Covid-19 forced a lot of musicians to double down on social media during lockdown and even though the live function on Instagram barely scratched the itch when it comes to real concert for some, the internet still managed to help a lot of struggling musicians and allowed DIY artists to continue to bloom. A band that managed to smash the glass ceiling created by Covid-19 were ‘Okay, Bye’. The band unfortunately were members of the “release during lockdown club” but used the club membership as a spark of motivation to grow their popularity from their locked-down homes. Skyn8 caught up with Grace Elizabeth (Grace ) and Tom from Okay, Bye, who spoke about the beginning of the band, song writing and gaining a following during the pandemic.
- The Beginning of Okay, Bye
- Learning Guitar in your 20’s
- Writing a Song With Okay, Bye
- Bringing Out the Best in Each Other
- Creating a New Record
- Releasing Music During a Global Pandemic
- The Importance of Social Media
The Beginning of Okay, Bye
Grace: I’m a fresh baby to all of this. I met Tom in 2016 and in conversation said “Oh, I’ve always wanted to learn to play the guitar” and way too early in our dating, he bought me one, a really cheap but nice Squire guitar. I still have it but it’s been completely ‘Frankensteined’ – almost nothing original remains of it – but it’s great. She’s called bubbles. After learning without much progression, Tom agreed to be in a band with me but only as a placeholder until I found band mates on my own accord. We started a kinda’ girl band thing called “Little Brat”, which included Tom, myself and two friends. Then Little Brat kind of slowly bit-by-bit disbanded. It lasted very briefly – we played a few gigs but then it just slowly died out and our friends went on to do other things.
After that I started Okay Bye, which was originally meant to be a Bandcamp project, where I would just release a couple of acoustic demos. I used the name Okay, Bye because I didn’t want to be like a singer songwriter and go under a name Grace Elizabeth. I think I did two solo gigs but I found it really depressing. I feel like I only wrote about sad stuff because there were no drums and there was nothing else to make it spicy. After those two shows, Tom quickly joined and then we were a two piece for ages.
Tom: The two piece era was really fun because we went through the whole complex splitter, signal routing to the bass amp and two guitar amps and created the “tone henge” of guitar amps kinda’ thing.
I built this pedalboard where Grace just had one button to press and it turned on all the effects and switched on all the amps to like loud, quiet, loud, quiet. It was sick and I strongly miss it.
I’ve been playing music for 20 years but I’ve been playing largely punk music for that whole time. So I’m not that good. I’m not like a jazz drummer or anything. Two years ago, I thought, how hard can recording be and maybe have a crack at it. It turns out, it’s quite hard, but I quite like it. So I spent a bit of energy on that.
Grace: Tom likes to go hard and deep on an obsession. When other people just like to scroll, Tom is constantly learning. “Oh no, I accidentally woke up at 5am. I guess I’ll just learn about how to get this really specific bass tone”.
Tom: I like to just stick my fingers in everything, really – I built a couple of guitars as Grace alluded to, created some pedals, fixed some amps, rewrapped drum kits, and rewired speaker cabs – all of the kind of tour teching stuff.
I have a huge insecurity that, like, when you’re a drummer, you’re not a real musician, you can’t really contribute to the artistic effort . So I just make sure that I’m handy, like a “Swiss army knife” of a band member. I can drive, I never drink and I’m really good at fixing things.
Grace: Then we doubled in size when Matt and Abbie joined the band. They knew each other long before they came on-board the band as they went to college together. So they were tight and this created a very comfortable dynamic. Unfortunately, Matt had to go his separate way so, currently, it’s Abbie, Tom and I. We’re all equal members of the band. Rather than just me writing the songs and handing them out for everyone else to learn, everyone brings something to the table.
Learning Guitar in Your 20’s
Grace: My music knowledge for stuff is just non-existent. I can play the guitar enough to write songs. When Matt was in the band, anything that he brought to songwriting was great as he had so much music theory knowledge. But I still write like “this just made my brain feel busy when I sang it, so I just did it”.
