MEB staffer Ridge Briel recently caught up with guitarist Robin Staps and vocalist Loic Rossetti of progressive metal heavyweight The Ocean while on tour with Devin Townsend at the Troubadour in West Hollywood, CA. They discuss recording for their next album, tour experiences in China, recommended literature, and more!
MEB: Which songs do you guys like to play live?
Well, our focus is on playing music from the last two albums. We usually play a Precambrian song or two and we’ve been playing “The City In The Sea” from Aeolian recently as well. Sometimes we play some Fluxion songs, but not on this tour yet. It’s been a while.
So when and where will the recording of the new album take place? Do you plan on returning to La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland to record?
We’ve been discussing for the last couple of weeks on what we’re going to do exactly with this album. We are going to record drums there that’s for sure, but we want someone else to mix the album. Right now we’re considering a couple high-name mixers cause it would be cool to get some input from the outside. We want someone who’s not really in the band and doesn’t know the band to bring a different perspective on the whole soundsphere. So we’re probably going to record it ourselves in a similar way to the last album.
Is there a pending release date and title?
I cannot say anything on that because it’s not official just yet. As for a release date, we’re meeting up with our label people today to discuss that. We want to release it before fall 2012, but we may also push it back to spring 2013. We’re going to hit the studio in February to record guitar, drums and bass and do vocals over the spring. We should have a master by summer. But we also have a DVD coming out so we’re deciding on what to do first cause we don’t want to bash everything out at the same time.
Are you planning on making another double record concept album? What sort of lyrical content will you write about this time around?
Of course we will be making another concept album, but the lyrics have not been written yet so I can’t really say too much on that. There is a conceptual idea right now, but I don’t want to put everything up front now only for it to change later. We’re going to announce it fairly soon, probably within the next two or three months on what we’re going to do. I can say that it will be a single album and not a double album, about 45-50 minutes of music with strong semantic content.
Have you ever about thought writing to refute different philosophical viewpoints, such as the rationalism of Rene Descartes or Scholasticism of Thomas Aquinas?
Thing is, I don’t want to make another super intellectual, philosophy-focused album. I study philosophy and I’m very much into it. Personally, I’m interested in giving people a little more than the typical, boring self-focused and giving something that allows people room to think about certain things. I think we’re going to continue doing that, I mean that’s what this band is about. But it’s not about making the next super philosophical album that only people who have studied philosophy can understand.
Do you plan on having any guest musicians on the next album?
Good question… not really. I think we found a lineup that’s capable of doing everything we need to do, in terms of instruments. We will probably have some string players but no famous guests or anything like that. We’ve always had people play on the album who don’t play with us live, such as the classical music players. You never know, I’m not generally opposed to it but I don’t think it’s something that necessarily needs to happen with this band. We can do everything we want to do by ourselves basically.
Going into China, was there any sort of culture shock? What sort of standout experiences and shows did you have over there?
It was sick. Hong Kong was amazing. We did two open air festivals and those were quite… interesting. Quite different from the open airs we’re used to playing in Europe. We did a bunch of smaller club shows in a bunch of cities. The big cities, like Shanghai and Beijing, were boring. We had a lot of technical issues there. The smaller places, like Chengdu and Shenzhen, were pretty awesome. Guangzhou was an insane show. I mean, small as in still more than fourteen million inhabitants. We didn’t play any show [in a city] that had less than ten million people in it. It’s still a very young scene there. What’s different is that these huge cities have only a few venues. I’m from Berlin with a population of three million people and probably about sixty venues. In Guangzhou, you have five times as many people as Berlin and only two venues. It’s still growing and developing which makes it even more interesting. It’s like playing shows in the U.S.A. or Europe in the early ’80s when the whole punk rock and hardcore thing was barely coming up.
The impression I have on China is that it was super new and exciting. The show in Shenzhen, for example, was in this little tea house and people were seated until we started playing. We were thinking “Fuck, this show is going to suck.” I just went on stage and said “Okay everyone, move up front,” which they did and that’s when everybody started going nuts. There were circle pits and shit. We really had the impression that these people had never seen anything like that before. It’s really innocent and fresh in a way because they aren’t exposed to this sort of music as compared to Europeans and Americans.
What songs did you guys get the biggest audience response from in China, and were there a lot of people who actually knew you guys there?
Yeah, there were a bunch of people who were familiar with our material. “Anthropocentric” was one particular song that got a lot of responses. A lot of people come to shows just because there’s a show happening out of a general curiosity, they don’t really know the band. They come to the show really open-minded, and if you rock their socks off then they become fans.
On your next album, are you guys planning on using a broad soundscape of orchestral instruments like your previous albums, or are you going to go for a more straightforward approach?
There’s going to be some orchestral elements but not as much as on Heliocentric, for example. It will be a pretty straightforward album. We want to do a single long track about 45-50 minutes long, and put track marks to let people know what part addresses what on that long track. It’s basically different songs all interlaced together, for example you will hear a riff in the beginning of the album that will later appear somewhere near the middle of the album. There’s lots of links and parts within the songs, and it will work the same way as well with the lyrics.
What does it mean for you guys to be playing alongside Devin Townsend on this tour?
It’s cool. He’s a fucking awesome guy. He is someone who knows how to have fun. A really great guy to hang out with and the crew are awesome as well. It’s an honor for us, I mean he’s been in it for so long and doing it for so many years. Such a great performer, musician and entertainer in a really unique way. I mean, how many guys can start a show with a 20 minute-long Barbie intro with puppets talking to the crowd and shit?
What’s been your biggest challenge as a band going along this conceptual route with all of your albums so far?
It’s definitely a huge challenge writing a concept album because of the lyrical coherence between the tracks. It’s difficult enough for me to write lyrics to one song because so many things have to fit all at once. Talking about a theme, you have to make sure it follows the rhythm, and the words have to be powerful but not cheesy. I spend more time writing lyrics than writing the music. It’s really fucking hard. Writing music, it all just comes out of you, but when writing lyrics, there’s a thin red line between something that’s awesome and something that is pathetic. And when you have to write not just one song but an entire album, everything has to be related. But it is also something that is really interesting to me. It’s usually something at the last minute after all of the music has been written. That’s when I’m like “fucking hell, I have to come up with lyrics now.”
What is the relation between the band name The Ocean and the lyrical content of the songs you write?
There isn’t a direct relation. We use a lot of oceanic metaphors in our songs. There’s lots of ocean-related imagery. When I picked that name, I wanted to have a name that will enable me to do anything musically, from really quiet stuff to really heavy stuff. The ocean can be serene and quiet, or it can be a shark-infested and storm-filled sea.
What sort of literature or movies would you recommend to people who follow your band?
Friday the 13th. I would highly recommend The Brothers Karamazov for anyone who’s remotely interested in the topic of religion and the legacy of Christianity. It’s awesome and has given me a lot of inspiration for the albums. Another novel I would recommend is The Fat Years by Chan Koonchung, which talks about the current state of China. It’s basically a dystopia of the future of China. I picked it up because I wanted to get some background before I toured the country. As for watching programs on tour, everyone but me watches TV shows; I can’t stand watching five minutes of what the other guys watch. I recently purchased a movie called Biutiful, which has an amazing story behind it.
Any last words for your fans and the ones who have yet to experience your live set?
Come the fuck out and get hurt.