Photo Credit: Luke Tannous Photography
South African alternative rock band OTN discuss their new album, how they formed the band and being the first rock band in history to win the Standard Bank Ovation Award
South African alternative rock band OTN (Outside The New) released their debut full-length album, Tabula Rasa, on July 6th to positive reviews. Consisting of Duane Arthur (Vocals/Sax), Andrew Glass (Bass), Darren Keogh (Drums), Gez Mbele (Emcee/DJ), Ian Wishart (Guitar), Tyrone Mayrer (Guitar) and Jason Cole (Sound Engineer), the band formed in 2009 in Johannesburg and had achieved great acclaim by the following year, reaching #1 on the Reverbnation’s rock chart and winning a Standard Bank Ovation award at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. The band released an EP, Follow The White Rabbit, in 2010, which combined the sounds of funk, blues, jazz, rock and hip hop. With Tabula Rasa, however, the band wanted to start from a clean slate, going back to their rock and roll roots with the album. The album combines aggressive riffs with pulse-like rhythms, resulting in a great rock album. Having been compared to Incubus, Linkin Park and A Perfect Circle, those influences can be heard in their songs. Staff writer Emily May spoke recently with the band via email about the new album, how the band was formed and being the first rock band in history to win the Standard Bank Ovation award. You can stay up-to-date with the band, as well as all upcoming tour dates and can purchase and stream their music via the following links:
You can watch the lyric video for the first single from the album, “Braille”, below.
You are all long playing veterans of the music industry. How did you all meet each other and what led you to form OTN?
Andrew– I got into bass playing at about 17. Ian and I met in high school and went to music college where we met Tyrone & Gez, but it wasn’t until a few years later that we formed a band. Darren had been playing in the band Pestroy until he took some time off to go traveling and on his return we were introduced via a mutual friend. We knew Duane from the industry and he joined after feeding him a couple of beers he elected to join.
From my point of view, the forming of OTN was the coming together of like-minded musicians dedicated to the trade, driven to find a way out from under the norm, mundane and generic sounds in search of music with meaning and the ability to move people.
OTN formed in 2009, performing a blend of rock, hip hop, jazz and funk. You released your “Follow The White Rabbit” EP in 2010 and recently released your debut full-length album, Tabula Rasa, with which you decided to start from a completely clean slate and play good old-fashioned rock. What has your musical journey been like since forming and what prompted you to change your focus with regards to your sound?
Andrew– Our musical journey has been interesting to say the least. We all come from different backgrounds, hence the meshing together of funk, blues, rock, jazz & hip hop, but all of us have a passion for rock from old school to new. It was fun experimenting with different styles but deep down we are a rock band at heart. We decided to start from a clean slate, hence the album name Tabula Rasa, and get back to our roots and doing what we love to do.
What was the writing and recording process like for Tabula Rasa? I read that when recording the album Ian and Tyrone recorded their guitar parts live without effects or pedals. What prompted that decision?
Tyrone– Ian and I aren’t really big into pedal effects. With the exception of a wah-wah, compressor and occasional delay. Joe Arthur (producer) also suggested a pure organic signal path when recording and if need be, we would add in any effect we felt the song needed later. The sound you hear on the record is basically the amp and the guitar tone – isn’t that how it should be?
It has been mentioned that through your music you have a message that you would like to put out into the world. What is that message?
Andrew– Each song is different, with topics ranging from politics, to life, heartbreak & starting over etc. For me the message is more about how we come together. We are all different from race to culture, creed and the way we live our lives but are able to come together to create the songs and sound that is OTN. We will fight and argue but we always find a way through as we are able to get along irrelevant of our differences. A singular unit made up of different parts, each no less important than the other working together for a common goal.
Your sound has been described as a mix of A Perfect Circle, Incubus and Linkin Park. Do you think that is an accurate comparison? Would you count those bands as influences?
Andrew– We definitely have influences from those bands and I feel honoured to be associated alongside them.
Duane- Aside from you band, you also are a producer, final mix engineer, freelance illustrator and composer. Is it ever challenging to balance your time between so many different things? How does composing music for commercial use in television and films compare to writing music for the band? With so much experience with different aspects of the industry, are you really hands-on with all aspects of OTN?
