“What’s this for? What publication?”
“Sloucher, we told you Steve!”
“Uh? I don’t know what’s going on (laughs)”
—Steve Genn & Hugh Ruiz, obLONG.
It’s always interesting seeing the places where Sheffield bands will rehearse. Whereas in Mexico or in the USA rehearsals would take place on a garage or a spare room (or a damp basement), Sheffield bands seem to congregate in old industrial places, where the grime and soot from an era long gone still resists to the shockwaves of Sheffield’s many musical talents (and styles).
So in one of these several old industrial sites of yore that have been reconverted for creative endeavours it’s where I meet Tracy Deakin, Tom Didlock, Hugh Ruiz and Steve Genn. Their rehearsal space has some pretty sweet rugs and a lot of amplifiers. I sit down in a lonely green stool, feeling like they nicked me for some crime (bad writing, plagiarism – it’s a fair cop) and I’m getting a third degree.
Steve: I met you [Hugh] from years ago, just being out.
Hugh: Just socialising. I use socialising as an euphemism for being drunk.
Tracy: Steve met me at a friend’s house, over Sunday dinner. He asked if I wanted to be in a band.
Steve: I was looking for a band and I found her.
Tracy: Sounds very romantic! And I met Dids later.
Dids: I was in for the premier of ‘This is England’ at the Showroom and it was through a friend called Emma. We were all having drinks in a bar after and she came up and said they were looking for a drummer. I haven’t been into drumming for a while, maybe 3 or 4 years, as I’d been living in shared houses or residences, flats. I was really eager to get back drumming in a band again. We started practising and after a couple of practises, it all fell into place, we all clicked and now we’re recording new tunes.
Steve: It’s all about a Mod or a Rocker.
Dids: Big dispute between me and Steve, as he’s a Rocker and I’m a Mod.
Steve: We’re like the Gallagher brothers, us! Only cleverer.
Anybody planning a line of designer clothes then?
Steve: Look at my fucking threads! (Pulls his white t-shirt)
It does has a little square in it.
Steve: It’s not a square, it’s an oblong! That’s the only obLONG t-shirt, THE tour t-shirt (laughs).
Dids: It’s overdressing what’s wrong with us. There was this gig and I needed a place to stay and I told Tracy I could sleep in the floor and I passed through her room towards the bath and saw about three racks full of clothes and I said: “You’ll never be able to wear all that like for the rest of your life, you could wear one everyday and not get through them!”
So who thought about the name of the band and the strange spelling for it?
Steve: It’s just words.
Tracy: Say how you said it! When you get to a certain age, a circle and a rectangle…
Steve: That’s ’cause … what’s that program with the funny long black hair? The one students like?
Hugh: The Mighty Boosh?
Steve: Yeah, there’s a sketch about it. It’s about words you can say until you’re 11 and then your dad says “it’s a rectangle!”. So we say: oblong.
Tracy: You recently said, Hugh, that it didn’t have to necessarily be a rectangle.
Hugh: Yeah, it doesn’t have.
Steve: I read it was an elongated square!
Hugh: Yeah, a square can be an oblong. Circles too.
Who’s the main composer? Or is it a team effort?
Steve: Team effort, definitely. Everyone all the time.
About lyrics: before or after?
Hugh: All about words, really, that go well with the music.
Dids: We record sometimes without the others. Tracy was out on…
Steve, Hugh: Rehab.
Dids: And we recorded some music, played around a new tune and sounded very psychedelic and Tracy came around and put lyrics over it and worked well!
Steve: She flies from this exhibition and there you go. She’s always in some foreign capital doing something cool.
Tracy: I’m not!
Steve: And we all just live in the shadow of her coolness!
You had two EPs last year. Any other plans for another one as you have been rehearsing and composing a lot lately? Maybe an album, a single?
Tracy: A vinyl! Funny you mention that. Club 60 recordings will be releasing two 7” vinyls, which will also have Black Cat White Cat, Michael Eden and Jonny Dean, should be released next month.
Steve: We do want to record more, of course.
