What’s the difference between happy hardcore and gabber? Trance and minimal? Liquid and breakcore? Breakbeat and 2-step? To some, it’s their entire identities, while others have no fucking idea what any of that means. It’s probably for the better because before Youtube algorithms, before streaming and payola playlists began to flatten musical tastes, there was a time, especially in the various electronic dance music sub-genres, especially in the U.K., where people really cared about genre. Sometimes a little too much.
That’s where brothers Tom and Ed Russell found themselves after moving to London from their small Welsh town of Monmouth. Both found successful careers as solo dance music producers, Tom with dubby techno under the moniker Truss [not to be confused with current U.K. Prime Minister Liz Truss], and Ed with house-y dubstep as Tessela in the late 2000’s and the 2010’s, but both were beginning to feel hemmed in by the limitations imposed on them by their respective scenes, where genre lines between electronic music sub-genres could be closely survelled and police by audiences. So they took of to a cottage in their native Wales and started working for the first time together as Overmono.
Without being beholden to any particular sub-genre, Overmono’s music runs right through the middle of all that genre preciousness, grabbing at the minimal, piercing, drums of techno, burbling acid bass lines, the atmospherics of dubstep, the ambience and tension of drum and bass, and the melodic sensibilities of garage music to create a sound reminiscent of their formative years in cosmopolitan London – but also free roaming and explorative like their childhood in Monmouth. Since 2016, the Russell’s have been putting out EPs on XL Recordings, steadily becoming one of the biggest electronic dance music acts in the U.K., and now they’ve got their sites on North America and their first ever U.S. tour. Before a series of shows in Vancouver, San Francisco, L.A., D.C., Chicago, Miami and N.Y.C. I talked to Ed and Tom from their homes in Bristol, and Devon about growing up in Monmouth, falling in love with obnoxious dance music, and making your parents proud.
Where are y’all now?
Ed: I’m at my home in Bristol.
Tom: I’m at home in Devon.
Forgive me for this, but I thought you would have both shared an apartment or something.
Ed: Up until really recently we used to live like five minutes away from each other, but then during lockdown we were both just like… we both used to live in London but we were both just like, oh, let’s get out of the city and get a bit more space and just move someone that we could get back to and it’d be a bit more peaceful and quiet.
Tom: It was a total change of environment. We both lived in London for quite a long time, and it was just really nice to switch it up. I think when you do something like that it has a really good effect creatively. We had a really good run in London. We had a really nice studio together, and we made some really brilliant music, but things happened and it felt like the right time to move.
Ed: And we’ve made so much more music since moving out of London. I think because we’ve got two studios now, so we can go to each other’s studio now, and it feels like such a fresh environment.
Tom: And our studios are very similar. We have different bits of outboard gear, but the way that it’s all routed and configured, and all of our software is the same, we can send projects back and forth pretty seamlessly. So we’re constantly both writing, so we’re kind of making twice as much music these days, and we’re not spending unhealthy amounts of time around each other. [Laughs] Like Ed said, at one point we saw each other more than our partners.
Ed: Way more, way, way, more. Like we’re brothers, it’s fine obviously, but still, you’re like, okay, we should probably sort this out so we can see our partners more.
Has the sound of your music changed since you moved out of London?
Tom: I mean it’s always changing, we’re on a constant path of evolution I guess. We never want to write the same thing over and over again. It wouldn’t matter where we were.
Ed: I think we have a lot of that London mentality, I guess from living in London for so long it kind of seeps into you. There’s a sense of that kind of continual movement and grind of a city like that, that really does seep into your music making. The feeling of like always being in a bit of a sense of flux. London changes so quickly. Like whatever street you live on changes just month by month, and I think that’s something that both of us still feel. Like Tom was saying, we both love music, and we’re always trying to still push it forward, not trying to like cover the same ground we’ve done before, I think that’s probably a hangover from living in London.
Do your influences come from externally or internally? Are you influenced by the music in London or Bristol or Devon?
