Dream Theater have been at the top of the game for such a long time …
As stars twinkled above on the 11th of January 2019, amid cooling air and roaring crowds, Ocean Grove as we knew it vanished off a Tarwin Lower stage.
MORE: KICK OUT THE JAMS With OCEAN GROVE: A Selection Of Oddworld Favourites // THE AMITY AFFLICTION: Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em // POLARIS: Growth, Death & Change REVIEWS: THE AMITY AFFLICTION: Everyone Loves You… Once You Leave Them // SAVIOUR: The Luna Rose // FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH: F8 // SILVERSTEIN: A Beautiful Place To Drown // OCEAN GROVE: Flip Phone Fantasy
Singer Luke Holmes and guitarist Jimmy Hall said their farewells to an adoring UNIFY Gathering and returned back to plain old Earth. Their stay in Oddworld came to a ceremonious, if not bittersweet, close.
Originally a five-piece, Ocean Grove was suddenly down to a trio.
Casting our minds back to 2018, buzz around Ocean Grove was stratospheric. The Rhapsody Tapes, a perfect 10 record across the board, was about to celebrate its third birthday. In the mean time, they’d played to every crowd imaginable: rockers young and old at Download Festival Australia; the European ‘core faithful supporting Northlane; the triple j hipster set at Splendour in the Grass.
In the Spotify world of “fuck ‘em and chuck ‘em” releases, it was an eternity. From the outside looking in, it looked like Ocean Grove was at a disadvantage.
“That’s the kind of thing that’s going to rattle any band and any group,” says frontman Dale Tanner on that time. He and the band are holed up in the back of a van somewhere in Hamburg, Germany. It’s taken frantic WhatsApp calls and Skype messages to locate the boys. It almost reminds you of how it was done in the old days.
“We looked at it at the time as an opportunity to really head in a new direction. We had the blessing from the guys to sort of take that next step and really kind of revolutionise what Ocean Grove was and what it meant. So for us it was a challenge. I think we took it in our stride to really make the most of that opportunity for change.
“I think with this album, we’ve definitely done that. We’ve taken all that was good about the old Ocean Grove and added in a whole lot of new elements. With Twiggy coming on board, it’s really strengthened the group I think. We have a pretty clear vision of where we want to be.”
He’s of course speaking about the Hungarian half of The Beverly Chills, bassist Twiggy Hunter. Hunter is cool like Bowie was cool. If there are infinite universes that exist outside our own, Twiggy is cool in every single one of them. He’s a model for alt-clothing label Dolls Kill and appeared in A$AP Rocky videos. He’s charming, soft-spoken, and has time for everyone. He’s the gentleman rockstar. He was a perfect fit for Oddworld.
We’ve always had a weirder sort of sound with our music and have pushed to remind people that no matter what, no matter who you are and no matter what you’re into, you’re always welcome.
“It was actually super easy cause we’d been friends, obviously,” Twiggy says. “Whilst I was still in The Beverly Chills and we’re all hanging out way back when, and I was with the boys through Rhapsody, went up to Splendour with them, et cetera. Coming into the band and starting to write with them was pretty wavy. Me and Sam had fucked around in the past a little bit and made a few recordings here and there just for fun.
“So the dynamic, Sam and his production and everything was pretty smooth sailing. Oh, and obviously Matt and Dale are fucking great. We’ve all kind of put our energy together and rolled it into a big ball. There was no stress about it.”
It was the missing piece; in February 2019, Twiggy officially took up bass; Dale ditching the four-string for frontman duties. His shock of bleached hair, penchant for fluorescent clothing, and stage acrobatics a natural fit for the job.
The next chapter of Oddworld’s history had begun.
“Just knowing that the Ocean Grove story and that our story as artists wasn’t finished and that we still had a lot of music to write and a lot of things to express,” Dale says. “If anything, it was almost a kick up the arse to be like, ‘No, we can still do this.’ Keep pushing through.
And now we’ve got this album that we’re really proud of, that we can stand by and be like ‘Yeah! Through all that, we created this.’ That’s just kind of amazing in and of itself.”
FLIP PHONE FANTASY INTO REALITY
Once the reveal was complete—with a tribute to the Tony Hawk Pro Skater select screen—Ocean Grove released singles. A lot of singles. Singles that radio stations and YouTube couldn’t get enough of. Singles like ASK FOR THE ANTHEM, SUNNY, JUNKIE$, and most recently, NEO, or the “one with the Faith No More vibe.”