Duane– Time management is always going to be difficult, but when you’re passionate about something you’re doing, you make the time for it. I love all the things I’m involved in, so it rarely feels like a slog. Composing for TV and film is definitely a different process than writing for a band. One’s own music can take any shape at any time depending on where your head and heart are at in that moment. There’s a lot of freedom. Writing to picture involves putting yourself in a specific situation and trying to interpret the emotion the scene is trying to convey, then translating it musically. It’s an amazing thing, and a great feeling when you get it right! Some projects have a lot of freedom here, some less. With the latter, there’s always a slight disconnect from the material when you’re trying to compose according to someone else’s vision, or to a brief. At the end of the day, the music is a complementary feature (albeit often the unsung hero) in film and TV, as opposed to the central focus like it is in a band. I do try to be as hands on as possible with OTN. Sometimes from having experience, and sometimes out of sheer stubborn control freakishness. I don’t really like being a spectator in something I’m contributing to creatively.
Duane- You are a very accomplished songwriter and have written songs for various bands. Are you the main songwriter for OTN or does everyone share in the writing? Do you write for other bands often and how does writing for other musicians compare to writing for OTN? What do you feel goes into writing a good song?
Duane– Musically we all share in the writing process to some degree. Ian and myself will generally write the core ideas (sometimes together, sometimes on our own) and then bring it to the band. From there, we all add, dissect, critique, obliterate, and revel in each other’s input until the song is something we’re all proud of. Lyrically, the guys definitely trust Gez and myself to just run with whatever we’re feeling from the song. Writing for other people is different from writing for OTN in many ways. Not the least of which is that with OTN we like to write what we ourselves would like to listen to. With other artists, you’re writing for their style, their image, their “brand” so to speak. It’s a great way to grow and broaden your abilities as a songwriter though. I think songwriters who stick only to their sound are really missing out. The makings of a good song is such a subjective thing. For me personally though, I’d have to say heart! Believe what you’re writing before you expect anyone else to. I want music that moves me…to dance, to tears, to rise up, to calm down. It doesn’t matter. Just move me. A strong melody and diverse instrumentation doesn’t hurt either.
Tyrone- You also own an in-home guitar teaching company called Guitar Excellence. How do you balance your time between running a company & teaching lessons and the band? Do you feel that you are helping other aspiring musicians realize their dreams of playing music?
Tyrone– Being in OTN has given me real world experience from a totally different side when it comes to playing the guitar. I wouldn’t be half the accomplished guitarist and teacher if I wasn’t playing with OTN. The band fits in with most of our schedules and works around our business’s, work, and families.
Guitar Excellence has definitely helped many other aspiring guitarists around South Africa and the world. Being able to show pupils what is capable musically when you play in a band, is a totally different practical learning experience for the learner. It also has a cool factor and essentially a localized “Rockstar” teaching you guitar. Even when we only play to our girlfriends at some gigs, we try and keep the dream alive.
Gez- You are also a music producer and audio engineer at Duck Room Produckshinz. Have you always had an interest in this aspect of the industry? Do you stay involved with the production and engineering aspect of the band?
Yes, I have always had a major interest in production and engineering, hence I completed the Advanced Diploma In Sound Engineering at the same campus and around the same period Ian and Andrew were studying their music course. I have since formed a small project studio (Duck Room Produkshinz) where I compose, produce, engineer, and mix anything from (mostly urban music) to voice overs and jingles. Of course there is a fair amount of involvement in the production aspect of the band, I played a major role in our “Follow The White Rabbit” EP. As in the process of the “Tabula Rasa” project, we left the engineering part completely to JB Arthur as he is a studio veteran and obviously skilled and far advanced in that regard. A couple of us (band) did give a fair amount of direction as to what we wanted the tunes to sound like, but I must point out that a lot of it (and us…) evolved during the recording & subsequent mixing process ie. the little rough beast we crafted in the practice room turned out (..or in) to be a major polished monster in the studio!
In 2010, OTN was the first rock band in history to win the highly venerated Standard Bank Ovation Award at The Standard Bank Arts Festival in Grahamstown. What was that experience like for the band? The festival and ceremony seem like a great way for South African artists to share their talent!
Andrew– We have always enjoyed going down to the Grahamston festival but 2010 was special for us. Being the first rock band to win the Ovation award really came out of left field for us as we didn’t even know about the award until we won it. I think getting up on the stage night after night and playing as hard as we could to deliver the best show possible regardless of the amount of people in the room got us noticed. Truer words were never spoken-“you never know who’s watching”. It was a honour and great privilege for us to gifted the ovation award.
What’s next for the band? What are your goals going forward?
Andrew– Next is to promote the album as much as possible, to reach out worldwide and get the people listening to OTN then hopefully a bit of a tour will be on the cards.
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