The Ocean

author PP date 09/08/06

German Hardcore/Metal act The Ocean has just released a new, much anticipated record, so we sent them an email questionnaire regarding their inspirations, plans for 2006 and who would they be if they turned into a woman for a day. Read on to find out what Robin & Nils had to say to the world. And be prepared, this band has a lot to say and their answers prove something which their albums already suggested; the band is among the most intelligent, most intriguing bands around these days.

Your style is described as progressive hardcore. Is this an accurate label in your opinion?

Nils: Well, it's a bit of a wishy-washy catch-all term. But it's usable. At least, I like it much better than, say, 'metalcore'. There's people labelling us 'metalcore' and putting us into one line with bands like Caliban or Born From Pain. These bands are great good at what they do, but I don't see what we would have in common with them. Our sound, our appearance, our whole approach is so different from theirs. Whenever we're confronted with comparisons like that, we're like ?dude, have you actually listened to the album?? Yes, our music does combine elements from all kinds of hardcore and metal but that doesn't make it metalcore. So, yeah, 'progressive hardcore' is much more appropriate I guess. 'Hardcore', that's kind of where we come from. Bands like Refused, Botch, Bloodlet, Groundwork, Absinthe. And 'progressive' accounts for all the unconventional, non-hardcore aspects of our music. Which are a lot.

The difficulty factor in creating songs with the amount of depth as your songs is, I would imagine, radically bigger than in creating, for example, pop punk songs. Do you agree with this?

Nils: I'm afraid I don't. I think there's just as much bad pop songs (punk or not) than there's bad progressive hardcore songs. It's just as difficult to write a good song of one genre as it is to write a good song of another. What's different is the standards. A pop song has to be catchy as hell. It has to pick up on familiar structures, yet have something original to it to make it stick out. An Ocean song isn't supposed to be catchy. We want our songs to slowly unfold before you; to present to you new facets every time you listen to them. The ideal pop song stays in your head for days, even after just one listen. And that's something that's just as hard to achieve as it is to write songs that are deeply convoluted and still make sense.

Robin: I kind of disagree with what Nils says (see, there's always controversy within this band..) I mean, he's right but he's not. In my eyes it has become fairly easy to write pop songs with all the composition aids and computer-based HD-recording techniques that have become a standard over the years. In my eyes almost everyone can write a potentially successful pop-song today, what's difficult is to get access to the big marketing industry. Now the question that Nils would razz me with would be "so if anyone can do it, why don't YOU fucking do it then, why do you keep writing pompous crap for the ocean rather than focusing on cash-crop songs?" Well the answer is: because I love pompous crap and because I hate pop songs, and you weren't even talking about pop songs, but about pop punk songs. Now what the hell is that supposed to be? punk has never had anything to do with pop, to even name these two terms in the same breath is a corruption of punk....

How do you come up with this 'big' ideas, and end up arranging them together so well? Do you have a certain 'formula' or 'mood' you have to get yourself into. Or rather, where do you gain inspiration from?

Nils: Almost all the musical ideas you hear on our albums are brainchildren of Robin's. He composes all the music from scratch by himself: guitars, bass, drums, lyrics and the orchestral stuff. We don't jam. It's all composed from A-Z; just like classical music. Robin comes into our rehearsal space with pre-productions of the songs including programmed drums and bass lines, recorded guitars and vocals. Then we go about and alter it here and there or discuss which songs are good and which suck. But our starting point is not a riff, or a single idea, but a whole song, basically. You just get more in-depth that way, you're able to realize a high degree of intricacy as for what the arrangements and actual parts are concerned, a degree that you wouldn't be able to realize with a contingent jam-approach.

Inspiration is drawn from almost everything. From the things we experience in every-day, from trips to far places (some of our songs have actually been written in Spain, Morocco or South America), or from other artists. Arthur Rimbaud, for example, is one of those. He was an individual with a heart so passionate that in the end it turned out to be his tragic flaw. He lost his life at the age of 37 after completely turning his back on and even ridiculing his own artistic work and becoming a vagabond of sorts in Ethiopia. Before that, he was working for the dutch army, deserted, fled, got banished, lived in Cyprus, Norway and Africa. He lived life to the fullest and experienced more than most other people ever will, in 60 or 70 years of life on earth. That was a major inspiration and also represents the spirit of THE OCEAN.

Your new album comes out in a few days and everywhere you look it has gotten great reviews, are you excited how big this is going to be? What expectations do you have?

