photography by Tyrone Lebon
Going by the stage(worthy) name of Othello Woolf is 27 year old Londoner Oliver Woolf. This new English dandy has been steadily going about his seemingly unhurried yet carefully cultivated neo-soul business, whilst the rest of the 'wolves' in the young music pack have howled and hunted for attention.
Yes, another 'wolf' in the lupine laden music scene, one that hasn't been so loudly lauded as others might have so far; but has steadily garnered favorable mentions on all the usual - the very credible, mind you - suspects. Woolf's music rolls effortlessly and yes, soulfully too, with synths, guitars, languorous vocals and other tipsy and warping electronic flourishes that contribute to his simmering jazz funk.
Another contributer to the entity that is Othello Woolf is English label Casely-Hayford; the fantastic father/son design duo comprising of Joe (OBE, thank you very much - meaning Order of the British Empire, for those not under the rule of Her Maj - who also designed threads for The Clash back in the day) and Charlie Casely-Hayford. Arbiters of the self-titled 'Afropunk' tribe, the Casely-Hayfords have pitched in their own fabulous aesthetic to help frame Woolf in representing their new English style (check back later for another post on the Casely-Hayfords).
Besides his sharp sartorial savvy, Woolf won me over with his deft use of 'panache' in our interview. And you know what, his upcoming debut single 'Stand' is full of just that too, and it was given some ace remix treatments to boot. One from his cohorts Golden Silvers re-fashion 'Stand' with a bit of their own panache, bringing the beat to the forefront and werking the handclaps, and Alex Egan of Skull Juice fame as Astronomer also moves 'Stand' to a bouncier place with his cool-headed, musing arrangement.
Check our time with Mr. Woolf and judge for yourself if it's another case of blog who cried it. Woolf, that is.
What attracted you to take on the moniker of Othello (it's a terribly romantic, theatrical nom de plume)? Does your choice have anything to do with the whole 'white soul' thing you've been tagged with, coupled with the fact that Othello was dark skinned (pull me up short if I'm jumping to conclusions)?
Writing and performing live under a pseudonym unshackles me from being overly self-conscious. I don't feel put on the spot...but I well and truly am - a simple trick of the brain but one that somehow works very effectively. My current suite of songs are in the main very introspective and emotionally revealing. I don't think that writing under my birth name I would have felt fully comfortable composing this kind of material, and so the songs would have suffered. And yes I agree, the name does sound theatrical. I'm lucky that I already have a strong surname, Woolf, so changing 'Oliver' to 'Othello' feels familiar [both being with O, both three syllables] but refreshingly new and brings added panache.
Because this is pop.
In answer to your second question, the choice has nothing to do with 'white soul' - a term I'm not particularly fond of - and equally no relation whatsoever to the character in Shakespeare's play or his skin colour.
Your music is the opposite of 'trendy' at the moment - can you give me a little bit about your background/musical history, and how you reached this point? What is it that made you get into making music in the first place? Did you take lessons as a youngster?
I believe that as soon as you start trying to make music that panders to current trends, then you've sacrificed your art. Although it may lead to short-term gains, I don't think it could ever lead to long-term fulfillment. I have no interest in whatever type of music is fashionable right now - my background is simply that over the years I've listened to and loved music dearly. Hopefully that comes across in the songs.
No, I have never taken lessons in my instruments of choice, I teach myself by ear. I did have some lessons in violin and oboe for a short time when I was a child but I hated being taught like that and I didn't pursue those instruments.
Fashion, or style at least, is obviously important to you. Why? What makes you get up every morning and consider what you're going to put on?
It is important to me, yes. Many of my favourite artists consider not just the music they make but also how to present it in the most effective way. The songs come first, and I because of this, I want to strengthen their impact by wrapping them within a distinct look that runs across artwork, typography, videos, clothes and so on.
I can't say I think too hard about what to put on in the morning. Whatever feels right.
What are a couple of do's and don'ts in your every day look?
I'm not really a fan of ties. Or sportswear. I like to look smart, but not overly so. Feeling confident about yourself in what you're wearing is probably the biggest 'do' for me.
I've read you say before that your dress sense comes from your late grandfather - what is it that you take from him?
My grandfather wore a tailored three-piece suit with a pocket-watch every day, even when he was in his nineties. He was a little shorter than me but I've got one of his jackets that fits nicely, as we have the same frame.
Previous jobs besides being a musician?
Nothing of interest.
Well. Doesn't that just make me more curious...So this 'white soul' label you've been tagged with...Do you feel affinity with it?
I'm not keen on the term because the vast majority of pop music follows the structures and roots that were laid by black musicians. The ethnicity of the people involved in continuing this legacy is irrelevant. No one calls Eminem or The Beastie Boys 'white hip-hop'. In comparison to 'white soul', I'm slightly fonder of the tag 'blue-eyed soul' because at least it sounds romantic. Either way, I've got green eyes.
The way you've gone about releasing your music isn't aggressive. It seems the opposite, quite laid back in fact? Having been talked up online by some heavyweights already, what kind of future do you ultimately envision for yourself?
You only have the option of releasing your music 'aggressively' - in effect shoving it down peoples' throats - if you have a large major label marketing budget behind you. The sad thing is a large amount of people don't investigate what's out there - they listen to whatever is thrust in front of them. I wouldn't say I've been laid-back in terms of just putting something out there without much thought. I've taken my time to get things right, then made a handful of songs available in the hope that people discover them and word spreads. This seems to be happening, which is great.
Ultimately, if albums that I make have stood the test of time twenty or thirty years from now, then I'll be happy.
It's a very interesting/fitting collaboration between the Casely-Hayfords and yourself, considering their illustrious family history and the persona/image you have created for yourself and the music you make...How did you meet/hook-up with them?
Myself and Charlie Casely-Hayford were introduced through a mutual friend who specifically hoped that we might collaborate in some way. And I'm delighted that it's actually happening. Charlie understands where I'm coming from and is excited about assisting in helping to frame the aesthetic of an artist so early on in their career when nothing is yet set in stone. I think their clothes and approach represent pretty much the best men's fashion you can find anywhere. Hopefully it will be a long and fruitful relationship.
Did you make a new year's resolution by the way?
Not this year, no.
Debut single ‘Stand’ will be released through Young & Lost Club Records on 18th January 2010.