“I love that,” Dale says. We’re huge fans of Faith No More, so that’s cool to think. A lot of fans on this tour, and even Amity when we toured last month, that kept coming up time and time again. They were sort of seeing us live and hearing new songs and Faith No More kept coming up time and time again.”
That said, if you chucked the singles into a playlist and called it a sampler, it’s doing a disservice to the album proper. The album plays with genre like a supercomputer plays checkers with a dog. It’s like explaining quantum physics with a throwaway line from Star Trek.
“The whole idea was to really give people a sense that the album was diverse,” Dale says. “The best way to do that was to release the singles how we’ve done it. I think between ASK FOR THE ANTHEM, SUNNY, NEO, JUNKIE$, that’s a really good mix and spread of the types of influences and sounds that you can come to expect. Whilst we were in the studio, kind of revelled in the fact that each time a new single’s coming out, people were going to get a shot and going to be surprised by what they were hearing. That was perfect. Through that, I think, we’re able to reach a lot more people and kind of connect with a lot more listeners.”
Now we’ve got this album that we’re really proud of, that we can stand by and be like ‘Yeah! Through all that, we created this.’ That’s just kind of amazing in and of itself.
Flip Phone Fantasy is a bit like Melbourne weather. If you don’t like it right now, just wait a while and you’ll get something you love. Madchester, trip-hop, 90s alternative; there’s something for everyone without being precious and pandering.
Quiet up until now, drummer and producer Sam Bassal pipes up. He’s the bun that holds OG’s filling together—and in demand for his DIY production wizardry. He agrees.
“I think the one main element is that we do genre hop quite a fair bit, but it all has that OG flavour and it still somehow just works. And I think that’s going to always be the way with our music. We can’t just play one genre or one style of music.”
If there’s anything you take away from the album at the end of its running time, it’s the energy, as Twiggy says.
“The recognisable undertone to all of the songs on the album is the full-bodied sound in the production and the recognisable guitar and just, I guess, the entire volume of it when smashed together…”
“The energy,” Dale interjects.
“The energy, yeah. It just has that fucking OG flavour that we want to get across in whatever genre we play on. We’re all strong personalities and we all have varied tastes but a lot of our tastes kind of cross over. So I think that shines through in a lot of the songs on the album as well, which is good.”
12 MONTHS IN PURGATORY
“Yeah, we spent the better part of a year all working on this album,” Dale says.
A year of intense and uncompromising production. No distractions, just laser focus on the task at hand.
“We all had total unrefined confidence when going forward after that conversation that everything we wrote,” Twiggy says. “We were hard on ourselves too, to make sure that we were’nt fucking around in the process. We spent a good five days a week, some months down at Sam’s studio and we put everything into it. We out our fucking heart and our soul. We’re all away from home and we’re all broke as fuck in the process.”
“Stealing groceries,” Sam says, sheepishly.
“Yes, literally stealing our groceries ‘cause we’re so fucking broke, because we’re paying our rent and paying our bills whilst not even being at home. We really did put everything into it and all of the energy that comes through in the songs is fucking real. It’s all true. True to the core of what OG is, which is, I guess, pure unrefined Oddworld energy.”
From top to bottom, it’s all Ocean Grove. Flip Phone Fantasy is a mediator between the heart and the hands of these four cheeky rock n’ rollers.
“Because I produce everything, when we are writing we’re able to have an idea, in a way, of how it will sound when it’s done, because it’s very much a DIY project within the band, where when it comes to writing it could be the fact that, I would say, a fair chunk is always music first,” Sam says.
“Whether that be myself, or Twiggy and I have played something together and we kind of get an instrumental down. It’s usually instrumental first. But the interesting thing with this record, which is the first time it’s ever been this way, is that there was some songs that while we were writing the instrumental, the hooks and lyrics just kind of came at the same time, which was never actually done before. A lot of the music is incredibly natural. I would like to think for someone who’s listened to the Rhapsody Tapes once or fifty times, I believe you can hear it in the music and the writing of the record.”
THE PERFECT ELEMENT
If you’re hearing Flip Phone Fantasy today, I can almost guarantee you’ll remember where and when you heard the opening hook of ASK FOR THE ANTHEM, felt the anguish in SENSE AGAIN, or felt connected so many other human beings as Dale bleeds all over FREAKS. The humanity in Flip Phone Fantasy is always at the forefront. Flip Phone Fantasy isn’t a sellable product; it becomes a part of you as much as it does Ocean Grove. It’s not just a means to an end; get in the studio, fulfil a contract, hop on a plane to the next destination. It’s everything.
