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May 2021

The OBGMs: "This is who we are. This is our stand. This is our time"

The OBGMs are cementing their place in punk with one of 2020's standout albums.
Published: 10:31 am, November 02, 2020Words: Alex Bradley.
The OBGMs: "This is who we are. This is our stand. This is our time"

"The OBGMs are the best band in the world, and we deserve our comeuppance!" is Densil "Denz" MacFarlane's flag in the ground atop a hill he is willing to die on. There is no pretence. No bullshit. He firmly believes it.

"That's honestly what this whole album is about," he continues. "It's like, 'yo, we're great, and nobody's paying attention to us because the system is rigged against us, but that's fine, we're gonna succeed anyway and, if you guys don't pay attention to us, we're gonna run up on you'. That's what we're gonna do, period."

"We're not afraid of anybody out here; we're one of the only bands out here doing different types of shit. I don't think a band sounds like us on a record, especially our whole album; there's not an album that sounds like that. I think that's cool and I wanna be aggressive, I wanna be in people's faces to let them know that, 'yo this is who we are. This is our stand. This is our time. So, go ahead and move out the way'."

And it's true, this band is one of a kind and their time is now. The OGBMs are punk. They come from Toronto, Canada. They are black-fronted. It's that final fact that means they've had to work harder to be seen and be taken seriously than most, due to years of little-to-no black representation in punk. But, The OBGMs are back with their second album 'The Ends', and it demands attention. It's ten tracks in 24 minutes of genre-defying, expectation-exceeding, pumped-up, in-your-face, bruising punk rock that apologises to no one for how confrontational it is.

From the go, opening track 'Outsah' is about being ready for the fight any time, any place. "The point is that I'm gonna fuck you up, that's on my momma, I'll do it. I'll do it to you, I'll do it to you, and I'm not afraid of you. I don't care how big or small," Denz says of his songwriting for that track. "We want this right now, we're hungry, and that was the best way I could lay it out."

With the help of friend of the band, Roberto Molina, The OBGMs found a way to set themselves apart on 'Outsah' with a bongo and conga combo that left everyone in the studio giving the "stank face". They found "it"; that sound that could set them apart.

"I went back, and I rewrote like 3 or 4 other songs on the album right after we did that, and it just felt like a statement piece."

It's essential for The OBGMs to stand out, and that's why 'Outsah' lays the foundations for their whole album. It's a daily grind for Densil, continually talking up The OBGMs' music, wedging the band's name alongside innovators like Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix and Steve Jobs in the hope that people will listen and try to challenge him so the band can continue driving forward.

The singer points to The Clash, Cro-Mags and Bad Brains as three pillars of punk all with differing sounds and approaches, and so, ultimately, when The OBGMs' validity in punk is questioned, it's a question more deeply rooted in racism than music. It's because people are "seeing a black person making music with a little bit of a groove, but it's still loud and rough," he observes, before pointing out that the level of shit The Clash faced for releasing 'Rock the Casbah' was nowhere near what he battles against every day. "We literally have to be the Obama of rock'n'roll in order to be accepted, and it's crazy, man," he sighs.

"We've been in the band a long time, and you'll find a lot of different ways for people to try to delegitimise us in this space. People will say we're not punk, people will say we're not rock, and those don't feel like major statements but what it does to our actual business is, if you feel that way and these lists exist in how you consume music which are rock and punk catered, they may not consider us at all."

He continues, "So, we have to push as hard. We have to be as loud. Often in rock'n'roll, in punk music particularly, you'll find a lot of people that are self-deprecating, and they're talking about their insecurities, so that's just valid. We're not gonna do that in that way. We're gonna be extremely loud, and I'm gonna tell you exactly what I feel, because we're not gonna play this fucking game, we're not gonna be doing this bullshit no more, man.

"I'm going to tell you what I think I am, I'm going to tell you where I think my position is in this rock game and it should be amongst the top, like tell me who's doing different things? Find an album that sounds like this and I'll wait. I'm confident that you'll be able to pick a few, but over the course of the record? Find an album that sounds like this, there's not one, so give us our comeuppance sir!?"

