Interviewed in March of 2016 by Andrew Houle
DEREK WAKEEN – OLLI BRIX
Hometown: Methuen, MA | Current town: Methuen, MA | Website: CLICK HERE
1. Right out the gate, can you give our readers a little background on who and what Olli Brix is?
Olli Brix is a fictional character I created to represent my music and art under one name. I produce instrumental tracks and then illustrate Olli into scenes that match the ‘story’ or emotion of each song – as if he is behind the music. The tale goes; He came back from the dead in pursuit of the life he never had while he was alive, and travels the world making music as his only form of communication.
2. It seems a lot of musicians double as illustrators, painters or visual artists in general. And I suppose the same statement applies in reverse; where a lot of visual artists tend to also be musicians. What came first for you? Were you drawing at a very early age or was it music that captured your attention first?
Drawing certainly came first. I started young with portraits, copying Top Flight hockey cards, drawing my favorite riders from snow and skate magazines, and then had the essential bouts of graffiti. But, during those earlier years, my mood was always driven by music. If I wasn’t visually creating, I was skating with friends listening to random CDs found stuffed between car seats. Actually, I got a lot of new music from snow/skate videos, too. They always supported unknown but great bands and included a wide range of genres, so I was exposed to tons of underground hip-hop, punk, and experimental artists back then.
My dad (Michael) also played a big role in my appreciation/love for music. Bruce Springsteen and Pink Floyd were his go-to bands. He’d max out the stereo on the weekends when Shane and I would visit him just to rile us up. It was the best. I must have been 13 years old when he first sat me down to read lyrics from “The Wall” album, thinking “…this is weird as hell, but I like it.” And of course, Storm Thorgerson’s album art was insane to look at, trying to figure out if those scenes actually existed somewhere – in a way, like Olli’s little world.
3. There’s a distinct aesthetic to Olli Brix. With a main character that appears on all the cover art who is clearly having fun until the wheels fall off. Olli likes to party and relax, and not even death can stop him. Where did this persona come from?
Olli’s persona is certainly raw, but I always try to balance his bad habits through an innocent lens – as if he deserves to have fun because of his heartbroken past. You want to root for him.
4. Through a unique arrangement of pastel hues mixed with a pen & ink black line, your art begins the narrative of what the music conveys. There is a sense of humor, a youthful nod to forever being on vacation, and of course, good ol’ fashioned fun….even if it’s the type of fun that is bad for you. Are there themes that bridge your art and music? Enjoy yourself and always daydream?
I would say loose themes of escapism, daydreaming, and lost love certainly speak to both the illustrations and mood of the music. I mean, people will paint their own mental pictures when they listen to each song, but Olli is fun to use as a backdrop.
The whole process is mostly sporadic. I might create half a song in one day, start drawing some ideas, finish the track two months later, and then scrap the first drawing and start over again. I guess my inspiration hits a peak and peters out until it comes full circle again. I was stuck on “Dreamer” from the Future’s Bright EP for weeks until I finally worked out the piano beat at the end. After that, the drawing came pretty quick and ended up being one of my favorites.
5. At times, just about anything passes for album art and then, on the other hand, the concept and cover art can be so well executed it’s almost better than the music contained within. So killer album art; underrated or overrated?
Yeah, that’s a tough one. The music HAS to be good, otherwise, the album art is just trying to distract you from the shitty music inside – like putting lipstick on a pig. I’d rather see horrible artwork that is supported by amazing music. You gotta respect certain musicians that don’t give a shit about the album art because they know the music inside is fire. Maybe I’ll take my own advice and bomb my next album cover.
6. So as an illustrator what were your major influences growing up? Comic books, pulp mags or zines?
I would say snow/skate magazines had photography that drove me to draw and illustrate more than anything. They had everything a young kid could be inspired by. The visuals of nature, style, risk, and graphic design all captured in one shot made me want to create my own moments on paper. I probably drew hundreds of kick-flips and melon grabs during those years and not even blink. That’s when you develop a lifelong love for something when no one’s forcing you to do it – you just do it.
