OnalleeWe unanimously decided that was the perfect choice for our first musician of the month. A name that might not be instantly recognisable to some; Onallee is a founding member, lead vocalist and co writer of Roni Size / Reprazent. Her contribution includes penning the lyrics for three of the four main singles taken from the phenomenal album ‘New Forms’ , and she was mostly known for re-introducing drum & bass back into mainstream culture and inspiring a new generation of artists in the 90s. Onallee is now making a solo debut with her new music and live show dates which still contain that unique jazz twist that made her an original drum and bass sensation.
The fact that Onallee was willing to put some time aside to be interviewed conveys her generosity of spirit and the passion she has for her work. I have genuinely never interviewed someone whose responses struck a chord with me so personally; we may not work in the same industries but her honesty, insight and strength inspired my own journey. I hope you enjoy reading this article as much as I feel honoured to have been a part of it.
Hello Onallee, it’s wonderful to be able to interview you for our magazine. How does it feel to be our first ever Warrior Woman musician of the month?
It’s lovely of you to consider me - what an honour!
On your website it says that music was a big part of your childhood; how did music influence your life journey?
I see music as integral to life - it is something that has always been a part of me so it’s hard to see how it’s influenced things; I don’t know anything else. I was reading music by the age of nine and playing classical and flamenco guitar until I was 15 and then I started writing poetry and ultimately took up singing accidentally. I always wanted to be a guitarist because I studied the guitar from an early age - however I didn’t find it as freeing as singing. There is something special about using your voice - your own body - as an instrument. It provides an instant connection without any external mechanism to operate. I suppose it’s given me a way to express myself - through words as well as sound - and I think that fits my personality and the way I like to approach life. There is an incredible sense of freedom when you’re a musician and artist - the creator of your own universe - and in that sense it's quite profound. It has a knock-on effect regarding how you see the world and how you interact with it. That sense of freedom and confidence resonates into all areas of your life and at times you feel fearless and unstoppable - like music itself.
Considering you have already won a Mercury Music Prize (fighting off Radiohead and The Prodigy in 1997) and were awarded a Q Award for Best Live Act; what is your future music dream?
There are so many dreams and for now they are not all to do with music. I’m working on a new show which is a multimedia experience deeply rooted in sound but there is a large visual component as well. I think modern music is now so inextricably linked with visualisation that one cannot conceive of solely making music without there being a visual representation. So as well as being a creative producer and a creative director I would like to go further into the technological possibilities concerning the relationship between sound and moving image. I’ve also been developing drones for live performance at the Pervasive Media Studio attached to The Watershed in Bristol. That’s been an incredibly exciting and educational experience and this has helped my creative growth immensely.
What inspires your new music and what should fans be looking out for in your songs?
As usual life itself inspires my music. I always like to have very wide interests and that cultivation of curiosity feeds the creative process. I’ve also found that creativity breeds more creativity and it develops a positive feedback loop which sometimes is a lot to bear because you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night having to write down these ideas, but I prefer that than writer’s block! The recurrent themes in my work are that of revolution and rebirth. These are themes I have continued to work on in my new production.
Do you resonate as being a Warrior Woman and have you had to be a strong to work in the music industry?
I think you have to be strong in general in life. The music industry is a microcosm of some of the worst aspects of human society. There is a lot of hierarchy and exploitation. I also think the idea of strength can have very different manifestations. The idea of a ‘warrior woman’ is typically presented as quite an aloof, self sufficient, masculine type figure – however, I have found great strength in self appreciation, awareness, knowledge and being of service to others. I was quite a typical example of that form of ‘warrior woman’ in the past. The music industry is very male dominated and you have to find your place in that without becoming like the very people you are fighting against - always trying to maintain your identity and dignity in the process. Now a ‘warrior woman’ for me is the embodiment of self love, humility and an unerring fearlessness in creating a better world for herself and others.
Have you ever felt pressure to look or act a certain way in the music industry?
