One of the most exciting live acts on the UAE scene, Kicksound are now laying down their debut EP. Rob Garratt caught up with frontman Oliver Ephgrave to find out where all the angst came from.
Offstage, Oliver Ephgrave is nothing like the man you’d expect from his music. Meeting Time Out on a lunch break, he arrives in Media City in a business shirt and shoes. His shaved head shining under the florescent light, the 31-year-old cracks a warm smile, hazel eyes gleaming with animation as he sits down to talk. It’s hard to believe this is the lead singer of Kicksound. The same guy who appears on stage uniformly dressed in black, his head shrouded in a beanie (or, more recently, a trilby-style hat), stabbing gutsy minor chords out of his guitar while growling grungy downer tunes about heartbreak, sorrow and loss.
The saying ‘misery loves company’ must chime true, because those sad songs are picking up quite a lot of fans. For two years now Ephgrave, and the rest of the trio he writes, plays and sings for, have been gigging their brand of smart-but-soulful hard rock around Dubai to an increasingly enthusiastic audience. Earlier this year a fan poll by online community Metal Asylum asked readers to choose between the ten bands shortlisted for our Best Dubai Act award; Kicksound swept top place with 39 percent of the vote (our judges gave it to Point of View). But anyone off the live music circuit is unlikely to have encountered the band’s music for one simple reason – they have never bothered to record any. Thankfully that’s a wrong the band are now righting, using the summer to record their first EP, ready to launch early in the new season.
It’s a highly personal project for Ephgrave, a British journalist with German and Parsi blood. While he picked up a guitar for the first time aged just ten, and has been playing in bands since his teens, before Kicksound, Ephgrave had never performed his own material. One day, all that changed. And, as with much good art, it took a period of personal anguish to get the creative juices flowing. ‘It was basically down to being in a relationship that was... you could say... breaking,’ remembers Ephgrave. ‘Before that I didn’t really have anything that inspired me to write, but for some reason that flicked a switch.’ In the space of just a month Ephgrave gave birth to seven songs which still make up the bulk of the band’s setlist, and will form the basis of the EP they are currently recording at Tecom’s SoundStruck studios.
So it was heartbreak that brought the songs, but it also took two other players to bring them to an audience. Ephgrave recruited Colombian bassist Gabriel Matute, 34, and Serbian drummer Branislav Trkulja, 40. Together they made their live debut at The Music Room in October 2011, introduced as a funk band called ‘Olly and the Boys’, despite brewing up the name Kicksound before going on stage the same night. ‘Kicksound was the name we disliked the least,’ laughs Ephgrave. ‘It’s not a fantastic name but I threw out perhaps 100 [others] and no one was very keen.’ Earlier this year, bassist Matute stepped down because of work commitments, with Jordanian George Durzi, 28, stepping into the fold.
Kicksound might be Ephgrave’s first foray into such personal self- expression, but he is no stranger of the stage. After playing in bands in the UK, five years ago he moved to the UAE and took the lead guitarist role in metal band Xceed. Later he stepped up to play in well-known UAE singer Fatiniza’s band, performing high-profile gigs including a support slot for Corinne Bailey Rae. ‘It was fantastic,’ remembers Ephgrave, ‘but on the side I was writing these songs. I wanted to play something my own, that I felt I could put passion into.’ While he left Fatiniza to pursue his own music, Ephgrave is still good friends with the songstress, and appears on Life’s a Mess from her second album, Nothing is Impossible.
With the trio’s mix of tight musicianship, canny songwriting and soulful delivery, there’s perhaps just one thing that threatens Kicksound’s future – the fact Ephgrave is now rather more content than when he penned the band’s songbook. ‘It’s funny, because at the moment I’m a lot happier – so I’m not so inspired,’ he reasons. ‘In hard rock you don’t generally sing about how green the grass is. You wouldn’t hear Soundgarden, Metallica, or Nirvana writing love longs or singing things all that positive. At the moment I’m happy and content, and long may that continue – but for the time being, I’m going to use this period where everything is good, to record the songs written about the times when it was not so good.’