Ed: Inspiration from us rarely comes from music, or not at least directly from music. If I could sum up where the inspiration comes from, then I would have a much easier life, I think, because you’d never run out of it. It’s always been hard for us to sum up what it is that inspired a certain track. Sometimes there will be a specific reason, like we want something to play in a club or we want a certain track for a mix, and instead of spending five days hunting down something, we’ll just write something instead. That’s about as direct as it gets. It’s very rare that we’ll hear something and think, oh yeah, maybe we can do something like that. Because we’re writing a lot… you listen to less music when you write. I’m always jealous of people that have jobs where you can listen to music all day, like if you’re doing something on the computer all day you can listen to tunes.
Tom: Neither of us DJ very much any more individually. We used to, but we don’t really do individual stuff anymore, it’s all Overmono playing live, so we don’t really have to hunt for music to DJ, and so we probably listen to music less these days, but I kind of like that. I kind of like existing in our bubble and writing music. I’m always up for hearing new music, it’s not like I shut away from music, but I do like, especially switching off from stuff that’s similar to what we do. When I do listen to music, I like to listen to stuff that’s quite far removed.
You talked about the writing process, I don’t think people think of dance or electronic music as something that’s written, people just think of it as something that’s done. Can you talk about what your writing process is?
Tom: Frustration. [Laughs]
Ed: We definitely don’t have like a set way of working, at all. It’s not like ‘I’m going to start the tune with a beat, or a melody’ or whatever. It’s always different every time. We never kind of reuse the same projects or anything like that. For us the writing process is often quite chaotic and intense. When we’re in the studio together it’s like the time will just suddenly disappear, and you realize you’ve just been in this thing. It’s that thing of you just wanting to like shut the curtains so you can’t see out what’s going on around you so you create this kind of insular bubble, and when you find the thing that you’re into and the tracks are starting to reveal themselves, that’s when you get into that headspace, and time just kind of goes out the window and we get really into it. That’s happened so many times with us, but I couldn’t really tell you what thing it was that got us to that point of a tune coming together like that, it’s never like “we make our drums with this drum machine and that’s what we start with.” It’s always really different.
Tom: I think because we’ve been doing it for quite a long time now, we both have quite different methods, but in what we’re trying to achieve, we both have a very similar goal, but we have quite different ways of getting there, and between the two of us it tends to be a real mixture of stuff that we fall back on, like techniques or different experiments that we think might produce the results that we’re after. It can be quite chaotic, but ultimately, I don’t know, kind of controlled chaos. It’s not like we’re aimlessly playing around in the studio, sometimes it happens, but most of the times we kind of know what we’re after and we kind of know how to get there, but along the way we’re just sort of freewheeling and having fun and picking up along the way happy accidents I guess, but realizing what we like, so when we hear it we’re like “oh yeah, there it is. That’s it.” That’s taken a long time, me personally anyways, to pick up on that.
Like being really confident after hearing something and being like “yeah, that’s it,” and like, cutting out all the shit basically, and just honing in on an idea and being able to pin it down. For so long we’d come up with a good idea in the studio and it would be like “don’t fuck it up, don’t fuck it up, don’t fuck it up. I’ve got a good idea here” and you’d feel it kind of slipping through your fingers. It’s a horrible feeling. Not to say it doesn’t happen anymore, but it happens far less I think. We can see it through to the finish. We always try and do things with as few elements as possible, not for it to sound minimal, it can still sound big and full, but we always try to do it with as few things as possible. Very rarely will we have layers and layers of hi-hats and delays and all this shit. We try to boil it down to like “right, what’s the strongest… what are we trying to say with this piece of music?” And then when you figure that out you can remove all of that which isn’t needed. We’ll be writing tunes and then it’s like “oh hang on a minute. Let’s just mute these 15 channels. Just get rid of all of that.” And then suddenly it’s like “there it is.” The idea is there, we just clouded it with other stuff. We’re always really drawn to music that feels effortless. I don’t want to hear someone that’s just spent three days doing like one tiny element of a tune. I want it to sound like they had this idea…
Ed: And it came out… almost like you’re just the vessel for getting the tune out, and that’s always the best sounding music to our ears. It sounds like it’s been made in one session kind of late night in a dark studio somewhere. It probably hasn’t. It’s probably taken them three months to get it like that [Laughs].
So is the writing process like you both come in with a piece of paper and say “this is what’s going to happen,” or are you both getting in the studio and turning on all the machines and jamming until something comes up?