Hugh: We have lots of ideas.
One of our collaborators from Mexico asks: where did the idea of covering Supertramp’s ‘The Logical Song’ came from? Who’s the big fan?
Tracy: Oh yeah!
Hugh: Steve and I are big fans of Supertramp, Rush…
Steve: It’s one of those songs that just is so easy to do, in an argy-bargy way (hums song) and it translates very well into (hums stronger, mimicking guitar distortion). It’s a great song to play with.
My collaborator, well, she’s also asking about ‘The disappointment’, since it’s such a change in the flow of the EPs.
Steve: You have to have a deep, sensitive song, donya? A tortured one, bwah! (laughs)
Hugh: Lots of soul. Reflective Genn.
Steve: Still ends up loud, right?
Tracy: We do like it, though.
I always thought the sensitive one was ‘The Knife’, especially with the end.
Steve: Different kind of sensitive though.
Hugh: Sonic and …
Well, you [Steve] seem to be always happy when you are approaching the pedal with that look that screams “TREMOLO!”
Steve: Hey, he knows his pedals!
I’m a pedal freak!
Steve: You are nerd, aren’t ya? (all laugh).
Can’t play for toffee but like the sounds you can squeeze outta em. Anyways, this one is for Hugh. Our main writer in Mexico, Tonan, is a bass player and she wants to know about the bass lines in obLONG.
Steve: ‘Cause they’re shit? (laughs)
They are very independent, go everywhere while still fitting with the song, so, basically, why do you go for something syncopated?
Hugh: Bach. Bach writes the best bass lines. Seriously. My biggest influence when I started would’ve been McCartney, but I wouldn’t say his my biggest…
Hugh: Anyway, cut back to the chase. I like a lot of the syncopated stuff, Gang of four, Siouxsie and the Banshees, all that sort of stuff. Even a bit of Rush.
Steve: Get Rush in there!
The world needs more Rush.
Hugh: It does, yes.
They discuss for a moment if they can manage to blag their way into an upcoming Rush gig in Sheffield. It doesn’t look likely.
Hugh: I do believe it’s very boring to just play the root note. There’s a time and a place for it, but bass is as important as everything else.
Dids: It’s more creative instead of just following.
Hugh: It’s rhythm but also more.
Dids: It comes out and wraps around you when it’s strange. You feel it.
Just when I ask Dids about his drumming style (jazzy) his phone goes off. It’s the sound of R2-D2.
Steve: Here we go, the Force is in!
Dids: I didn’t realise after we recorded that all of the time I sort of follow the lyrics. Some way that they break and fall back into a chorus, kick back just like that. Sometimes I chase these two, but most of the time it’s vocals.
Dids: I listen to a lot of 60s music. I like jazz stuff, if I’m feeling like that. If it’s a Saturday morning and go Art Blakey or John Coltrane.
Hugh: Ask him to play jazz, he’s amazing!
Dids: Or Charlie Parker or Ornette Coleman, who I saw in the Barbican a couple of years ago. Blew my mind. I love all Mod culture stuff. I get cursed at for liking Paul Weller, asked why I like him if he’s not cool anymore. The only music I don’t really like is happy gathering pop and the like. Radio one is a no no. But I just bought a new radio (!)
Tracy: If he’s a jazzer and a mod but doesn’t like pop, what is he doing in this band?
Dids: I do like my rock and roll. I think you can find inspiration in everywhere. I try not to dismiss music. There are nice melodies and will give you ideas, do stuff that is not there and come up with stuff.
Steve: What about Jesus?
Hugh: I’m catholic!
Steve: We could get into that Christian rock movement.
Hugh: We would have millions of fans everywhere.
Steve: We’ll take the Lord!
It worked for Creed.
Tracy: I once appeared in a Christian Rock video.
Dids: I was there!
Steve: Christian Mod Jazzer!
Tracy: I can’t remember if I have a copy, but you don’t wanna see it.
Steve: Is there a name for that combination?
Christian, Mod and Jazzy… Starsailor?
