This is not a regular band, rather a musical collective that began in late 2000 when guitarist/songwriter Robin Staps moved to Berlin with the intention to materialize his musical vision. A year later the leased the basement of a former aluminum factory from World War II and converted it into “Oceanland”, a complex that includes rehearsal, studio and sleeping rooms, where all early The Ocean albums have been recorded. Even in their early stages The Ocean raised attention in the scene, then they cut a deal with Metal Blade where “Aeolian” was released in 2006. The follower “Precambrian” (November 2007) convinced STALKER´s reviewer to give 10 out of 10, therefore we are eager to know from Mastermind Robin and Nils Lindenhayn (Live Visuals) what is coming up in the new year…
What is it like to work in the collective? So you all work & live together?
Nils: No, we don´t live together. As a matter of fact, only the core of the collective lives in Berlin permanently, while many others live all over the place. That´s the big advantage of having that many people—the project is able to operate even if not all its members are physically present in one place. For example, we can have bass player x, living in city a, play a tour with us, but bass player y, living in city b, fly to Finland with us to record the album. Our line-up has become extremely flexible in that respect.
Another advantage of working as a big collective is the wide variety of ideas that flow into the band. Not so much as far as the music is concerned—95% of what´s going on musically lies within Robin´s hands—, but regarding all the other aspects such as artwork, visuals, recording or live performances, it´s a great plus. Martin Kvamme for example, who did the Aeolian and Precambrian artwork, was a real blessing, for he added an entirely new feel to the way our albums look like. For the previous three albums, we had done the artwork all by ourselves, which turned out great every time, but in the long run the variety of styles you´re able to put out is somewhat limited, so it´s always good to add some new material to the “gene pool.”
Isn´t it very difficult to get so many people to work (e.g. different schedules)?
Nils: It used to be difficult in the past, when we were just a big band with the idea of a collective in mind. But over time, we´ve managed to realize the whole potential of that idea—for example, we´ve got five guitar players available, but we only need two to play a show. So we´re able to play one show with Staps and Beels on guitars, and few nights later a show with, say, Farruque and Hillebrand. Thus, different schedules are not the problem they used to be. Now all we need is a second guy for what´s probably the most difficult job—the drumming. Then we´d be able to play two shows in different places at the same time, which has been an old dream of ours.
The space problem is still a big issue, though. But as the word spreads and we´re able to attract larger audiences, we get the chance to play in more clubs with a stage of reasonable dimensions—which doesn´t mean that playing in a big club has become the rule. But the current situation is considerably better in that respect compared to what it was like five years ago. What´s still difficult, though, is the van situation. A van with nine seats is sufficient in theory; but with all the light gear we carry around with us it´s always a tight fit, and in the long run, i.e., on a four or five-week tour, you often wish you had two vans to split the band up onto, or even a nightliner with more space and proper air-conditioning—for the problem has an olfactory aspect too, you know…
Describe a typical day in the collective/a typical rehearsal?
Nils: At a typical rehearsal, you´re unlikely to find all nine of us »core members« at Oceanland (which is the name of our rehearsal and studio space). Unless a tour is coming up, we usually rehearse in smaller groups of three or four, depending on what currently needs being worked on. What might be important to note in our case is that “rehearsal” is not to be confused with “jamming”. At rehearsals, we actually rehearse songs that are already there; having been composed by Robin all by himself. We´re not a jamming kind of band; it has always been part of our concept to avoid exactly that. Most of us, including Robin, have been in several jam bands before The Ocean, but none of these bands ever really got anywhere. So with The Ocean, we went for the opposite approach of playing only composed music, in the classical sense of one guy sitting in front of a piano, with paper and pencil—or rather, being kids of the Turing galaxy, a guy sitting in front of a computer, with his guitar and a sequencer.
Are all in the collective involved in the composition process, or is it rather the work of one or two persons?
Nils: As mentioned before, the songwriting is solely Robin´s job. However, that doesn´t mean that the songs are cast in stone and not open to discussion. Robin records pre-productions of his songs, which we then discuss; deciding what´s good and what´s not, what needs to be changed, etc. In case Robin comes up with a weird idea that we don´t like or that simply is impossible to play, someone else might have have better idea which is then implemented—but usually his compositions are so flawless nothing needs to be changed, haha…
The songs also evolve over time because sometimes we realize a particular element doesn´t work live the way it works on record or at rehearsals—or because we just feel like playing around with the arrangement. For example, “Queen of the Food Chain”, a song that´s been in our live repertoire for five years now, has changed significantly during the past years. However, it remains composed music, all the way, and we really like that approach for you just get more in-depth that way; you´re able to realize a high degree of intricacy as for what the arrangements and actual parts are concerned, a degree that you wouldn´t be able to realize with a contingent jam-approach.
