Dom Lawson - Oaf - Interview Exclusive Print E-mail
Written by Johnny H   
Saturday, 12 June 2010 06:00

When I first encountered the dulcet tones of Oaf via the recommendation of a good friend of Uber Rock, I have to admit I was immediately floored by the duo's ferocious output.  Formed out of Brighton by two close pals, the band members originally went by the pseudonyms He Who Strums and Shouts and He Who Hits Things, and their repertoire boasts such classic song titles as 'Giant Ball Bag and 'Wanking with a Fistful of Shit'. 




Having something of a penchant for covering all things 'different' we get the hear about here at URHQ, I decided to seize the imitative and contact the guys most renowned for having more Fairy Liquid usage than your average band, to find out exactly what it is that drives their musical ambitions. What I found out was ...umm enlightening.


Hi He Who Strums and Shouts firstly many thanks for taking the time to talk with us at Uber Rock.  


HWSAS/Dom: You are most welcome! Thank you for being interested enough to want to ask us questions. This is a very civilised way to begin our campaign of idiocy.  And as you may have noticed, we are quite happy to be addressed using our real names, Dom and James. Our pseudonyms were only never meant to be a preposterous conceit. We are not shadowy figures hell-bent on anonymity, sadly. I will be answering all of these questions, as James has a proper job and has less time to fritter away on such things.


A lot of people out there will be wondering, "Who the fuck are Oaf?"  Well who are you???


Okay, so by now you know that we are lifelong pals that played together in The Shatners back in the late '80s (if you haven't, read the band's Gig From Hell feature). The band dissolved in 1990 or so, I think, and then we became some separated by geography when I went to university in Brighton in 1994 and James ended up in London. We've always remained close friends but we had no way (or any intention) of making music together for several years. I played in numerous bands during that period, but always quite fancied the idea of doing something with my best friend again. Finally, James and his lovely wife moved down to Brighton in 2006 and we met up and started mulling over the possibility of doing something. The band I was in at the time was clearly winding down and I felt it was about time to form a band wherein I could indulge my own song writing ambitions without anyone else interfering. We formed Oaf in 2007. It became immediately apparently that this was going to be fantastic and hugely enjoyable...and, if we're totally honest, very cathartic too. Life can be a right old pain in the arse at times, and getting to scream and shout and hit things with sticks once a week with your best mate is a privilege to be cherished.  We've been writing and rehearsing ever since and, finally, we now have our debut album completed and ready to go.


And what's the link with the band No Legs?  Is this something you guys did before Oaf? 


No Legs was one of the bands I played with in Brighton during the '90s. The line-up featured two bassists and a drummer (with me singing and shouting) and wasn't a million miles away from what we now do in Oaf, although it was neither as technically precise nor as focused as this current band. We were pretty popular among the DIY punk contingent in Brighton for a while and I really enjoyed the experience. There's no denying that the songs I wrote in No Legs are the direct forebears of the ones I've written for Oaf.


Oaf_Gig_PosterOaf could be said to be made up of two instruments of musical destruction but why exactly have you settled as just that.... a duo? 

Being in a band is so often an experience confounded by compromise. I have been in so many bands that could have been a lot better and maybe even more successful had one person (i.e. me) been able to take control and dictate how things were done. Democracy doesn't work in rock 'n' roll, unless you have several songwriters/musicians of equal ability and confidence. With Oaf, I knew that James and I would get on absolutely fine. We can be honest with each other and if we don't agree on a song then we will simply scrap it and write another one. Having someone else in the band would've ruined it, frankly. Also, Oaf really grew from an idea I had a few years ago for a solo project. I was going to play bass and sing along to pre-recorded drum tracks (or a drum machine) and do it all myself. When James moved down to Brighton, it became obvious that it would be more fun to team up with my old partner-in-crime and do it this way instead. Ever since No Legs I've been convinced that you don't really need a guitar player or any other musicians, as long as you can make enough noise with just bass and drums. It's all about filling the gaps and making the songs as dynamic and powerful as possible. I play my bass like a guitar most of the time, playing chords and using full-on distortion, and I can make more than enough noise to negate the need for any other instruments. It's something original, I think, and it just works. We're by no means the first band to use just bass and drums, but I don't think anyone has ever done it and sounded like Oaf before.


Have you ever been tempted to add a 'He Who Fret Wanks, and We All Hate' and/or a 'He Who Fingers The Ivories and We Turn Down In The Mix'?


Nope, never. What would be the point? Our sound and our songs is what makes us unique, and the sound would change too much if there were anyone else involved. Furthermore, the songs would cease to sound like they do in my head when I write them. That's the beauty of this band. I bring my songs to our rehearsals, Jim learns them and works out his drum parts and off we go. There's no arguing about the overall sound or how things should be arranged. It all falls together naturally.