Hugh unbuttons his shirt. Underneath he’s wearing a t-shirt bearing the artwork for Starsailor’s Silence is Easy. Everyone laughs.
Hugh: I thought it was barbed wire and everybody was giving me these looks and then I saw it proper: people from Starsailor.
Okay, Tracy, is your way of singing very cathartic, like a therapy?
Tracy: Yeah, I guess. Um, I think so, it makes me feel good anyway!
What got you into singing?
Tracy: I don’t know (laughs).
Hugh: “I sing because I can!”
Dids: My dad and I was listening to her and said the voice holds it all together.
So, Steve, can we assume you’re a fan of prog?
Steve: I’ve recently got into prog, I had my Rush moments, maybe a bit of early Genesis and even Yes…
Steve: But it’s not my heritage, if you like. I’m just an old punk?
So which of the punk bands did you like?
Steve: All of the good ones (!)
Steve: The proper ones from 77!
Hugh: He’s seen them all, you know?
Steve: I’ve seen them all. The Damned, The Buzzcocks, The Clash, The Jam, The Stranglers, Siouxsie and the Banshees, you know?
Steve: I’ve got an actual medical condition with XTC.
Which album do you like best? Desert island pick?
Steve: Probably English Settlement.
Hugh: Which one is in that one?
Steve: Most famous track would be ‘Senses working overtime’. But XTC have never done a really good album, they make good albums, that’s the beauty of it. A flawed masterpiece concept.
My brother would agree with you, he’s a big fan. He got me into XTC. I think I was five and he put ‘Making plans for Nigel’
Steve: That’s the only one every one knows.
But I didn’t like it, I preferred ‘Helicopter’.
Steve: Much better.
Hugh: ‘Nigel’ got overplayed.
Steve: All XTC fans agree.
I like ‘Dear God’ too.
Steve: Well, ‘Dear God’ it’s the biggest atheist anthem ever written! And the only one, I think.
Hugh: I want to hear it now. Which album was that?
Steve: It’s in the American re-issue of Skylarking.
Do you think guitar music is still alive and kicking, then?
Steve: Yeah, there’s good stuff. Dids just introduced me to At the Drive-In and my current favourite band is Cursive, you know them?
Steve: You young kids are banging about them and I’ve never heard from them! They are awesome, aren’t they?
Steve: Which album you got?
I proceed to mispronounce Happy Hollow, which makes us go into a tangent which involves how Mr. Bean says ‘hullo’. This lasts a good 5 minutes.
How did the idea for Club obLONG came about?
Hugh: That was me. I just wanted to subscribe to the idea of having a residence. Based in the memory of when I was young, driving for a friend’s band. They played in a dodgy club in London and they just were inviting people they liked to play with. We do the same, invite people recommended or that we’ve heard about they were good. We’re in the middle, so it’s not an ego thing, it’s a fun thing. It’s gone real well.
Dids: Good chance to put on some bands.
Steve: It’s our chance to show the world that despite our gargantuan stature, we’re still humble and support other bands, even if we’re filling stadiums. (!)
Is there any band from Club obLONG you’d like to play again with?
Steve: We’re playing with the Violet May soon.
Dids: The guy with the harp, what’s his name?
Tracy: The Third Half! Dreamy.
Hugh: Three harps, very good, very dreamy.
Steve: It’s always a good change to have something acoustic, then us.
Hugh: We’re going to have Pulp, obviously (!). Logistically, it wouldn’t be impossible as the stage is too small. (laughs)
I thank the band for their time and I stay around for their practise of an entire set. They seem to be well synchronised together, usually guessing what the other three will do. The place is dimly lit (hence the shit pictures and surreptitious use of older pics) but they know themselves so well that they can do a great practise.
We go outside for a final cigarrette before bidding goodbye. Their quick-fire banter continues, with Hugh throwing a quip before we all went our own ways:
“It was a terrible day when Franco died. We ran out of champagne!”
Words: Sam J. Valdés López (additional questions by Tonan)
We’d like to thank obLONG for this interview and the gig invitation.
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