The Ocean has released numerous experimental metal albums since their formation in 2000. Their newest release, Pelagial might be their most daring release to date. Pelagial is a concept album that takes its listeners from the surface to the depths of the sea. The 53-minute piece of music begins light and progressively becomes heavier through out the album. The album has been receiving positive reviews across the board from metal fans alike. The new album only demonstrates how the band has perfected their unique sound. mxdwn had the chance to speak with guitarist Robin Staps about his fascination with the sea, the recording process for Pelagial, and the band’s massive tour schedule.
The album was released in April and is already receiving acclaimed reviews. What was your band’s response to the album being so well received?
We are really excited, of course. We are happy to see that it is getting a great response everywhere. It seemed like the album came at the right time. To be honest, I don’t quite understand why everyone is raving about the record as much as they do and not so much about previous records. To me it is a progression. This album highlights our members more. Everyone had been a lot more integrated. At the same time, it’s not so much of a big step for me in between the previous albums and this record. We are very happy that it has done well.
The actual album was described as being a “journey from the service to the bottom of the ocean.” How was this concept conceived for this album?
It was an idea I had for a long time since about 2008. I think its kind of an obvious thing when you play for a band called The Ocean that at one point in your career you will make an album about the ocean (laughs). I’ve been fascinated by the sea since I was a child, hence the name of the band. It can stand for a large diversity of musical expression metaphorically from the peaceful beachfront scenery to the raging storm sea. I thought it would be very fitting for music, that’s why I called our band The Ocean.
I always wanted to make this record that’s like a journey from the surface of the ocean to the bottom of the sea. You can really experience that without knowing much about the scientific side of things. You can really sense the music getting darker, more pressurized, and claustrophobic and low tuning getting towards the end of the record. Which is the same thing that would happen to you if you were diving from the surface to the bottom of the sea. That idea has been sitting in the back of my head for quite a long time now. I just didn’t know how to approach it. It is a completely different challenge when trying to write one piece of music. It is one 54-minute track, it was written as one piece. As compared to writing an album that consists of a number of more or less random tracks. I was kind of chickening out for a while because I just didn’t really know how to approach it. During the summer of 2011, I finally saw that there was time to try this out and that when I started writing Pelagial.
Your previous albums, Heliocentric and Anthropocentric, released in 2010, were also concept albums. How was recording this album different from the recording process for these previous albums?
The main difference was that everything was written in one piece where Heliocentric and Anthropocentric were not. We recorded the drums for this record in a venue in Switzerland where we also played a record release show. We had a record release show there, which we recorded and will be part of a DVD releasing in the fall. It is a place we’ve had a connection with for a long time. We decided to record drums there because it’s a huge place, bigger than any studio we could rent. We wanted to get a really large ambient drum sounds, especially for the end of the record. Everything else was basically recorded in our homes. That approach was different than different albums. I really wanted to bring someone external in to mix the album, and that was Jens Bogren. I wanted him to have all the freedom to change the tone and the sound of the recording. So a couple of differences and a couple things we’ve learned from recording previous albums. That’s why I think this may be the best sounding album thus far. I am very happy with the actual sound of it. I think it represents the band and how we sound live.
Speaking of live performances, the band is currently in the middle of the Summer Slaughter Tour. How is the tour going?
It’s been going great. It’s been really great exposure for us and it’s been a really cool package to be part of. We had some trouble in the beginning getting used to the routine of ten minute change over and really short set times. I’ve found it difficult getting our point across. Of course we would want to play the album in its entirety. That’s all we’ve been doing in Europe and that’s what we are going to be doing in our upcoming headlining tours. We can’t do that with such sort sets, obviously, and we knew that before. Starting with a 25 minute set is great exposure. The next step for us is to come back and to co-headline, which is going to happen in February/March of next year.
Are you incorporating songs from solely this album or other albums as well during this tour?
