by Marija Brettle
– Columnist —
If the essential ingredients in all great rock ‘n’ roll are anger, energy, intensity and belief, then Manchester’s four-piece Obsessive Compulsive have them all in abundance. Formed at the end of 2003, this fiery four-piece; Giz (guitars), Dani (drums), Pete (bass) and Kelii, (Singer) were a distinctive musical force from the start. With a vastly diverse array of influences to draw from, the band set about brewing up a uniquely free-thinking blend of modern rock and metal styles and released their first EP, A Demon For Every Occasion in 2004. A fearsome dedication to playing live and taking their music to the masses led to further evolutionary steps and the ‘ferocious’ bite of their second EP release, The Corpses of Thought.
In 2010, with their debut full length album, Dreams Of Death & The Death Of Dreams, this young band made a huge and lasting impact on the UK rock scene, as well as receiving rapturous reviews by the underground press.
This year in June, at the Stronghold Studios, Newhaven, Obsessive Compulsive recorded their second album, Seculo Seculorum. This album sees the band loosen their sound, with a raw, alt-rock feel, jagged edged and guttural.
“This is the sound of a passionate band, playing their hearts out, drawing from an ever wider pool of influence from noisy grunge to old school punk to shoe-gaze, with huge melodies intensely and heavily executed.” says singer Kelii.
Currently Obsessive Compulsive have been playing a small venue in the UK, and are about to kick off with their new gigs heading to Leeds, Manchester, Bristol, Basingstoke, Colchester and York. In between, HARDROCK HAVEN caught up with the charismatic singer Kelii Compulsive, talking about the bands beginnings, being a woman in a male-dominated industry, about the band’s challenges, constant struggles for recognition and exposure and how it feels performing alongside bands like Anthrax…
HARDROCK HAVEN: 2013’s been a great year for Obsessive Compulsive. What would be the highlight for you guys so far this year?
KELII COMPULSIVE: Yes it has been a great year! The highlight was definitely releasing our second album, Seculo Seculorum, (meaning ‘Forever and Ever’), as we are self funded we weren’t sure if we would be able to raise the funds to record and release another album, we decided to go down the fan funding route and launched a pledge campaign last October, we were very nervous about it, and had no idea whether enough people liked us to take a chance and pre-order an unrecorded album, but it was an overwhelming success. We recorded in January, which was a beautiful experience, and it was just a wonderful feeling to put the album out there. It’s also released on vinyl which is a first for all of us, very exciting. Our album launch parties were a major highlight too, so much love in the room!
HRH: I hear you had a real blast the other night in Canterbury. Would you say that people like your music and can relate to your songs?
Kelii: Canterbury was a great gig. It was nice and busy and there was a lot of crowd interaction, we made a bunch of new fans, which is what it’s all about. I have to take my hat off to the team at Lady Luck who do a great job of promoting their shows and really look after the bands. It’s definitely a venue we will return to again and again I’m sure. ! People of all ages and tastes seem to like our music; we think that’s a great thing.
HRH: Tell me more about the band, how did you get together?
Kelii: Giz and I met in the late 90s when we were teenagers. We were in different bands and used to go see each other play. We eventually began writing songs together and spent a while looking for the right people to complete a band line up. Then we found Pete in Manchester when he had recently moved up from Portsmouth. He just kept showing up at the same gigs and clubs. We casually asked if he played an instrument and when he said he played bass we knew he was the guy and that we already had so much in common. We have had many drummers, a different one on the first two EPs, a few others in between, but Dani has stood the test of time. He joined us just before our first album, standing in for us on a tour after our drummer at the time left us in the lurch. It was just meant to be a temporary thing but it worked so well that we soon asked him to join us permanently. That was about 4 years ago.
HRH: Who came up with the band’s name first and was there any particular meaning behind the name?
