Ocean Grove On Embracing Experimentation And Pushing The Boundaries Of Heavy Music

Melbourne’s Ocean Grove have always been a band that push the envelope in what is expected from heavy music to create a euphoric wave of sound unlike anything else in Australia and across the globe. With each release since their formation in 2010, they’ve showcased inventiveness and individuality.

Debut album The Rhapsody Tapes is a celebration of the alien lifestyle. A collection of songs that encourage you to take risks and celebrate not being within the norm. With the sinister guitar tones of Korn, the funky bass groves of Daft Punk and the vocal brutality of NWA, Ocean Gove have solidified themselves as a new breed of musical roles models in creativity.

While on tour with The Amity Affliction and Hellions, Ocean Grove frontman Luke Holmes caught up with Music Feeds to discuss how the band have grown, the trials and tribulations of self-producing an album and living outside the status quo.

Ocean Grove – Intimate Alien

Music Feeds: You boys recently came back from an absolutely mammoth set at Unify a few weeks ago and you also had played a year before. Seeing the difference between the Ocean Grove in 2016 to the one we saw this year was incredible. I was just wondering how you all feel you’ve grown as a band since last year?

Luke Holmes: It was definitely a different experience. During that first year we played it, we really didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into. I mean I’d been the year before as a punter to go and check it out and it was amazing to play the 2016 Unify and in 2017, the festival stepped it up again and the crowd was bigger. We came with that preparation of knowing what we expected of ourselves and what we can expect from the festival. We just basically had time to prepare ourselves and prepare our set and treat this festival like a one-off performance and we knew we only had half an hour on stage so we went on there and made every second count.

I guess another huge factor is that since last year, we’ve been doing big tours. We did a tour in-between those two festivals sets with Northlane and In Hearts Wake where we were playing in these huge venues like Festival Hall, the Big Top in Sydney and all these other places that you dream of playing in. Having that exposure of playing to a massive crowd of thousands of faces each night just kind of gave us the preparation we needed. We also learnt to not overthink things and to not be overwrought by an audience and just see it as an opportunity to create new connections with fans and make new fans. So we just took it in our stride and even though it’s only been two years we kind of feel like Unify veterans now [laughs].

It’s an amazing one-of-a-kind boutique festival and I can’t wait to see where it goes from here. I think it’s a very important tool in the arsenal of the heavy music scene in Australia and across the world as well.

MF: I got the chance to speak with James from Violent Soho at Unify who hadn’t listened to you guys before your set and he said that out of all the bands playing the festival, Ocean Grove were one of the most exciting acts that have the potential of being absolutely huge. It must be cool meeting all these new faces and kind of creating fresh relationships with bands you might not have had the chance to do so before.

LH: Yeah it is a really great opportunity to go out and meet new people. But you honestly feel like you’re going to some kind of reunion with these things because we’ve toured and are really good mates with the local type bands that were on the bill, we’ve hung out with them and have kind of come up in the scene along with them. Even the headliners, man, I got to go and sing a song on stage with Northlane which was amazing. It’s this very comfortable environment and you also meet new people that are very like-minded and they’re in the same situation as you when it comes to touring but they’ve also got their own interesting characteristics and interests in the world, so it’s this really great opportunity to meet new people. Ocean Grove have always kind of taken on board the part of touring that is not just playing shows but meeting new people and visiting new places.

MF: Congratulations on The Rhapsody Tapes, you guys have written something that I feel no one in the scene is doing right now. I was wondering how you felt the record differs from Black Label and Outsider?

LH: I think when it came to Outsider, we wrote it as kids, man. We were just teenagers at the time we wrote those parts. I think we hadn’t gone through enough in terms of a journey and an experience among ourselves to create a sound that we were happy with. I don’t think it was very true to us and we were making music that we thought people would like instead of music that we were passionate about. But that’s all a part of that growing phase, and you need to go through that ‘finding of one’s self’ which is something that we ended up trying to soul search for [while] putting out this record which did a lot for us.

We were really proud of Black Label and I think that we kind of got onto the right track and it really set us up well for The Rhapsody Tapes due to the fact that we were doing things a bit different, all while still playing around in the heavy music spectrum. It was just a matter of fact that we haven’t done a debut album yet and we just hadn’t had enough time in the past to explore all the different influences that we’re drawn to in music. And when you get six people together, everyone’s got different interests when it comes to in music, or in film or in books, or poetry or whatever. This record is really just the sum total of all six of our tastes and the different things that we enjoy and we were lucky enough to have enough time for ourselves in the studio to basically ensure that all twelve tracks were stand alone tracks. We wanted to make sure there were no fillers or songs that were just buying time or songs that people were just going to skip past. We’re really happy and proud of this record, in the fact that we’ve done something very different. We’ve always claimed that we’re an experimental band, even back when we released Outsider and it’s an awesome feeling to have put out an album that is truly experimental and pushing our own boundaries while moving away from expectations people have gotten used to in the heavy music space.

