Outer Stella Overdrive

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Alice Gee | 12/07/2021

Having started Outer Stella Overdrive four years ago, Raff Law, Kelvin Bueno, Rudy Albarn, Amin El Makkawi and Rikki Lee have found their calling, with tracks formed of a number of genres with inspiration drawing from some of their favourite artists; The Libertines, The Beatles and Radiohead. I meet the band in East London post-rehearsal. As we take a gander around East London we find ourselves settling down in Butterfield Green in a private little nook.

As we get comfy it becomes clear to me before I even have to ask that the boys in the band have known each other for quite some time, with the word family almost feeling more appropriate. As I got to know the boys, each taking their turn to introduce themselves, I meet with the band’s latest member Ricki, a woman who doesn’t mess about when it comes to playing the guitar. Having recently seen the band live, I was rather impressed that Ricki who only joined perhaps a week or so before the gig had every element of each song nailed to a tee. With the boys having met years prior, Kelvin and Raf through his younger sister, Rudy, Raff’s childhood friend and Amin shortly after, Raf explained to me the reason behind their latest member, “I think it became clear that moving forward, to really take it to that next level we wanted a new guitarist. I love writing with the guitar, but I’ve always thought of myself more as a singer. Getting a guitarist is a lot better as it just takes the pressure off, essentially bringing another element to the group.” Having written songs of his own for a couple of years before OSO, Raf and Kelvin found themselves as more of a collective, enjoying the same type of music, “It just happened very organically and naturally, which has been the whole process behind the band, we’ve never really tried to think things through too much.”

Recently, having navigated themselves through the pandemic like most, with the release of new music and the video ‘Bad Times’ directed by Sadie Frost (Raffs Mum), which Raff hails as not only fun but a privilege to be able to be in a position to do, they found themselves back in the flow of performing having recently played The Water Rats to an audience, albeit socially distanced.

With it being my first gig back post-COVID-19 I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit anxious about what a socially distanced gig would mean for the night, but with that being said the room was more alive than some gigs I’ve seen pre-pandemic.

Having been conscious of putting music out too quickly, Raf explaining the rush he felt to keep up with over artists mixed in with the fear of saturating themselves, with OSO deciding to put out tracks at their own pace, where they could see their own personal progress before feeling ready to step up, smash gigs with a new and fine-tuned elevated sound.

As my mind goes back to their recent gig in London following the mention of finding a newfound sound, I could see and hear with my very own ears the effort the band are making to solidify their sound. The gig itself was filled with a variety of notable traits, a medley so to speak of music which they had combined into their very own sound, “Everything had been developed and improved. We come from very different musical backgrounds and influences. A lot of people nowadays worry about too much trying to stay in one lane or sticking to one genre. There have been so many different movements in music, we’re all inspired by them all. It’s not about being the most complex, it just needs to sound good, be catchy and get people in an upbeat and good mood. We do that on our shows, keeping people on their toes.”

With notes of Britpop, rock and even grunge, the energy that they brought to the show was unreal. Bearing in mind it was seated and socially distanced, security was needed to remind fans to not dance on the floor and tables. It was the perfect look at the energy I’m inclined to see at their London headline show at the 02 Academy Islington, and it’s not only the crowd that I know are excited, with OSO clearly with even an ounce of disbelief that at this early on they would be headlining such a notorious venue, very much a pinch-me moment to them all.

With gigs before the pandemic cancelled, including a supporting slot for The Manor at The O2 Academy, I was intrigued to hear which gigs over the years had stood out to them all. It’s a question that sends them all deep into thought, as I wait to hear the bands that have not only inspired but spurred them to be who they are today. Raff fires away with The Libertines being quick to mind with their notable riff and spunky sets, not dissimilar to the ambitions of OSO, with it clearly having affected the confidence Raff has found coming centre stage. Whilst Rudy revels in what made his start drumming, “whenever I went to see people play, especially the drummers, I’d always watch them, and that alone would kind of make me want to do it from a very competitive point of view. Why am I not up there, why can’t I do that? I want to be doing that.” It’s clear how each of their own experiences have inspired them individually but also in how they write and perform as a group. With each of their own styles coming together to do the talking when it comes to each and every performance.

But there’s more than what meets the eye at first glance at OSO. As a band, the first thing you see is energy and light-heartedness, with few knowing how the weight of the world has fallen on them multiple times when it comes to heart-wrenching loss. As a group, their infectious joy and spiring back and forth chat is only a layer on top of their personal experiences with mental health. “Three years ago, one of my good friends who I (Raff) introduced to the band, came to see one of our shows, and it was the first time he’d ever seen us play. We went back to his house after as a band, drank some wine, spent time together, it was really lovely and then sadly, he took his life like three days or four days after alongside recently my flatmate and my manager, basil, who was managing the band, passed away in what was a freak accident. He struggled with bipolar himself, and as I lived with him, being around him and seeing his ups and downs, was a big part of my life for a year.”

Although Raff holds up well, I can see the pain it’s caused the band, but even more so I can not only hear but see the compassion and care in front of me, almost the responsibility the band clearly feel when it comes to speaking out about mental health and the challenges that come with it in making sure those around them are ok, feel heard and supported. “I think us as a band have always spoken up out about mental health.” As a band, several songs speak about the realisations of mental health and feeling low.

OSO still regularly play old tracks that talk about the stigma surrounding mental health which challenge the idea of people thinking people are just moaning about how they feel. “I’m never going to shut them down, I think it’s important to think about how you can improve that situation. I know that if I reach out to a friend, then they’re gonna feel they can reach out to me in the future”.

With their songs harnessing a huge amount of lyrics and stories with darker meanings and messages, it emulates not only their experiences but how they are people to lean on in times of need. “I (Raff) like to think of myself as like a very upbeat person. Music is not only to me but the band the place where we feel we can express ourselves, especially for me in a way where I don’t feel like I’m like bringing anyone else down”.

With the past few years being a pinpoint start with society becoming more open and aware of mental health stigmas, especially surrounding men, I find huge relief hearing the band, with 4 of 5 members being men, being so open and how they as individuals and a band can support or even help provide brief moments of respite to fans. “Losing a few friends really opened my eyes. It was a wake-up call. It was a really hard time for all of our friends. It was an eye-opener for me because I feel like maybe when I was like 18 or 19 when something bad would happen, I would have ended up going out for a few days and kind of shutting off in that way, and now I make a huge effort to talk about it instead. I guess we feel like we owe it to them to speak to as many people as we can in the world, in the hopes of helping.”

It’s not an empty statement, if you look close enough you can see the efforts OSO have been making in creating a better environment and world not only for those they’ve lost but for those yet to come. With that in mind and the road to recovery back on its way, I have no hesitation that the band will be back on the road, not only in the UK but with their eyes set on festivals and an eventual tour around some of Americas biggest cities.

Words: Alice Gee
Photography : Jimi Herrtage
Stylist: Frederica Lovell-Pank

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