“I think the thing with our music is that, whether it be poppy hooks, catchy hooks, or maybe it’s our heaviest stuff … I always think that it kind of has an infectious feel and there’s something about it that makes you want to find out more,” Sam says. “Or there’s something that lets it stick with you rather than just a machine, like you said, that goes into a studio, turns out 12 songs every year and then releases it and that’s a record.”
A lot of the music is incredibly natural. I would like to think for someone who’s listened to the Rhapsody Tapes once or fifty times, I believe you can hear it in the music and the writing of the record.
“Yeah, we’re not a fucking bank,” Twiggy says. “I’ve been explaining the album as a synchronisation of human emotions because definitely rides that wave of total fucking energy, and everything we put into it comes through in all the songs. Whether it’s some days we’d have a riff and some guitar and stuff laid down and then Dale would come to us and throw a melody out there and then we’d chip away at that for a few hours and put something together.
“And then some of the melodies, even some of the hooks that me and Sam had fucked around within the past even. He pulled up, said ‘I reckon that that hook you showed me a year ago could work in this section here.” And then we’d slide it in and it just happened to everything we did with the album somehow worked. It feels right.”
Oddworld time waits for no-one; perfection is the goal and nothing stood in Sam or the band’s way. Sam didn’t go full Phil Spector on the Ramones; he didn’t have to. The band were united in their resolve. Whatever you hear isn’t left up to chance or compromise; it’s fate.
“You’re going batshit crazy sitting in a studio for 12 hours and you’re overthinking things being like ‘What if? What if that is it?’,” Dale says. “Maybe you just got to end it there. And so that continued deliberation that, in the end, was a very positive thing that definitely took it’s toll and time.”
With half an album down, they could feel what was working and what wasn’t. If it wasn’t what the collective consciousness of Ocean Grove deemed worthy, you’d never hear it. Exceeding the gestation period for even the most elaborate albums, OG demanded – and thankfully got – more time to work on it.
“It just wasn’t right,” Sam says. “And as much as our label would have absolutely hated us, to have said to them ‘Sorry guys, we’re going to need more time.’ You need to write an album, scrap it and start again.
“A quote that would continually go around the studio was that ‘A painting is never finished, only abandoned,” Dale says.
“Yeah, I think our manager has had at least 20 mental breakdowns during the process. They all fucking hate us, but we hate them just as much,” Twiggy says, cracking up the rest of the band.
Sam brings it all back down to Earth.
“As a band with this level of, I guess, musical integrity, we literally had to do that. We had to do that. I’m forever glad that we did that. because the album that exists today wouldn’t exist if we weren’t holding ourselves to high standards and trying to push boundaries.”
WELCOME BACK TO ODDWORLD, FRIENDS
If you’re here reading this, chances are there’s another human staring at a screen and parsing these words into sentences in their head, hearing that voiceless voice sound out the phrases and translate them into meaning. There could be dozens, hundreds, thousands of people listening to the album; perhaps even on the same track as you, getting that same thrill hearing an unexpected hook here or floating atop a sea of nostalgia for a time long forgotten. It seems when Charlie Chaplin made his plea to feel more at the end of The Great Dictator, the band took it to heart.
“I like to think of Ocean Grove as the equilibrium between all those lows and all those highs that a human feels. We’re popped right in the middle for [people] to feel fucking everything,” Twiggy says.
Happy, sad, mad, or something undefined, things can be free and beautiful. Ocean Grove’s Flip Phone Fantasy is another tilt at that windmill, trying to capture a diminishing, but not defeated, human spirit of unity. Ocean Grove resisted the temptation to give their craft over to machine men with machine minds and machine hearts, men obsessed with wringing every dollar they can out of their creativity until there was nothing left to exploit. It transcends the on-demand, the instant, the eternally impermanent. It speaks truth, it says something that matters.
“I guess that’s always been a big thing with Ocean Grove, is that people are welcome,” Sam says. “I think Dale says it almost every show. We’ve always been about welcoming people that either feel like they don’t fit in or they’re a little bit quirky or weird. We’ve always had a weirder sort of sound with our music and have pushed to remind people that no matter what, no matter who you are and no matter what you’re into, you’re always welcome.
“You’re a part of the Oddworld family.”