HATC Magazine Issue 5 Outer Stella Overdrive

Having started Outer Stella Overdrive four years ago, Raff Law, Kelvin Bueno, Rudy Albarn, Amin El Makkawi and Rikki Lee have found their calling, with tracks formed of a number of genres with inspiration drawing from some of their favourite artists; The Libertines, The Beatles and Radiohead. I meet the band in East London post-rehearsal. As we take a gander around East London we find ourselves settling down in Butterfield Green in a private little nook. 

As we get comfy it becomes clear to me before I even have to ask that the boys in the band have known each other for quite some time, with the word family almost feeling more appropriate. As I got to know the boys, each taking their turn to introduce themselves, I meet with the band’s latest member Ricki, a woman who doesn’t mess about when it comes to playing the guitar. Having recently seen the band live, I was rather impressed that Ricki who only joined perhaps a week or so before the gig had every element of each song nailed to a tee. With the boys having met years prior, Kelvin and Raf through his younger sister, Rudy, Raff’s childhood friend and Amin shortly after, Raf explained to me the reason behind their latest member, “I think it became clear that moving forward, to really take it to that next level we wanted a new guitarist. I love writing with the guitar, but I’ve always thought of myself more as a singer. Getting a guitarist is a lot better as it just takes the pressure off, essentially bringing another element to the group.” Having written songs of his own for a couple of years before OSO, Raf and Kelvin found themselves as more of a collective, enjoying the same type of music, “It just happened very organically and naturally, which has been the whole process behind the band, we’ve never really tried to think things through too much.”

Recently, having navigated themselves through the pandemic like most, with the release of new music and the video ‘Bad Times’ directed by Sadie Frost (Raffs Mum), which Raff hails as not only fun but a privilege to be able to be in a position to do, they found themselves back in the flow of performing having recently played The Water Rats to an audience, albeit socially distanced. 

With it being my first gig back post-COVID-19 I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit anxious about what a socially distanced gig would mean for the night, but with that being said the room was more alive than some gigs I’ve seen pre-pandemic. 

Having been conscious of putting music out too quickly, Raf explaining the rush he felt to keep up with over artists mixed in with the fear of saturating themselves, with OSO deciding to put out tracks at their own pace, where they could see their own personal progress before feeling ready to step up, smash gigs with a new and fine-tuned elevated sound. 

As my mind goes back to their recent gig in London following the mention of finding a newfound sound, I could see and hear with my very own ears the effort the band are making to solidify their sound. The gig itself was filled with a variety of notable traits, a medley so to speak of music which they had combined into their very own sound, “Everything had been developed and improved. We come from very different musical backgrounds and influences. A lot of people nowadays worry about too much trying to stay in one lane or sticking to one genre. There have been so many different movements in music, we’re all inspired by them all. It’s not about being the most complex, it just needs to sound good, be catchy and get people in an upbeat and good mood. We do that on our shows, keeping people on their toes.”

With notes of Britpop, rock and even grunge, the energy that they brought to the show was unreal. Bearing in mind it was seated and socially distanced, security was needed to remind fans to not dance on the floor and tables. It was the perfect look at the energy I’m inclined to see at their London headline show at the 02 Academy Islington, and it’s not only the crowd that I know are excited, with OSO clearly with even an ounce of disbelief that at this early on they would be headlining such a notorious venue, very much a pinch-me moment to them all.

With gigs before the pandemic cancelled, including a supporting slot for The Manor at The O2 Academy, I was intrigued to hear which gigs over the years had stood out to them all. It’s a question that sends them all deep into thought, as I wait to hear the bands that have not only inspired but spurred them to be who they are today. Raff fires away with The Libertines being quick to mind with their notable riff and spunky sets, not dissimilar to the ambitions of OSO, with it clearly having affected the confidence Raff has found coming centre stage. Whilst Rudy revels in what made his start drumming, “whenever I went to see people play, especially the drummers, I’d always watch them, and that alone would kind of make me want to do it from a very competitive point of view. Why am I not up there, why can’t I do that? I want to be doing that.” It’s clear how each of their own experiences have inspired them individually but also in how they write and perform as a group. With each of their own styles coming together to do the talking when it comes to each and every performance.

But there’s more than what meets the eye at first glance at OSO. As a band, the first thing you see is energy and light-heartedness, with few knowing how the weight of the world has fallen on them multiple times when it comes to heart-wrenching loss. As a group, their infectious joy and spiring back and forth chat is only a layer on top of their personal experiences with mental health. “Three years ago, one of my good friends who I (Raff) introduced to the band, came to see one of our shows, and it was the first time he’d ever seen us play. We went back to his house after as a band, drank some wine, spent time together, it was really lovely and then sadly, he took his life like three days or four days after alongside recently my flatmate and my manager, basil, who was managing the band, passed away in what was a freak accident. He struggled with bipolar himself, and as I lived with him, being around him and seeing his ups and downs, was a big part of my life for a year.”

