‘If there’s something that’s hurting you or causing you pain, or you feel alone, we’re here to tell you that you’re not alone and you don’t have to feel trapped. We want to see the young people we come into contact with empowered and free, ultimately’OTC
This week we had the pleasure of chatting to Gina Atkins and Aidan Herbaut of three-piece Afro-pop/rap band, OTC. Based in Manchester, the band are a musical export of The Message Trust and have spent the last year and a half performing together around the UK while delivering outreach work to young people from all walks of life. Fusing their Christian faith with catchy tunes and powerful lyrics, the band aim to bring a message of hope and life to a hurting world and to empower and embolden fans.
Together we chatted about the genesis of OTC, the message behind their latest single, and the importance of reaching out:
Thanks so much for chatting to us at AM and congrats on the release of your latest single Reaching Out – it’s such a bop! Can you tell us a bit about the writing process and the inspiration behind it?
Aidan: I love to browse beats on YouTube; I found a good Afrobeat and we wrote a track to it, sent it to the producer and he rebuilt a whole track around it. During the writing process, we usually pray beforehand and ask God what topic he wants us to write about. We try and figure out what’s in our hearts, and then we just write that down. I think we just said to ourselves there’s so many people that have this misconception that Christianity is about us trying to reach up to God, as opposed to God reaching out to us …. so, we wanted to do a concept about that.
Gina: For each of us as individuals, we’ve all got specific points in our life that we can kind of point out when we really felt like there was a God reaching out for us. For me growing up, I always really struggled with my self image, my self worth, and that led me down all sorts of different paths, and I really struggled with my mental health because of that. But in what should have been the darkest, loneliest times, I still believe there was a God at that time reaching out.
I think it’s a really poignant track for right now also, as we’ve spoken so much at AM about music’s ability to connect us even in the darkest of times.
Aidan: Yeah, I think it’s been really good timing! We were writing it with schools in mind and empowering young kids, encouraging them to reach out, and it ended up becoming something that everyone’s been struggling with right now.
Gina: We had no idea we were gonna be in lockdown and then this track became an anthem for a lot of the young people that follow us. We launched the Reaching Out Challenge which encouraged all of our younger followers to reach out to each other, text a friend, call a friend, send something cute in the post, all of that stuff, and then that kind of took off and it was such an honour and a privilege to get to do that in such a time like this when everyone is feeling isolated and lonely.
It sounds like you’ve had an overwhelmingly positive reaction to the track then?
Aidan: Yeah, I’ve had some really interesting messages from people and how it’s helped them!
Gina: We did a release party, so to speak, on our Instagram Live. We’ve managed to gather a really amazing group of young people now that are always thoroughly behind everything we do, they’re absolute legends. We don’t just write the music for us; we want to know what our music means to the people that hear it. So we went live on our Instagram and asked some of the young people ‘what does the track mean to you?’ and some of the stuff that the kids were coming out with, whether that’s how them and their friends have rallied together or how they feel God’s been there for them, it was amazing!
You guys have such an exciting sound too, it’s really unique. Tell us about how your different influences merge together and who brings what to the group.
Gina : I grew up listening to Queen, Billy Joel, Michael Jackson; I’m an 80’s kid at heart. I love legacy acts, like Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga – those people who will stand the test of time. I don’t know as many upcoming artists in the rap game, but that’s where Aidan and James come in and send me playlists and keep me up to date. It’s really cool and as a pop vocalist, I’m learning so much! It’s something different and it makes us stand out. Our backgrounds are so different and that’s beautiful as well. And even in terms of developing a friendship, we’re all so different but there’s so much to learn about each other and that ultimately just brings us together. If it wasn’t for The Message, I would never have met Aidan or James.
Aidan: I myself like Afrobeat music and Nigerian influenced music, and drill as well.
Tell us about the genesis of OTC; how did you guys end up in a band together?
