The Australian alternative scene has struck gold again, this time with Sydney’s Pretty Thrills who are …
Ocean Grove are morphing into something … different. A lot has changed since they first bounced into the public consciousness with their debut record The Rhapsody Tapes.
There’s no doubt the Skinny Six had already made a name underground with their Black Label EP. But after the accolades, their first international tours in Japan, the USA and the stirring of a crowd hungry for more … bombshell. Ocean Grove have all been best mates since high school; childhood even for some. So when founding members Luke Holmes (Vocals) and Jimmy Hall (Guitar) announced they were leaving, it came from nowhere. A new track Glass Gloss accompanied their departure. Fans had no clue it was coming.
Sitting in the band’s studio—drummer Sam Bassal’s childhood home in Melton, Victoria that houses his spare room-turned recording hub—former bassist (now full time vocalist) Dale Tanner begins the story at the start of 2018. The band had just returned from an American tour with August Burns Red, surely the biggest achievement they’d had so far. Then Download with Limp Bizkit, a group many of them had idolised … “And that was the first time that Luke actually approached me and let me know that he was thinking about leaving the band and stopping music,” says Dale. Trying to find the best way to tell the mammoth story they’ve had to keep under wraps must be a hell of a task. “Keep in mind none of us knew at that point,” says Sam. “Only Dale knew that.”
For Dale and Luke, the aforementioned best friends since primary school, this would have been a megaton blast. “That was a huge shock for me. I was not expecting it at all, and it wasn’t like there was even any foreshadowing or anything,” admits Dale. “It was just pretty out of the blue. And it was only until after we’d spoken that I thought back to the previous six months and moments and memories of being with Luke on tour, and having that feeling of, ‘Oh, he seems a little off’. Knowing him so well, I can kind of pick those things where most people couldn’t. And I could tell that other things were on his mind, and he wasn’t really enjoying touring and being on the road as much as maybe he once upon a time did, and how I thought he should be.”
I’m incredibly proud of Luke for standing up and making the hard decision for the sake of happiness. That takes courage to leave it all behind.
[ Dale Tanner ]
“I’m incredibly proud of Luke for standing up and making the hard decision for the sake of happiness. That takes courage to leave it all behind.” Dale adds. He mentions the hardship of missing family life, having an unstable sleep cycle and diet as the potential killers for Luke’s enthusiasm. But surely it was temporary. The passion they’d all had since they were kids was feeding Dale’s desire to keep touring; so for Luke, it must’ve surely been the same. But as Dale says, “This is quote, unquote [from Luke], ‘On good days and bad days, I thought about it’, and his heart and his gut came to the same decision. And that was that he felt it was best to leave touring in that moment, and it would be best for him moving forward and for his happiness in other things to not be a touring musician anymore.”
This posed a hard role for Dale to play: supportive friend, but also a member of a band that could potentially crumble with the loss of their frontman. “As a friend first and foremost, I had to put business and OG aside and be like, ‘I need to support whatever feelings you’re going through and decision you’re making’.”
That’s what mates do. So the months went on and everyone in the band was none the wiser. Just after the band’s tour of Japan with Crossfaith, Sam began recording vocals for Glass Gloss with Luke. For an uneducated listener it might sound like a purposeful swan song. But the song was recorded before letting the rest of the band know, and Dale points out, “The fact that he’s having these feelings from March and that song’s being written from at least March … is that lyrically, yeah, those things were bubbling up inside of him. And it just makes sense that … It’s like, ‘Okay, the proof is in the pudding’, you just have to look.”
From sitting in his makeshift studio for nights on end, Sam could tell things weren’t sitting well. So it was time to lay the cards on the table says the drummer: “I said to him as a friend, I was just like, ‘Look. You’ve got to call it. For my time, for your time, you’ve got to call it and you’ve got to make this decision. You and I both know that you don’t … You can’t continue in the band anymore’.”
AN ODD FUTURE:
So that was that.
Almost all of Ocean Grove knew things were changing. Now to figure out what the fuck to do. Dale sounds confident whilst regaling his first thoughts, but it must’ve been hell to go through a period like that as a bandmate and a best friend. He says of the thought process: “For the sake of his happiness and everything … The band or whatever, that shit will work itself out. It’ll be fine. We need to make sure that you’re okay and support your decision and what you want to do first and foremost. It was never a concern it would be the end of us. But … we’d be lying if we didn’t say those thoughts definitely came to mind. What is going to happen?”
Ocean Grove decided it was time to bite the bullet. One by one they offered up whether they were in it for the long haul at a meeting between the odd heads of Odd World. Jimmy it seemed, wasn’t ready to move forward with the group either. Suddenly they were another member down. Clickbait sites rushed to dub it a “shock exit”. The members had already been past the shock phase and discussed what the future would hold. It seemed ridiculous, even with multiple members down, to call it a day. Both those departing and the rest who were willing to continue refused to let the OG spirit dissipate. The band played a fire-fuelled set at Unify as a final farewell. They bowed as lifelong kin to a crowd of thousands.