Although Raff holds up well, I can see the pain it’s caused the band, but even more so I can not only hear but see the compassion and care in front of me, almost the responsibility the band clearly feel when it comes to speaking out about mental health and the challenges that come with it in making sure those around them are ok, feel heard and supported. “I think us as a band have always spoken up out about mental health.” As a band, several songs speak about the realisations of mental health and feeling low.

OSO still regularly play old tracks that talk about the stigma surrounding mental health which challenge the idea of people thinking people are just moaning about how they feel. “I’m never going to shut them down, I think it’s important to think about how you can improve that situation. I know that if I reach out to a friend, then they’re gonna feel they can reach out to me in the future”.

With their songs harnessing a huge amount of lyrics and stories with darker meanings and messages, it emulates not only their experiences but how they are people to lean on in times of need. “I (Raff) like to think of myself as like a very upbeat person. Music is not only to me but the band the place where we feel we can express ourselves, especially for me in a way where I don’t feel like I’m like bringing anyone else down”. 

With the past few years being a pinpoint start with society becoming more open and aware of mental health stigmas, especially surrounding men, I find huge relief hearing the band, with 4 of 5 members being men, being so open and how they as individuals and a band can support or even help provide brief moments of respite to fans. “Losing a few friends really opened my eyes. It was a wake-up call. It was a really hard time for all of our friends. It was an eye-opener for me because I feel like maybe when I was like 18 or 19 when something bad would happen, I would have ended up going out for a few days and kind of shutting off in that way, and now I make a huge effort to talk about it instead. I guess we feel like we owe it to them to speak to as many people as we can in the world, in the hopes of helping.”

It’s not an empty statement, if you look close enough you can see the efforts OSO have been making in creating a better environment and world not only for those they’ve lost but for those yet to come. With that in mind and the road to recovery back on its way, I have no hesitation that the band will be back on the road, not only in the UK but with their eyes set on festivals and an eventual tour around some of Americas biggest cities.

Words: Alice Gee

Photography : Jimi Herrtage

Stylist: Frederica Lovell-Pank 

HATC Magazine Issue 5 Leah McSweeney

Season 13 of the Real Housewives of New York City is well underway and Leah McSweeney has spent the last few seasons shaking up the cast with a real, authentic, and modern take on the world. Leah is a successful American fashion designer and founder of the women’s streetwear line Married to the Mob in 2004. As per Leah’s Season 13 tagline, she inspires us by being ‘sex-positive and BS negative’, with many adoring this influential, powerful, badass woman.

Mental health can be a turbulent path particularly when you’re concerned about stigma and judgments. Leah warmly opened up surrounding her experiences with mental health. “I remember getting my diagnosis when I was 30. It was my 30th birthday. And I was in my psychiatrist’s office thinking, what is wrong with me? Why am I back to this place again? When he replied and said I was looking through all of our text messages and it seems I won’t hear from you for a few months. And then all of a sudden, you text me and you’re like, having this crazy depression and then you tell me about what led up to it, how it was a series of you having all this fun, spending all this money and having sex with all these people. He said, this is Bipolar, you’re Manic Depressive. I was like, holy shit, what does that even mean? It was a relief but also felt like something was completely wrong. I felt I was fucked up for life and that I was never gonna get better-I remember feeling totally hopeless. Thank God, I haven’t had those symptoms for years now.”

The HATC team are boastful fans of Bravo and The Real Housewives franchise. For the team, Leah was a pioneer and breath of fresh air joining the cast with the New York Ladies back in 2020. Leah was open about her relationship with alcohol and the first housewife to be truly transparent about her mental health and began a dialogue. Leah educated the ladies and us at home. But I can imagine, it must have been sizeably daunting. “It’s something I’m still getting used to. It’s funny because I saw someone on Instagram posted, “Leah has bipolar everybody. She’s dealing with her mental health. She is disabled, you can’t be so hard on her.” and I thought no, I’m not a victim. Don’t go easy on me because of XYZ, I don’t want that at all. I’m just as capable as anyone else. You know what it is? Let’s take the bipolar aspect out of it and say anxiety, depression because I think I suffer mainly from anxiety at this point. Although I guess some people don’t. I think reality TV as someone that deals with mental health issues I have to be aware  of and have a support system. I need to be checking in with my psychiatrists. I need to have my inner circle, my support and be hyper-aware.”