Tom: It’s been amazing to witness Grace living that 14 year old kind of experience and I’ve been really careful to try not to over teach her and remove the joy from it. I just let her do things like standing on a distortion pedal for the first time, playing the wrong chords, etc. Not being overbearing with the stuff like “you can’t play a g there” and just observing is really cool.
Writing a Song With Okay, Bye
Tom: Our song writing process starts with Grace recording a basic version of a song with just an acoustic guitar and her singing, It will just be power chords and maybe even have some “La la la la la la” where there are no lyrics, just for melody sake. I say basic but those acoustic guitar demos are the hardest thing to do. Grace has always been quite a prolific supplier of demos.
Then, as a band, we may say, let’s just take the whole of that chorus, like the chords, the melody, everything and just take that and then we’ll like to change some of the verses to make the song a bit more interesting. Or, it will literally be like, so the vocal melody is good and we know what the intervals are but we’re going to change the key, we’re gonna change the arrangement and we’re gonna scrap all of the guitar. Then a cool guitar riff goes on top of it, and drums and all of a sudden we’re all super inspired. Then we are left with what I believe is a really good song, and we’re really proud of it.
Grace: I’ve recently been almost deliberately not trying with my guitar and holding back as much as possible or just literally taking, like, an unaccompanied vocal line to Abbie. I’m quite limited on the rhythm and my guitar writing generally and I don’t want to get what I’ve written in her head because when you hear something, you can never unhear it and then you can’t write anything.
Tom: Grace will sometimes try to stay out of some of the writing process. For example, Abbie and I will write some guitar and drums, and then Grace will come in with vocals and lyrics to finish the track off.
Grace was originally the only harmonic member of the band. I did some backing vocals when we were a duo but she sang and played guitar. So that meant that she had to sing and play guitar all the time or else if she didn’t, it would sound kind of weird because it would just be like just drums and vocals, or just drums and guitar.
Grace: My guitar is not that exciting, and particularly if you’re the only guitar, it’s just mostly rhythm.
Tom: Now we’re making the most of everything we have and now there are moments where Grace no longer has to play guitar unless it’s needed for a particular song.
Grace: The main point is for the sound – I think so, not that I am a role model – because we’re so small. I’m more of a role model to any woman who comes to the gig when I’m holding a guitar and playing it than when I am not. There are a couple of songs where I don’t play the guitar at all now but the fact that I can, I may as well. When I was younger, anytime I saw a girl playing a guitar, I was like “wow” and so I just want to perpetuate that.
From the beginning we were opposed to being “a female fronted band”. I want it to be a band of talented people in which there are women involved. I do think it’s cool when people are just incredible vocalists though, we supported Libra recently who are incredible. I don’t like to devalue talent like that but I just think, if I can play the guitar and if it helps us out I’m going to play guitar.
Bringing Out the Best in Each Other
Tom: We’ve been together for like, six years. We work together, we don’t really suit but it does work. The dynamic is that a lot of the time Grace is very deliberately annoying, charming and cute, but she likes to wind people up. So sometimes I will get wound up. I’ll be like, “Alright, I gotta take a break” and I’ll just leave, because I know it’s not her fault.
Grace: What makes it work is that I absolutely put loads of energy into the band. I do so much for like all of our social media and for planning gigs and tours, and not that we don’t all do that but I think that me being like “Oh, I forgot my guitar strap” or doing something annoying is because of the loads of actual serious hours of work that I also put in.
Tom: Yeah, I would say that like in this band, and in our relationship as a whole. It certainly started as Grace was the dreamer and I was the realizer. I would say when we first got together, this was less true. Grace was very much like a head in the clouds with ideas never thought through. For any single idea, she just constantly had a million amazing, super creative ideas and I was like, “well… how are you going to do that?” Over time, we’ve kind of pulled each other a little bit more towards the middle.
Grace: Now its great I don’t have the stupid ideas that aren’t viable, or I don’t try and do too many things in a timespan that is never going to allow for those things. But I still have the creative ideas, but more of them actually get done.
