DAVID OAKES – Album Review: “Elevation”

I’m still in Wales (figuratively speaking, having just reviewed the Welsh band Revolution Rabbit Deluxe), this time to shine my spotlight on musician David Oakes. Based in the coastal town of Aberporth, he’s a creative and prolific composer of electronic alternative rock music, as well as a damn fine guitarist. Over the past five years or so, he’s produced a tremendous output of instrumental music, ranging from the guitar-driven melodic rock of his brilliant 2014 work The Calm and the Storm, to the gorgeous atmospherics of The Dawn and the Dusk, the dark experimentation of Sturm Und Drang, and the aggressive hard rock of TheMENACE, for which he also added his own vocals for the first time.

My regular readers may recall that I’ve previously featured him on this blog twice this year, first in May when I reviewed his fantastic album TheMENACE, then a month later when I followed up with an interview. David has now recorded a new album Elevation, which is scheduled for official release in early January, but is available for digital download now on Bandcamp.

David Oakes2

Elevation is structured in eight parts or tracks, sort of how a long classical piece is arranged into movements. Part 1 is a great introduction, setting the tone for what’s to come with moody ambient synths, a pounding drumbeat and an ominous-sounding mix of jangly and distorted guitar riffs that gradually build to a crescendo by the four-minute mark. It all calms back down to the hypnotic cadence we heard in the introduction, and continues through to the outro, accompanied by bits of David’s intricate guitar work that make for a satisfying listen.

Part 2 continues to build on the tension introduced in Part 1, and really showcases David’s stellar guitar playing, not to mention his impressive drum skills. Part 3 brings more jaw-dropping guitar work, with some tasty bits of funk occasionally injected into to the mix. I also love the hard-driving drumbeat, always a big plus for me. Part 4 conjures up images of the Arabian Nights, with layers of intricate guitar and exotic-sounding synths lending a somewhat dangerous vibe. This feeling continues in Part 5, with gritty chugging riffs augmented with chiming guitars, and a deep buzzing bass line providing a sturdy foundation for this powerful track.

Part 6 features moody synths and layers of multi-textured guitars that create an ominous soundscape. I especially like the dark piano synths that appear later in the track, further adding to the song’s overall brooding vibe. David shifts direction on Part 7 with a somewhat jazzy feel and catchy as hell tempo. He uses horn synths, bluesy riffs and a deep, humming bass line to create a fantastic and exhilarating song.  It’s one of my favorite tracks on the album, as I love its urgency and deliriously infectious melody. He really lets loose on the final track Part 8, with furiously pounding drumbeats and frantic riffs of joyously upbeat guitars. It’s an exuberant and celebratory head-banger, and the perfect track to finish the set.

I love this album, which gets better with each listen, as there’s a lot of nuance to David’s compositions and guitar work. If you’re a fan of guitar-driven instrumental rock, then Elevation should be part of your collection.

Stream his music on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Elevation will be officially released on all major music platforms on January 4, 2019, but is currently available for download on Bandcamp

Interview with UK Musician David Oakes

David Oakes

David Oakes is a fine (he hates when I say ‘talented’) musician and composer of electronic alternative rock music based in Wales, UK. In the early 2000’s, he was drummer with the British rock band Kotow, and since 2012 he’s produced a tremendous output of instrumental music as a solo artist, ranging from gentle synth-driven compositions to aggressive guitar-driven hard rock, and everything in between. In early May, he released his latest album TheMENACE, which I reviewed and you can read here. It’s a brilliant work that’s actually a double album, with the first containing 11 tracks, most with vocals, and the second being an instrumental-only version, plus two bonus tracks not found on the first.

I recently had a chat with David about his music background, influences and creative process.

1. Hello David. Thank you for wanting to talk with me about your music. You and I have spoken a bit in the past about your background, but for the sake of our readers, let’s touch on that again. You now live in Wales, but were born in England, then spent part of your childhood and early teen years in the Middle East. Living in Dubai must have been interesting, or at least an unusual experience I would think. What positive or negative things did you come away with?

Yes! I moved there when I was two so obviously I don’t remember relocating there. I remember a couple of the houses we lived in – mostly the 3rd one which is very strong in my memory. I can recall it in detail. We lived very near the sea and would go camping in the desert at the weekend. I had a little 50cc PW50 motorcycle that I drove everywhere :). It took me a very very long time to get over moving to the UK.

2.  Why is that?

Hot 365 and living by the beach, etc. to … Wales… Camping in the desert at the weekend, dune bashing to … oh, nothing.

3. At what age did you start playing guitar, or other instruments? I remember you saying you attended a music institute in England after you moved back there with your family. What did you study there?