"We literally have to be the Obama of rock'n'roll in order to be accepted, and it's crazy, man"
Denz MacFarlane

Densil just wants to be heard, and he is confident he will win over more people than lose. And on 'The Ends' it's hard not to get sucked in. They've perfected the two-minute punk song with the sneering attitude on 'Cash', the cries of "This is how we die" on 'Fight Song', breaking up the band on 'Move On' or the dizzying, joyride, that is 'All My Friends' all decorating this album.

There is such effervescence and confidence that comes from the singer, it's almost hard to believe how close The OGBMs came to ending.

Following the release of their debut album back in 2017, Densil took a break from music the following year after being disillusioned by touring and making an album built on compromise.

"My band doesn't even know this, but I'll say this directly, I was 95% there, 99% there. I wrote this album with the intention of this being my first solo album," he admits, explaining how close he got to calling it a day with The OBGMs.

He is the first to concede that quitting the band at that point wouldn't have been cool ("some sucker shit" in his words) but instead, by confronting his insecurities about his music, The OBGMs were able to come out swinging instead.

It took weeks and months of Densil spending time alone in the studio, creating "shit, just garbage" by himself but once he figured out that was the test of his faith in his music he started the next challenge of overcoming his insecurities about presenting music back to the band. The band went from a four-piece to a trio [with Colanthony Humphrey on drums and Joseph Brosnan on bass] and slowly but surely, 'The Ends' began to come into view once they recruited producer Dave Schiffman.

The producer, who previously worked with fellow Toronto punk outfit PUP, connected Densil with the PUP frontman Stefan Babcock to help polish up a few ideas on the album.

"I sent him some of the demos, and he literally would just find ways. He's like "Hey have you ever tried this inflection of your voice? Have you ever tried mixing up these chords a little bit or this arrangement?" And he is on his tour, he would get off the stage and then listen to some OBGMs demos, play our songs better than we played them and send them to me and I took it as a direct challenge to get better, and I completely love him for it."

Densil credits Stefan for giving more life to one or two songs, but the level of obsession the PUP singer brought to them carried over into the whole album, and that level of scrutiny and imagination is something he aspires to continue in the future.

Between Densil and Stefan, you find two sides of the same coin; both with an uncanny ability to wrap their insecurities in loud, abrasive, music. For The OBGMs singer, away from confidence, 'The Ends' details his biggest struggles.

"'The Ends', to me, was literally about shedding the skin of the bad days and bringing those to an end," he confides.

"I don't want to grieve any more. I don't want to want any more, I just want to have. I wanna end longing for things. I wanna end grief for things. I wanna end the lies that I tell myself in the mirror. I want to go forward in this, and I'm going to fight my way forward by fighting through these motherfuckers. That's how I feel about it, man. We're going through people, I'm going through issues, I'm going through everything, and we're ready for the fight."

Despite its rollicking drum beat and the chip on its shoulder, 'Triggered' is a low point on the album for the chasm between how Densil views his music and how the world views him.

"My dream is to be Nirvana. I wanna be Nirvana, so every time we release a song, every time we release a record, and it's not received like you would receive a Nirvana record, a piece of me dies," he says, half-joking but not really.

"So, in a serious way though, I've spent a long time of my life, I've spent a lot of money, I've taken a lot of time away from my family. I've not taken a lot of directions that I could have taken that would have been maybe the smart, atypical ones to choose, and I went to music, because that's what I love to do.

"So, not being accepted or not having the progress that I would have liked to have at this point honestly makes me feel like I wanna kill myself sometimes, man. I hate it, I hate the feeling because it feels like I'm a failure.

"In my mind I'm thinking, 'yo I'm John Lennon' and I'm not being received like John though, they don't talk about me like they do about John, so it hurts, and that song is literally about that. It's just about like, 'yo, I'm feeling like I'm triggered, who do I wanna be today? Try to figure this out or am I going to pull the trigger on you or am I gonna pull it on myself? I don't know, but it's probably gonna be you, because I think it's not me!'" he laughs.

But Densil came through that and helped The OBGMs create an album that deserves attention. Not because it's punk. Or part of that Toronto scene. Or because they're black-fronted. But because it's a great album. It's immediate, intense and not backing down either. It's leading its own rebellion for more representation of black people within in the punk rock scene whilst propelling that music forwards at the same time, but it isn't an album defined by that particular fight either.

Put some respect on The OBGMs name because this is far from "the ends" for them. 

Taken from the November issue of Upset. The OBGMs' album 'The Ends' is out now.

November 2020
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