Oli Brown & The Dead Collective have just released their debut EP, Prelude. Here, in Part Two, Oli spoke with MetalTalk’s Paul Hutchings about the journey with Black Feather Design jewellery and his return to recorded and live music. You can read more about RavenEye in Part One.
Interview: Paul Hutchings
“I ended up moving out of where I was for personal reasons and ended up living in Wayne’s spare room,” Oli says. “At that point, I had been doing music for so long. I had no money, no income, and I’m now without a place to live. I’m squatting in my mate’s spare room. I got a bit fed up, and I recognised I needed to do something that wasn’t music.
“I think for a while when I was struggling financially, I was trying to offer music tuition courses and trying to use music to form revenue again on different platforms. I think I was making myself really hate everything about music because I’m just trying to create avenues for some form of income. I’m just ramming it down everyone’s faces on my own to try and teach guitar and teach these things. I think I just resented it quite a lot.
“It [Black Feather Design jewellery] was not meant to be a full-time thing. It was meant to be a hobby to make a bit of money on the side, but I think I have an eye for branding and good photography, and I knew what I could do better than other people. I just started building the brand. And it just slowly started to take off.”
Oli continues, “We started in 2020. Christmas was hectic. It was phenomenal. Then, I started working on all my own designs, and till now, we’ve passed 14,000 sales as a company. It’s literally just me and now a partner. She packs all the orders. We had some amazing opportunities. We ended up making a pendant for Papa John’s, and we did 115 pendants for them for their Halloween campaign, and it’s just been great. I don’t have anyone else to worry about or rely on. No one else can really mess with this. It’s my own company. I can do whatever I want. I know the photos, and I can bring in people, and it’s just afforded me to make decisions in my life that I’ve never been able to make.
“I absolutely love it, and we’ve got some amazing plans for this year. And you know, we do stalls as well. We’ve been selling. We sold at Stonedead Festival and Rockstock, and Winter’s End. And we did Lincoln Christmas Market in December, which was full on, man. It was insanely expensive to have the stall there, and I really wasn’t keen on doing it, but it worked out well, and we are advertising and making sure everyone’s got a flyer with them.”
As Oli states, this has been a huge turning point for him. “It’s just completely changed my life. Last year when we had the last show for The Dead Collective, I was ready to give it a break and dig in with the company and do as much as I could that year to build up the foundations, so it could take care of itself. Christmas that just passed was incredible but stressful because Royal Mail had all its strikes every other day. It’s usually a positive thing, and in terms of figures of what we sold, it was. But it was a hard period of time because everyone was just angry at us, and there was nothing we could do.
“Some were in the hands of couriers, and we offer tracked shipping to try and use other couriers, but not everyone wants to pay for tracked shipping. They still want to have free shipping. It was pretty stressful, but I love it and it means that with The Dead Collective and everything like that, I can look at music in a much healthier mindset because I do not have to rely on it to form a living.”
It’s so good to hear Oli talking in such an enthusiastic manner and also from a positive place. If he had turned his back on music, it would have been a travesty. Providing himself with that buffer is clearly part of the reason he is now back with the EP Prelude and some live shows.
“I think that’s the thing with it,” he says. “I think fighting so hard to make a living through RavenEye it was getting frustrating. Especially after the KISS tour. The royalties from that support was the first time I made serious money. I thought, oh, this is all beginning to change. Everyone says, the five-year plan, and this was already Year Five! It was really becoming something. We had the album ready, and just stuff happened that really should never really have happened, and I think it just threw me over the edge. I was in a bad situation with a person that I needed to get out of. Good therapy and a couple of shocks to mental health. I think I recognise I needed to step away and kind of figure something else.”
At this point, I hold up my copy of Prelude. “Oh, dude, thank you,” says Oli. Oli then explains how the project came together, with the release of the first song, Haunted, now almost a year old. “Originally, it was going to be released as an album. We’ve been listening to the album in our drives. You used to get the car and listen through. We have the whole track listing, and there are nine tracks. It’s a long record, 46 minutes long.
“It got to the point where it seemed wrong to start the band out with a record because it feels like right now you create all that momentum at the start, but no one really knows about the band or anything like that. But if there’s already an album out, a few months later, it’s gonna be dead in the water. People that are following you are gonna wait for the next record.
“We decided to go down the EP route to really kind of test the water a bit, showcase some of the songs but also start to be able to pitch for tours and pitch for stuff because I think I really wanted to reach out to people and try and say, hey, we love and support you. But we’ve got no music out. It seemed silly, and the budget to do an album and put an album out? Well, it just felt wrong.
“We’ve got a release plan now for the whole year. We’ve figured out how we’re gonna put everything together through the year, which I’m really excited about, but I think, this way, it means that we can keep progressing as a band and keep adding more things. It’s in the birthing stage right now, and there’s a lot of leg work needed to be done.
