Interview – The OBGMs

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Toronto-based trio The OBGMs have earned comparisons to Black Flag (Guitar World) and The Hives (Vice) with UK-based Loudersound saying: “It’s direct and precise, it has a point, it stands up for something, it’s loud and it’s furious. It’s everything punk music needs to be in 2020.” 

Singer Densil McFarlance has said: “This is a black-fronted punk band, and that’s really important. I was inspired to make rock music when I saw a black guy on stage, and if someone sees that in us, I hope it will inspire a new generation to go after this.” 

He’s also commented that “this is rock music that hits differently. It’s Kurt Cobain shit. It’s Jimi Hendrix shit. It’s the Steve Jobs of this rock shit.” Big words.

Luckily the band’s new album, The Ends, goes a long way towards backing up that confidence. The OBGMs, rounded out by drummer Colanthony Humphrey and bassist Joseph Brosnan—aren’t your typical rock band. Behind his confidence, the title The Ends reflects a dark period in McFarlane’s life—one that almost ended the band. Back in February of 2018, at the end of The OBGMs (that’s The oOoh Baby Gimme Mores) last tour, McFarlane was ready to pull the plug on the whole operation. 

We caught up with Densil to chat about the record, punk gatekeepers and getting their message out in a global pandemic.

When The OBGMs started 13 years ago did you have a clear idea for how you wanted the band to sound etc? If so, what was it and how has that developed over time?

The first OBGMs demos were extremely N.E.R.D. inspired.  We were extremely influenced by great harmonies and melodies and wanted to make music that people could dance to.  One of the first members of the bands was a viola player and we regularly had R&B breakdowns.  I am not sure how we got to this but here we are now.  Over time I think I just learned to lean into what I was strongest at.  I can yell, I am a good riff writer, and I lean towards aggressive cadences.  When I stopped trying to be something else, we really developed our sound more.

The punk scene prides itself on being non-conformist but can often feel unwelcoming to bands that are developing their own take on the genre. How has that ironic attitude affected The OBGMs, if at all?

Punk is FILLED with gatekeepers.  We are often on the outside looking in due to our blackness and originality.  Who knew being original was a gift and a curse?  When it comes to how you consume music, being without a delicate box you can be placed in hurts you.  The issue that arises for us often is that we are not punk enough for the punks, not rock enough for the rockers, too hard for alternative listeners so playlisting in those areas is more difficult to maintain.  If we can’t put you in these lists then what are you?  The bright side is that we are really doing something that no one is doing so there is no ceiling.  All these bands that sound the same are in a race to be second.  We are in our own lane. 

2020 has been a watershed year for the Black Live Matter movement. How important is it for you as BIPOC artists to have that narrative somewhere in the band’s music?

Well, being a black man, the narrative of a BIPOC artist is in everything I do by default.  I don’t have to do anything particularly special to share the opinions of a BIPOC artist outside of being myself. However, I have made it a point to amplify the voices of BIPOC artists because they often share the same struggles as me.   I feel it is wildly important that major platforms strive to create more representation in music for the good of the future.  It’s time that we listen to different kinds of stories told by different kinds of people.    

Having a strong message and not being able to take your music out to the people due to the lockdown must be frustrating as hell. What avenues do you feel are most effective now to bring your music to an audience while shows are on hold?

The Internet.  This year has taught us all that there is a major gap in our business models and that other avenues must be driven regularly to maintain success when events like the pandemic happen.  It has also taught us that we can’t just sit back, play our instruments, and collect fans.  The modern musician has to be a comedian, philosopher, model, and actor to get noticed.

Are you finding new ways to be creative instead of being on tour?

I have taken an opportunity to drive our business by learning how to shoot and edit videos.  I have always been meaning to learn and I wouldn’t have got the opportunity as soon if the world didn’t slow down.

Do you have a vision for how the next 12 months will look like for smaller bands trying to survive?

I believe there will not be an effective touring model until late 2021 if not 2022.  I believe shows will begin to happen in the summer; however, I am weary of all of the tours being booked at this time. I think many of them will be cancelled.  I think when artists start touring again it will be a wave of larger artists touring stadiums with each other and the smaller artists will have a tough time with an effective model. To survive, bands need to create an ecosystem with each other in which they can share resources and information about the underground scene. 

If this virus suddenly disappeared overnight, every artist on the planet will be announcing tours. How do you compete in that kind of environment?

Release good music, be extremely visible and stay ready. 

I think we are uniquely positioned to make a big splash when tours start happening.  We released a great album while the industry was quiet.  This led us to be visible to many of the large acts that may be looking for someone to get on the road with.   You can only compete in this position by being loud and available.  Churning out quality products and being ready to leave on short notice.

If you could choose one band to take OBGMs on tour as the opener, who would that be and why?

PUP. They are from Toronto and they are honestly the legends.  There is not a better group of gentlemen playing instruments.  I would just want to sit there and learn from their work ethic.  They are the GOATS.

Which song on the new record are you most proud of?

I’m very proud of the whole album.  It’s an album with no skips.  If I have to choose, I would go with Outsah because it set the tone for what we recorded after it. A very close second and third place would be between “to death” and “Move On”.  These are some of the songs where I feel they are just complete.  I said what I needed to say. 

What’s the most positive thing to come out of 2020 for the band?

I’ve been tested and really did better than I’ve ever done.  I’ve proven I can teach myself something new and keep us visible without the major wheel of our business. I’m now a pretty good director and editor.  We have also made a lot of connections with people who believe in us and want to see us succeed.  I truly believe we are set up to make a major run when everything normalizes.  

The Ends is out now via Black Box. You can order it here.

Interview – Steve Gerrard
Photo – Amanda Fotes

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