I am aware that UK Tech Metal Festival has come and gone, and in many ways, the blues of this festival haven’t yet subsided for a lot of us. You can refresh your memories with my review and interactions piece here.
After some unfortunate delays at the festival, I was lucky enough to get an interview with Robin Staps, chief songwriter and mastermind behind the musings of progressive metal band The Ocean. Although the date itself may seem like a while ago, the interview was still one of the more interesting ones I have been blessed enough to conduct. Robin gave me an insight into his wildly creative mind and explained his fascination with oceanic themes.
Interview conducted at Newark Showground on Sunday 13th July 2014:
Danuel: Recently The Ocean have been on a tour of the UK and Ireland. How has that been going so far?
Robin: It’s been good. We only did a handful of shows really, we had to combine all the festival spots in Europe with a couple dates in between. That’s kind of why we decided to do the UK now, skipping London consciously because we did London on the Pelagial tour in November and on our August headline tour. It’s been fun, summer time is not normally the best time of the year to tour but we’ve enjoyed it. Now this is the last show of this run and we’re travelling back to Berlin tomorrow.
Danuel: Does living in different parts of Europe prove easy or hard to manage in terms with the band?
Robin: We’re used to it now because it’s been like that ever since 2007 when we had Mike Pilat in the band, who was from the UK. That was the first time we had a member living in a different country. So we’re used to it at this point but it certainly doesn’t make things easier – it’s always better if you’re all in the same place. I’m kind of happy that Paul is living in Berlin and same with Breuer, our new bass player. We’ve got a communal rehearsal space, and everyone else flies in there. It takes a lot of planning and early flights – it isn’t cheap you know, you definitely burn a lot of money with that. On the other hand, we have to have the right people together, I don’t want to make the choice of musicians or friends but I do this professionally. I think it’s a compromise of course, but it’s a compromise I’m willing to make if they’re the right people for the job.
Danuel: So you’ve been at Tech Fest for…maybe a couple of hours now?
Robin: Yeah we just arrived.
Danuel: In your very first impressions, how does it compare to other festivals you have seen before?
Robin: It’s very small, but I didn’t really know what to expect. It’s catering to a very niche musical scene so it’s kind of different to what I expected but it’s a really cool festival. I haven’t really managed to soak in the vibe of it yet entirely, as I said we’ve just got here, we played Manchester last night so we have seen some familiar faces hanging out here which is cool. And it’s in a cool location.
Danuel: So building on that scene you mentioned, have you noticed any key differences in the metal scene in greater Europe, certainly in Germany and in the UK from your recent tour?
Robin: Not really to be honest, it’s all very, very similar. We have all the same genres of music in mainland Europe that you have here, and people dress up the same way for every single one of them. I don’t find there is much of a difference. It does make a difference when you play China, Asia or Russia that have an entirely different cultural background. I find the scenery very similar in Europe though.
Danuel: I’m interested in the visualisation and inspiration you had when creating your latest album, Pelagial. What was your main source of inspiration behind it?
Robin: The sea.
Danuel: I gathered that had some part to play *laughs*, but was there anything about the sea in particular?
Robin: I’ve been inspired and attracted by oceanic themes ever since I guess. I spent a large part of my life, being close to the sea, and had some really intense moments – nearly drowning when I was a kid being a key example. And some other cool moments obviously. It is something that has always been interesting for me. I’ve had the idea to make this album for quite a long time, since early 2009 I just didn’t know how to approach it. It’s an entirely different challenge writing a record that is like one consistent piece of music an hour long, compared to writing a song of 5, 2, 10, 12 or 15 minutes or whatever. So I kind of postponed it a lot of times because I didn’t know how to do that, but when I started writing for it, it went really smoothly. I wrote it very close to the sea, in a house with ocean views. It certainly helped a lot.
Danuel: Curiosity strikes. Why was Pelagial initially intended to be released instrumentally?
Robin: Well first of all the music was really dense already and didn’t really leave much space for vocals. So for a long time I couldn’t really imagine how to fit in vocals. Having an instrumental record out wasn’t really a strange idea for us, our first record Fogdiver was instrumental already. We have always had large long instrumental sections and certain euphoric sounds. With this particular record, how it was shaping up, I didn’t see how to fit in vocals in the first place. And at the same time, Loïc was really ill at the time, he had issues with his vocal chords and he wasn’t clear for quite a while whether he could continue singing with us. So we thought maybe the time was right to do an instrumental record and Loïc was fine with that. He was the one telling us that he doesn’t know about the future of himself in this band. So we aimed for it to be instrumental then when it was done, Loïc started to feel better. So I was like, ‘Hey why don’t we just record vocals over 2 or 3 tracks on the record?’ Keeping it instrumental until the very end and by the time everyone thinks it’s an instrumental record, BOOM there’s vocals. We liked that idea and recorded vocals on the last 2 tracks. Loïc was back in shape and he started just playing around and came across some really cool ideas that had cool creative flow. We figured we either had to drop all these parts or provide vocals on the entire album. So we decided to go for the latter. We decided to release it in two versions, and that’s something we’re going to keep doing in the future. I just really like that idea. Even if I like vocalist in a vocal performance or a certain vocalist in a certain band, I always appreciate when I have an instrumental section available because I love listening to instrumental music. Especially when you’re working, it’s cool to not always have vocals. To at least have the choice is good. So I think we’re going to continue doing that with our future albums, at least with special limited editions to release them along with an instrumental record.
Danuel: Behind concept albums, other than your inspirations that you’ve mentioned, are there any particular examples that have, sort of struck a nerve with you?
Robin: None that follow any similar theme. I can’t really think of many records that have been concept albums that aquatic or oceanic. There’s Mastodon’s Leviathan somehow, but not a whole lot out there I think. I usually don’t listen to other concept albums to be inspired, it’s more that I come up with an idea and I write the music and everything else happens between the initial idea of the conceptual frame and the actual process. It’s not like when you write a thesis at university, where you go to the library to get some ideas and get into the subject matter. I basically just dive into it blindly and see where it takes me.
Danuel: Is there a particular process you have when incorporating your vision and idea to the live show?
Robin: That depends on the material really. It’s always a challenge because usually we have a lot more tracks and instruments playing on the record than we can have live because live we’re a 5-piece. And we have to make this band financially feasible and to deal with all the logistical issues we can’t really bring up more people. We’ve done certain shows when we have an extended lineup of up to 12 or 13 people including classical musicians. But usually live, all the stuff that’s been recorded in the studio by classical players gets played by the sequencer in the sampler. So that means that we can’t really reproduce everything we do on record live the same way we do on record, but you will still be able to hear all those tracks. It just means that not everything will be played live. That’s a dream scenario somehow and maybe at one point we will be able to take a bigger band or lineup, but for the moment we have to keep it efficient and stick to the five members.
The Ocean are:
Paul Seidel – drums
Robin Staps – guitars
Damian Murdoch – guitars
Chris Breuer – bass
Loïc Rossetti – vocals