Meet The Pros - Olugbenga Adelekan
Thanks for dropping by the WeJam Studio. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself?
Hey there. My name is Olugbenga Adelekan. I was born in Lagos, Nigeria. I lived there and in The Netherlands as a kid, moved to the South East of England when I was 15 and have lived in and around there ever since. I sing, play the bass guitar and produce music on computers.
What’s your earliest musical memory?
Being sat around with my family singing songs, picking out harmonies by ear. My dad played the guitar, my mum was a music graduate and I had lots of brothers and sisters. We all sang. It was great. We would do that five or six evenings a week.
Tell us about your musical training
My ‘training’ I guess started with those evening singing sessions. I had piano lessons for a few years between about 9 and 12 and I always sang in choirs in church. Then I did GCSE and A-Level music. I started playing the bass at 18 and had lessons for a year. So no super-formal training, really. Most of what I’ve learnt has been through playing and singing in choirs and bands. Or going through tutorials myself and trying to figure things out.
Was there a turning point in your life where you decided to pursue it seriously?
I was in a band all through university and for quite a few years afterwards. Although I often got asked to play bass or sing outside of that, my main focus was my band with my friends. We were going to get signed and take over the world, or at least have a really good go at it.
As we got older, ventured into the real world and continued the band alongside full-time jobs, I started to feel like working in an office wasn’t for me. I was sure that I could be making a living by playing music. I was working for a music PR company that specialised in jazz. I saw these off-the-scale musical talents for whom it was normal to be jobbing musicians. They each had one or two projects that were ‘theirs’ where they wrote the music or collaborated with friends, but the rest of the time they did session work. I knew my musicianship was not in their league, but it still expanded my idea of ‘making it’ in music beyond the narrow view of just being in a band that got signed.
Not long after I started there, I bumped into an old friend backstage at Truck Festival. He asked me if I still played bass and if I’d be up for doing some gigs. That started the ball rolling towards me quitting my PR job. And a little further down the line, I met Joe Mount from Metronomy and could really do music full time.
Is there a mentor figure in your life or someone that really inspires you?
My wife Bethan. She was working as a booking agent for jazz artists when I met her and even though she has left the industry, I am still inspired by the way she is both extremely creative and a clear-eyed pragmatist.
My older brother Niyi. He’s a producer out in the US and he really is an off-the-scale musical talent. Seeing him as he went to a career in music made the prospect seem real and attainable.
What does your practice routine look like?
Right now, with lockdown and two young kids at home, my practice has gotten pretty haphazard.
Normally, though, I would spend an hour a day on the kind of ‘nuts and bolts’ practice – playing to a metronome, improvising over random chord sequences, finger and plectrum exercises, etc. And then over the course of a month, I try and learn two or three new basslines – maybe something I heard on the radio or songs I’ve known for years with basslines I love.
Talk us through your preparation for a big show or recording session
Those are two quite different scenarios. I guess the thing they have in common is preparation. You know within yourself whether you have done enough practice, whether you know the material you will be playing well enough. So step one is to be honest with yourself about whether you have practised enough.
The recording sessions I have been involved in most commonly have also been writing sessions, so even if someone has sent me a demo beforehand, I’m still feeling out ideas with them and coming up with bass ideas on the fly.
For a show, I just do some bass warmups about half an hour before stage time and that’s about it.
You’ve played with some really big names and at some famous venues. What have been your standout professional moments?
Flying out to New Orleans to record with Solange Knowles was pretty special. I was out there for ten days with Sampha, Kwes and Adam Banbridge (Kindness).
With Metronomy, playing the Pepsi Center in Mexico City to about 10,000 people was a real high point. It was one of those nights where we all came off stage and felt we had really played well. Sometimes when you have a big show like that, even when you’ve been gigging for ages, things can be a bit nervy onstage. But that night, we felt very connected with the audience and were able to have fun on stage.
Do you have any funny backstage stories you can share with us?
Honestly, backstage at a Metronomy show, things are pretty sedate. If you walked in at the right moment, you might catch us ironing our stage outfits or doing competitions to see who can hold a plank the longest.
Have you ever made any embarrassing mistakes during a performance or recording?
All the time! The trick is not to dwell on them.
What set-up do you use on stage?
My live basses are both made by a small French company called Custom 77. I have their Lust For Life Deluxe in black and white, one with flatwound strings and the other with roundwound.
Pedal-wise, this was my setup last time out:
I mostly play without any effects, but these are good for adding flavour here and there. The furry one is a chorus pedal that a fan in Brazil very kindly made for me.
As well as being a live performer, you also do a lot of work in the studio. Can you tell us more about that?
Even before Covid, I was actually doing a lot of remote working. A lot of the tracks I play on have electronic drums, so people send me tracks without bass, we have a chat about what sound they’re after, and I send them back ideas. It’s where my experience of making music on computers comes in useful as I can record and edit bass parts myself.
Of course, though, there’s nothing more fun than being in a studio bouncing ideas around with other creative people. I absolutely love it.
WeJam is all about getting music lovers of all abilities to experience what It’s like to play in a band. What are the best bits about being in a band for you?
There really is nothing like being in a room with people making music. Whether it’s rehearsing for gigs or just getting together to play through songs for fun, it’s a very special thing.
What do you think are the biggest challenges for bands just starting out?
Cutting through all the new music we are constantly bombarded with every day. And not getting lost in social media or obsessed about follower numbers and play counts.
What tips do you have for any aspiring musicians trying to break into the industry – either as session musicians or as solo artists or bands?
Luck is where opportunity meets preparation. So at your end, be as prepared as you can be. Practice a lot. And cultivate a positive attitude in the way you deal with people. Getting work requires not just musical skill but for people to find you pleasant company. People don’t want to be stuck in a room or a tour bus with someone they think they will end up hating!
When you’re not working, what kind of music are you listening to?
I have small kids, so I listen to a lot of music from Disney films. I have no problem with that – some of the songwriting is great. It’s interesting playing things like The Beatles and Prince to my kids, or Radiohead, Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder. Some things they love immediately, other things they complain about!
I also love heavy bands like Mastodon and Oceansize. Great bass playing on their albums.
What’s next for you and where can we follow your career?
This year, Metronomy will mostly be off the road, so I’m working on my electronic vocal project Eku Fantasy. It’s a collaboration with a friend of mine in South Africa – another thing that was already happening remotely before Covid!
The best place to follow what I’m up to is on Instagram - @oluolugbenga