Nils: Yes, we are. Actually, we're quite confident this is going to be big. Big as in: drawing attention to what we'e doing, spreading the word and letting everyone know heavy music is about more than baggy pants, skull t-shirts and black nail polish. Ideally, it will give us the chance to one day play all those places we've always wanted to play: Transylvania. Manchuria. Patagonia. We don't expect the whole thing to generate profit in a way that allows us to live off it. That's not gonna happen in the near future ? not with that music. But we're all about the touring anyways. And, being on tour, who needs money?

If I've understood correctly, this record was recorded during your long recording session from January to April 2004 which also gave life to your previous full-length record "Fluxion". Why was it that this session became 2 records?

Nils: The original intention was to release a double album with ?Fluxion? as one, and ?Aeolian? as another disc, both showing a different facet of The Ocean. The only problem was: no one was able to invest the money required to release a such a big thing. I mean, it's kind of risky for a label to have an unknown band debut with a double album. So we decided to release them seperately, which apparently worked pretty well.

Didn't you have a lot of fillings/songs that you couldn't use?

Nils: As far as I know, there's not one song from that session that didn't make it to the album. We used them all. See, that's one advantage of having composed music with a concept behind it. We didn't start recording without knowing what we would end up with. It was all planned, to a certain degree. We didn't just accumulate material in order to use (or not use) on the albums. Rather, decisions like the selection of songs or, to some degree, even their order, were made before a single note was recorded. Those two records already existed in Robin's head the way they are today.

Fluxion also got good reviews and in 2004 you played a lot of shows, and some with some big names like Cult of Luna, Nasum and The Dillinger Escape Plan. How is it to play with these guys (even if it was only for a short period of time)?

Nils: First of all, it was kind of a surprise. Our very first show was in Summer 2002 and it only took us ten more shows to get a support spot for Isis ? things went much faster than we had expected. Playing with bands like these is, of course an honor. Especially if the feedback you get from them is positive. That is, more than just ?great show, man? (which is usually to be translated as ?I was backstage while you were playing?).We were also able to establish some contacts that were useful later on. Sometimes, playing with a band 'bigger' than you can also be quite illuminating: we often realized that some of these bands are much more human than we had thought they were. They've sometimes got to put up with the same technical difficulties as we, they're making the same mistakes and they're having their good and bad days, just like we do. Which, for example, one night resulted in many people saying we played a lot better than Cult of Luna. At first we were like ?what??, but then you start realizing that the bands you look up to are human too, not as divine as you expected them to be when you were growing up..

How were you received by the audiences, since I would imagine that those bands attract different kind of audiences than you would if you were headlining?

Robin: It depends, but it was pretty good in most cases. See that's one of the benefits of being a band that is not committed to playing only one style of music that is easy to pin down. When we play with more post-rock type of bands we play more songs from our first "fogdiver"-record, and it fits perfectly. When we play with Nasum we played some of the faster Aeolian-stuff, and it worked just as well. Of course, sometimes we're trying to confuse people and we decide to not give them what they want to hear on purpose. That's good fun. But we could play with a band like Nasum just as much as with a band like Trail of Dead... recently we've been focussing more on the Nasum-related stuff, admittedly, but we're working on a Trail of Dead-compatible show, too... that's all bands and music that I love, so why wouldn't we try to do it all?

In July 2005, you signed a deal with Metal Blade Records. What do you feel Metal Blade could offer you that Make My Day Records couldn't?

Mainly 3 things:

1.) international releases through the best possible indie distribution system, including all of Europe, the US and japan

2.) good and serious international promotion

3.) decent recording budgets that actually enable you to make a record and be content with it in the end

apart from that, they are really cool dudes and gave us the feeling that they really want us and push it as far as they can.

Had you simply grown too big for Make My Day?

That's one way of putting it, but as a matter of fact we weren't 'big' anywhere outside of Germany, and not even here... I mean, people in Germany at least knew who we were, and I guess those people who are interested in this type of music did hear about us and eventually bought our record. But outside of germany, our records weren't widely available. In Scandinavia, for example, our records weren't available at all, so we were like 'fuck', I mean, we're putting so much time, money and energy into this band, we at least want people to be able to get our records, wherever the fuck they're from. That's why we were looking for a bigger label with a better distribution structure.

In the meantime you have released 2 7"'s one of which is a split with the Swedish band Burst. Could you perhaps tell a little about how this came to be?