Ed: Sometimes it is like one of us will have a very defined idea for something, and we’ve done drawings and stuff in the past for tunes, and not like, “here’s a beautiful picture of a mountain let’s make a beat,” but it’s just like lines and squiggles that represent different things that you can look at it as say “I can understand what that’s supposed to sound like.” We’re not the sort of people that go into the studio and turn on the gear and start noodling and jamming. I know a lot of people go into the studio and jam and then the idea sort of presents itself, but as undefined as our process is, there’s always a sense of hyperfocus energy when we’re in the studio. We’ve both got a definient goal to achieve, but we’re coming at it from different angles. Which is why when we come together things come about more quickly.
How did you both hear dance music? Because, as I understand it, you both are from a pretty small town in Wales.
Ed: I got my music through Tom, through stealing his records and hearing music playing through the walls of our dad’s house when we were growing up, and just hearing the rhythms of things, because you couldn’t hear much else. I remember I could always hear Tom doing weights upstairs and the tunes were always super loud and I would just sort of loiter around and have a listen to see what was there.I bought some turntables when I was really young…
Tom: He was one of the youngest people I’ve ever known to have decks. You were only 10 or something like that.
Ed: Yeah. I was really young. I didn’t have any money to buy any records, God knows how long I saved up to buy my turntables selling anything that I could, so I just stole them from Tom’s room and then just started messing around with effects on the mixer, you know, slowing them down or playing them at the wrong speed. All that stuff, and that just blew my mind.
Tom: I got in through tapes that were recordings of recordings of recordings of recordings. It sounded awful, but it was exciting because it was really underground, it wasn’t something you could buy in the shops. It was really alien to us. There was no point of reference for us. We got these tapes that were marked like “DJ Easygroove live at Fantazia” or “DJ Druid: Obsession,” or something like that, and you could hear the crowd, the whistles, just the sort of acoustics of the room. It just blew my mind. Two tapes in particular by Tanith, that was the first time I heard really hard techno. Before that I heard loads of old UK hardcore and jungle and stuff like that, which I really liked, but when I heard this distorted kick drum going “dang dang dang, do-do, dang dang dang,” it was like the most obnoxious thing I ever heard, and I was like “yeah, I love this.”
It just spoke to me. We just collected as many tapes as we could. We weren’t really snobbish about what genre the music was, it was all dance music to us, or electronic music, or rave music. It was just something me and my mates were into, but we didn’t have any ideas about where the music was from or how it was made, anything really about it because we didn’t have access to the internet or anything. There weren’t any record shops around. There were some shops that maybe sold DJ Mag or Mixmag, maybe, I can’t really remember if they were out at that point, but they were generally covering mainstream. There were very few places for us to learn about it, which made it kind of more magical, more mysterious. For us it felt like our own secret. It was a really exciting time to be a teenager, finding this sort of super underground genre music. You feel like you’ve discovered this world that’s like a secret.
Ed: I think it’s easier to be unbiased when you live somewhere quite remote, and there isn’t quite a scene, besides a small free party scene or whatever, there’s no pressure or anything to be like “well I like 2-step, so I can’t like this other thing,” or whatever, but when you have no fucking idea what’s going on you can be like “oh cool, I’m into this, I’m into that,” and that’s a big thing about living in a rural or remote place where there isn’t a lot going on. It gives you that confidence to be like, “oh, I like that because I like the sound of that.”
Tom: You can like trance, you can like gabber, and it was all fine. None of us would be “oh you shouldn’t listen to that, you should listen to this,” and I loved that. Looking back, that was quite special, because when we got older we realized there’s these scenes that look down on each other and blah blah blah. I never really liked that. Like if you played a certain track in a certain club they wouldn’t like it. I think what Ed and I do now, we really try to embrace that mentality we had growing up, that freedom we had when we were first discovering this music. We try to inject that in and not be scared to try different things
How did y’all get from just liking and listening to the music to making it?
Tom: I think it was just like a logical progression because, for me, I started listening to music, and after awhile I got introduced to turntables and vinyl and learning that this music was made by DJs, so I wanted to learn how this music was getting made and that lead me to get into production, and I sort of encouraged Ed to get into as well. He was already finding his way. I think on his 14 or 15th birthday I bought him a copy of Reason, the production software and then there was just no stopping him.