Your Myspace describes your music as a mix between coughing, headaches and scratchy biscuits, but in reality you sound more like some old school aspects of say The Damned mixing it up with a more contemporary edge of Winnebago Deal or Eighties Matchbox?  What do you think of that description, is it how you see it?


Good lord...really? I wasn't expecting any of those names to pop up. As far as The Damned go, I must admit that I grew up listening to them and I remain a huge fan of their stuff. Algy Ward's intro to Love Song is one of the main reasons I wanted to be a bass player in the first place. I'm sure that somewhere in my subconscious, The Damned are a significant influence on the way I write songs, but I don't hear them in our stuff at all. I definitely don't hear the Eighties Matchbox boys either, even though I love them dearly. I don't doubt that we share a couple of influences with them too, but I honestly don't think we have anything in common with them at all, aside from a prominent bass guitar. And Winnebago Deal? Not even close. We have absolutely nothing in common with them, aside from the fact that we're a two-piece. Their stuff is very blues-based and stoner rock-orientated. We're a punk band with jazz and prog influences. I don't hear a connection at all. We do have one or two songs that no one has heard yet that could loosely be described as bluesy, but other than those we don't use any standard blues-influenced riffs or Sabbath-style pentatonic stuff. I love all that stuff, of course, but that's not where we're coming from at all. There's really not much American influence in what we do, if truth be told, and bands like Winnebago Deal are very much in love with that traditional rock 'n' roll vibe. We're considerably less conservative; I'd like to think. I do like Winnebago Deal, though, before anyone gets upset.


What is it that influences the sound of Oaf?  (I sort of hear it sounding like and industrial model Henry the Hoover if it could play the drums and bass).


Musically, the biggest influences are Nomeansno, Cardiacs, Dead Kennedys, early Napalm Death and a little-known British band from the mid '80s called Bogshed. I'd also include the Botherationdarker end of the '70s prog scene - bands like King Crimson and Van Der Graaf Generator - lots of punk stuff from the '70s and '80s, like The Exploited, One Way System and Discharge, and a few slightly more oddball inspirations like Scott Walker and Tom Waits. There's a definite whiff of jazz in there too. James plays the drums with a lot of swing, and I'm a big fan of Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman and Sun Ra. It's all in there. The bass is the dominant sound, of course, and it's probably significant that I've always loved bands with really prominent bass players...people like Jean Jacques Burnel from The Stranglers, Rob Wright in Nomeansno and, most importantly, Mike Bryson from Bogshed, who has always been an immense inspiration to me. You can't get Bogshed records on CD, for some insane reason, but I urge you to check them out if you can. An amazing and highly original band that John Peel adored and that I still consider to be one of the best bands I've ever heard. Interestingly, Mike Bryson used to draw all of Bogshed's album covers, and I love them so much that I tracked him down and asked him to draw us something for the first Oaf album, which he very generously did. I can't tell you how unbelievably chuffed we were when he agreed! Anyway, I digress...there are non-musical influences to be acknowledged too...not least the horror of impending middle-age and all the existential angst, bitterness and impotent rage that goes along with that. I'm only half-joking. With that in mind, our collective sense of humour is enormously important too. I doubt very much that either of us would be able to resist the allure of the cliff's edge were it not for our ability laugh at everything. There are a couple of references to a certain celebrated comedy double act on the Oaf album, which may provide clues as to what we find funny. Finally, booze and curry. There wouldn't be much point in being alive, let alone being in a band, without those.


As we've just come out of Election fever month with the dawn of the first coalition Government in decades (yeah right), if Oaf were a Political Party what would your manifesto be?


As a pair of disgruntled old socialists with strongly liberal instincts, we would probably ensure that we never rose to power by demanding an end to all this ghastly Thatcher/Blair selfishness and greed nonsense. That wouldn't go down well. Other than that, we would probably put forward a case for the concept of less choice. People have been conned into thinking that choice is always a good thing. Life would be a lot simpler if we had less choice, and people would become less self-absorbed and selfish. Also, every man should be entitled to a state-subsidised shed, either real or metaphorical, in order to maintain a firm grip on sanity. But please...don't put these kinds of thoughts of vast power into our heads. It would all end in tears and ghastliness.


You've just been in the studio recording with Russ Russell recently what's that all about?