Leah describes the aim of a healthy mind and wellbeing by producing enthralling rhetorical questions which really left the team thinking about her incredible point “Is this self-indulgent? Why do I need to work so hard at feeling good? I kind of feel bad about that. Other people who are struggling with physical illnesses, deaths, living in war-torn countries. And hearing this I feel a little guilty about it.” 

Mental health stigma refers to societal disapproval, or when society places shame on people who live with a mental illness or seek help for emotional distress or also use it to justify or explain a person’s behaviour. Leah conversed around this topic which is special to HATC and our core values. “Last year I was outed for it, which I did not think was gonna happen. I have been publicly open about it before I was famous and on TV. So when it was used, (I’m not trying to use buzzwords here) and it was kind of weaponised against me to explain the idea of this is why she’s acting this way, that was not me showing any symptoms of bipolar on the show. I was clearly just really drunk. In hindsight, it was great that it was brought up because I think it reached a lot of people, it gave me a chance to talk about it. It also made me realise that the important thing for me to do with this new platform is talking about mental health, it’s really popular to talk about it right now. But it’s something we’ve been dealing with for a very long time, I’m very happy that people are finally paying attention to it. That’s why I thought was great about Head Above The Clouds. Mental health, let’s talk about it! It makes me feel better. Selfishly I want to use my platform to talk about it and connect with people because it helps me.”

Leah reveals her experience with her mental health on the Real Housewives of New York City after a castmate uncovered her diagnosis. “It was brought up in a dramatic way. We all talked about it. It was it’s fine the way it happened. I’m glad it happened when it did, as maybe it would have taken me longer to bring it up. I’m happy that it came up during the pandemic too. The show was airing during the pandemic, and the pandemic has been a mental health crisis for everybody. I mean, how are you not mentally affected by this? I still don’t know what’s happening in our world. When is this going to be over? I’m still mad anxious over this and I’m worried about COVID. We live in a new world and I’m still adjusting to it. And I was adjusting to it this past season when we filmed, that season was very difficult. That aspect of reality TV is weird because there’s plenty of days that I don’t want to see anybody and I don’t want to leave my house. I have those days, they don’t last for weeks and weeks like they used to, but they’re there and I can say, You know what? I have to show up. So that’s challenging.”

Everyone’s mental wellness journey is unique and individual. Sometimes we have blunders or modifications when we are progressing. Leah was asked what encourages her wellbeing daily. “Sleep is so important. If I do not get not enough sleep I am a wreck. I take medication. I have to exercise. I have a therapist. I see my psychiatrist because he does a lot of talking therapy. I’ve done it all, gone psychospiritual I’ve done it all, like Monks and Rabbis. Those were the key things.”

Leah McSweeney in New York 2004 commenced her clothing line, Married To The Mob (MTTM). MTTM is the first of its kind and truly packed a punch in the fashion industry. MTTM is streetwear and activewear-inspired but solely caters to females. MTTM provides a voice and edginess to women who can hold their own (in the likes of a man,) but had the art and charm of a lady. My favourite t-shirt design is from the ‘Don’t Talk Tees’ with the slogan ‘Don’t talk about my Mental Health or my Vagina’. Leah reveals what it is like to be a businesswoman, “I was 22 at the time I started it, it was nuts for me to do that. I was taking risks all over the place, there were times throughout the last 17 years where I totally fucked the company up because I was off being a fuckup you know. I was in a toxic relationship because I knew it gave me the adrenaline rush. It was me being hyper manic or whatever it was. I almost ran the company into the ground. I got so lucky by running into someone just at the right time. I happened to go to an event where this guy was like, Hey, I want to partner with you. And I’m like, what you do? Okay, sure. You know, I was always in the right place at the right time, so to speak. But there were times when I had the worst hypomania but it was the time that mob had the best sales.

“I had had investors and then I lost the investors. I figured out how to create a line. I created a collection for back to school and went to a trade show, I did this somehow within a few months, including being down the factory. You have to be hypomanic and crazy to do that. I would say that a lot of entrepreneurs struggle with mental health issues. Married To The Mob was a way for me to channel the energy. I had to be disciplined. I had to rein it in sometimes, because I have employees and have XYZ to do. One year back in like, 2016 was when I ended up in a psychiatric unit which I really don’t talk about often. That year I didn’t design a whole collection. And then I was like, Oh, God, I have nothing to sell. I think after that stay at the psychiatric unit I thought a lot of this stuff is circumstantial and I’m creating a mess myself. Thank God that I have the luxury of being able to take steps and make choices that are better for myself, when someone maybe with schizophrenia or multiple personality disorder doesn’t have the privilege to do that. There are circumstances of course, that I can’t change, but some things I can like; getting enough sleep, staying away from fuckboys. So, that was a huge turning point for me. And everything started getting better after that.”