Yes, we are actually. We kind of stepped away from playing just Pelagial because the sets are just too short. So we are playing mainly new stuff, but we are also playing one old song that is the opening track off Aeolian. Also, because of the time restraints, it doesn’t really make sense to start in the way Pelagial starts: basically two minutes of intro and it slowly, gradually starts picking up. We just don’t have the time to do that on this tour. That’s the reason we decided to start with a really old track.
This album does have two different versions: instrumental and vocal. I was going to ask if you were incorporating both, but it sounds like you are incorporating more of the vocal version?
Yes, on this tour we have our vocalist with us. All of the songs on this tour have vocals. If we had more time to play instrumentals, we would. We did play Pelagial in its entirety, with a large section of it being instrumentals. There are a lot of things that we can experiment with. There are still things we haven’t tried yet. But that’s all something for a longer set time. This is like a compromised Ocean experience that people are seeing. For us, it’s just a matter of getting the word out there [and] winning a couple more people to come back to our headlining shows. Pelagial wasn’t released just as either vocal or instrument; it was also released with a DVD. Usually we show this film live on a projection screen. We also can’t do that here. To me, that’s an unachievable part of the album experience, to see that movie. That’s why I keep saying to come back for one of out headlining tours. Then you get to see the real thing.
Speaking of videos, the band just released their first official music video for, “Bathyalpelagic II: The Wish in Dreams.” It looked like it played off the ocean theme of the album.
Well, that video was just a short except of the Pelagial album and the film I mentioned earlier. There is a video for the entire album. The film begins the journey from the surface and contains footage of the ocean, which I shot myself diving in Australia. It also has a female protagonist that is going through different stages of feeling though out the album, from joy to pain to lust to everything else. You have to watch the whole film to really understand it. In this clip you only see fragments that are detached from the whole context. It was the first time we’ve ever done that mixing visual clips with live performances. I’m usually not a big fan of performance clips where you see the band playing instruments. I think that’s usually boring, but we decided to do it because we’ve never done that before. It was fun making this and I think it cam out pretty good.
I know you also run a label on the side as well. How has running a label changed the way you are distributing and creating music?
That’s an interesting question, actually. I’ve been running this label since 2009. At the beginning, the only reason why I started it was to release on older Ocean album, Fluxion from 2004, that was out of print. Metal Blade didn’t want to do it at that time so the guys at Metal Blade just gave me a bunch of contacts for distributions and told me why don’t you just release it yourself. I never really thought of doing that but I did it and I started a distribution list at work and that’s where it really began. I began getting ideas for releasing music for other bands that I feel that I thought needed exposure. We set up thirty-two releases within the last four years.
Personally, I found it very interesting. A lot of musicians say that they don’t care about the business side of music and they just want to play guitar. I am not like that — I appreciate playing with this band and running this label and being able to see the diversity. You go on tour and live the rock and roll dream sometimes, which is awesome. But running a label, you can also go home and focus on studio and office work. When you get tired of home, that’s when you can go on the road again. So its always kind of flux between two states of going on tour and being in your home routine. That’s something I really enjoy. I get bored easily and I can’t be in the same place for too much time. It’s the perfect path I’ve chosen. I’ve always been interested in the management and business side of things. That’s, of course, a completely different way of life. It has given me a lot of insight within this label on how the music business works. That has also helped me avoid certain dramas occurring just because I know how certain things work. Altogether, it’s been a positive learning experience. I think I have a better understanding of what bands want and need. I have been living for music pretty much all my life, so I want to be involved in every aspect of it somehow.
What’s next for The Ocean after the Summer Slaughter Tour?
The Summer Slaughter Tour is only the start of a pretty massive world tour. We are going to do a show in Vancouver and then slide into Mexico City. After Mexico, we are heading to Taiwan and then Hong Kong and [then] twelve shows in China in mid-September. After, we are going to be part of three or four European festivals in early October. Then, we will be going on a European headlining tour. We are pretty much going to be on tour until the end of the year. This is the touring year, like I was mentioning. By the end of this we are going to want to be home and live boring lives. I am looking forward to that.
I hope the best for The Ocean. Congratulations on the success of the album. Good luck with the rest of your tour!
The Ocean will be touring well into next year. Check out their website for more your dates and information!