Kelii: I came up with it, it was just one of the many words and phrases I had noted down. I always have several notebooks on the go at once where I jot down lyric ideas, words I hear and like the meaning or sound of, quotes, poetry and general thoughts. I liked the way it described how I feel about making music, it’s an obsession, something I think about every day, something I feel I can’t live without, and a compulsion, something I feel compelled to do as much as possible, it’s almost out of my control. Giz felt the same way, so the name worked for us.
HRH: You are often described as a strong and fiercely independent band. The band that is not afraid to voice their dislikes for all injustices in the world. How would you describe yourself and your music in your own words?
Kelii: Our music can be angry yeah, but it can be mournful too, and thoughtful, and empowering at times. A lot of my lyrical themes in this band do come from frustration, anger, indignation at the injustices in the world, but I like to think it’s not all ‘woe is me’ and that the songs make people feel empowered to rebel, revolt and resist against anything that is oppressing them. I write the lyrics, and I write about things which I feel strongly about, so of course the songs are strong in sound and delivery.
HRH: Hmmm, here is one cliché question… Have you ever come up with any prejudice just for being a woman in a male dominated industry?
Kelii: I think it’s crazy that I am still being asked this question more than a decade after I started performing and writing music. It’s never been an issue for me. All I’m concerned about is writing great songs and performing them well, that has nothing to do with genitalia, so I’m not sure why it’s still even talked about. I think our fans like us because we’re a good band and they relate to the songs, I don’t think my gender matters to them, I would hope not!
HRH: Do you get a bit joyful when people compare you with Courtney Love from Hole and Debbie Harry ‘Blondie’… guess in some ways, because of your quite fierce stage persona?
Kelii: I’ve never heard anyone compare me to Debbie Harry, but that’s not to say it hasn’t happened. I think she’s cool but she’s never been an influence and I don’t own any Blondie records. I am a huge fan of the first two Hole albums in particular. I think Courtney is incredible, and she really inspired me when I was growing up, in many ways so any comparison to her is extremely flattering to me, although I don’t think we’re that similar. I have been influenced by so many different singers and songwriters, many female, but probably more male ones. I don’t make it a problem for myself being a woman in a band. I get on really well with guys generally and don’t feel uncomfortable if I’m the only woman in the room. I don’t encounter much prejudice or different treatment, and if I ever do I just find it bemusing. I think it says more about the person who’s making an issue than it does about me, their problem, not mine.
HRH: With your debut album, ‘Dreams of Death and The Death of Dreams’, you were highly praised by the press and many OC fans. What kind of feedback are you getting with your new record so far?
Kelii: The feedback on the new record has been great! I’ve not seen any stinker reviews so far (laughs). A few people don’t get us and never will, which is fine, I’d rather be loved by a few than liked by many. The main feedback I pay attention to is from the fans, and it was nerve wracking in a whole new way sending ‘Seculo…’ out into the world because more than 500 people had already paid for it. We really just wanted them to feel it was money well spent. We’ve had no complaints and the feedback we have had from fans and friends has been so positive…we have been very humbled by the whole experience.
HRH: In what ways does Seculo Seculorum differ from the first OC record, musically and lyrically?
Kelii: I think we have our identity fairly well established now, so I’m sure our fans would say it still sounds very much like OC. But we’ve matured as songwriters, as people do, and although it’s still quite a dark album, we think there is a lot of hope and determination in the lyrics. We never restrict ourselves when writing, so I think the songs span a wide spectrum of influences. As always, maybe there are some surprises in there for some people. It’s hard to say, analyzing your own music is really hard to do, like being objective about your own face or something! We wanted to steer away from a ‘metal’ production for this one, we’ve never really considered ourselves a metal band, although some people describe us that way.
HRH: Tell me more about the whole process, technique of making this record?