Married to the Mob has a fan base including the likes of Rihanna, Lil’ Kim, and Fergie. “Rhianna has worn MTTM a few times. And she wore one design that blew the fuck up. She’s been wearing MTTM since I remember and worn a bunch of Mob stuff. Like any time any person I admire wears my brand, it’s a huge thing. It’s a pinch-me moment. But it is hard for me to take in the good sometimes as I am very focused on what needs to be done or hasn’t been done yet. But when I sit and think about it, I think, wow…I worked with Barbie, I worked with Collette and Paris. If MTTM ended tomorrow for some reason, I’d think I’m so happy and proud of everything I’ve done with it.”

Leah is a wonderful Mother, an entrepreneur, businesswoman and reality television star. Leah unlocks the stigma encompassing Mental Health and Motherhood. “I had my daughter when I was young. I definitely had postpartum and had no idea because I wasn’t thinking about it back then because I was drinking and stuff. It’s not been easy, I got diagnosed with bipolar when my daughter was five years old. I had to get used to different medications, that was so hard. I was on the wrong medications for many years. Her dad was there and really helped me. At the end of the day, motherhood makes you better. It totally does. We’re mothers. We’re not perfect. We’re human. We’re allowed to have mental health issues and be moms.”

Head Above The Clouds as a company is developing every day. Leah is very inspirational to the team so we craved to ask for some top tips for starting a business, “I think the younger generation is the generation of entrepreneurs. I think regular jobs/office jobs aren’t even going to have people to fill them because the younger generation are all about doing their own thing. I think it’s fucking awesome. And starting a company now versus when I did is so different. There are so many! Just social media alone. Gen Z is going to be the generation that makes emails obsolete, which I think is kind of fucking brilliant because I love to text. Like even if someone likes to text me because I get so many emails crazy. My advice would be just go for it!.”

As Leah proceeds to advocate for female empowerment, street culture, and creative entrepreneurship. She also contributes to breaking the stigma around mental health. Leah is an influential female icon that supports other women, feminism, and normalises sex. Her openness on the Real Housewives of New York City is inspirational and powerful. For the RHONY fans, we can confirm BITCH LEAH ELEVATES THIS SHIT!

Leah’s debut book “Chaos Theory” is available to pre-order now.

Words: Bronte Evans

Photography: Eric Helgas

HATC Magazine Issue 5 Louis Dunford

I meet Louis at The Hemingford Arms in Islington, a slight change from the last time I saw him performing his first gig back post-COVID lockdown, the week before. As we grab a drink I get the chance to gush about his most recent performance, at a very packed, even sold-out, St Pancreas church in the heart of King’s Cross. The Louis I meet today appears to be the three C’s; cool, calm, and collected, whilst admitting he’s a little nervous for the interview. After seeing his confident performance the other week in a room filled to the brim, I thought I’d be the last person he’d be nervous about speaking to. 

After over a year off seeing live music, especially in a non-socially distanced venue, I was ecstatic yet nervous to be back in the live scene, yet the moment I arrived at the venue to hear his opening song, I found myself instantly transported by his angelic acoustics and talent for storytelling. As we catch up, we find ourselves, as you’d expect, covering ground about our pandemic lives, with me explaining my newfound love for comfortable clothes, even admitting the extent of wearing pyjama bottoms out of the camera with previous interviews over zoom, (which lucky for him is not the case that afternoon) whilst his news of being signed to Sony in the pandemic is just so slightly more exciting.

Having worked full-time in a range of roles over the past 10 years to support his musical career and dream, Louis is just as modest when it comes to the beginning as he is about his signing. As he recounts how he learned to play the piano, after moving into a new family home at 15 with an out of tune piano, being told he had a month to persuade his parents not to get rid, he found himself in a change of routine following his signing, including some hard and testing moments when it came to writing daily in more of a 9-5 role. “It’s not what you prepare yourself for in any way shape or form, becoming a nine-to-five threw me off completely. When you’ve spent 10 years, clocking off work at seven, then going home and doing the thing you love it’s completely different to writing when waking up from nine o’clock in the morning, it’s been really weird.” I love the fact he’s honest about it being a big change. So often you know or imagine the romanticised version of people’s dreams coming true without the honesty involved with such an overwhelming change. Saying that It’s not every day you go from realising you can sing in a karaoke bar in Cyprus at age 10, working any job in between to finding yourself signed to Sony.