Aidan: It was an audition process; we didn’t actually meet each other until we were already a band! We had to just roll with it. I had done something called The Message Academy, which is a ten-month evangelism course. You have a lot of teachings and then you go out and do missions in schools and prisons. I auditioned for the part and then moved to Manchester, where I met Gina and James!
Gina: I would love to know what was going round the boys’ heads when we first met!
What does OTC stand for?
Aidan: I love that question! It stands for Outta The Cage. We like to say it isn’t just the three of us but actually it is everybody: it’s the people, it’s the fans. We stand for freedom; we believe that when we came to know God, we stepped outside of that cage. I felt that in the life I was living beforehand, that I was trapped in this place where I had everything that I had wanted, but I didn’t have that freedom. I was almost like a slave to drugs, to money, and until I stepped outside of that I didn’t really know true freedom.
Gina: If we are gigging, or even down to the YouTube content that we make, we believe that being free from the stuff that we were enslaved by before, it’s not just something for us – we want to give that as an option to any young person we come into contact with. If there’s something that’s hurting you or causing you pain, or you feel alone, we’re here to tell you that you’re not alone and you don’t have to feel trapped. We want to see the young people we come into contact with empowered and free, ultimately.
What is a week in the life of a Message Trust missions band like, in normal times at least!
Gina: Tour, tour, tour! We had a massive tour planned for 2020, with something mad like 22 different shows in a year, travelling all around the British Isles.
Aidan: It does depend on the season. We have seasons of lesson planning, lesson writing, song writing, going into schools and performing. There’s a lot of spontaneity and I love that about The Message because it teaches you to always be ready. They keep us on our toes!
Do you have any highlights from your journey with the band so far?
Gina: The first ever gig we did at the 02 Academy in Manchester was incredible! But the real highlight for me was a gig we did in North Wales; there were 1400 young people we’d seen in schools the week prior, and they all came to this gig. We have a track called I Win and the main line in it is “every battle I face in Jesus’ name guess what?” and there’s a big call out to the audience where they’re all meant to scream “I Win” but this is only our second gig so I’m like this is never gonna happen, there’s gonna be dead silence, but this whole crowd of young people shouted back ‘I Win’! So that was really cool.
Aidan: I think mine’s the same as Gina; North Wales was a crazy experience. We preach the gospel after the gig and we gave them the opportunity to listen to what we believe in and respond to it if they want to, and 700 young people wanted to see what it’s about. A lot of these kids, you don’t know their past or history, some of them are very broken or have had a rough life. They want to be able to see a change and help themselves. and I love seeing that.
A lot of the social change you’re able to enact as a group is contingent upon face-to-face conversations, often in total privacy and in the gaps of time between assembly and gig. Lockdown has made that impossible and the entire music industry has shifted online, which was the motive behind the inception of Apocalypse Music. With that in mind, how have you been able to navigate this new landscape as a band and as part of The Message, and how have you found working, collaborating and creating in these new circumstances?
Aidan: In terms of reaching out to people and talking personally, we’re still developing ideas for that. A lot of the time our interaction comes through our socials and DMs on Instagram, and also Genetic Sessions which is a creative youth group that The Message run where we teach rap, song writing, guitar and whatnot, so that’s been a big tool. If anything, we’re able to reach into a few more different places. We’ve been able to film resources for schools and they’ve sent those out to more schools than we’ve been able to see normally.
What’s next for OTC?
Aidan: We have another track coming out next month; March 12th! And we have another track coming out a month after that. We’re currently working on some more stuff, a couple of drill tracks which have pushed Gina out of her comfort zone a little bit!
Gina: Bring it on! On one of the tracks coming out, I’ve attempted to write a verse over a drill beat, which is really fun. Our first ever OTC music video is coming out too which is crazy. Stay tuned!
To find out more about OTC and all the wonderful work they do within communities across the UK, you can visit the following links:
You can also stream their latest single, Reaching Out, here:
Words by Pia Rose Scattergood
Photo © OTC