There is a huge pressure on females in the music industry to use their sexuality as a commodity. You are encouraged to wear makeup and dress in a sexualised manner. I think these things happen to certain men too in the industry; however the overwhelming focus in terms of controlling the way people look in the music industry is directed towards women. If you look at every single successful and well-known female artist - all of their images are hyper sexualised: feeding the well worn trope of the ‘wanton woman’. This is not an accident; this is a deliberate attempt to sell records by fixating men and selling women a dream of the archetypal desirable woman – luring them into buying records and tickets and also to achieve brand loyalty. Funnily enough if I look at the demographics of my social media stats I will find that they are overwhelmingly men although studies have shown women are buying just as much music nowadays and spending more time online. Women do still help to propagate and reinforce these stereotypical images though and I feel there is a lot of work to be done regarding our collective self esteem.
What has been your biggest challenge in your personal life and what advice could you give to other people experiencing it?
My biggest challenge has been cultivating and sustaining a sufficient level of self esteem to enable the belief in myself needed to strive for and attain my goals. It became apparent to me that even though I wanted to do a lot more in terms of my working life I found that there was a blockage: something that would stop me fulfilling my desires. I eventually got some help with this and really looked at my self-talk: what I said to myself, those well hidden beliefs that I was carrying around that I wasn’t aware of and how this all conspired against me. It takes daily concerted effort to change a negative habit and to form new positive behaviours and thinking, but I went through the process and now fear doesn't stop me doing anything. There are loads of things to try out there – ask for help, find a way that suits you and seriously give it a go. I always hear people saying certain methods don't work however it later transpires that they didn't really take it seriously or put any real work into it. If you want to change – commit at least 30 days to it and then make an evaluation. If your life improved – keep going. If it didn't – try something else. Never stop improving and growing - it's a lifetime’s work and actually quite enjoyable. I’ve managed to achieve total abstinence from alcohol for the last 8 years and am now embarking on a year abstaining from sugar. I’ve definitely seen improvements in mood and cognitive processes so I’m going to keep going. I am also getting used to ignoring food cravings as it's never really the food I want. Eating something sugary is not really going to make me feel better in the long term past the initial rush of dopamine and serotonin – I’ve committed to long term progress and it feels great and is getting easier. I wish everyone the best of luck in all of the challenges they set themselves this year!
You seem to have a very interesting year ahead, especially after an amazing start performing on New Year’s Eve alongside legendary acts such as Mickey Finn at the Spiegeltent which returned to Bristol Harbourside this Christmas. What else do you have planned that you are excited about?
This new show I’ve been working on, ‘Futurism 3.0’, is a really exciting process to be involved with. I’ve created a futuristic narrative with music mainly written by myself and D Product from Full Cycle featuring the drones I’ve been developing all housed in an immersive environment. I’m also doing interesting things with a choir and it’s a project that I’ve wanted to undertake for a while so it's great it's finally coming to fruition! In finding a new level of positive esteem it has helped me drive the project along and also given me the confidence to apply for Arts Council funding. I’m deeply humbled by the level of support I have received from The Arts Council, The Watershed, The Pervasive Media Studio, Ujima Radio, BCFM, Bristol Hackspace and all the other creators and collaborators. It’s been a very special experience and such an educational journey. It will definitely inform the next phase of my artistic process and I have an interactive installation and a musical in the works also. 2017 and beyond is going to be a brilliant time for me and I feel very grateful to be in this position. Exciting times!
So where can we catch you on the next step of your musical journey?
You can catch me at the The Lantern, Colston Hall on 18 February 2017 with my new show FUTURISM 3.0 featuring D PRODUCT (Full Cycle) & LEONIE LAWS (Breakbeat Era). You can click on the following link for tickets to see Onallee this February :
or to receive a free download with your ticket purchase you can book your tickets through this link: https://onallee.bandcamp.com/merch/ticket-to-onallee-presents-futurism-30-featuring-d-product-leonie-laws-colston-hall-bristol
http://onallee.bandcamp.com - BUY merch, music & tickets
YOUTUBE CHANNEL – Onallee Records
Watch new video from single: 1 Million Flies (Futurism 3.0)
Apple Music link