Mike Rimmer recalls his encounters with acoustic pop rap team TOM & OLLY
The first time I heard of Tom & Olly, it was at the recommendation of Top Dog Promotions maestro Gareth Brockelbank. He sent me the demo for the duo's couple of early songs and I liked them immediately. A couple of weeks later I invited them up from East Sussex to appear on my radio show. With youthful enthusiasm they shared the tracks they've recorded and I played "Little Things" and predicted big things for them.
If you've never seen them play live, I'll explain that Tom is the one who talks or raps or rants, I'm not really sure how to describe it. Olly sings. Both men play acoustic guitar. Occasionally, Tom sings. The pair have been friends for quite a few years. "We met through church events in East Sussex and stuff," Tom remembered, "which we both happened to run and then we ended up getting in a worship band together but that didn't kind of work out. And then from there we just carried on writing songs together and this happened." Olly added his own memory, "Tom came to me with an acoustic and he was rapping over the top. I didn't know what hit me and it sounded really good and I just wanted to be a part of it so I started singing along to the stuff, singing not rapping! I started singing and then it all came together really. The songs come from both of us. I think I would generally come up with the choruses and then Tom will either fit a rap around it, or he'll come up to me with a rappy verse and I'll fit the chorus around it." Finally Tom was keen to make sure that I understood that it's a creative 50/50 split. "It can happen any way really. That's usually how it happens but there's been loads of times even Olly will come up with a verse thing and we'll flip it round and sing in the verse. We'll just get these ideas together and we always end up finishing the songs together."
A live performance at the Ultimate Event in 2008 first alerted people to the duo's talent but 2009 has been a big year for Tom & Olly. Their debut album has been released, they had a successful run at Spring Harvest, some summer festival appearances and it seems like every day, they are making friends with people. They have come a long way from sitting at a beach hut trying to write songs and playing to local youth groups to having an audience which has been slowly growing since the album's release.
A few months after their jaunt to make their first appearance on Rimmerama armed with a demo CD, I was on the road making the long drive to Newhaven on the south coast to meet them at one of the studios where they recorded the album. This time the album is done and dusted and I wondered what they were trying to do with their music? "We get that question asked a lot," Olly shared. "We've talked about it a lot. We find that we're trying to get music to people that are sometimes scared to go and buy a worship album or scared to buy real Christian albums. We just want to get stuff across in a really honest way so we're giving people the option to not be afraid to tell their friends about it because sometimes Christians have non-Christian friends and they're afraid to show them their Christian music because it might say 'God' or 'Jesus' in it. It really does freak them out sometimes and I know it shouldn't do but that's today's life. We just want music that people can have that's honest and they can say, 'This is Christian music,' and their friends that aren't Christian might like it. That's basically what we're trying to do."
Tom added, "And I think that we really want to write songs that don't only deal with the good aspects of being a Christian but also be really honest about the hard times and the tough times, so being really honest about the times you mess up. Some of the songs I am talking about the times when I've been a Christian but then I've gone out and got drunk and had a fight at a party. I think that's just a real human thing to do. I've talked about obviously how that was wrong and how I've dealt with that, but to be honest about those kinds of gritty times that you have." Olly said, "We're not glorifying it. We're not saying it's right. It's just a really honest. . .it's not a silver lining album. It's not saying everything's perfect because things aren't perfect in the world, things go wrong, and so we're just trying to be honest about our everyday life."
Honesty is a very important quality for the pair and it stretches from the songwriting to their live performances. There's no hiding behind an image and instead Tom & Olly are simply themselves and perhaps that's what their new fans are finding endearing about them. Tom said, "Honesty is definitely the key with this music I think. It's just letting people know that we're normal." Olly jumps in and adds, "Not everything in life goes right, yeah? We're young really; we're only in our early-20s. But you go through troubles in life and we want to be honest about it. We're not perfect yet. Even when you get to 40 or 50 people aren't perfect. Everyone strives for perfection but no one's perfect."