Tom: I’m a little bit more willing to just sort of see how things pan out than perhaps I was before. Earlier, I was, like, “we don’t have a clear, top to bottom plan, how we’re gonna get into this place, it’s not gonna work, and we shouldn’t do it”, and that’s not a very happy way to live your life. I think that basically, both of us are living our lives quite stupidly, in like, the far far ends. I think that in our relationship, and in our band, Grace is a little bit less naïve, and I’m a little bit less cynical. Having the other people in the band helps to mediate both of us because as you probably already gathered, we’re both pretty huge personalities. So it’s good to have some normal people in there.
Creating a New Record
Grace: When Matt and Abbie joined the band, we played, I think, our second gig with Abbie in the band and we met Peter Miles, who produced and recorded our album. He just kind of came up to us and offered us a chance to record with him. It meant that Abbie had only been there for like, five minutes and this is the month that we can do. It was a really reasonable price for us that we wouldn’t normally be able to afford. We’d have to take it. I had written something like 15 songs, over lockdown anyway. I hated half of them so we kind of frantically wrote as a four, like, either taking ideas that I’d started with, and then completely changing them. It was very manic. We wrote like a full album in three months, there were a few songs that were solid already. There were a few that already started, but most of it was just like, smashed out. But now we’ve got no real pressure. So the album’s recorded, and we’re just trying to write and record what we want to record with no deadline and no pressure.
Releasing Music During a Global Pandemic
Grace: It was great to have something to feel positive about during the lockdown but it was also very depressing to release music during the pandemic. We basically sat on the release for such a long time anyway. The label that we released it with are based in Germany. We met them during our tour. We were going to do a joint headline show with another band from the label because we were going to release a record together. We were to release it in March 2020 and then March happened and it was a global pandemic.
The pandemic started quite soon after our first tour in Europe. We were so happy after that tour, we were like that was so good, let’s literally just go again straight away. Tom had a load of adapter EU plugs for our amps and stuff. He was like put them in our cupboard by the door and was like “I’m not going to put them away properly, we’re literally gonna go again in like a few months….”
Grace: We got so many pre-orders, so many more than we ever imagined. I think that just releasing music during lockdown was our only motivation to do other stuff for the band like writing more songs and pushing our social media.
The Importance of Social Media
Tom: I felt we have a new record coming out but we only have 230 followers on Instagram and no ones going to care when the record is out because no one is going to know about it. You will normally gain new followers from playing gigs, meeting people, which wasn’t going to happen during Covid. So Grace just started smashing the social media so that we are there when the time comes in two years, or whenever people listen to our next record. I don’t know if you’ve seen our social media, but she has absolutely smashed it consistently since that day.
Now that we are like out in the real world giggin, it’s a lot validating to feel like a real band.
Building a social media presence without playing gigs, no new music, and no touring…it’s an awful lot like pictures of your face and videos of me doing kickflips. We generated some interest and got some momentum and now we’re actually doing something with that, which makes us seem a little bit less like lifestyle influences and a little bit more like a band. We get like, probably 3/4 of our gigs through Instagram, so it’s worth it.
Grace: I think I posted every day for more than a year, like, I mean, obviously not without fail, but I had nothing else on, locked inside working an office job. One of the things we did during lockdown is, Tom relearned to skate after like 10 years. And so it was a lot of content for us. We’d like to make skate compilations or skate edits to our music. I’m an illustrator, I do all of our merch so I just did loads of illustrator stuff, it was just a nice creative project. To be honest, I enjoyed it.
We also released the record and made loads of connections with a lot of live stream shows online. Girl Fest was one of them where we met different women in music from across the world. So we still had experiences with bands that are at a much higher level than us. So when we started gigging, we were now playing with bands like Proper, Weekend Friends and Dream Nails. What we did during lockdown still built us up as a band even if it wasn’t with the regular circumstances. If I had just been lying in the bed throughout the whole pandemic, and forgot and abandoned everything, we’d have come out as a band that still had 200 followers and who played five gigs.
Tom: Grace put in a buttload of work, and all I did for the pandemic was learn to be a recording engineer.
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