Obedientbone: Streetwise, they ain't

Obedientbone have just picked up an award for their urban music. Not bad for a band who have spent the last six years in a shed in Devon. Clare Dwyer Hogg meets them
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The Independent Culture

It's the morning after Richard, Tim, James and Demelza picked up the Urban Music prize at the Diesel-U-Music Awards for unsigned bands, and they're nursing celebratory hangovers. But rather than groaning, they're laughing - first, because they aren't sure what "urban music" means; second, because they come from Devon, the most un-urban place in England; and third, because the award sitting in front of them has the wrong inscription.

It's the morning after Richard, Tim, James and Demelza picked up the Urban Music prize at the Diesel-U-Music Awards for unsigned bands, and they're nursing celebratory hangovers. But rather than groaning, they're laughing - first, because they aren't sure what "urban music" means; second, because they come from Devon, the most un-urban place in England; and third, because the award sitting in front of them has the wrong inscription.

They are called obedientbone, which, their manager Simon Vieler painstakingly points out, is "all one word, lower case". Not Obedient Bone, as the award states. The point is, he says, that there are lots of words in the title you recognise - bed, bone and die, for example. It works aesthetically, he explains. And above all, he persists, it makes you smile.

The band sit listeningly to his explanation patiently. They are used to this kind of misunderstanding - which isn't really surprising, given that they won't even disclose the real origin of their name (or, by the way, their ages; they will only admit to being "20 to more-than-40").

What they're not used to is playing their music for other people - or, indeed, winning awards. And this accolade has made them delighted, surprised and excited. They are wondering if they have single-handedly changed the meaning of "urban". Does urban take into consideration the Dartmoor hills and country lanes and the occasional cow?

It does now. The band live in Whiddon Down, which they confirm without hesitation is in the middle of nowhere. "Richard lives a bit further away than the rest of us," James says. "How many houses in your village? Eight?" And their lives are much quieter and more cocooned than the award or their music would suggest.

Keith Flint of The Prodigy had been the first to charge on to the dance floor when the band played at the London club Fabric after receiving the award. Yet, of course, the music they recorded wasn't made amid the hum and buzz of urban life - nowhere near that. The studio where they work, in a 200-year-old building, is made of thick granite rock and was once a carpenter's studio. It would be an understatement to say that the outside world does not impinge much on their daily life.

"The studio is actually an outhouse on the side of my mum's house," James says. "Luckily it was already soundproof; we ripped out what was there and built it up with our own equipment." They don't have to share it with anyone else (apart from a few Devon mice) or pay any rent. In fact, if they didn't want to, they wouldn't have to come into contact with anyone at all - except for James's mum, maybe, who is happy to make tea on occasion.

"We just spend as much time there as we can," Richard says, "because we love it. We do other jobs to pay the rent at home, so we can get there. We've made an album we really like." Before their performance in Fabric, they hadn't played a gig before, so had no need to leave Devon; the plan was to immerse themselves in making music, and they fulfilled the brief for six years. They didn't spend that time thinking about what their peers were doing, either. To their manager's consternation, they haven't listened to anything "contemporary" he's sent them.

In fact, they don't have much to do with the tools you might imagine typical urban music makers might need. They don't have a computer between them. The lack of a computer is a major factor in their music-making process. Most bands find laptops invaluable for adjusting bass lines or manipulating vocals - doing anything, in fact. Not obedientbone. They're firm believers in the old-school approach: and, while it was necessary at the start because of financial considerations, they aren't going to change their habits. "We do it this way, not just because we can't afford one," Demelza says with a brief burst of intensity, "but because it's part of our technique, a way of writing, and it's important because it gives the music a different feel than if it were built on a computer. The whole groove of it is different, because of the way you have to build the tunes."

"But the fact that we don't have a computer means we get right into the nitty-gritty," adds Tim. "It's nice having limitations: it makes you have to think more and be creative." James nods. "Yes, we're organic," he says - a more than fitting term for the group.

Yet, while organic is indeed a good description of the group's processes, don't imagine that their music is a soundtrack to hug trees to. What began as a club-orientated drum'n'bass mix is now a heady concoction of dance, punk, jazz and wistful lyrics. And while they laid these tracks in the middle of nowhere, the middle of nowhere has had more boons than a city slicker might be happy to hear. As well as the rent-free studio and beautiful countryside, they have also had rather handily at their disposal one of the most advanced mastering studios around.

Owned by the remastering engineer Simon Heyworth, who runs his own top studio, the facility has become something of a mecca for recording artists: the head of Sony Europe was so impressed that he came to stay with Heyworth at Christmas to check it out. Pretty convenient for the band, who only have to walk across a few fields to get their hands on some of the best editing facilities available to contemporary musicians. They describe the experience as "fairy dust" sprinkled over their efforts. "Bands come for a month to do their album," Demelza says smugly. "But we live there."

They're more than happy with the surprises their home turf has yielded. While recording their debut album, they discovered that Caroline Lavelle - the cellist who played with Massive Attack - lives just down the road. She can be heard on the album, too.

So, obedientbone are in no rush to leave their rural roots. They're more than happy to keep doing what they've been doing. Support from a record label would be nice, but they're not about to move to London and start making music for urban dwellers. They can do that very happily from Devon, thank you very much.

See www.otterview.co.uk/bone/

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