We've been knowing the Burst guys for a while, I gave them a copy of "fluxion" at a show they played here in Berlin and we've been chatting. They really liked the record so we were in touch, and then Garden of Exile Records asked us for 2 songs off our new record to be released as an advance 7", so we were like 'we'll give you one, and we want another band on the other side". We were thinking about who to approach, and in the end we all wanted Burst, so we asked them and they were into the idea from the beginning. I'll have to say at this point that I'm very happy it came about, since 'Origo' is one of the serious contenders for my personal record of the year 2005...

'Aeolian' is said to be harder than 'Fluxion' but still be more accessible, can you expand on this?

Nils: Yeah, I've heard quite a few people say that, but to me, the two records aren't that different in terms of their accessibility. You don't get lost in either of them, you'll always get the feeling, and both records, even though very different in some respects, have that Ocean feeling to them ? although it might take a while to absorb the whole thing and to remember the songs. ?Aeolian?, just like ?Fluxion? is definitely not an easy-listening record... it was a challenge for us to make it, and it's a challenge for the listener to receive it. What makes "Aeolian" different from our previous albums is that it was recorded with a somewhat minimalistic rock'n'roll setup: guitars, drums, bass, vocals. On our previous records, we've made extensive use of non-rock instruments like violins, cellos, flutes and electronic sounds. "Fluxion" had these long atmospheric instrumental parts. On "Aeolian", there's much less of them. It emphasizes our brutal side. That, to me, is the main difference. The degree of accessibility depends highly on the receiver, I guess.

You've collaborated with 5 guest vocalists on this album, with Nate Newton of Converge being one of them. How and why did you do this?

Robin: We wanted to have a bigger variety of vocal styles on "aeolian", and at some point we just decided to ask our favourite singers to contribute, rather than looking for "new" singers here in Berlin. It took a while until I finally managed to get in touch with Tomas Hallbom. In the end some dude at Burning Heart gave me a working email address. I approached him about singing on our record and he wanted to hear it first, so I sent him a copy of the new material and he was immediately hooked. Tomas told me how much he misses being on stage and so I said "hey dude, why don't you come down to Berlin, we'll nail down your tracks here and play a couple of shows together", and that's what we did-

With Sean Ingram the process was similar... I really wanted to have him on the album, because to me his low-end voice always kind of represented the epitome of brutality, and I adore Coalesce, they're one of my all-time favourite bands. I was also curious to see Sean Ingram and our mainman Meta abreast, and I'll have to say that Meta's voice is even more brutal and even lower than Sean's... I knew Sean from back in the days when I was doing a fanzine. Sean recorded his vocal tracks in the US and sent them over to us last minute -- actually we didn't get his tracks in time before the mastering. When I listened to his tracks I was almost shocked at first, because he completely changed the vocal arrangements of the song, especially the chorus. The other guest-singers have basically sung my lines the way they were originally meant to be. So we all sat down and listened to it and we were like, "wow, this is really... weird!". The song "Queen of the Food-Chain" is a really old song actually, we've been playing it live for more than 3 years, so we were really used to our version. And now we heard something completely different, that was confusing. But in the end we realized that it was just different, not necessarily better or worse, just different, and it really started growing on us. So we decided to go for it and Magnus Lindberg mastered the song again, last minute before the deadline...

Was it exciting working with such a well-known, acclaimed vocalist as Nate? After all Converge has gained a cult-like status these days?

Robin: Naw, it was a spontaneous thing. Converge played in Berlin, and nico has been knowing the guys for a while, his old band Avery was on tour with them some 3 years ago. So when they played here nico just asked Nate if he wants to do some guest-vocals, and he was into the idea, so we took him and the other dudes over to Oceanland and recorded some tunes. Nate was really hoarse though, since he had been on tour for a while, we couldn't use all his takes, but in the end we still had some cool ons that both he and us were happy with. But it was a really relaxing environment, working with him. He's a really funny dude.

Working with Tomas Hallbom from Breach was probably the most special for me. Our collaboration with Tomas was very fulfilling, and Tomas loved doing it. He misses being in Breach so much, he was really happy to be back on stage, and he really managed to dive into this OCEAN-feeling and give it his personal BREACH-touch, it was great. When he was on stage with us, we played 4 Breach cover--songs, which was an incredible experience also for me. I claim to be the biggest BREACH-fan under the sun. Words fail me when it comes to this band... they have had such a huge impact on me, I have been knowing them since their first EP and have been a witness of their evolution since. There have been few bands who have thus consequently developed their own, really unique sound.. so apparently, being on stage with Tomas was more than awesome.