With a strong north London accent, elements of your typical North-London boy, he is anything but. As we saw him enter stage left on his first night back performing in what I can only describe as the heatwave from hell (yes, you should believe he was in knitwear), looking pretty relaxed and ready for a room packed with fans, he tells me he was anything but on the inside, “I was so anxious! I had had so many people text saying they couldn’t come due to COVID that I was genuinely worried that the church would be empty.” Much to his surprise, he was welcomed to cheers and a room of applause from people who’d travelled from all over the UK. “A couple had driven 11 hours from Glasgow, people from Yorkshire, Bolton, Manchester, Birmingham. I was like sorry, this is f*cking crazy. It almost made me cry. I’ve got all my lot there, my friends and family but we live from a three to five-minute walk from Kings Cross. It just blows my mind that people would come all that way, and then for them to not be disappointed was something else.” It’s astonishing to me that he would even question the idea that anyone who came would be disappointed, as although many are keen and ecstatic post-lockdown to be out and about, from where I was standing all I could hear were people singing at the top of their lungs to his songs.

With the ever topical pandemic still having an effect on the music touring industry, I wondered what Louis’s plans were when it comes to touring and performing, the venues he’s got his sights on, especially from being on the roundabout of booking and cancelling shows due to the pandemic. “Weirdly big venues aren’t my ideal gig. I’ve always wanted to play Union chapel.” As Louis mentions another church, having just played St Pancreas Church, we end up laughing about the fact we both feel we should burst into flames when entering, with Louis highlighting the fact some of the language and stories of his songs are a tad explicit for traditional concepts of a church. “It made me think of my Nan, who was an Irish traditional Catholic, I was up there singing these songs, thinking in equal parts that she would be very proud but also mortified about the contents of some of the songs.” But there’s more to the reason behind Louis being drawn towards playing Union Church, “I feel it’s sort of poetic because the pub across the road is the first gig I ever played live. It would mean so much more in a way than something like Brixton Academy.”, with that being said he laughs, making it clear this is not him turning down Brixton Academy.

Having gained quick notoriety a couple of years ago after being picked up by Jamal Edwards from SB.TV. for several recorded and filmed YouTube Sessions, Louis tells me with a small amount of disbelief how writing songs in his bedroom, about his friends often simply to ‘take the piss out of them’ became something much bigger. “I just wanted to be a writer. I wanted to write either poetry or a book. I have always been fascinated by the people behind them. I remember when I was little and I found out that books and songs didn’t fall out of the sky how fascinated I was. I’d never thought of myself as like a serious songwriter.” 

Having chosen to take a brief break due to not feeling ready after his debut with SBTV, he took time to hone his craft and the things behind it. “it all sort of stemmed from that I just was writing things about everyone in my community. I had been persuaded to put my music on YouTube and it was then that I thought okay, maybe this is something that I could try and do professionally.” But it’s whilst I interview him and understand the passion behind his music, that there’s so much more to it, that for him it’s a way of telling stories, from the good and the bad to the loss and trauma he and those around him have experienced.

“What I realised is if I do write about something it normally means I’ve come to some sort of terms with it. Whereas when I write about anything like relationships or romance when I’m not in a good place I feel it’s kind of screwed up. I like to take my time to write an accurate account of what happened, which I have always found more interesting. There have been times in my life where I’m like, ‘Oh, I understand it now and then I’m like, ‘oh, no, I don’t’. When I write about something, I think it symbolises that I’ve gotten to a certain point where I’m more comfortable with it.” I wondered whether he had found solace and comfort in writing his music: “I knew that writing would be therapeutic, but it was also upsetting and opened old wounds. I knew putting them out there to members of my audience would show parts of me and how I feel about things. That’s been a bit tricky to navigate because you can’t control that wiggly line and people’s perceptions of the songs which mean so much to me. Most of the time I feel fine talking about my mental health or past experiences. There are days where I feel capable of those conversations but there are other days I can’t, so writing and navigating through this is my job but has had its difficult moments. At the end of the day how others form opinions over them is out of my control and I’m ok with that.”

The openness I feel from his honest account behind the songs most from a vulnerable place and personal loss, which he sang so boldly and beautifully at St Pancreas church, is something I can only commend. To be a place where he finds peace in the music he writes whilst staying true to not only who he is but what’s best for himself is something more people should take note of. His story is something so many hope for but never get the chance to experience, one which includes both highs and challenges, modesty and I sense even an ounce of surprise, and although Louis is extremely talented (not that he seems convinced at times) it is sure to be the thing that takes his career to the next level.

“My Generation” is out 14th October.

Words: Alice Gee

Photography: Betty Oxlade-Martin

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