Ed: I was obsessed, instantly. At that time I was listening to loads of Aphex [Twin], but I was also listening to like Dillinga records and Photek, and a bunch of other stuff, and I was just like “how the fuck do these guys make this kind of stuff?” And I just started trying to figure it out. I thought at the time that I was making some good tunes, but they were probably terrible…
Tom: They were decent!
Ed: [Laughs] But my mind was blown suddenly hearing breakbeats and stuff. I was like “hey, I can chop this like that, or speed this up,” or all this stuff. I was in a band before Tom bought me a copy of Reason, but then I was like “hang on a minute, I don’t need to be in a band. I can do this by myself.” After a week with Reason I sat the guys down in the band and was just like “lads, I’m sorry. I’m going solo.”
Did y’all feel pressure to move to London to advance your music careers?
Ed: I don’t think we ever considered having music careers. It was just all about making tunes and then the music career thing just sort of happened.
Tom: Yeah, it was definitely never a conscious decision. I’ve always liked music and I wanted to be a part of music somehow, someway, but never sort of thought that I would be a techno DJ. It was something I wanted as a teenager, it was a dream to make music, but I never thought that’s what I was going to do. We just both got seriously lucky through a series of events.
When you both moved into that professional music world, did you ever feel pressure to pick a scene to be in?
Ed: No, I think we often felt like when you’re on the outside and looking in I think you almost don’t want to be a part of the scene. Maybe a little part of you does, because then it might feel easier, but we used to think about it like, if you’re familiar with something, it’s hard to think about it in different ways. If you’re right in the middle of a scene, and you’re like so aware of the parameters and the mentality and ethos behind that scene. You want to contribute to that scene, and you want everybody in it to like you, and I think that can stifle what you want to do creatively, but on the outside looking in, it’s so much easier to almost accidentally do something different within those scenes because you don’t really know what the rules are.
I think we were both aware of that. I remember being aware of that quite early on and being like I quite like that. I was making dubstep and I was like “these don’t sound like a Coki record or a Mala record or whatever,” and I was quite pleased with that. They always sounded a bit weird, a bit different, maybe it was just that I was using percussion in a bit of a different way because I didn’t realize that it wasn’t supposed to be like that, or I didn’t realize that you could turn on “swing” on a hi-hat [in music production software], and [you didn’t have to] move everything around until it sort of sounded as you thought it should. It ended up sounding a little weird and clunky, but that’s got its own sound. When you listen to old Jonny L records, the groove on his drums is so weird, like it sounds wrong, but because of that it’s such a defined sound. It sounds wicked. I think we just both really appreciated being on the outside, and we never wanted to be like “let us in.” I don’t know, maybe that’s just me being bitter. [Laughs].
The whole subgenre segregated dance music scene in the U.K. is hard for me, and I think a lot of Americans, to understand. In the U.K. though there seems to be a much wider fanbase and circuit for DJs for dance music than there is in the U.S. Y’all are going on your first U.S. tour soon. Are you thinking of the U.S. dates any differently than ones in the U.K. or Europe?
Tom: It is our first headlining tour [In the U.S.], but we’re approaching it like our gigs here I guess.
Ed: I’m really looking forward to it. I think like a few years ago I would have felt more uncertain, or not known what to expect, but even though I don’t know that much of what to expect now, I know that because it’s a headlining tour, I know that everyone there is going to be into the music. I feel like the show has developed so much in the last few years, but especially over this summer because we’ve been touring so much. I don’t feel like we’re relying so much on an understanding of a scene or a culture or whatever.
I feel like what we’re doing, the live show especially, is just like a big presentation of whatever it is that we’re about. All the artwork and everything is all massively expanded, visuals and everything. I feel like if you’re into us, and obviously you are if you’re buying tickets, it’s going to be good, whereas before, yeah, just DJing, you are at those shows where you’re at a bar in Denver on a Wednesday night or whatever and you’re just like “I’m just going to do my thing. I don’t know what the vibe is here.” I’m actually really relaxed about this tour. I can’t wait to do it.
How is your live show different from your recordings and your DJ sets?
