Interview: Olly Wood
It was hard to miss Olly Wood on the UAE live music scene last year, and this year, it will be even harder. The British emcee’s brand of witty, often freestyle rhymes got the crowd going at gigs like Busta Rhymes, Ne-Yo, Creamfields, the Chill Out Festival, and even at Coldplay’s New Year’s Eve performance, but with a new track about to drop, and bookings piling up locally and internationally, Olly Wood is just getting started. He chatted to us about his upcoming album, his guilty musical pleasure, and why he describes himself as “dastardly handsome.”
Hearing you as an emcee compared to chatting to you now, people may not believe you’re the same person. Do you have to practise the loud, booming voice you put on when you head on stage?
No, don’t practise it at all! It just happens. It’s like that moment in Anchorman when Will Ferrell is asked a question in debate class and he suddenly blanks out and gives this amazing answer and then comes back around not knowing what’s happened. That’s exactly what my nights are like!
You’ve just recorded a new track, tell us about it...
It’s really exciting. The single is I Don’t Want it to End and it’s about that moment when you’re having an amazing time and you just want to repeat it all over again. It’s with Greg Stainer, the DJ, who’s been here, putting out records for a long time. It’s a mix of sounds – his, dance, house tech and mine. I like good commercial music, I like Labyrinth and Example – big, ear-filling sounds. The track is going to be released post Ramadan, so now, we’re going out there and getting the support of the big guys in radio here, people like Kris Fade, so that we can hopefully count on their support when the single comes out.
How did you and Greg Stainer get together?
Smokingroove introduced us. At the beginning of the track we’ve got this big, epic sound which has me hyping it up, which is what I do live. And then Greg and I ended up producing it too. He’s a technical genius and has a great ear and can recreate sounds, but together we’ve created this sound, which is known as complextro – complex electro.
Your real name is Oliver Wood, but you go by Olly Wood – do people get the Hollywood connotation straight off the bat?
Amazingly, and this could be a reflection on the schools I went to, but nobody really got it until I went to uni! I realised quite early on, people either think it’s cool or really, really sad. And when I started performing, Olly Wood was a blessing, because it’s such an easy name to go with. In music circles everyone thinks they’re really Hollywood anyway, so it works!
Back in the Nineties you were known as MC Akapella, which sounds pretty cheesy! What’s the story there?
It was cheesy! I was 16 or 17 and wasn’t really supposed to be in a lot of clubs that I was in. It was Akapella with a K, and when I look back, I’m pleased that I changed it almost immediately. It was a garage thing – everyone on that scene at the time spelt everything out and that was where I was going with it, you know, stick a K in place of a C and suddenly it’s cool!
What’s been your standout career highlight so far?
2011 was huge, and I could probably say the whole year was a highlight. It was the year that changed everything. I supported Ne-Yo, Busta Rhymes, got to work with local DJs like Charl Chaka and Dany Neville, and I also did Creamfields in Abu Dhabi, where we played after Magnetic Man and before deadmau5. And then there was closing for Coldplay on New Year’s Eve.
What’s your ultimate party track?
At the moment, the two tracks that get everybody jumping are Tiny Tempah’s Pass Out and Example’s Changed The Way You Kiss Me.
And your guilty pleasure song...?
I like Vanilla Ice’s Ice Ice Baby. The first album I ever bought was Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle, but the first album ever bought for me was Vanilla Ice, which is probably a reflection of how people saw me!
Who would you most like to see perform here?
Chase & Status. I saw them perform at Glastonbury and they’re epic. I’m pushing Greg and Tim [Dufton and Derry] at Sandance to put them on the bill. I know they’re niche but that’s what’s so great about the Sandance format – you can have a big name like Fatboy Slim and then fill in the day with more niche acts that you can introduce people to. Their track Blind Faith would go off live on the beach here. You’d convert everyone who was listening to it – I know it’s a massive call, but everyone should listen!
What else are you up to in 2012?
During Ramadan we’re working on the album, ideally to be launched at the beginning of 2013. I’m going over to the UK to perform at Bestival with Dub Pistols, and then they’re coming over here to Dubai later in the year and I’ll perform with them then too. I’ve also been invited to a little festival called Forestronica in Lebanon, which I performed at last year. Plus, doing a performance in Baltimore in the US. Greg and I are also in discussion to do some live shows in Dubai. We’re talking to Dubai Phillharmonic Orchestra to do a live, orchestral thing with them.
Do a bit of shameless name dropping for us – which celebs have you partied with in the UAE?
[Laughs] Rizzle Kicks, Example, Ne-Yo, Wire, Busta Rhymes, Wyclef Jean, Hugh Jackman, who came onto a yacht that we were on at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix a couple of years ago.
On your Facebook page you describe yourself as “Dastardly handsome and shockingly talented,” are you taking the mickey or do you truly believe that?
Completely! And I noticed you cut off the part where it says, “raised by wolves”! Yeah, it’s all a bit of fun.
Olly and his co-producer Greg Stainer are searching for a name for their team ahead of the official release of their track I Don’t Want it to End. Log onto www.facebook.com/AhlanMagazine, or tweet us at @AhlanLive, tell us your suggestion and the best one will win Dhs500 to spend at the adidas