“To be honest, mate, when we did the 250 EP’s, we calculated for the headline show in Newark, but also the Winter’s End show. We thought that we should be able to say ‘sold out’ at the end of this these shows. So, when the 250 copies sold out in 24 hours, it was surreal.
“I’m quite emotional, to be honest. Because to get that support and such a quick reaction to the music, it was more than just to support me. It’s everything to me, man. We did the limited vinyl run as well. I think from being so close to stopping it and just where I was at last year, to come out with that and see that response was just the most incredible feeling. Really surreal.”
It’s so heartening to see Oli so happy about the support, and if you’ve not listened to Prelude, it’s available on all streaming services. One of the tracks on the EP is Haunted, the Solitude Sessions, which is a rework of the Haunted track. The amazing Jo Quail features on this song. Jo is one of the nicest people I’ve ever interviewed, as well as being an amazing musician. I asked Oli how she got involved, and if they got to work together on the recording.
“Basically, Wayne Proctor plays in a band called AA Williams, and he hooked me up. When we said about doing this alternative version, we’ve always had a vision in mind that we’re going to do some alternative version of songs, but we’re not going to do them like a token B side. We really want to reimagine the song differently so that it’s not just us tickling our own egos.
“We’re trying to push ourselves, and Wayne mentioned Jo. We had a couple of other string players in mind. Jo’s a lead instrumentalist, and she can create things a little bit differently. So, we sat down, and I actually had Wayne play acoustic so we could figure out the arrangement of the song. I recorded him and did a demo vocal. We gave it a bit of a mix and sent that over to her. Jo sent over rough ideas of what she could do to record in the studio, and it cemented what the song is about.
“It’s great having the rock one and I love the rock one, especially playing live, but I think it’s helped amplify the gravitas of what the lyrics are really trying to put out. We brought it to the studio. We recorded her playing at Superfly Studios. I filmed the whole thing as I was going to do a video for it.
“Originally, the intention was to release the Solitude a month after Haunted last year. I think at that point, I wasn’t ready for it, so I needed to step away. It was great having the reaction, and actually, it was really nice. I’ve had quite a few people message me and reach out, just to make sure I was OK. I think now doing this as the EP and what jo bought, just watching her perform and do the performance while we were recording, was mesmerising.
“She offered a real performance. It wasn’t just like reading off the script, she performed something, and we ended up keeping the demo acoustic guitar. And we’ve not recorded anything on top of what she plays. I’m thinking of doing a killer solo over that instrumental section. I remember we sat down, and I was waiting in silence for some moment when I could add something to it. At the end of it, I was like no, I can’t do anything. So you hear me do a little bit of slide right at the end, but that was it.”
If you’ve read any reviews of Prelude, you’ll be aware that they are universally positive. Does Oli follow the response, and how does he deal with social media? “I think it’s been reassuring,” he says. “I think we’ve had this record since October, the year before, so I think we’ve had the songs for a long time. So, you kind of lose sight of if they are actually any good. I think it’s reassuring. If everyone said it was pants, I’d be like, yeah, OK, right? I’m going to stick to drawing now and move on.
“I tend not to get too worked up about it or read too much because everyone’s got an opinion, and I think it’s great when music divides opinions. I think if you have Marmite for music, I think that means that you’ve created something that invokes enough of a response for someone not to have indifference. I think indifference in music is disappointing. I would like someone to either love it or hate it because I think that I’ve invoked something that means something. But I’ve been very lucky that it’s had such a wonderful reception.”
We laugh as I note that, as a musician, you don’t want the six out of ten ratings. “No, you don’t,” Oli laughs. “I’d rather like a two out of ten because then you can brag, you can joke about it. But yeah, like six out of ten would hurt way more than like a two or a one out of ten.”
As our Zoom minutes reach the final countdown, I ask Oli about the forthcoming tour with The Answer, another band that are reimagining themselves a little bit. The Northern Irish outfit has also been through quite a lot of upheaval, and so it’s almost like kindred spirits that are going out a little bit broken, a little bit damaged, repairing themselves.
“It’s funny because I’m speaking to them on Instagram, and it’s been lovely. They’ve been playing my music on their playlist, and I think it’s going to be a really sweet tour. It’s really cool. I know The Answer just from their music. I loved them way back when and so it’s wicked to be out doing these shows with them.
“We’re different enough, so it’s gonna be nice to see how we sit. I can’t wait. I think there was that point where I was not sure I could do any of these shows. I was thinking, maybe this isn’t for me anymore and I think just me being a bit emotional about it all. Then having the headline show and then playing Winter’s End was like, it’s OK. I think for me, there’s just a lot more at stake with this band.
“I had some great conversations with some people, who gave me both opinions and said, yes, do music. But also, it’s OK not to do it anymore. I think that’s why I’m nervous and why it’s intense because there is a lot at stake with this band for me now.
“I’m going to give it my all and I love it and it’s everything to me and I can see it working. But I’m also OK if it doesn’t and I don’t want to be OK if it doesn’t. I want to remove that from my headspace. That’s why for me, these shows have a lot of weight.”