Kelii: We’re not really into the very modern, clinical production techniques which are the norm these days. So we referenced some more organic, nineties sounds, tried to channel a bit of Steve Albini, Butch Vig etc. Our producer James Loughrey was well into that sound too. We were totally on the same team, and from some of the tweets we got when people first heard the album it seems we did a good job. Lots of people compared us to lots of the bands we were referencing in the studio, which made us and James very happy indeed!
HRH: You are solo writer in the band… what is your writing process, your approach in an artistic way? Where do you get inspirations from to write songs like ‘Exit’ or songs like ‘Sick Sick Sick’?
Kelii: I’m solo lyricist, but we all have a hand in writing the music. I find inspiration in books, films, other people’s lyrics and poetry, but I also find it in conversations with friends, things overheard on the bus, the news, everywhere really. I’m always thinking about words, ideas, lyrics, things that make me think, make me sad, make angry, inspire me, confuse me… I write about the human condition really. In this band, we all have similar morals and ethics, we’re all different. I know the guys relate to a lot of what I say in our songs, it’s important that they do, but fundamentally it all comes from me, it’s just how it works for us.
HRH: I love the songs and the video for ‘Man V’s Machine’ and ‘Sick…’ as well as ‘Regurgitate’ song… love the raw, real passion and the attitude you put into the songs. Do you think that you need some more exposure and maybe more gigs outside UK?
Kelii: We would like nothing MORE than to be out every night playing gigs! We’d love to play all over the world; it’s our favorite thing to do! (Laughs) Unfortunately making original music is not a lucrative endeavor, for most people, so we all have to have day jobs, which give us the financial freedom to play the shows we do play. Well…not enough financial freedom to fund us constantly touring all over the world. I think more promo always helps, but most bands who are in the media constantly are part of a machine which we don’t want to be involved in. We’re not interested in having businessmen sell our songs to car, mobile phone or drinks companies to use to advertise their products. We’re not interested in having anybody try to dictate the direction we take our songwriting in, or overhaul our ‘image’. We’re real individuals making music for our own creative ends, and we LOVE that some people like it, but we’re not up for forcing it upon the world via links with big businesses. So lots of people can get rich quick and then throw us to one side. The great thing about the internet is that there are lots of people like yourselves making independent zines and talking about the music they feel is worthy, rather than doing 8 page features on whoever stumped up the most money that month. So the more people like you who talk about us the better, it all helps! (Laughs)
HRH: I read recently, you were saying that you have never been interested in entertainment produced by TV shows? What did you mean by that… shows like ‘Britain’s Got Talent’?
Kelii: No this is a misunderstanding of the point I guess I was making. I have always been a fan of shows like ‘Jools Holland’s shows’, ever since I was a young teen, and would absolutely love to appear on ‘later…’, it would be an honour and a dream come true! (Laughs) No, my point was about pop stars’ ‘careers’ being manufactured by TV shows like X Factor, The Voice, BGT etc. Lots of people can sing or dance, that’s a lovely thing, but great bands, musicians and songwriters cannot be created by parading people who may or may not have voices which are nice to listen to in front of ‘judges’, most of who have questionable authority on the subject of musical talent anyway. The same one who then ‘coach’ them and shape them into a marketable product complete with heart string pulling sob story. There have always been shows like this, but in the past decade they seem to be more and more abundant and have a monopoly over which music is piped out into our homes via TV and radio. It’s all about making money for the execs, rarely are new and original pieces of work produced, mostly beautiful songs are ruined forever by schmaltzy over earnest, over produced renditions. There’s nothing artistic about it! It has absolutely nothing to do with the music! I, or countless, COUNTLESS other musicians all over the world make, and really I shouldn’t even care, it’s so far removed from what I do, but sometimes the point just needs to be reiterated, that there is a lot of great talent in Britain which doesn’t involve ITV!
HRH: You set up your own label so you could release your own albums. Why choosing the hard way of promoting yourself. Wouldn’t it have been easier to sign with some well established, independent label and let them take the pressure off your back?
Kelii: We don’t tend to do things the easy way; we just do what feels right at the time!