How was the Precambrian material conceived, and how was it born? How long did it take?
Nils: Most of the basic ideas developed during an Australia trip Robin did in summer 2005, and in the Berlin winter that followed. Actually, Robin conceived quite a lot of the material on a four-string guitar on beaches and in hostel rooms on his trip. Back in Berlin, he elaborated them further; but since we were on tour for four months in 2006 and Robin recorded an album with another band of his, he didn´t have the time to work on the Precambrian material until late 2006. In April 2007, we went to northern Finland for three weeks in order to record drums and the basic guitar tracks in a barn in the middle of nowhere. Everything else was recorded at home in our Oceanland studios, as we have done ever since, with some of our guest vocalists cut their tracks at their respective places in the U.S., the Netherlands, Belgium, and Sweden. Finally, we had the whole thing mixed in New York City and mastered in Cambridge, MA—kind of an odyssey, as you see.
How did you come across the book of the author Lautreamont, and why did you choose his material?
Robin: I´ve been fascinated by the French symbolists, like Rimbaud or Baudelaire, for some time now, and I came across Lautréamont´s only work, The Chants of Maldoror, a long time ago and ever since had the idea of trying to let that flow into the music. The Chants are probably the most striking and relentless war with words that was ever waged. It is so full of spite, passion, dark irony and profound hatred of man and his virtues… You can actually think of our music as a soundtrack the Chants. So we tried and fit some of those blasphemous words onto the music, and we ended up having two songs exclusively employing entire passages of the Chants: »Mesoarchaean/Legions of Winged Octopi« and »Neoarchaean/To Burn The Duck of Doubt,« both on »Hadean/Archaean.« There are more parts here and there, and in addition, the booklet of »Proterozoic« is interspersed with quotes from the Chants, some of them using great oceanic metaphory: »You will not in my last hours, find me surrounded by priests. I want to die lulled by the waves of the stormy sea.«
What was the inspiration source for the lyrics?
Robin: A main source of inspiration on Precambrian, as you´ve mentioned, was of course Lautréamont´s Chants. But that´s just one example—we generally draw a lot of inspiration from poets, novelists, or painters, most of them surrealist ones. That surrealist influence is quite present throughout or work. While some of our lines are almost aphoristic and carry a lot of meaning, others were obtained by the free play of thoughts and dreams. Apparently, the lyrics on “Precambrian” don´t follow the concept strictly. There´s no point in making a 90-minute double-album about, singing about nothing else but rocks and streams of lava… if music is to be emotional, it has to address human issues. The Precambrian was a time when there was no life at all on earth, so there is only few room for writing directly about that time. There are still a lot of references and metaphors in the lyrics though that link to the album theme.
What are you doing if you are not in THE OCEAN?
Nils: Our lives outside the Ocean are not all too special, I´d say—which is one of the reasons we´re in the band in the first place. The old fight club thingy, doing things we hate to buy things we don´t need… We work as cooks or graphic designers, study geography or linguistics, go to job centers and welfare offices, etc.—of course, none of us is able to live off the profit that the band generates. Our spare time activities are actually quite limited: usually, they´ve got to do with music. Most of us have, in addition to playing in The Ocean, side projects ranging from Hip Hop to Goregrind.
What kind of music are you listening to?
Nils: The range of musical tastes found in the band is pretty wide. We do have some common denominators, though, such as Breach, Refused, Neurosis, Meshuggah, or Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Apart from that, you can find pretty much everything in the band: we´ve got fans of Old-school Hardcore, Dub, Black Metal, Electronica, Classical music, Grindcore, etc., in the band. Once in a while, there´s considerable dissent on a specific artist. Especially in the van on tour, such fights can turn out pretty bloody sometimes.
What is your inspiration, where does your motivation come from?
Nils: Our main motivation is our discomfort with a society based on commodities, wage work, material success, individuality, and control. We go to kindergarten, to school, to university, to work, and by the time we get out of the sweep through the institutions we´re old and tired. We´re being passed on from one institution to the next and we never actually pause and live life in the present tense, in a rewarding way. A lot of times we don´t even seem to know what is rewarding to us, our desires have been crippled so much by the permanent exposure to the billboards and commercials of companies that take great pains to tell us what our desires are that we don´t even know what is ours and what is external, what is real and what is not, that we don´t know what we want anymore. And thus it´s easy to convince us that we want anything and everything, and of course, everything comes at a price, and here, the cycle closes. The strategy of promise and refusal of fulfilment brings about that we don´t even know what we want anymore. Hence we are content with almost everything—working shitty jobs doing things we don´t enjoy in order to earn money to buy things we don´t need. The Ocean is the collective voice of human beings that still have burning desire in them. The Ocean is an antidote to boredom and comfort-stable mediocrity.
How was the tour in late 2007 (with Intronaut, War From A Harlots Mouth, Nahemah), what was the audience response?
