Oblong’s first rehearsal took place in guitarist Steve Genn’s attic.
Calling bassist Hugh from the safety of my duvet, I instantly feel a connection with him – both hungover, both human and oh gosh, both Leos. I am informed however, that in spite of the unnerving connotations of loft spaces, Genn isn’t Fagin and apparently no one was trying to escape a workhouse. Although, lead singer Tracey is apparently quite small.
“She really is, she’s got an amazing voice and when you see her you think how did she do that? Where did that come from?” marvels Hugh.
With the youthful Tracey Deakin and the recent addition drummer Ally Fraser teamed up with self-confessed “oldies” Hugh and Genn – Oblong are a bit more… well, irregular. So, if it wasn’t entrapment, how did such a matrimony of faces occur?
“Everyone sort of already knew each other, but we were watching Death Proof with a bottle of bourbon and it just seemed like more and more a better idea as we went along. And with Tarantino soundtrack behind it was like – ‘Fucking yeah! Let’s do that! Brilliant!’ So, it was a lot of how brilliant we all were then and yeah, here we are.”
“Yes, even when sober. Not in an arrogant way, but we are the best band in the world and it’s about time the world bloody knew!”
The Oblong idea has been stewing for long while. Both Genn and Hugh having been playing in bands for over 20 years—from a 10 year old Hugh playing his wannabe bass/cello on its side to Genn writing the band’s track String in 1988—so it’s a wonder why no one fed them bourbon and Tarantino sooner.
“I think the concept of this band has been in Genn’s head since he was about five, I think. And oblong’s a word you’re not allowed to say after you’re 11” laughs Hugh. “But no, the concept was always there, then much bourbon later, we were like, let’s call it oblong. obLong. It looks good!”
Despite Genn’s, not obsession, but enduring love of punk, it hasn’t stopped the band’s natural progression of sound. Or, just a loud difficult bassist.
“Genn’s a prolific song writer, he sort of vomits out songs constantly. Originally, he would come up with the song, quite sort of safe so to speak, then we’d fuck up with the rhythm section using strange rhythms, which you wouldn’t expect to go with the chords originally,” Hugh laughs. “Being normal is dead easy – it’s more interesting to play stuff that isn’t.”
It’s true, Oblong are unique. With an eclectic mix of tastes, including Hugh-“no one loves the Beatles as much as me” and “sort of have likes of Van Halen”-Ruiz, their sound is layered with influences from all over the place. “A lot of Black Sabbath has been listened to,” I’m proudly informed. Well, good. Listening to Oblong, it’s easy to hear the Gang of Four inspired syncopated rhythms, heavy groove-laden bass lines, big Rush-style guitar licks and that frustrated punk ethos which Tracey’s intense and grungy vocals capture so effortlessly. Yet, their sound is always evolving.
“We’ve become much harder I think – more metal sounds and rock really” Hugh adds. “We’ve got a brand new track called Mothership, it’s an angry song about life and relationships and stuff.”
This kind of progression is exciting – listening to their 2009 and still gig-favourite I am the Noise, is an entirely different experience to the more recent heavier and angrier likes of You Should Be Mine. “Frustrations of life being turned into song you know?” says Hugh, thoughtful for once. Consequently, Oblong become very difficult to define. Even so, calling themselves ‘genreless’? What a cop out. However, I don’t get very far with my accusation, as Hugh cuts me off. “We’re the opposite of jazz”. Gotcha. “It allows for everything and it says exactly how it is.”
“Here’s a thing” he continues excitedly. “Russell (Senior) from Pulp, we’re good friends with him, said to Genn ‘I love your guitar sound – what do you use?’ and he was like, ‘oh we’ve got these pedals’ and he went out and bought the pedals apparently. There you go, straight from Russell’s mouth, he rang up and said ‘I wanna have the Oblong sound’”
Better start bottling it then!
“Yes! Can I have a glass of Oblong, please? Haha”
The Sheffield music scene has churned out a huge amount of varied sound and talent… and the not so varied. So it’s interesting to see how these non-cuboids fit. “The Sheffield music scene is so lovely” Hugh pauses, thinking. “People like us. We’re not Arctic Monkeys are we? There’s a lot of that kind of stuff around. We just are.”
He continues, “We’re loud. We’re fucking loud. In fact, last night (at The Great Gatsby) the sound police came down twice, saying, ‘You’re too loud! You’re too loud! Stop it!’ We were doing a sound check and we were told to turn it down, because you could hear us from the other end of Division Street. I don’t think we’re that loud!”
Maybe because you’re going deaf?
“Haha, maybe. I am a bass player.”
Oblong do work hard in the music scene—regularly hosting the Oblong Club at the Washington where they put on unsigned acts, and also having just finished their mighty tour de Division Street (2 venues, 2 consecutive nights, one street)—they deserve more credit.
“Genn thinks it’s hilarious – 2 nights on the same street, we’re going on tour!” Hugh chuckles.
Having gigged a lot, I ask Hugh what’s been their most memorable gig. “Tramlines is always fun, but we did a festival a couple of years ago, in which the stage was invaded by dogs. Three legged dogs, dogs with dreadlocks, just a whole plethora of dogs with different styles.” I’m not sure what Hugh is saying about their fans…
And other than entertaining the canine population, what are the future plans for Oblong?
Hugh explains. “We’re recording with a guy called Ross Orton (drummer on Jarvis Cocker’s 2006 and 2009 albums and MIA mixer) we’re looking forward to recording with him because there’s new stuff that we’ve not recorded yet is much more in your face. Much more angry, attitude, arggghh”.
“But we wanna play in the States. The ultimate plan is to do the band 100%. I’ve been playing music for too long – it’s my passion” Hugh continues.
“We never have things easy in this band. We seem to hit a lot of brick walls, but we’re not fazed by this – we just hit them back harder!”