In short, we recorded our debut album, 'Botheration', with Russ at Parlour Studios in Kettering last November and it will be released on June 21st through Surreal Estate Records. It's 45 minutes long and will fit perfectly onto one side of a C90 cassette tape. There are 12 songs in total...11 original Oaf compositions and a cover version of 'Living On The Ceiling' by Blancmange. Our good friend Justin Hawkins (yes, that one!) contributed a rather spectacular guitar solo to one song, 'Giant Ballbag'. It's the only bit of guitar on the album and we feel a bit dirty for allowing it, but Justin did an amazing job. We are incredibly proud of this album and we can't wait for the small handful of people that are vaguely interested in the whole thing to hear it and, in all probability, denounce it as unlistenable cack. Seriously, though, Russ has done a phenomenal job on capturing the essence of the band and the songs have all come out sounding exactly as we'd hoped. We are determined to perform as many gigs as possible, parental responsibilities and finances permitting, to promote the album and spread the word. The album is dedicated to my dad, by the way, who passed away a few weeks before we went into the studio. He used to say "botheration" as an alternative to swearing, bless him, so he inspired the album title too. Given the foul language I use during most of the songs, it seemed somehow appropriate.


Oaf_ClawSo what was it like working with such a legendary producer? And why did you feel he was right for delivering Oaf's musical concoctions to a wider audience?


Working with Russ was fantastic. I've known him for a few years and we've always got on well, but I'd never had the opportunity to work with him before. I just had a feeling that myself, James and Russ would click and have an awesome time in the studio, and I was right! I asked Russ to help us out when he and I were staggering around in the VIP area at Download last year, and he seemed pretty intrigued by the whole idea. When I sent him some dodgy rehearsal recordings he was instantly won over and we just took it from there. I love the sound of the records that Russ churns out...particularly the Napalm Death stuff, but pretty much everything else I've heard that he's been involved with too, so he was an obvious choice for Oaf. In fact, I never even considered asking anyone else to do this. We needed someone who loved punk rock and noise and metal and jazz and prog and all the stuff that we cram into the horrible din we make, and Russ was clearly the man for the job. I knew he'd get what we were doing and that he'd respect it and bring something of his own to it too. All our hopes and expectations were surpassed and we've ended up with an album that sounds exactly like the noise I hear in my head when I write the songs in the first place. I have no idea how Russ does it, to be honest. He's an evil genius, fuelled by crumpets and Marmite. James' drums sounds phenomenal and the bass sound he created for me is fucking outrageous!



One of your songs is called 'No More Tickets for The Time Machine', if there were tickets left and you could get on board which musical event would you like to be able to witness, and maybe add some of Oaf's indelible charm to?


Personally, I'd love to go back and see the first line-up of Cardiacs and be able to follow the band around and watch them evolve. I first saw them in 1989, around the time of the On Land & In The Sea album and I've seen them 25 or so times since, but I missed their first decade and some of that early stuff was amazing, not to mention the image, which was far more extreme than it was by the time I started going to see them. As far as Oaf are concerned, Cardiacs are the greatest band of all time. End of story. Other than that, I'd love to go back and see Iron Maiden at the Ruskin Arms back in 1979, Van Der Graaf Generator around the time of 'Godbluff', Gang Of Four around the time of 'Entertainment' and 'Solid Gold' and, of course, the mighty Bogshed at any point during their brief existence. I could go on all night about this stuff. I'll shush.


And what is next for you guys? World tours? Massive album push, premature deaths?


A very slow and steady mental and physical decline is just about all we've got on the calendar at the moment. We'd love to do a few gigs when the opportunity arises and we do have one or two things in the pipeline, including doing a video for one of the songs on the album. The main thing is just to keep having fun with it. Oaf wasn't conceived with any kind of success in mind. It's all about me and my best friend making a racket and having a good time. We'd love loads of people to get into it and join us for the ride, but we'll keep doing it regardless. If the album sells two copies and everyone slags us off and denounces us as cunts, it won't make the slightest bit of difference. I know it's a fucking brilliant album. We don't need the approval of other people, as nice as it is.




Just to finish off, we like to play a game (don't worry it's not Fatty's game), please take your Ipod, or whatever MP3 device you have out and push random.  Now tell us the first five tracks that you get (and you can cheat all you like).


Right, I'm going to do this for real...although we are fans of Fatty's game. In fact, he owes us 20 bloody quid!


1.      Tom Waits - Take Care Of All My Children

2.      Lou Reed - Busload Of Faith

3.      Gorgoroth - Prayer

4.      Anthrax - Misery Loves Company

5.      Ol' Dirty Bastard - Skrilla (ft. RZA)


Ha ha! That could've been a lot worse! Got any barmy fluid?


Thank you again Dom for taking the time to talk with us at Uber Rock. All the best with the album, which I'm sure will be making more than a few heads turn when it is released later this summer.


Many thanks for the support.


Dom (on behalf of Oaf) xx


And there we have it folks the twisted musical world of Oaf in one short(ish) interview.  If you want to know exactly what Oaf sound like, and by God you must do if you've read all of this, then check them out on their Myspace page below.  Oaf for me are exciting, challenging and above all great fun, so get your orders in for the debut album 'Botheration' right now and expect the sonic storm to drop through your letterbox sometime latter this month/or next.