibility. I wanted my music to be available for everyone and right away I made the first mistake of considering others before myself. When I redirected my attention to my creativity, and my statement piece, it aligned with a community. What I also think contributed in our growth is how our music can’t be categorized into a box, so we need to build an ecosystem with all the other misfit toys so we can have our own box. We have also been actively speaking with other black, indigenous people of colour who are doing other sorts of music, which also doesn’t fit into a box, and we’re just building a strong team.

What does it mean to you to be a black fronted band in 2020?

I have always been me, so I would say that generally things are the same be it with writing or personally. Now there’s this attention and collective that is spreading awareness, and I am all for it. While putting out an album, I realize that it may track a larger audience, which gets me even more excited. 

I noticed in you credits on your Instagram album release post that you credited UMG’s Black Box for quote on quote “dealing with you”, would you care to expand on this?

I am tough to deal with, like I have always been like this. Specifically over the past three years, I have had the most difficult time both creatively and personally. I had writer’s block and I was at the point where I was thinking of giving up on music. So imagine signing a band, and then the singer disappears. This does and has happened in the music business, but I disappeared for about two years. So looking at the album today and what I’ve written, I am proud to state my beliefs in my lyrics. I do want a lot, and I do demand a lot. 

When did you record the music video for “Not Again”?

It’s really hard to do videos nowadays. We had to find a safe space to do it, but we tried our best. We don’t want to feel shackled by every restriction. I’m learning how to edit, and film our videos because the industry has changed.

You go off on your Spotify band description by mentioning that The OBGMs are the love child of Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, and Bill Gates. Why Bill Gates? 

I just wanted to have a list of incredible humans that were visionary at that point of time. What I mean is that people that have come in from every single industry paints a landscape and create the dimensions of how people perceive what is going on. I think that The OBGMs do that because when someone listens to us over a course of records, they can’t say that there’s a band that sounds like us. It just doesn’t exist! The OBGMs are changing the dimensions of the court and that’s why you hear me calling myself Steph Curry. 

Are there more upcoming music videos or B-sides that fans should look out for? 

We’re looking at spewing out remixes in terms of B-sides. In regards to music videos, we took a community poll and it seems that “to death” may be the next video that we roll out. 

Is there any specific band that you would love to have cover/take into interpretation a song from the new album? 

I wouldn’t stay in the box of rock ‘n’ roll. I would try to integrate somebody else who is doing something completely different. I would even pick the biggest country artist be it Shania Twain or Taylor Swift to cover “Outsah”. I see the value in working with other people and learning their creative process.

To end off the interview I would like to poke at your Instagram bio and for you to finish off the end of the sentence “The Ends is out now. It’s filled with threats. Stream. Or else”. Do you have anything more to say?

That’s it, it’s all in there.

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