We had an electric piano in the house from around 1988 and I taught myself stuff on that. Eventually I got my own keyboard and I was off. I played it every day and wrote my own albums onto cassettes. I don’t have any of them anymore. They wouldn’t have sounded very professional. I even bought card from the newsagent and printed out artwork onto them and chopped them into cassette sleeve size. You can see the lineage all the way back . The only difference to what I do now is I don’t print out my own artwork. Everything else is the same – the tech has just improved. I went to ACM (Academy of Contemporary Music) in Guildford in 2009 for 3 years to study guitar and music theory. I passed all my exams but I never attempted my dissertation so I never got the qualification.

4. You formed a rock band called Kotow with your brother and another friend, and released a pretty decent album “Demise of the Monsters.” How or why did you guys choose that band name, and how long was Kotow an active band? 

Rich wanted a Japanese name and so looked in a Japanese dictionary and found “Kotow” meaning to bow or acquiesce… We all liked the name. We formed around February 2002, whilst I was going back and forth to the city (Cardiff) to study music production on a “New Deal” course under the Labour Gov which lasted from 1997 until around 2004. Anyway – since Dad had re-married – they moved out of the house and the whole band lived in our big farmhouse so we could write and rehearse all day every day. After moving to the London area in 2004 or so, we realised that nobody really cared and got fed up with it and we split in 2006. 

5. I believe you played drums for Kotow. Tell me about your experiences playing in a band – both good and bad if you care to go there. Why did the band eventually split up?

You know me, I have no ego but I did believe we were the best band in south Wales. When we moved to London, nobody gave us the time of day and we all got tired of it. Plus I wasn’t happy with the direction our music was taking. My main thing was to write catchy riffs in odd time signatures and do my best to come up with complimentary drum parts. I’d get annoyed if I couldn’t play for the song and could only think of something ordinary. We liked being unconventional. We lost two guitarists for one reason or another and we got a new guy who was great, but he and Rich wanted us to sound more like the tech bands at the time and I really wanted to stick to our original ethos of being unlike anyone else. Oh well.

6. You obviously wanted to continue making music after Kotow ended. I know some of your favourite bands are Dream Theater, Mastodon, Green Day and Metallica, so am guessing your sound is greatly influenced by their music? 

I expect so. Not directly or deliberately. I just write music and what comes out, comes out. Exactly the same process as Kotow. I like making albums of different genres and styles since I listen to a lot of different genres and styles. I couldn’t imagine being in one of those metal bands who sound exactly like everyone else and only listen to that music. Boring.

7. When did you record your first solo album?

“The Juggernaut” in 2012. It was originally supposed to be the follow up to “Demise Of The Monsters” and Rich would play bass and sing and I’d produce since he’d done almost all the work on DOTM. I merely played guitar on that album. Since I’d never attempted a “proper” professional sounding album before and had only limited experience with Logic – I worked on it every day for about 6 – 8 months. I still enjoy it to this day but I think I’ve done better and I learn something new with each album I do.

8. You’ve been fairly prolific, recording and releasing quite a few albums and compilations over the past few years, several of which I’ve purchased. What inspires you to create a new album with a specific theme and sound?

I don’t like to create the same album twice in a row…So if I do a hard rock album I definitely won’t do one again as it kinda wears me out when working on an album. “Transmissions” was songs I wrote when I was learning guitar and some of those songs had been fully formed in my head for many many years until I could finally record them properly. “Transmission Part 1 & 2” was completely written and I had it all worked out in my head and even recorded a version of it way back in 1997 or so on my Dad’s 2-track reel-to-reel machine.

Every time I start an album I have to come up with something great first. That’s the springboard. If I like an idea – that’ll be the blueprint for the album. I could never just write 8 -10 random songs and that’ll do. None of my albums are fully fledged concept albums but I try to imagine they are. . . As I’ve said in the past – I like albums to sound/feel like *albums* and not just Here’s 10 tracks I wrote in any order…

Even if the idea doesn’t end up lasting the whole album – the initial idea is usually enough impetus. With “Strum Und Drang” I’d been listening to the 21st Anniversary of Leftfield’s “Leftism” pretty much on repeat and wanted to do something inspired by that. I pretty much listened to nothing but Leftfield’s three albums for the summer of 2017 and wrote at the same time. “The Menace” seemed to be the next logical step.

9. Your latest effort “The Menace” is one of your finest. Some of your previous works contained a few dark tracks, but most of the songs were more melodic, almost orchestral rock like that of Dream Theater. Also, for the first time you added lyrics and vocals. You told me it’s a loose concept album, and that you kept the lyrics intentionally vague, but what was your inspiration behind “The Menace” and it’s dark theme? Also, what made you decide to add a vocal component?

