Writer Reece Greenfield / Photographers Maddie Cottam-Allan & Reece Greenfield
On an uncharacteristically bright afternoon, I sit down with Brum singer-songwriter Robert Craig Oulton in the Medicine Bakery for a coffee, and a revelatory mushroom sandwich. After soaking in our surroundings, we get chatting about his latest EP Caught up in the Moment, which was released on the 14 October, as well as his upcoming tour starting Friday 28 October at Muthers Studio.
Rob begins by talking about who recorded the EP: “Mark Gittins is just amazing, he just gets it you know? He really listens, it sounds silly but some [engineers] don’t.”
He then goes on to talk about the process and how recording guitar, drums, and bass together captured a more organic feel which can be heard across the record.
“They’ll be mistakes but it’s a case of, oh we’ll keep that mistake that’s a cool one.”
Rob also recorded his acoustic single ‘Cruel World’ with ‘Wrong’ at Mega Tone, “Which was an accident really, I was moaning about music so [Mark] said ‘Come in and do something and realise why you do it again’.”
He goes on to answer my inquiry about the striking artwork taken by Danny Boyle of Total Luck.
“We only used one roll of film, and then just picked the first two pictures layered together.”
I explain to Rob how much I love the order and the progression of the EP, and want to ask him about each song.
“[The intro] is instrumental, which is not my usual thing. It was the first time I’d put reverb before the distortion in my pedal chain, and all of that echoey roomy sound gets distorted.
“The guitar just sounds very unstable, crashing into itself and if I hadn’t done that the song would never have come about.”
As we move onto the second track, ‘Return Policy’, Rob explains the inspiration for its punky feel: “The song’s about fucking wishing someone would leave you alone.
“It may not sound like that, but it’s about when people are ‘fessing to be there for you, and you’re just like ‘just fuck off’.
“The whole thing is two fingers up to those people.”
Moving onto ‘Secret Garden’, I learn this track went from being the object of ambivalence to Rob’s favourite track on the record, and the most personal one. The song features brass provided by Felicity Evans and Alex Astbury of Diddy Sweg and Heavy Beat Brass Band.
“As the brass comes in really delicately, that moment is my favourite on the record. The song is quite long but I had so much that I wanted to say on that song, that I didn’t want to chop any bits out.”
I’m also keen to hear about the penultimate song and single off the record released 16 September, ‘Wrong’: “That’s another one where the guitar sound completely informed the song itself.
“I bought this guitar pedal that you can hear on my guitar at the start. It’s simple, but it’s just effective, you know?
“It’s more about the sound and trajectory of the song. You could not have English as a language and you’d still get it.”
I can’t help but remark upon the excellent banjo playing by Connor Boyle, before moving onto the final track ‘Cruel world’.
Rob explains how he has been sitting on this song for over five years: “I wrote this at a weird point in my life where I went a bit mental and was overdoing it a bit.
“I knew it was strong, but it had to be the right time.’
The striking guitar tone was achieved with a 1961 Hofner. “It’s humongous, you have to fight with it but it was so worth it, it sounded good from the get-go,” says Rob, grinning as he looks back fondly at this moment.
“There was a lot of really good vibes in the room as everyone was looking at each other when I started tinkering around, I can remember Mark from the control room being like ‘woah, what’s that then?!’”
We move on finally to Birmingham’s venues, its music scene, and his upcoming headline show.
“Hare and Hounds Kings Heath; I’d say is the best sound in Brum, they serve the songs, they serve the artists.
“Brum’s music scene gets a bad rap… people should be looking this way, there’s things that aren’t even my bag that need more attention.
“We are well on our way to getting any unsavoury characters out, and there seems to be a good level of people doing different things. But we’re all aware of each other just being part of that community.”
Rob finishes, “Good music here is not hard to find.”
Rob’s new EP Caught up in the Moment is available to stream on all platforms, and his next show to kicks off his UK tour is at Muthers Studio on Friday 28 October – with support from Exhaler and Bright Lightning. Entry on the door (no tickets) is £5
In his own words: “We’re all just hanging out… it’s gonna be a bit of a party!”
For more from Robert Oulton visit www.linktr.ee/robertcraigoulton
For more from Medicine Bakery go to: www.medicinebakery.co.uk
For more from Mega Tone go to: www.mega-tone.com
For more The Hare and Hounds go to: hareandhoundskingsheath.co.uk
For more from Muthers Studio go to www.muthersstudio.co.uk