I presume Converge must be one of your favorite bands? Personally, I really like them. Who are your other favorite bands and why?

Nils: We're all into very different kinds of music, we're coming from all kinds of musical backgrounds. Among the few artists we all can agree on are: Refused, Bohren und der Club of Gore, Neurosis, Diamanda Galas, Frank Zappa, Slayer, the Swans and Tom Waits. They've all been highly innovative. They've crossed borders and have gone to extremes. And they all have that certain integrity to them, they all know (knew) what they're doing and why.

Robin: Breach. There's no other band on earth like Breach. There will never be. I'd have to name many here, but I'll just rop a few names: Unbroken, Groundwork, Absinthe, Botch, and yeah, Converge were indeed very important for me, "Petitioning the Empty Sky" was one of the records that really influenced my own approach to writing music.

You've also chosen to be very aware of the albums design and have left the job to the Norwegian Martin Kvamme who has done a lot of stuff for Mike Patton. How did you get in contact with him and how much were you in control of how the album booklet looks like?

Robin: Working with Martin was seriously the best collaboration I've ever done. He was very fast and professional and he would really take our comments and criticism and try to work with it in order to make everyone, including himself but also including 8 members of THE OCEAN with their ever-changing opinions and constant contradictions happy. And he succeeded in all regards, we've never been as happy with any album artwork before as with "aeolian". Martin took our basic concept and created something on his own that took it much further than what we originally wanted to do. The whole concept with the booklet being printed on 2 different types of paper is essentially from him. We wanted either Martin or Paul Romano to do the art for our new album. I loved the work Martin had done especially for the Tomahawk album and for the Patton/Kaada Cd. We approached both artists with 2 different rough ideas of what we had in mind. They both replied instantly and they both wanted to do it - Martin wanted to go for the one concept, Paul for the other... so it was very hard to decide, and I've been cudgeling my brains for almost 3 weeks. In the end, Martin was just faster. He sent us some rough sketches that we all immediately liked, so we decided to go with him.

Lets say you turn into a rock woman for a day, meaning that you're in one of the bands, for example the late Distillers. Who would you be, and why?

Nils: That's hands down the best question I've ever been asked in an interview. I'm not gonna answer this speaking for the entire collective because there's just no way we all could agree on one answer. I mean I can't even pick just one. For one, I'd love to turn into Kim Gordon, 1983/84, Confusion is Sex/Bad Moon Rising Tour, playing all the great venues that Berlin once had, and make out with Lydia Lunch on stage. I'd also break up with Thursten. I mean, getting a baby from Thursten Moore... how gross is that! Or how about Peaches? She's like the truest rock woman in history. Early 2000s, around the release of ?The Teaches?. I'd go to Japan and kick some ass big time. With Madonna. I'd also like to play in Team Dresch for a day. I can't think of any other all-woman band that's more amazing than them. They're incredible. Seriously.

Name the highlight of 2005 for you (so far).

Nils: I'm kind of sitting on the fence between Burst's ?Origo? and Bohren und der Club of Gore's ?Geisterfaust?. Both are awesome albums.

Robin: I'll have to name Origo here, although "Blessed Black Wings" was a fucking killer record, too. The new Gojira was pretty good as well.

And the worst moment?

Nils: Worst thing this year was when we got that e-mail from Metal Blade USA telling us they're not gonna relase ?Aeolian? with the embossed-gold slipcase. But we've gotten over that by now.

Robin: being all fucked up in paradise on the other half of the world breaking up with the love of my life. But hey, that's heaps of inspiration for the follow-up to "Aeolian", right there...

Finally, what are your plans for 2006?

Nils: Touring, touring, touring. There's gonna be a major Euro tour from March 15th until late April 2006, taking us to France, Spain and Scandinavia. We're gonna be playing a lot of shows next year, promoting the album. And maybe record another one.

Robin: yeah, some Denmark shows are scheduled for late March! Be there, kids...

Thanks for the interview, do you have any last words for your fans?

Nils: Not really. I guess they all know what to do. Aeolian is in stores now ? and everywhere. There's just no excuse. And if you don't get it, we'll get you. Pretty, simple, eh?

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