Thank You. I had so much fun making “Sturm Und Drang” that I wanted to do another in that style but – as I said at the time – I wanted it “tougher and harder sounding.“ One of the few times that the album has pretty much turned out exactly how I envisioned from the beginning. Once I had “ The Slammer “ – I knew I was onto something. Loose concept album in that…I didn’t intentionally write lyrics to mean anything – I just had my microphone there – played the track and improvised some stuff until I found something I liked.

After a while I realised all the improvs could be about a few things. Notably the “MeToo” movement, #45… all of these things that were going on in the news at the time. Completely subconsciously. Only the final two tracks “Finale Part I and II” I wrote to tie up this theme. All other lyrics are improvised. And yeah I kept it intentionally vague as I’ve never wanted to align myself with any party or politics or anything and I was not a fan of Kotow’s Anti-President Bush EP. I never wanted to be a political band – one of the other factors that led to our break up. As for vocals – people kept pestering me to include them and I thought if I do it, I’m gonna distort the crap out of them… Which I did on “The Slammer”. But as the album went on, I got more confident and I turned the distortion further and further down. I think I’ll do vocals again should I do another album at some point… Probably same style too.

10.  Besides my glowing review, what has been the response to The Menace?

Thank you! Well – same as ever. A few RTs from music accounts and a few more people saying they like it but nothing amazing really. About the same as it was for “Sturm Und Drang” or “The Dawn And The Dusk.” *shrug*

11. That leads me to the next question. You and I have shared our own frustrations over the lack of support from a majority of our so-called ‘followers’ on social media, who rarely if ever engage with our tweets, postings, etc. But in today’s music industry, an artist or band (or just about any other creative person) is all but forced to use social media to get people to learn about their music, unless they’re willing or able to hire an expensive publicist. Any thoughts about this?

Interesting subject since my degree course dissertation was basically gonna be all about this. “Do we need big recording studios now that people are making pro albums in their bedrooms“ etc etc… I THINK that the Internet has ruined a lot of music. Shops are closing because people are buying everything online, and it’s so hard to stand out when everyone and their dog has a band and a Bandcamp and a Soundcloud. It’s like whispering in a hurricane… And I’m not smart enough to think of some cool promo gimmick. And whenever I think I have something, it never works so…

12. Do you have any plans for a future album, or will you take a long break?

Ya know it speaks for itself – when I was putting out albums every month that I’d recorded in a week – the quality was dipping. You know how I feel about “Imaginary film soundtrack .“ I was so disappointed with it, I actually paid to have it taken down. I know I rushed it and it shows. I still cannot listen to it. Starting with “Juggernaut III” and then continuing with “Sturm Und Drang” and now “The Menace,” I’ve taken my time to craft an album over many months. Take a break..come back…listen to it….fix/adjust anything…etc. And as a result, those three albums I mentioned have a little extra going for them. I’m actually a huge fan of “The Dawn & The Dusk”. Its one of my favourite things I’ve done. And I seem to remember taking my time with that one too so… “The Menace” is still very fresh to me. It was released on May 4 – eight months after “Sturm Und Drang.” I’m not even thinking about another album and probably won’t until winter. I mentioned to someone once that i’d like to take a year to release an album at some point. Maybe I will for the next one. It won’t be a double though. I’d like to get down to doing only one album a year.

13. Anything else you’d like to share that I’ve neglected to ask?

I think that the “Sturm Und Drang” and “The Menace” “style” will be my default setting from now on. They were both really fun to create and I actually plan on buying a midi keyboard to make composing a lot easier.

I know James Lauters (a very supportive mutual friend of David’s and mine) likes the what I call the X&Y series. And I may do another one eventually but it would have to be really chilled out. Like “Dawn And The Dusk” but even more chilled. Lots more acoustic. Basically the exact opposite of “The Menace.”

Cheers !

Enjoy this guitar play-through by David of “The Monster,” one of many great tracks from The Menace.

Stream his music on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase on  iTunes

DAVID OAKES – Album Review: “TheMENACE”

David Oakes is a talented musician and composer of electronic alternative rock music based in Wales, UK. In the early 2000’s, he was a guitarist with the British rock band Kotow, for who he also played drums when they performed live shows. Over the past five years or so, he’s produced a tremendous output of instrumental music as a solo artist, ranging from gentle synth-driven compositions to aggressive guitar-driven hard rock, and everything in between. His latest effort, which officially drops today, is TheMENACE, a brilliant album that’s easily his best work yet.