It was never a concern it would be the end of us. But … we’d be lying if we didn’t say those thoughts definitely came to mind. What is going to happen?
[ Dale Tanner ]
The Skinny Six wasn’t ending; it was just evolving. As Dale says of their final thoughts before looking to the future: “They’re our brothers and they’ve done this for so long and we love them, and it was such a shock that this had to happen to us as much as it was the fans. But at the end of the day, we knew this was the right decision. And that was supported by Luke and Jimmy. They both were like, ‘Yeah, this is the right thing to do’. And so that kind of gave us that vote of confidence to be like, ‘They had our backs.’ And we’re not going to do this legacy … We’re not going to run it to the ground. For their sake and for our sake, we’re gonna take what have we built and enhance it.”
“We knew that with Luke not being there anymore, everything was changing. We were like, ‘It’s basically a new band. We might as well call it a different name’. But for the sake of carrying on the legacy, it’s still Ocean Grove … We have huge shoes to fill. But what if we just take this as an instigator to go on a … Still maintain the Ocean Grove mentality, punk attitude, experimentation with everything, but take it in a direction that’s on our terms, and not just as a result of losing a member.”
OG AND CHILL!
Eagle eyed fans would’ve seen him walking around with Ocean Grove at Unify earlier this year. Anyone who put bets on him joining? Cash them in. He’s been there in the Intimate Alien video, and ducked in and out of a few shows if you were paying attention. If you caught The Rhapsody Tapes headline tour then it’s likely Twiggy barrelled into you from the stage screaming obscenities due to his role in The Beverly Chills. “We didn’t just pull a random into the band, we got someone who was always part of the collective.” says Dale. Twiggy grins: “They made the best decision of their lives.” He got the call to join the band at 11pm in LA whilst on his way to a date. “Fuck it, why not,” he reckons was his response. If anyone’s going to fit into Ocean Grove, it’s Twiggy. Patchwork tattoos pop all over his torso with anarchic phrases like I AM NOT A SLAVE and COME GET SOME. He is, if anything, exactly the personality powerhouse that a band needs to move into a new era. Anyone concerned about the Chills themselves? “That’s just on our own terms—I talked to [Nick] and he championed the fuck out of the idea, too. He’s just like, ‘Fuck yeah, dude. Hook it up’.’ That was literally what he said, I think. ‘Fucking hook it up’.”
We didn’t just pull a random into the band, we got someone who was always part of the collective.
[ Dale Tanner ]
There’s a wild energy from the new bassist that’s edging to be on stage. During our interview Twiggy fiddles with his phone, fights with guitarist Matt Henley (“Henners has been wanting to kill me for years”) and educates us on the benefits of mineral water over soda water (it’s not as metallic and has “good shit that’s good for you” for those wondering). Plus he’s apparently always trying to score $2 for a Slurpee or to have a crack on the claw machines. That dodgy mate who can’t help being the centre of attention because he’s just got something that makes you want to hear whatever shit he’s about to chat. Twiggy’s himself, and that’s what Ocean Grove have always been about. “Some of the songs we’re writing at the moment, they’re fucken’ like …….. waaaaah.” says Twiggy with admiration, bringing his hands up. We quip he’s clearly been PR trained, loving that he’s not trying to take a backseat to the originals. “He’s just being honest!” laughs Dale. “When you’re stoked on your own music, what else matters?” adds Sam. Twiggy jumps in: “Don’t write that. Just write our new songs are fucken hits. No apologising.”
Now and then he’ll throw out something poignant between the imitated self-aggrandising: “You’ve always got yourself,” pushes Twiggy. “That’s why I think you’ve just gotta approach it with Rockstar energy. Rockstar 101: be kind to people. Be generous, be caring, but also care about yourself. Because you can’t truly care for others if you ain’t taking care of yourself.”
The band start talking about how they’ve all started to synergise merch designs together. Which apparently means sitting up until 3am like it’s a school holiday sleepover with best mates. There’s no pulling punches in the room. As Twiggy recounts, Dale ripped one of his ideas to shreds. No hate or anger came from it either. Dale posits the band’s motto: “Be honest with one another. Be fearless around one another, knowing that they’ve got your back through thick and thin, through saying the dumbest shit, through saying the best shit. It just … This is how it goes, and that’s what makes a good mix. That’s what makes a good band. Makes good chemistry.” Twiggy thinks for a moment and turns to us: “We appreciate each other’s personalities for who we are. Sam’s got his thing going on, Dale’s got his thing going on, I’ve got my thing going on, and [Matt] has his thing going on. But when we come together, it’s a fucking powerhouse.”
