As Irish band Otherkin work on their first full length album, Rob Summons speaks to Owen Steinberger about breaking into the music industry.
The fresh-faced, Dublin-based rock group Otherkin recently released their first studio effort, The 201 EP. Four tracks packed with energy, though not to the point of bursting, so as not to disturb the clean, clear mixing. Lead guitar up front, thrumming bass lines, all filled out by familiar, driving drum patterns; radio friendly, but with a bit of an edge. Distorted guitar passages and manic vocal performances elevate these songs above similar pop-rock fare. Despite being quite early on in their music career, Otherkin have already managed to construct a unique, recognisable sound – no small feat.
An affable Rob Summons speaks to OTwo, and he seems genuinely excited to be speaking about the band’s music. The drummer spoke excitedly about their beginnings, marked by a quick rise to radio prominence. With only a short, three day tour of Ireland and a single, “Ay Ay,” under their belts, they have launched into a flurry of activity, putting out an EP and scheduling “something like eighteen dates to play in a row” across the EU.
“We always hoped it was gonna go well, but I suppose it’s always kinda nice when what you visualise starts to come true,” Summons says. “We’re absolutely delighted. We’ve got a great team working behind us. It’s all down to them, I suppose.”
For a new band, entering the music industry can be quite a daunting experience – seemingly impossible. “A huge thing that helped us along the way is that we got a really good management team behind us, and then we signed to Rubyworks, an amazing label,” Summons says. “I think that having all these extra people behind us now, who know the industry really well, they’ve got the right contacts…For a long time we did everything by ourselves – I’d encourage anybody to do that – but it’s great to have other people alongside you that have the expertise, and know what shows you should be playing and, just know the way to approach it. The music industry is a very complicated, difficult thing to break into. We’re delighted to have the right people giving us the right advice.”
Despite their relative inexperience, Otherkin’s sleek image and well-tailored sound shows both natural talent and the results of careful preparation. Summons himself is behind what he calls “the visualisation of the band”, from his experience at design college.
“The music industry is a very complicated, difficult thing to break into. We’re delighted to have the right people giving us the right advice.”
“I think I understand how powerful the visual side of things can be,” he agrees. “So you’ve kinda got it as one: I try to think of the band as a brand. Enough bands don’t do it, I think it’s really important, you have to have the right look and be consistent in the way you’re going to be shown to the world. For us, that has really helped people take us more seriously. It was a huge part of getting signed with the label. We took how we looked, and took our interviews and music videos incredibly seriously. That’s hugely important to any successful band.”
Just a day before OTwo’s conversation with Summons, he made the decision to defer education for a year, the last of the four members to take the plunge into working on the band full-time. He spoke highly of his bandmates, all “very intelligent men” who understand how to turn music into a business.
While the business and branding is important, the band had to start somewhere, and that was with their musical influences. The group’s have been heavily influenced by some of the bands that they listened to growing up. “When we started off we said we were gonna be an indie band. Which is the most naïve and silly thing… At the start we were a really dark sort of band, we listened to a lot of Interpol, Joy Division. We still love those bands but once we started playing more upbeat rock music – we’re very much a live band – we got a better reaction to the faster songs, the more upbeat songs, and it just felt right to keep going that way. We do have a huge load of influences, of course. There are bands we always reference, like The Strokes, Queens of the Stone Age, Arctic Monkeys. In their own rights, legends. We aspire to be someone like them.”
Summons says that he is speaking from the studio while the group was “knuckling down” on their debut album, and that they aim to have it ready in a year’s time. He noted that the symbolic significance of the group’s first album cannot be overstated, especially when The Strokes are one of their chief influences. “Since you only get one chance on a first album, It’s very important to us that we make a statement with it. We’re not gonna do a 2-hour long album, it’s gonna be around 11 songs, 33 minutes, in-and-out and energetic. That’s the aim but, who knows, it’s gonna be about a year until it’s done so who knows.”
Otherkin stands out from the horde of Irish rock groups currently scrambling for the spotlight. Their sound is crisp and clear, their hooks catchy and driving, their image recognisable, even evocative. Even at this early stage, their music bears hints of real talent. Whether or not Otherkin will nurture this talent moving forward is impossible to predict, but the confidence and critical self-awareness that Summons shows during his conversation with OTwo show a bright future. The group takes branding and marketing very seriously, but refuses to compromise on their sound for the sake of image. Honest creative intent, backed up by business acumen, has the potential to take them far. Perhaps their debut album will live up to their own high expectations, perhaps not. Either way, the group has taken the plunge, and their careers are only just beginning. Otherkin are certainly a group to watch, at least to see where the current takes them.