David Oakes

I’ve gotten to know David over the past couple of years, and featured him on this blog in 2016. He’s a huge fan of Dream Theater, Mastodon, Metallica and Green Day, all of whom have been major influences on his music. He’s also a perfectionist and his own biggest critic, and reworks his tracks until he feels they’re just right. It’s been fun watching his creative process unfold and albums take shape as he shared his demos with me and a small group of friends who follow him on Twitter, asking us for feedback as they were being recorded. We’ve all enjoyed the songs he’s created the past few years, but were collectively blown away by the tracks that are included on TheMENACE. He really poured everything he had into this album, and it shows.

David explained his intention in creating this album: “The Menace is a very loose concept. I kept it intentionally vague and a lot of the guitar parts are very similar on purpose. As you know I like an album to feel like an ALBUM and not ‘Here’s 10 random songs in no particular order.‘” The tracks are darker and more aggressive than many of his previous compositions, which is appropriate given the album’s title, and for the first time he’s added distorted vocals, giving the songs even greater impact and depth. Regarding the lyrics, David stated: “Weirdly – none of the lyrics were planned out. But, as time went on I realised that nearly all of the lyrics could be about #45 (our awful President Trump – my words). Purely by accident. I guess it got in there subconsciously. But the lyrics are so vague that they could be about a lot of things.”

The Slammer (Intro)” kicks off TheMENACE with ominous synths that immediately set the album’s dark tone. A lone guitar riff ensues, then a powerful hypnotic drumbeat takes over as the synths and guitars gradually build to a crescendo before calming back down. Then it’s a quick segue to “The Slammer“, a hard-driving track that lives up to its title. The frenetic drumbeat, raw synths and barrage of fuzzy guitars are fantastic, and I love David’s heavily distorted gravelly vocals as he drones “Hey what do you see? Is this how it’s going to be? Is this what you want?

The awesome title track “The Menace” has everything I love in electronic rock – layers of multi-textured synths, scorching guitar riffs, and a colossal driving beat that aims straight for the hips. I seriously defy anyone to sit still for this track! David’s heavily distorted vocals have a…well…menacing otherworldly vibe as he chants “You’ve got to go. You’re a menace to society. You’re a menace to everyone.” Though five minutes long, it’s so good that it seems over in an instant

The Monster” has a thumping EDM beat, with loads of gritty synths and intricate gnarly riffs. David employs some pretty impressive vocal gymnastics on this track as he sings “You’ve got a monster in your sights. You gotta make it through the night.” “The Distant Horizon” is one of the darker tracks on the album, with ominous drawn-out synths, very gritty guitars and dirty bass. His distorted vocals have an almost treacherous, seductive quality as he urges self-gratification” “If there’s anywhere you wanna go, just go. If there’s anything you wanna do, just do.” The track would be perfect for a sci-fi movie soundtrack.

David dials it up to full speed on “The Event Horizon.” The song is like a shot of adrenaline, with a frantic, head-bobbing EDM beat, The mysterious synths give the track a bit of an 80’s new wave/techno Depeche Mode vibe, and the guitar work is outstanding. Things get a little funky on the aptly named “Funkotron.” The melody and arrangement on this track are phenomenal, as are the synths and intricate guitar work. And it goes without saying that David’s vocals are terrific. It’s an awesome song, and one of my favorites on the album.

The Resistance” is a hard-driving track with a fast-paced EDM beat that had me doing a lap dance in my chair. The guitars and instrumentals are amazing, as always. With echoed vocals, David defiantly sings “We won’t go down without a fight. / We will keep fighting for our lives.” The Revolution” opens with industrial-sounding synths, then expands into a breathtaking soundscape of brooding, soaring synths and gorgeous chiming and wailing guitars. This instrumental track is a little slice of auditory heaven, and gives me chills every time.

As we near the end of the album, each new track is a new revelation. “The Finale Part 1” opens with gorgeous sweeping synths and jangly guitar that remind me of early Coldplay, then explodes into a rousing fusillade of layered guitars, synths and percussion. David proclaims the end of any emotional commitment: “I don’t need, I don’t need you anymore. I don’t want you, want you anymore. Everything you thought you had is gone. Everything you thought you knew is wrong.”  “The Finale Part 2” is a different interpretation of the song, with more of a new wave/punk vibe, sort of how it might sound if played by A Flock of Seagulls or The Cure.

TheMENACE is a genuine masterpiece from start to finish, and as I stated at the beginning of this review, David’s finest work yet in my opinion. He’s an amazing guitarist, and his skill for using synthesizers to create such incredible melodies and arrangements is impressive. This album is a must-have for anyone who’s a fan of guitar-driven electronic rock music.

TheMENACE is actually a double album, with the second being an instrumental-only version, plus two bonus tracks not found on the first. It’s also available on the streaming and purchase sites listed below. The Kotow album Demise of the Monsters is also available on Spotify.

Stream his music on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase on  iTunes