MF: Yeah exactly, and it’s really amazing that triple j have seen the potential in it too when selecting the record to be the Feature Album of the week. I think this selection, in particular, is a pretty huge deal for heavy music. Have any of you felt any sense of pressure since the selection?

LH: Not at all, man. We’re all pretty laid back guys. We totally thought that we weren’t going to be chosen and you don’t really expect these things to happen. When we landed for the first show of the tour that we’re currently on, we were in Cairns and somebody must’ve just gotten reception on their phone and opened up their emails and said ‘oh shit, we have the feature album’. Three months ago we wrote down all our goals as a band on a piece of paper and pretty close to the top was being selected for feature album. I remember being buckled into the plane seats but we were so happy and blown away by the fact that it had been chosen.

And what you’re saying is right. It’s a really rare thing that a heavy music band get selected for it, even more rare for their debut album. We don’t feel any pressure at all, we’re doing this to play to as many people as we can and see as many places as possible. It’s just a bonus and such an honour to be selected. Don’t get me wrong, we’re our biggest critics and whatever pressure people are putting on us, we’re putting that as much on ourselves to ensure we’re writing good music and playing well and putting the performances in and making the most of the opportunity that we’ve been given to play music.

Ocean Grove – Lights On Kind Of Lover

MF: This record was totally self-produced, your drummer Sam Bassal has made a really big name for himself producing records from other heavy bands around the scene. How is it as a band from a dynamic perspective when you’re writing the record and then going straight into the studio by yourselves? Do you ever find it a struggle or do you get people from outside the studio to give their thoughts?

LH: Basically how it all started was that Running Touch had a bunch of songs that he’d shown us and we were getting ready to tour and he’s just a studio member. He doesn’t tour with us and he’s doing his own stuff and it’s going great for him, but he’s a founding member of the band, and he’s still a massive part of it. He kind of made these very bare bones recordings on Ableton for songs on the record like ‘Thunderdome’ and a couple others which were these electronic-meets-metal kind of tracks. They were only 30-second clips and he came in to show us and we were blown away by them by how awesome they were. He’d just pick up a guitar and showed us some parts for songs like ‘Stratosphere Love’ when we were at band practice. The trick was to use these bare bones electronic sections and jam them to make an album. I think that the fact that we’re self-produced and record ourselves in Sam’s house is awesome.

Most bands have huge recording budget and time restraints and all these other factors holding them back. I feel like because of that, bands leave the studio wishing that they were able to do more, so it was definitely a bonus for us. We also had all the time in the world to get this done and we got to the point where we were putting in so much time and doing all-nighters and we were of the opinion that anytime we weren’t putting in the recording and writing process was just time wasted.

I think by the end of it, we hit the perfect dynamic and came to the realisation that it’s not about how many hours you’ve put in but the quality of the time you’ve put in to ensure that the juices are flowing. Sometimes you have to go and do things to motivate that creative behaviour, whether that be hitting a bunch of balls at the driving range or read a book or whatever. It’s one of those things where everything good takes time but it’s a maddening process. We have these video logs saved and you can slowly see us going insane, it’s like a scene from Castaway or something [laughs].

At the end of the day, we’ve made something that we’re really proud of. Besides recording it ourselves, we also edited the videos ourselves and I drew up a lot of the lyric art in the album booklet and merch designs and stuff. This band is quite a maddening thing because we put so much on our plate and put up our hand to do heaps of stuff but at the end of the day, we have this creative control that is so liberating and fun to do and it’s helped us grow as a band immensely.

Sometimes I view Ocean Grove not as a band but as a whole collective of people and a whole network of things working together which is why we all work so well together.

MF: So The Rhapsody Tapes from both a musical and lyrical standpoint feels like a celebration of alien concepts, you know? Stuff that goes outside the norm so I was wondering what kind of traits in life have gone alien over time?

LH: I feel like a big part of the band is kind of putting a spotlight on alien concepts. It’s definitely something we’ve discussed in Black Label and now the new record. We put out the ‘Rhapsody Manifesto’ which outlined a mission statement or social code that we wanted to share, and I just think that people need to embrace the things that make them different and make them original, rather than being ashamed of those things because you’re not like the person next to you. We’ve always been a band that’s not afraid to do something different and basically take these qualities that people can be viewed as a ‘weakness’ and then flip it on their head and use it to your greater strengths as a human.

We’re trying to lead the way by doing something different in our music and, hopefully, people can enjoy it and other bands can recognise that doing stuff differently shouldn’t hold them back. People are held back when they’re following a path in life they want to take but they’re maybe too ashamed to do it, due to other people feeling it isn’t ‘normal’. What we’re really about is people making the most of their opportunities and making the most of their time on Earth and I feel like being different should always be encouraged and we’ll always encourage it.

‘The Rhapsody Tapes’ is out this February 3rd via UNFD. Pre-Order here.

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