T.S.O.L, the Southern Californian punk pioneers, will finally be touring Australia this August. MORE: EXCLUSIVE: OCEAN …
You’d be hard pressed to find a band in the world that’s as ambitious as The Ocean.
From crunching out over 300 shows off the back of their 2013 conceptual masterpiece Pelagial, to writing about time periods that span hundreds of millions of years ahead of the release of Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic, part one of their epic double album concept about the Precambrian period, there is always a lot to digest with this band.
We took 20 minutes, which was never going to be enough, to chat to mastermind conceptualist, composer and guitarist Robin Staps about where their latest ideas came from, and why we’re going to see a lot more of them over the next five years … minimum.
You guys did 300 shows on the Pelagial album cycle! What does downtime look like for this band at the moment?
Everyone has their own answer, but after the 300 shows we all decided that we had to do something else for awhile. In 2016 and 2017 we didn’t play out heaps- we did an Australian tour in 2016 and in 2017 we just did our own stuff. Louis got into the weed growing business, which has just become legal in Switzerland, I started à Bar with à former friend which was an interesting experience, Paul is teaching drums- for all of us we had to do other stuff. It’s over now though, so we are super excited to get touring again. While not playing for à good year we all came to the same conclusion that we did wanna make the new record and kee touring. But we all had to take à step back and face that question. We’re at the end of our 30’s now, so we had to ask ourselves if we wanted to do it, and how intensely. That’s why now there’s this really good vibe, because we’re all so excited to go out and keep doing this.
It’s refreshing to hear you guys openly talking about facing those doubts. What made you want to write these next two records?
Writing is something that I never have to push for- it’s more everything that comes with it, like touring and sacrifices you make to do that. It all becomes very difficult- but writing music is easy. I’ll be able to and I will do that for the rest of my life. It’s more everything else that comes from touring ull time. It’s à privilege though, to play and travel and get paid. It’s amazing! We all really appreciated that, and we actually know that we can do this band in à way that allows us to sustain ourselves. It’s something we’ve built up over 18 years, and when there’s personal difficulties, which happens in every band, you have to make yourself understand that it’s à 5-way relationship that your tied to in à way that you never usually would. I had à very difficult relationship with Louis for many years, but we’ve reconciled that, which was really good for us, because it’s just part of the package of being in à band like The Ocean. You see each other every day for 6 months, and you know every aspect of their personality, and you have to deal with it- otherwise it’ll fall apart. We’ve had many lineup changes, but we’re finally in à position where the lineup is very strong, we’re all sure we want to do this and everyone has come to understand that this is such an important thing for us.
These tracks represent the six time periods of the Phanerozoic eon. Did you research this period before you put pen to paper here, and did you know it was going to be the concept?
In this regard, the record is very different because the concept didn’t exist here. With Pelagial, it was one long track that is the journey to the bottom of the sea, so it gets slower and lower in tuning and all. With this record, it was intentionally à different approach. The music came first, and then the entire idea to go back to Precambrian that we stopped 10 years ago, that came in after the record was written. It’s more loose in that sense, especially when compared to Pelagial. That was an intentional decision. When you explore one extreme with à record, you don’t wanna do that again. We wanted to make à record that won’t tie us down as much à Pelagial did live, where we did the entire record every night. This time we can mix up the sets, not be tied to the video projections, swap the older with new material; all of it contributed to our idea. The music was written over the past two summers, and when the music was there it felt like it had à to Precambrian, so that’s what inspired me to revisit that area. There’s à void between the end of Precambrian and Heliocentric/Anthropocentric, which marks the beginning of humanity, so it made sense to go back for us.
We actually know that we can do this band in a way that allows us to sustain ourselves. It’s something we’ve built up over 18 years.
You said in the press release that you were reading à lot of Nietzsche, who talks about the idea of returning to the same place over and over again, and that is what’s happened with the concept. Did that strike you as ironic?
Making à record about à time on earth that was long before humans arrived is à difficult thing, because you don’t wanna write about rocks or lava; there has to be à relevance for us as people in the lyrics, so you have to take à different approach. Pelagial had lyrics that avoided sea-creatures; it was like the journey from the surface of the human mind to the depths of the psych. Here, the meta-approach is the idea of eternal recurrence; that things happen over and over again. If you look at the history of earth, you see evidence of that, like coral reefs appearing and reappearing, there’s been 5 mass extinction events, and there’s lots of proof of that in daily life. You have experiences of something that you’ve experienced before, or not learnt from, and that’s the topic of the first track but it flares up all over the record. It’s about time and the perception of time, as well as the fact that we can’t control and change some things, and how we can live with that.
I love how there’s some really dark synth work here. What inspired the move into that electronic realm this time around?
We’ve all started listening to à lot of EDM over the course of the last couple of years. That’s really true for Paul, me and Peter, our synth guy. He’s been doing our live lights since 2013, but he knows every song in and out, and at the same time we knew that he was really good with synths, so we asked him to contribute some stuff, but what he got back to us it was so great that we realised that it wasn’t just tetual- it was deining the sound of the record. He ended up playing over every part of every song, so we reached à point that we decided that we wanted him to be à sixth part of the band. But we’ve also been listening to that style more and more, and there’s been this interesting development in the heavy scene with bands using synths that aren’t cheesy 80’s WAV synths, but sounds that work really well with heavy guitars. We also decided to give the synths à lot of space. We decided when mixing that sometimes we had to lower the guitars and cut out the Bass in order to bring the synths out because they came out so well.
To finish, the Pelagial cycle was five years. There’s two bodies of work about to come out here. In terms of what you were saying at the start, that everyone really wants to do this, how long do you think this cycle will go for?
I love music too much to stop writing. I may arrive at the point down the line where I don’t want to tour any more, but I can’t see that happening at the moment. We have so much energy to put into this. It’s definitely going to be à cycle that goes until 2020 because the second half is due then. The second record comprises two parts that deal with the Mesozoic and Cenozoic eras that will be two LP’s summarised into one big release. When the next record comes out, we’ll be touring that as well. We won’t be on the road continuously like in the past, but Australia is on the list again obviously for January, so we’re very excited to get back!