I also loved the work of Norman Rockwell growing up (still do). That guy captured very real and sometimes odd moments in daily American life that is second to none as a fine artist. He certainly gets me thinking outside the box when I illustrate Olli into any environment.
7. Now as a musician, what were or are your major influences? Classic hip-hop to even current releases? Any genres or artists that were total game changers for you?
Like I said, Pink Floyd and most classic rock from the 70s holds a special place in my heart – like a connection back to a simpler time. But, from my generation, bands like Rage Against the Machine, Tool and Deftones were always playing in my car (credit to my big bro for those days). Then hip hop took over a lot of my high school years with Biggie and Nas, of course. RIP to RnB by the way.
Nowadays, our access to music is unlimited, and as a producer, it’s hard NOT to be inspired by every genre. But lately, I’ve been all over Burial and original dubstep producers like Kromestar and Skream. Hot Since 82 is one hell of a producer, too. The list goes on…
8. Speaking of genres of music, the terminology can get specific and a bit confusing when it comes to defining a sound. (i.e., electronic, dance, ambient, chill-wave, prog, etc.) How would you describe your own music to someone who has never heard it before?
Experimental. But trying to stay within instrumental hip-hop, dub, and house boundaries.
9. So that leads me to Brix Sound Lab, your newly launched company providing sound solutions for any form of media. From commercials, promotional videos, television and film, everyone needs the right original sound to convey each projects desired tone. Is that where you come in?
Exactly. My interest and respect for documentary films led me to create Brix Sound Lab. It’s a way to collaborate with filmmakers without compromising the sound of Olli. I want to create mood specifically for film and brands who want to tell better stories using sound.
In the past few months, I released Brixsoundlab.com, which connects my catalog of music to anyone needs it for their projects. I hope to include other producers eventually and create a bigger community, but it will take time to evolve.
10. So what’s next for you? Give us the goods, any upcoming records you’re working on, art shows or projects? What can we expect from Derek Wakeen/aka Olli Brix in the next year?
Yeah, man. This Spring I’m on track to release a new Olli Brix EP with original art and prints available – maybe even a limited edition case of beer for a lucky few, but nothing’s in stone. I’ll most likely update ollibrix.com with some new material before the official release party at the infamous Warehaus ran by Markus Sebastiano.
Another project I’m extremely excited about is The Year It All Made Sense. It’s a true story written and lived by my close friend David George. He battled cancer in 2012 and documented his unique experience using only a GoPro camera – which captured some incredibly raw moments. The final story will be published as an eBook in May of 2016 and will include music from Brix Sound Lab. If anyone wants to learn more about the final product, they can visit theyearitallmadesense.com.
11. One thing we always want to know from artists that we’re sitting down with is; who or what should we be on the look out for? Give us an artist out there that you think our readers need to stop what they are doing and look up right now.
Of course. Instagram right now is the fastest way to find local talent/inspiration. I’ll definitely flag Matthew Zaremba as a local artist I’m pumped on. He does very simple but thought provoking illustrations that will make you smile. Simon Stalenhag, Leon Karsson, Aj Fosik, Casey Baugh, are some others that are worth checking out beyond the local scene. Musically and creatively, it’s hard to ignore Ta-Ku. He’s banging on all cylinders right now with photography, music, and branding.
12. Bonus double extra credit get out of detention question: We happen to be featuring our mutual friend and artist Markus Sebastiano in the pages of Chroma. If there was ever an opportunity for an embarrassing story to be immortalized in print….now is the time. (this also doubles as proof if he actually reads your full interview right?)
HAHA, love this. Whenever we throw back a few cold cruisers, he confides in me that if the God’s ever put hair on his head again, he’d rock a man-bun and bring a typewriter to coffee shops to appear more interesting to chicks. His words, not mine!