HRH: In these economically challenging times, I’m sure it’s not the easiest choice being a musician. How did you guys manage to balance your band life with your everyday life?
Kelii: It’s really hard; of course, we all currently work 40+ hours a week to pay the rent and bills. We have to take time off to tour, so we cram as many gigs in as we can and tour in blocks as much as possible so we can play lots of shows at once. Ideally we would be constantly on tour and have no need for a bricks and mortar home, but that’s not very realistic, and we’re not being funded by anyone, so we just do what we can. Lots of great composers, artists, authors etc had day jobs, much talent goes unnoticed or under the radar at least, just because it isn’t easy… it doesn’t mean you should stop doing it. We make music because we want to, we do what we can with the resources and time we have. Whether it’s easy or not isn’t even a factor, we do it cos we love it!
HRH: Are there any bands or albums that have influenced you and the rest of the band that made you what you are today musically and attitude wise?
Kelii: Millions! Between the four of us we have such an expansive musical spectrum to draw from. I think most musicians feverishly swallow up as much music as they can. This week I have been listening to The Gutter Twins, Regina Spektor, Fugazi, Harvey Milk, Exit International and Dexys Midnight Runners. I grew up on The Beatles, Queen, Kate Bush, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Tina Turner, Madonna… In my teens it was Hole, Smashing Pumpkins, L7, Faith No More, Nine Inch Nails, Tori Amos… Everything passionate and exciting to my ears inspires me. All the guys in the band would tell a different musical story to mine.
HRH: In 2011 you won ‘Album of the Year’ at the Pure Rawk Awards… with Dreams of Death…. Was it a good PR boost for the band in terms of increasing your profile?
Kelii: ‘Pure Rawk’ have supported us from the beginning. They are good good people and at least one member of their team is at every single London show we play. We were over the moon to win album of the year for ‘Dreams…’ and we definitely were exposed to a bunch of new people through winning it. But smaller webzines only have a limited readership, so it wasn’t a huge breakthrough. I think we are the kind of band that chips away slowly, rather than suddenly being given it all on a plate, and I think that makes us a more interesting band. Our fans know how hard we work, and I think they love us even more for it!
HRH: Being a fiercely independent band sure brings many challenges. What has been the biggest challenge so far for you as a musician and songwriter in terms of recognition… pushing yourself, your abilities and trying to get across to new fans out there?
Kelii: I think that making music/songwriting, and the struggle for recognition and exposure are two very different challenges. We have fought hard even to remain a band unit, having had many drummers quit on us out of the blue… usually because touring at this level is far less glamorous and much more tiring and physically challenging than people expect. So you really have to be crazy, and love it with all your heart! It’s much easier to sit at home in a warm living room playing X Box or whatever people do. We have banged on many many doors for gigs, reviews, exposure etc, to try and get across to new fans. We’ve embraced the internet and social networking and use it to the best of our ability, we’ve had to raise huge amounts of money to record the quality of albums we’ve put out there… press them up, source great artwork, etc etc. We’ve driven ourselves to almost every gig we have played and slept on many uncomfortable floors, occasionally upright in the van on service stations in winter, etc etc. There are millions challenges constantly. (Laughs) The music doesn’t feel like a challenge or a struggle at all, that’s the easy bit, the bit we love to do, the bit that feeds our souls the most, writing a new song is a magical, spiritual experience. And yes, we work damn hard to being better musicians, we practice, alone and together, we push ourselves to write more interesting songs. We really don’t want to be boring, so that’s always a challenge, but that’s the part that doesn’t feel like hard work at all. Creativity should be a part of everyone’s life, every day, in some small way at least, in these busy busy modern times it can be really difficult to even just find time to sit and doodle, hum a tune, write a few creative thoughts down on paper. That’s the bit that’s hard about the music creation side, it makes me sad to think I have much less time to do that than I would like.
