Most bands and musicians embark on changes of musical direction at some point in their lives. Few, though, go to the extent of putting aside a promising solo career in one genre to form a band in another.
But that’s exactly what up-and-coming blues guitarist Oli Brown has done by forming power trio RavenEye. As a solo artist, Brown has toured all over the world, shared stages with Buddy Guy and John Mayall, and has a mantelpiece crammed with British Blues Awards gongs. But there was always another creative itch he wanted to scratch. “I wanted to do like an Etch A Sketch on my musical career,” the 26-year-old explains. “Wipe the slate clean and start from the very beginning.
“I’ve always been into heavier music,” he adds. “I love blues but I also like nothing better than blasting heavy rock at full volume. People like Queens Of The Stone Age, Soundgarden, Audioslave. I’m a massive Chris Cornell fan – he’s always been a big influence.”
The idea for RavenEye first came to Brown a few years back when he’d temporarily relocated to Toronto. “I needed to figure things out,” he says. “At that point it felt like the best thing I could do was to just get away. While I was out there I had a vision for it and knew I had to come back to England and commit myself fully. I couldn’t have done a half-arsed job with it.”
Back in the UK, Brown hooked up with drummer Kev Hickman, whom he’d met on the festival circuit, and through him, Aussie bassist Aaron Spiers. The new band started writing, and touring (mostly in Europe), before they secured a support slot on a string of dates with Slash – at the Guns N’ Roses legend’s personal invitation. “That was a challenge – 3,500 people every night, all properly dedicated rock fans,” Brown says. “It’s a whole different feeling to playing a blues show where there’s more emphasis on solos and you can tell stories in between songs. With a rock crowd it’s all about the energy and the riffs.”
But what of his old fans? Do they feel a sense of betrayal over his new direction? “I knew it would go both ways,” the guitarist shrugs. “There’s been a lot of support but some resistance too. I’ve had some accusations of turning my back on that scene and disrespecting people I’ve worked with. It’s all ludicrous.”
Things will become clearer, he maintains, when the band release their debut album next year. Until then, there’s more touring and an EP. Any huffy blues purists should be directed to its lead track, Breaking Out – lyrically, at least, it contains the entire rationale behind RavenEye. “It’s about my own personal conformity, about what’s inside my head, about what I should or shouldn’t do with my life. In the end you have to be true to yourself and break out if that’s what feels right to you. And at the moment I couldn’t be happier that I’ve done that.”
FOR FANS OF: Queens Of The Stone Age
“Josh Homme is such a smart songwriter,” says Oli Brown. “There are so many complicated arrangements on that record where songs sound simple, but when you go into them they’re fiendishly clever. On the heavier songs, when he’s singing so gently on the chorus, it gives it a really unusual twist. It’s such a clever, awesome album.”