So at its most basic, Tom & Olly's music communicates how they deal with their mistakes when they make them. Tom explained, "Like Olly said, it's not glorifying at all in any way, shape or form, it's just letting people know that we're going through life and we find stuff hard just as much as anyone else. But we've got an outlet to show how we've dealt with those situations and how we felt with them and we can offer hope there as well." A good example of this would be their song "Love At The Disco" which is currently a turntable hit on Cross Rhythms radio. Tom remembers, "We had the music to that already. I went out to a club with my mates [one night] and came back to Olly's house in the early morning. . ."
Olly remembered being woken up at 2am! Tom laughed, "We had this song down and we were just, 'Right, let's just think about it.' Olly was just literally, 'What's happened to you tonight?' I was like, 'Okay, I went down to this club. It was a nightmare. I hated it really, it was a bit rubbish. A few of my friends weren't having a great time and then I got into this massive conversation about how lost those places feel when you look around and see all these people kind of just making a mess of themselves and getting into trouble and all this stuff. You're just like; well what is the point in all of this, and why am I even here? I just don't get it!' So the song came out of that really." Olly agreed, "Yeah, it's not finding love, it's the irony of - you don't find love at the disco. It's like a really artificial, fake, glistened, tinted, lights down low kind of atmosphere. So many people nowadays go there trying to find love but they go and it's just a shallow experience and they come back more in pain and more in trouble." Tom added, "And that's from personal experience as well. It's not just us looking and making a judgment on that. I've been there and done it back when I was like 17 and I was going clubbing when I wasn't supposed to. You go there with your mates and you get into those kinds of situations and those messes and problems and stuff."
Olly Purchase was raised in the Church and has always lived in the same small community. He remembered, "My mum and dad went to the church and then all my brothers went to church. I've always lived in the same town and gone to the same church. Some people might call it sheltered but I quite like being in a small community when you're younger because it's a great place to grow up." He was 15 when he really began to take his faith seriously. "I went to a Bible week at Ashburnham. It's like a local retreat place. It was really open worship and I felt that was quite a changing point in my life. It was a real belief that. . . I guess it was almost a conversion - thinking how real God is? And you can touch him! The Holy Spirit really hit me and I think that was a real changing point in my faith. Since then there's been no looking back. So although growing up in the church I think you still need something to really touch you to make you change because otherwise you almost become blasé about it and it doesn't have the same effect because it's what you've always known. So that was a real changing point in my life."
Tom Logan also grew up in the Church. "The whole family go to church," he shared "it's really quite a small church just down the road - about 30 people. So I've just always, always been in the church. It's a funny one because you do kind of think, when people ask you for your testimony, that you should have a story about how you did all this stuff and then something amazing happened. Obviously amazing stuff has happened through my life but it's still a weird place to be I think. I think it's easier to rebel against it when you've got all your family going to church and you feel like you don't really have room to make mistakes and do stuff because you feel constantly like you're being watched or you've got your family and they know everything that's going on in your life. So I think it's quite a tricky place to grow up. I think I just grew up in myself a little bit. I think it was just through time. I don't think there was one point where I figured out a way to deal with it. My friends and other people are the kind I talk to really about those kinds of issues and that. I have a lot of really good Christian friends so that really helped me."
We were sitting talking in the Newhaven studio where Mark Edwards added his keyboards to the album. The majority of the album was recorded in the ICC Studios in Eastbourne, where all the drums and guitars were laid down. Delirious? drummer Paul Evans did the drums there and then Dan Wheeler recorded guitars too. Wheeler produced the album and worked in his home studio as well. Olly explained, "Because Dan Wheeler produced it, he rang up all his friends and got them all involved which was really nice for us because we wouldn't have got anywhere near that sound! And it sounds really stupid because you kind of put them on a pedestal because you're not used to it and then you walk in a studio and for the first few days of recording we sort of turned up and didn't say much! And let them get on with it!" The pair laughed, remembering how they felt.
Spring Harvest saw Tom & Olly travelling up and down from Minehead to Skegness to play some late night gigs, sign copies of the album for new fans and generally pinch themselves about how well it was going. At Newhaven, the pair had confessed there were hurried rehearsals with extra musicians to help recreate the sound of the album in their live performance. After a few Spring Harvest concerts, they were buoyant as they talked to me in my chalet. I asked them had the release of the album changed how they felt about themselves? "Not really," replied Olly. "I think it's just nice to have a piece of you about that people can buy because before we had different songs; we had different singles coming out here and there but only released on iTunes. It's nice to have a full package of everything just to hand over to people a bit of yourself that they can just listen to and see what they think."