We’re gifted with studio headphones to throw on, all plugged into the band’s on stage feedback. Whatever they hear, Hysteria hear. It’s the band’s first real run through before their upcoming debut. Matt on guitar, Sam on drums, Twiggy on bass and backup vocals, and Dale stepping front and centre. Well, slightly back and left as the studio’s still Sam’s spare room in the outer suburbs. An awkward grin from Twiggy before they start: “There’s a coupla parts I still gotta figure out. So don’t judge too harshly.” Sam clicks them in with a flick of his sticks and they launch into new track Ask For The Anthem, dropped only two nights ago as of publishing. “Whether or not Luke was in the band, this was going to be our next single,” Sam clarifies, “I want that to be clear … it was the longest we’ve ever worked on a song in terms of just going back and forth between structures, versions, editing. We’ve never, ever made this many changes or revisions of a song ever, because it just never felt right, until we finally did. We got to the point where we are now … We actually submitted a previous version of the song, we submitted the master to the label and that was going to be the one that was released.”
The difference between the two? “First and foremost, all vocals on Ask For The Anthem are Dale’s,” says Sam. “It was kind of a slightly different version for a long time,” adds Dale. “And then we were like, ‘Oh, what about this?’ Not quite … It doesn’t quite get there. And then once we’d … slight tweak on this riff that we had for months and months and months, it gave us a new flavour.”
Dare I say it, I think this is the most important Ocean Grove song we’ve ever released or we’ve put out.
[ Sam Bassal ]
Sam continues: “Dare I say it, I think this is the most important Ocean Grove song we’ve ever released or we’ve put out. I’ll look at that song and think of the time period we went through: change, uncertainty so much was going on …”—“pressure,” Dale adds—“pressure from ourselves, band mates, the label … we can look at this time and know that it was important for the start of a new direction and then an end to the last one.”
Dale looks up at Sam then back to Hysteria: “We’ve come out of all that, and this is … so soon. We’ve turned into this. Yeah, there’s going to be people that don’t like it, but again, it doesn’t matter.”
“I can’t even see ’em,” says Twiggy. “I’m wearing spray painted sunglasses so I literally won’t see ’em” he cracks and the band roar with laughter as he imitates walking around blindly. “It’s a song for everyone that wants to fucking listen to it.”
Back to the whip crack snares reverberating through the air though, and fuck are the newly minted foursome sounding good. Anyone who ever doubted that Ocean Grove are just regular dudes who also rip at their respective roles is smoking whatever Twiggy’s brought from LA. Sam tapes his drumstick together as they’re about to kick into Stratosphere Love; he gets one done before he has to abandon the tape and thrash cymbals. A little tweak to the in-ears; Sam can’t hear the vocals properly. Dale curls his hands in shapes as he swaps between pre-modulated voices on his foot pedal. Matt props his Snoopy-cladded socks and Nikes on a chair whilst trying to emulate Jimmy’s solos: “Still gotta learn ‘em” he admits. Twiggy looks like he’s been here for years. Even when he’s looking for guidance on the vocal parts he’s still learning, he’s got an affecting vibe that belies his newcomer status. When he leans in, Dale winks supportively.
We’re by no means slowing down. If anything’s changed, we’re picking up speed and that’s kind of all there is to say. In terms of the actual music that’s being written, we’re confident in it.
[ Dale Tanner ]
Prior to the band giving Melton a taste of what the world will eventually experience, Dale hints at the future of Ocean Grove. “The line-up change is just another addition to the fact that these are gonna be shows that people have never seen before and we’re just so pumped to bring that to the table and be like, ‘This is where Ocean Grove is at in 2019’. If you’ve been out of the loop or whatever and maybe noticed that we’ve been quiet, we’ve been busy behind the scenes … it’s going to be busier and it’s going to be better than ever and that we’re pumped, and 2019 is going to be a really good year for us. We’re by no means slowing down. If anything’s changed, we’re picking up speed and that’s kind of all there is to say. In terms of the actual music that’s being written, we’re confident in it. We back it. It’s going to be experimental. It’s going to blow people’s minds; they’re not going to expect it. It’s going to be different once again.”
The band ask if Hysteria would like to stick around for a few more songs. Mate, it’s a free OG concert before they blow the bloody doors off. Who would walk out on this? Well for anyone who has decided to ditch the band due to any reason, Twiggy’s got a message for ya: “Anyone who wants to leave the room, fuck you and thank you for making room for people who actually want to be here.”
Well, they’re not that rock ‘n’ roll. Dale softens the sentiment: “That kind of sums up our attitude going forward. It’s like, you can’t make concessions for anyone. This is what we’re doing and this is what we’re so fucking pumped about. And we know it’s going to be good, and anyone that wants to be along for the ride, you are welcome. Anyone that doesn’t, well, there’s the door.”
As Sam puts it: “I’ll request that everyone that does listen to [Ask For The Anthem] saves it to Spotify, turns the volume down and leave it on loop every time they go to bed. That would be awesome, that would be fantastic. Pre-save, add to library, play on repeat while you go to bed with the volume down …
“We’re going to be there for anyone who’s there for us.”//
Catch Ocean Grove with Hands Like Houses, Endless Heights & RedHook at the following dates:
Friday 8th February // UC Refectory // Canberra
Saturday 9th February // The Enmore // Sydney
Friday 15th February // The Tivoli // Brisbane
Saturday 16th February // The Forum // Melbourne
Friday 22nd February // HQ // Adelaide
Saturday 23rd February // The Astor // Perth