HRH: You played with bands like Anthrax and Goldblade… What was it like for you playing next to legendary bands like Anthrax?
Kelii: It was cool y’know. Anthrax are a hugely successful band, and it was odd to watch them sound check and share a beer with them. (Laughs) When I was kid I was reading about them in music mags and watching them on MTV and stuff, but they’re just musicians and people like we are. They just got famous, that’s the only difference. I have been equally humbled going on stage before or after a band nobody’s really heard of, humbled by how talented they are, touched emotionally by their art, impressed by their performance. It’s always good to play alongside a band who you can take inspiration from, I love that feeling.
HRH: Was it a nerve wrecking experience playing at Download festival (2011)?
Kelii: Download was a very surreal one. We only played on the smallest stage so sadly it wasn’t to 85000 people! (Laughs) I think there were a few hundred though, and mostly people who liked our band and knew the words to the songs, which was so cool. It was very emotional stepping out onstage at Donington. I’ve been going to festivals there since the 90s! We played an acoustic set, as that’s the slot they had available and we would have been fools to not do it, but we would love to go back and play plugged in. Maybe one day!
HRH: Following this you played Bloodstock…are you booked for some new Festivals next year here in UK or anywhere else in Europe?
Kelii: Yes we’ve played Bloodstock twice. They’re good people who seek out new music and do help a lot of smaller bands out. It’s a great festival, with a really friendly atmosphere, and we have a finger in many musical pies… so it worked ok for us but we’re a hell of a lot less metal than most bands that play BOA. We have no festivals planned for next year sadly; we’re hoping to go to Europe for some gigs, so maybe we can get onto a festival over there?
HRH: Are there any bands you would like to open for?
Kelii: Hundreds! (Laughs) Any of the bands from my youth would be a dream come true, so Pearl Jam, Hole, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, The Pixies, Nine Inch Nails, The Smashing Pumpkins… Any of those would make me lose my shit a bit if we got offered a support!
HRH: What’s next from Obsessive Compulsive… any new songs for the next album?
Kelii: We only released Seculo… in June, so we’ve been busy promoting that, catching up on life etc. Since then, no we aren’t working on a new album yet, we take our time with these things! We’re always thinking though, hopefully it won’t be a very long wait for the next one.
HRH: You’ve got big UK dates coming up at the beginning of November… How important is it for you to be out there, live onstage in front of your fans?
Kalii: Sadly we’ve had to cut our UK tour dates right down this autumn, as one of the bands has some personal problems which are taking up all of his time at the moment. All we have left is Bristol, Basingstoke, Colchester, Manchester, York and Leeds. We had planned to do another 20-30 shows, but it wasn’t to be. Next year we are looking at going overseas so it won’t be until next November at the earliest really that we think about doing a big bunch of UK shows again. We’ve toured here twice a year for almost a decade now, we love the UK. It’s our home and we will play some shows here again sometime, but it’s time for us to see what the rest of the world is saying.
HRH: Would you say that the best is yet to come from Obsessive Compulsive music?
Kelii: Hopefully! We always want the next release to feel like it’s improved on that last one. We’re certainly not resting on our musical laurels. There will always be people that say they only ever liked your first EP though! (Laughs).
HRH: Being one of those fiercely independent and ‘in-your’s-face’ bands, it sure hasn’t been an easy ‘ride’ for you all these years. Would you like to share any advice that may help to all those new bands out there?
Kelii: My advice is; do it because you love it, concentrate on writing songs that push your buttons and work hard. Never expect anyone to do anything for you, no matter who they are, or what they are promising. Do it yourself as much as you can. If you’re in it for groupies, money, fame etc then it’s probably the wrong game for you. You might last a year before you realize it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. If music is in your soul and you love it, you will do it forever and ever!
HRH: Thank you Kelii for making time for the HARDROCK HAVEN Interview…and GOOD LUCK with your upcoming gigs!