Interview by Vicroria Llewelyn
WITH NEW EP ‘PROLOGUE’ OUT, OLI BROWN CHATS ABOUT HIS CAREER IN MUSIC, HIS MENTAL HEALTH AND HIS NEW CREATION WITH OLI BROWN AND THE DEAD COLLECTIVE.
‘’ The name is as dark as it sounds for a reason, I wasn’t in a healthy spot when I wrote the music so this is where the whole foundation of the band came from”
From touring the USA as a teenager, through mental health struggles, changing musical direction and formulating his own project, it’s been a turbulent time for Oli Brown both personally and professionally in the music industry. With the release of the introspective and cathartic EP ‘Prologue’ he bares his soul through his music in an open invitation for anyone who may be struggling to reach out.
MGM: ‘Prologue’, the follow up to your debut EP, is now out (May 12th 2023); Oli Brown and the Dead Collective being a relatively new incarnation following your departure from Raveneye and decision to strike out on your own. ‘Prologue’ feels like a very personal piece of work, described as a ‘brutal adventure’. How accurate a description do you feel this is?
OB: I started writing it as a way of getting through some stuff – it was never meant to be anything ‘proper’. I was ready to take a break from the scene for a while and realign, but then these songs took shape, and something about them made me want to dig a bit deeper. We finalised and recorded them, I thought – let’s put it out there and see if we can make it connect with anyone. I think for me, it’s been incredibly cathartic to do this. To release it, to be completely transparent and open about what’s been going on in my own life, and with my mental health, has been therapy for me, and the response to it has been truly overwhelming.
MGM: The EP is a reflection of your struggles with mental health issues, how you overcame them and your ongoing journey, what made you decide to put it into music and how did this feel for you?
OB: It was a multitude of things that collided into one space. One of the leading songs for the band – ‘Haunted’ – relates to some of the bigger events in my life, also subconsciously there was stuff going on that I wasn’t even aware of. I love to write music, and usually when I do I start to sing along to what I’m writing, usually gibberish, but words come out, ideas come out, and I ended up letting whatever was going on with me out there through this music and take its own form. ‘Haunted’ is a very raw song, uncomfortable in a way as it’s sharing a lot. Not long after that I had a really bad episode and realised this was my way of acknowledging it was time to get some help.
I found a fantastic therapist who said – ‘you have the ability to write songs, why don’t you put all this into a lyric and use it as a way of self expression?’ which made sense to me as I’m not the best communicator. I thought, ok, no one ever has to hear it, but it could help me to help myself, to map out what’s going on and identify what needs to change.
My friend Wayne who plays drums helped produce the record with me, he fuelled me to dig deeper and push further into it. Wayne gave me a place to stay when I had nowhere, and that helped me with having a safe place to rebuild until I felt secure enough to express myself in the music. It’s helped me connect with my voice more when I’m singing, using my voice to put out what I feel instead of just putting out a melody. ‘Your Love’ is such an intense, lyrical song that I was able to use my voice on in a way I hadn’t previously experienced as a singer.
MGM: You’ve recently supported The Answer on tour and showcased these songs for the first time. How have they translated when performing live, and how has it felt for you given that the subject matter is so personal?
OB: The first few shows felt quite odd, and I was a bit uncomfortable to be singing this stuff in front of so many people, it was quite a jarring experience. I didn’t feel ready, I felt caught off guard, I felt very exposed. Now however, I’ve got the balance right, I think. As a performer I want to give something believable, so now I can get myself into that headspace again, only in a healthy way, and be able to deliver something that’s very honest. It’s been overwhelming, but what’s really nice about this is that I’ve gained connections with people that I never thought I would have, people have come over to talk to me and share their own experiences. It feels amazing to be so open and share with people in this way, it’s opened up a whole new thing for me – the comfort in communication.
I was hesitant when my family started seeing the shows, there are some songs that are personal to the family, so I felt like I was exposing them as well as myself. That was probably the most awkward thing, especially since I hadn’t been communicating well with them for some time because I didn’t feel validated in my feelings and with all that was going on. My family are incredibly supportive of me, and they were just happy to be seeing me doing it.
MGM: You’ve described making this EP as therapy, along with the support of your drummer, and the therapist you talked with – is this something you’d recommend to other people experiencing mental health issues such as depression and anxiety?
OB: Absolutely. I can appreciate that therapists are very powerful people who can influence the way you think and the way you manage your life, and people have both good and bad experiences with them. One of the first questions my therapist asked me was what my values are, and what I think my worth is, and I didn’t have an answer for that. I just didn’t know. So we started digging into that and exploring why I couldn’t answer that question. Having a strong support network and recognising I needed to make big life changes was essential, because as scary as it can be it’s far beyond for the better. I’m glad I had the strength to pull myself out of a bad place, but I couldn’t have done it without that support.