Ed: I think it’s just, for us it’s much more rewarding because it’s obviously all of our own music, we have much more freedom within the show to make tunes that we’ve now heard so many times to like do whatever, play different things with them. It’s really different than DJing man. We both really enjoy DJing still, but it is a very different thing. It’s much more considered. The live show is more considered, but at the same time it’s much more chaotic and haphazard. There’s just a very different energy to the live show.
And you guys bring a lot of gear out on stage right? It’s not just a laptop and a controller?
Ed: No, no, it’s quite a lot of gear. As much gear as we can currently tour with. It can always be more, but we have a decent set up now. We can do everything we want to do now. Everything else would just be a luxury to have, but we have a lot of synths and drum machines and those sorts of things.
Why bring all that gear and not just have the laptop and the controller?
Ed: Well I don’t know what’d you do if you just have a controller and a computer.
Just press play and hangout [laughs].
Ed: Exactly. Those EDM guys are so good at that.
It’s not just the EDM guys though.
Ed: Yeah, maybe. It’s got to feel exciting for us though. I don’t want to stand there for an hour and a half or whatever and just bobbing my head around. For us a big part of performance is trying to not fuck it up. Trying to get things to sound right and come in properly, do good drum chops, all these sorts of things. For me when I go and see something, I want to feel like I can sense that they’re doing stuff, not like they’re doing playback or whatever, which I guess is the easy option. I don’t know anyone who actually does that though.
So you guys are performing? Improving with the tracks and adding effects and stuff like that?
Ed: Yeah. It’s kind of all based around music we’ve released, there’s some unreleased bits in there, with space for us to improvise over.
Is that something you guys did separately when you were both working as solo artists, or is this something that came out of the group?
Ed: The approach to the live show is something we’ve developed over seven years.
Tom: Before we started Overmono, we were doing a very much live improvised techno thing for like two or three years, which was just fucking chaos. We were just taking way too much equipment with us in these massive Peli[can] cases, spending about three hours setting everything up every time and an hour to pack down. We didn’t really have much of an idea of what we were doing. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. It was fun, but we kind of fell into that. We got a booking from a promoter in Limerick in Ireland who wanted us to do a live gig. We didn’t really have a live show at the time but we thought it would be fun.
Ed: Yeah, we’re like, we have a whole studio of gear, let’s just put it in a few boxes and take it to this gig, and yeah, we just did that for a few years. It was pretty DIY, but we learned a lot doing that. When we then started writing music together, we would just re-do basically the entire show every performance, new tracklist, almost entirely new equipment, and almost like an entirely new way of actually performing, and we would just do that over and over and over until we’d go one of three or four shows and we hadn’t really changed anything that much, then the changes that would come slowly would just be more and more, but incremental, to the point where now, “okay, we’ve done like 45 shows or something and not changed it, changed the set up or anything.” Now it just feels confident. We’re just really into the gear we got.
And that’s a part of the whole Overmono thing right, the live show?
Ed: Yeah, the live show is a big part of the project, I think. It’s a big part of our writing process as well. We used the live show a lot to figure out tracks and to get them sounding how we want. Certain tracks have come as a result from things we’ve done at the live show. Some things stay in the live show and never make it out.
Can you explain the band’s name?
Ed: It’s where we grew up. A little area of the town where we grew up.
It’s a neighborhood?
Tom: Yeah, the River Monnow runs through it.
Ed: I remember sitting on a bench having coffee, and we had just signed to XL [Recordings] and we didn’t have a name for the project, because we hadn’t really planned to start a project, we’d just written a lot of music together over one week in a cottage somewhere and we were like “oh shit, there’s a real like defined sound.” Shortly after we signed to XL [Recordings] and we didn’t have a name for the project, so we sat on that bench and I think Tom was just like, “Overmono.” I think you had a club night for a little bit called Overmono, didn’t you? Or maybe I did [Laughs].
Tom: You did. I had a tune called “Overmono.”
Ed: That’s right. You had a tune, I had a club night. I maybe did three events called “Overmono.” But I swear, right as he said that a bloke in a XL Recordings t-shirt walked straight past us, and I was like “man, that’s it. it’s a sign.”
Tom: It’s nice to have something that ties back to something that has personal meaning to it.
I’ve read the story about how you both got together in a rural cottage that you mentioned before in other interviews, but why did you start making music together if you both had these two seperate careers before?