In the space of a few months, Tom & Olly have moved from playing local youth groups or to their friends to rooms full of complete strangers. In my chalet, Olly confessed to having to work at the signature he uses for autographs. People they have never met are getting into their music; have they wondered where the album might be being played? People are driving cars listening to their songs or taking a bath! "I think it's strange," admitted Olly, "but I also think it's quite exciting. It's nice that people want to listen to your music at all! It's a nice feeling that someone would probably sit in a bath and listen to it, or sit in a car so I think it's a nice thing to have. I think it's really exciting." Tom laughed, "Yeah, I agree. It is a bit weird! It's the song that you sat in down in your room and wrote and then it's been recorded and now people are listening to it all over the country. It is weird when you take it back to its basic and you remember coming up with that initial idea. You're just sitting in the car or you're sitting somewhere and then suddenly you think, hang on, people are listening to this around the country just because I had this idea! Then next time you're song writing it really does make you think differently because you think about every idea in terms of people listening to it rather than just as an idea for yourself; so it definitely puts a different spin on things."
Listening to their demo, it was always the song "Little Things" that grabbed my attention. The finished version on the album is a magnificent piece of fast paced acoustic catchy pop. Tom remembered, "'Little Things' was one of the first demo songs we recorded with Dan Wheeler, out of the first batch of songs that we wrote. That was literally about a day, like a story of a day that I'd had, a really rubbish day where I ended up getting into an argument with my mate, and then we ended up having problems and through that, all these little things built up in me all day. Then it ended up going to a party in the evening at a friend's house, having a few drinks and getting in a fight with a few different people. All these little things that in themselves weren't that big a deal but because I didn't deal with them correctly when they'd happened they ended up just piling on each other until the end of the night. It was a culmination of events. So it's just kind of talking about, when these little things happen you need to deal with them as they happen, because otherwise they can turn up with you with no friends and you haven't got a ride home and you're sitting in the middle of the road thinking, what am I doing?! So yeah, that's it really."
In July, the pair made another trip to the Cross Rhythms studio to play live on Rimmerama. I asked them to work on a cover version of the dc Talk classic "Jesus Freak" because they've been saying that they need more live material for live performance. Who knows if it has since made it into their live set? Olly explained their approach to live performance, "I think we try and put the fun back into music. We try and make it more exciting and we try and make it more of a whole experience. I think nowadays music sometimes, because of the modern world we're living in, everything is so fast paced and everyone wants so much information that we have to try and accommodate that. You can't sit back and expect them to be at your level, you have to move up to their level. So we try to get interaction and make sure people have a good time. I think sometimes, even personally when I go to a gig, if there's a four or five minute song and I don't quite know the music half way through you start waning and thinking about walking to the back or walking somewhere else. So I think we try and put a lot more fun into it and a lot of energy and as much passion as we can. That's what we promise!"
Tom laughed, "That's a good answer Olly!" So do they see what they do as ministry? Olly responded,"I see it as ministry. I think it is a form of ministry because everything you do in your life is a form of ministry. The way you live your life and the way you act is a form of ministry. I think the fact that we're singing about our lives is our form of ministry and I think if it touches people then that's what we're doing." Tom interrupted, "It's what God means to us as well and how we've found being Christians. Just how we're getting on and hopefully someone can listen to that and relate to it."
Judging from the response at Spring Harvest and their performance at Big Church Day Out, it seems that whether they're playing at general events or their own shows Tom & Olly's skill in bridging the gap between stage and audience is helping them communicate and minister through their honest songs of hope. And somewhere at a beach hut on the south coast, if you wander past, you might hear the sounds of an acoustic guitar and a voice humming part of a chorus and perhaps Tom trying out another rant. But if you hear it, don't disturb the boys because pretty soon you'll be singing along to this new song while you're driving into work.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.