Robin: It´s been good for the most part, we´ve had some shows that weren´t really well promoted, but apart form that we´ve had a great time and good turnouts. Touring with Intronaut was amazing, we became really good friends in the month that we´ve been on tour together and we´re planning a US leg of the tour in spring. The audience response has been great, which isn´t that surprising since it was a headliner tour, so most kids who came out like us and came to see us. I´m really anxious to see how the audience response will be on our next upcoming support tour with Rotten Sound – totally different crowds… so that will be interesting.
Do you prefer to be on the road or in studio/in the collective?
Nils: It might sound boring, but we really love both. It´s great to be in the studio for three of four months, constantly working towards a certain goal, and, when it´s all over, to hold the finished product in your hands. But you tend to lose contact to the real world spending day after day in a dark basement like ours, your thoughts revolving about the same twelve or so songs for months. So after a while, there´s nothing you want more than to hit the road for a couple of weeks.
What was the most exciting/the most disappointing moment in your career?
Robin: I dunno man, I can´t name just one. There were many exciting moments, signing to Metal Blade, scoring our first album of the month award in Swedish Close-Up Magazine, and plenty of intense, crazy shows… and there were just as many disappointing moments over the years… playing to 7 kids after driving for 8 hours, wondering why the fuck you´re doing what you´re doing… personal clashes with people you´ve been counting on and being let down by people you believed in. It´s all part of the game.
A weird tourstory?
Robin: We were looking for our hotel after a show in Stoke-on-Trent in the UK last year… couldn´t find it, it was supposed to be in this large industrial district, which was kinda sketchy… then all of a sudden there was an empty car blocking the road, all doors wide open, noone there… it seemed like some drive-by shooting had just occured or something. So I stopped the van, reversed it and bang, hit something. This something turned out to be a police car, unfortunately, that had pulled up right behind us in the few seconds that we were all staring at the empty car. Adding to the misery, a cop who had just been in the process of getting out of the car when I hit it, got his arm smashed by the door falling shut. They were not amused. I wasn´t either, being aware of the fact that I had been drinking absinthe after the show… and still I was the least drunk of us all, so I was like, OK, I´m gonna drive.
The inevitable happened and those 2 police ladies made me have a seat in the back of their car to do an alcohol breath-test. You know the treat, you´re blowing into a whose and then it indicates whether you´re fucked or not. I was blowing very softly apparently, but the ladies wouldn´t let me get away with it… so I did it again, blowing a lot of air out of my nose… they knew the trick and one of em said ´yo, if you´re not gonna blow you´re fucking lungs out now, we´ll take you to the station and make you do a blood test.´ So, what could I do. I blew. With all my might. And then, the miracle occured: the device still indicated 0 alcohol. God had just been born, and he had compassion with me.
The ladies´ faces suddenly all lit up then and they took us to the hotel that we had been initially looking for… Wanted to make a copy of my passport at the reception, and when that wasn´t possible they offered to drive back to the police station, do it there, and bring it back to the hotel. They were like´you can go to bed now, we´ll just drop it off at the reception´. Unreal. Cops are not always ugly arrogant fucks on a power-trip, they can be human. British cops, that is!
What are your plans in the near future?
Robin: We´re gonna be on tour with Rotten Sound, Victims and Trap Them in March / April. A bizarre package, but we are really looking forward to it. I think people are bored of seeing the same bands 5 times a night. We will play more of the calmer songs off ´Proterozoic´ on that tour, and make the contrast to Rotten Sound as large as possible.
After that we´re doing a week of headlining shows in France and then we´ll go to Eastern Europe and Russia for a while. We love Eastern Europe, people seem to appreciate bands coming along much more than in Western Europe; people are spoiled here because there are so many shows going on.
Then a US tour is in the making for May/June and then it´s time for the summer festivals… and until March it´s album promotion really, and we´ll kick back a little bit and relax after the crazy fucking marathon that was the making of ´Precambrian´…
THE OCEAN COLLECTIVE
drums, percussion – Torge Liessmann
guitars – Matt Beels, Robin Staps, Walid Farruque
bass – Mike Pilat, Hannes Huefken, Jonathan Heine
cello – Stefan Heinemeyer
viola – Karina Suslov
violin – Christoph von der Nahmer
piano – Katharina Sellheim
saxophone – John Gürtler
glockenspiel – Daniel Eichholz
tambourine – Jonas Olsson
additional samples – Tomas Svensson
vocals – Mike Pilat, Nico Webers, Rene Nocon, Robin Staps, Nate Newton, Dwid Hellion, Jan Oberg, Caleb Scofield, Eric Kalsbeek, Jason Emry, Meta,
live percussion: Gerd Kornmann
live visuals: Nils Lindenhayn
samples, creative despotism – Robin Staps