I think it’s really ok to talk to new people about this sort of thing, and I want to put this out there because it’s not uncomfortable for me to communicate any more. Don’t be stubborn with your thoughts and emotions. My message inbox is always open to anyone that wants to share what they may be going through if they need support.
MGM: If you were to be asked that question again, at this point in time, would you have an answer for it, and what would that answer be?
OB: I definitely understand my worth now. I feel valued, and I’ve benefited from the connections I’ve made to help myself through. Last April (2022) I put out the first song, ‘Haunted’, I was very transparent about what was going on, and I had people reach out to me because of it. I’ve gained the most incredible people in my life because I can now recognise what’s bad for me and know that I don’t need to entertain that. I’m constantly learning and growing, I still talk to my therapist, I have mechanisms now to handle things better, I can make more sense of it.
OB: I started playing guitar when I was twelve, at school, I was getting by, wasn’t bad at it but I used to get frustrated with people who were better at it than I was – why is this coming so easy to them?! I really wanted to be creative, I pushed myself hard, and then when I was sixteen I got the chance to tour America for two months with a blues band.
My parents let me go, they could see the band were trustworthy, and parents themselves, and the singer really wanted to teach me about what it’s like to be a touring musician and be out on the road. I was in Central America – Wyoming, Kansas, Nebraska. And this guy, he really pushed me to be a singer and a performer. I learned so much from that experience I got to see the harsh reality of touring! The bus we had was a rusting death wagon and we were going through the Rockies and all sorts with a hand brake that didn’t work! We were playing dirty blues bars, biker pubs, it was terrifying, and I fell in love with it. I knew right then I was going to stay in music, and I have.
I stayed with the blues artists for a while and when I was eighteen, I got signed to a blues label and stayed with them for about five years. Then I decided to take a hiatus and moved to Canada just to try and figure myself out a bit. I came back to the UK and formed Raveneye.
We did a lot with Raveneye, we put an album out, and an EP, and then due to a series of heart-breaking events that I can’t go into the whole thing had to stop. To go from there – I’d moved away from being in a band, and Oli Brown as a name was always associated with blues music, so I needed to make another shift with this new music, which is why it’s Oli Brown and the Dead Collective.
MGM: For those that haven’t heard Oli Brown and the Dead Collective, or seen the live show, how would you describe what you do here?
OB: The name is as dark as it sounds for a reason, as I’ve mentioned, I wasn’t in a healthy spot when I wrote the music so this is where the whole foundation of the band came from. There was nothing forced in any of this creative process, and I think because there was no stress or pressure to make this into something, it’s happened very organically, and this translates into the live performance. It’s an interesting show to put together, as with the subject matter we can’t really have any onstage banter or laugh with the crowd or joke about the songs. Instead, we’ve created these soundscapes in between songs to really immerse the listener in a show that’s all about atmosphere and emotion, it adds a lot of drama and gravitas to the performance.
OB: I was quite nervous about this – we’d done the show at a few festivals – Winter’s End, Steelhouse, Heretic Festival, so we’d done shows but no tour. I wasn’t sure I could maintain my voice for an entire tour as the songs are demanding vocally. Turns out I did have the stamina to get through it and I loved it! The Answer are such an amazing band, they were so welcoming to us, and it was our first proper foray into touring as a band together, and it’s a wonderful little family I have to tour with.
Wayne Proctor (drums) – nothing would happen without Wayne! He’s fundamental, and cares about this as much as I do. My partner, Hannah, recommended Sam Wood for guitar. She was talking about him for a while, so we went to go and see him, and hung out together for a while before. I remember thinking – he’s so lovely and friendly – and then we saw him play guitar and he just blew me away! We met again at Call Of The Wild festival, I was there selling jewellery, and we had a natural connection, he’s such a genuine person, so I asked if he’d be up for putting this band together and doing these shows and he was!
We had a great response, I met so many people that wanted to share their experiences with me and tell their stories. Even if the show has affected just one person, I think it’s lovely.
Check out this recent live video from Leo’s The Red Lion in Gravesend:
OB: Both! There will be a third EP; we’re releasing music in trickles through the year because we’re independent and there’s no rush to make it into an album. We are planning a headline tour in September and potentially another big release towards the end of the year with quite a few new songs, kind of a deluxe edition of everything, and more!
We’re going to stay independent – I don’t rely on this for taking care of me financially so I can stay in a really healthy mindset, in that I can do it very honestly and in the way I want to put it out there. The messages and vision in it are truly from myself without any interfering outside sources or anything trying to steer the narrative. The fact that it stays authentic is so important to me, in the live shows as well. We have a light engineer that we’re going to take on the headline tour and we have such a vision in mind for how it’s all going to look, and what we’re going to do with it to make it unique.
‘PROLOGUE’ is out now and can be ordered below