Tom: We were both feeling pretty hemmed with our respective careers. Like I was doing this harder techno thing and Ed was doing this post-dubstep bass thing. Ed became pretty well known for using breakbeats in his music. I became pretty well known for just using distorted kick drums, and I found that if I didn’t exist within these narrow permaters, If I released music that was outside of those, it was just flip off into the either and no one would really care, and it’s like “alright, my fan base just wants this particular thing for me,” which I love doing but it’s not the only thing I want to do. I think Ed was feeling a similar thing with breakbeats and whatnot.
Fans want a very particular thing from you, and that’s fine, but you don’t want to be doing the same thing over and over again. We wanted to try new stuff moving forward, and I think we both figured that out at the same time. I think it was quite a definitive moment when we went to see Surgeon perform and do a very out there, experimental, thing with visuals, that was at the South Bank Center in London and we came away from that feeling super cleansed. It was like suddenly like “oh right, we should just write some music together, hire a cottage, pack the car with loads of gear and just go write some music, without any limitations and just write whatever the fuck we want.” We weren’t really thinking we were going to release or do anything with it, but just to have a laugh and write some music and see what happens, and that was massively liberating. We were like “why didn’t we think about doing this years ago?”
Ed: Yeah! Up to that point I think the only time we would really make music together was at Christmas or whatever when we would be at our mom’s place and just be like, “let’s dick around on a tune for a little bit or have a competition to see who can make the best tune in half an hour.” But when we got there [to the cabin], and we set up all the gear, like the music just literally poured out and didn’t stop for the four days we were there, and we were just like “oh man, this feels so natural.” You’d [Tom] done some collaborations, but not much, and like I’d always found it quite difficult to collaborate…
Tom: I’ve always found it quite difficult to collaborate with you.
Ed: Oh yeah, true [laughs]. I feel like I can be my true megalomaniac self when I’m working with you. But yeah, it’s just so much easier.
Was picking the name for the group, the neighborhood in the town you grew up in and listened to all of those dance music genres freely, a way to get back to that after feeling hemmed in by the subgenres you found yourselves hemmed in by?
Tom: Oh yeah.
Ed: Yeah, it’s all connected.
I’m doing the meme with all the math problems in my head.
Ed: You cracked it [laughs].
So why are you guys so popular?
Ed: Fuck knows man [laughs]. [laughs].
Tom: I have no idea. It’s nice that you think that though. I don’t know. We don’t really think about it. We’re just lucky to be working on this project and making our parents proud.
That’s all you can ever hope for. So what about this debut album that I hear is coming out?
Ed: We’ve been working on it for a while. We’re still working on it. We’re just putting everything into it. We don’t know when it will be ready yet. We’ve written so much music for it. It’ll be ready when it’s ready. We’re getting close. It’s been like an intense writing period for it, but it’s been nice as well. We never want to feel hemmed in again, and I think all our EPs that we’ve done recently, they’re all quite broad and often I think maybe hinting towards longer form things. When I was doing my solo stuff I never wanted to write an album. I was just like “I never want to listen to an album of these fucking tunes. I like making these tunes for 12 inch records, but I never want to make a record of this.”
But now I’m the opposite of that. I’m writing an album that we’d like to, hopefully, listen to down the line. It feels way more natural now. The album is… I don’t know… it’s the logical progression. It’s taken a long time for us to get around to writing it. We’ve been doing this project for a few years now. A lot of people come out with their albums, but we released EPs first. We kept being like “oh yeah, I guess we’ll start the album next year,” and we’d get to next year and be like “no, I think these are for the next EP.” It was just one of those things where it’s like “now’s the right time.” [laughs].
Tom: I think we wanted to keep building our own kind of world. We released the first three records, which were kind of like the blueprint to our sound I guess. It hasn’t been till relatively recently that I think we both thought that we’ve shown our sonic world that’s quite our thing, and I think once we did that, I think we now have a license to go for an album.
And it’s now just a compilation of tracks, it’s like a cohesive thing?
Ed: Yeah… I hope it’s going to be.
Tom: It’s a proper body of work.
Ed: We’re definitely writing it as an album.
So we can expect like a 25 minute “Inner City Life” like track with strings and everything?