THE OCEAN - Nils and Robin

\r\nThe band which has shook metalheads off their sits and has given a completely unique perspective into making music recently did an interview with Metalzone.gr. The Ocean (Nils and Robin) talk to Vasilis Mazaris about their stunning new release, Precambrian, who made it to album of the month in the Greek Metal Hammer and has had pretty amazing sales around the world, the creative process, the unique sound of the band, their attitude towrads myspace, their upcomming tour which includes comming to Greece for the first time ever this spring, but also the chances of releasing a DVD. Read on cause it’s probably one of the most prommissing bands you’ve ever came across. \r\n

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\r\nLet’s start by giving some information about the band’s history. As you probably know the band isn’t well known in Greece so give our readers a few info on who you are and how you started out.
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\r\nNils
: The Ocean is a band, collective, or whatever you wanna call it, hailing from Berlin, Germany. We have a core line-up of fix members that are always there, that keep the band functioning. Apart from that, there’s a number of loosely associated people who we call upon when we need them -- there are violin, cello and trombone - players, for example. These people also appear on stage with us at times, mostly in Berlin though, we can’t take them along on tour with us for logistical reasons. Also, there are video and web designers that are part of The Ocean Collective.
\r\nIt all started back in 2000. Robin, our guitarist and songwriter, had just moved to Berlin and started looking for people to form a band. But it took about two years and 40 musicians until there was a stable line-up. The Ocean is a band that requires a lot of work, with three to five rehearsals per week and pretty complex stuff to be played by the musicians, and not many people seemed to be able to cope with this. But in summer 2002, we finally managed to get on stage for the first time. The next year saw the release of our first official record, an instrumental EP called Fogdiver. Two full-length albums (and lots of touring) followed in 2004 and 2005 respectively: Fluxion and Aeolian. The latter was released on Metal Blade, who also put out our latest album, Precambrian.
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\r\nEven though the band exists for quite a few years and has released several albums it was when Precambrian was released that people started talking about you. It was album of the month in Greek Metal Hammer too. Why do you feel there’s such a buzz around you at the moment?
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\r\nRobin
: I think we’ve just released the right album at the right time... it always takes a few albums until people pick up a band, and it’s no different in our case. Precambrian is our musically most advanced album, I think the songwriting is better than ever before, and the arrangements not just within the songs but also of all the songs on the album and their specific order and how they work together in the context of the whole is much better here, I spent a lot of time with that. The sound is also much closer to what this band actually sounds like, it is huge, heavy, yet airy and has a lot of ambience to it.
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\r\nNils
: The buzz that‘s currently happening around us is not the first one, really. When we released our first record, Fogdiver, there was quite a buzz as well, particularly German media were raving about that record. We were really amazed about the unusually wide consensus in the press about how great and innovative that record was. Metal, Stoner, Hardcore, Indie, and Art Rock zines alike seemed to love it. Unfortunately, that excitement didn‘t entail a buzz in terms of record sales, and we learned that it‘s not the reviews that make people buy records. Rather, it seems to be the live experience of a band and the word of mouth that follows if a band proves to be a great live band. And that‘s a thing we‘ve really focused on during the past years. We love playing live; we put great efforts into our shows; of course we‘ve been touring a lot, and apparently, people dig it. I think that‘s an important factor in the buzz that‘s being made. I, for one, can only appreciate a band in their entirety after convincing myself that they‘re just as great a band on stage as on record. Sometimes, of course, a band fail that test, which usually causes some loss in the respect I have for them.
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\r\nLet’s dive into your new album now. Precambrian is a commonly attempted release. An album and a Mini EP. However we are talking about two entirely different releases. In Proterozoic music is mostly experimenting with many influences from Neurosis, Isis etc while in Hadean / Archaean we find influences from metalcore bands and MASTODON. What is more representative of The Ocean after all?

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\r\nNils
: Neither of the two is more representative than the other; rather, what‘s really representative of The Ocean is only the album as a whole. And that‘s an important thing, to me at least: the two discs are no doubt pretty different, but Precambrian should not be seen as two distinct albums in one.
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\r\nRobin
: We tried to make an album that as a whole, comprises the full spectrum of what this band is about. Since this range goes from calm, atmospheric moments to fast, brutal parts, the question was how to combine all this in a way that makes sense. The idea of a double album, consisting of two very different halves appeared interesting to us. We tried to make the contrasts between those two halves as large as they can possibly be—a risky undertaking, an enormous stretch, with the risk of tearing your muscles. But we‘re really happy with the result. And by the way, that idea is nothing genuinely new to us: we did the same with Fluxion and Aeolian: both albums were recorded in one big session, but they didn‘t get released together as a double album in the end, since our labels back then didn’t think that was a wise thing to do, financially, and since we signed to Metal Blade after Fluxion was released.
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\r\nPrecambrian has many guest musicians each one coming from a different genre and each one’s influences contribute to the final result. Is it easy to combine so many diverse influences giving out the effect of absolutely perfect chemistry?

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\r\nNils
: That‘s a natural thing that just happens. You know, it‘s not like these 26 people all co-wrote the songs. Just like it‘s the case with a full-scale symphony orchestra with about 100 people, in The Ocean, there‘s always just one guy composing all the music. The songwriting is completely within Robin‘s hands; he records pre-productions of his songs and passes out sheet music to those who need it. The songs are there before the musicians, meaning that, apart from the core line-up, all the contributors come in only when they‘re required. With that centralized approach, we can make sure that the chemistry you mentioned is always maintained. One might object that with such creative despotism, we might soon become a pretty one-dimensional band, like a one-man-project. But then again, that‘s far from an unusual paradigm among great bands, from The Cure to Today Is The Day. And we all know that if it was any different, there would be no album such as Precambrian. That‘s just not the kind of album you come up with through jamming in the rehearsal room. I mean, just imagine what would happen if the 26 musicians that are playing on the album all met up without a plan and tried playing together, and discussing ideas... in the end, there would be more drinking than playing probably and it would be impossible to reach the intricacy of certain songs and arrangements that way. It wouldn’t work out. So the people we‘re working with now are all fine with the fact that the songwriting is in the hands of one person; some of them have other bands where they realize their own creative visions. It is great to be able to work with musicians who can and want to take their part in the whole, in the great scheme of things, without wanting to play their own fucking solo in every fucking song...
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\r\nLyric wise, if I am not mistaking, it’s all about earth and the geological periods that passed over her. Quite original for an extreme band. Give us a few more details on that, inspiration and cause.

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\r\nRobin
: The lyrics are not primarily about the Earth or its geological history - there is not much point in writing about rocks and lava and volcanic eruptions all the way through the album. There is not much point in writing about how the first single cell organisms felt when they were swimming through the precambrian oceans either... If music or art is to be emotional at all, it has to address human issues. There are still some metaphors referring to precambrian themes, so it’s not all arbitrary, but apart from that the lyrics deal with human subjects.
\r\nSome of the lyrics were largely inspired by Lautreamont’s »Chants of Maldoror«... one of the most striking and relentless wars with words ever written. It is so full of spite, passion, dark irony and profound hatred of man and his virtues, so to speak, that it appeared to us at one point that the album that we were making here seemed like a soundtrack to the Chants... so it was only natural to try 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« and »Neoarchaean« 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 imagery: »You will not in my last hours, find me surrounded by priests. I want to die lulled by the waves of the stormy sea.«
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\r\nIn Precambrian your band dares to embrace elements strange to the extreme sound. In your opinion, should The Ocean be considered as an ordinary metal band and if not how? What would you say is the one feature that characterises you best ?

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\r\nNils
: We’ve never seen ourselves as a metal band in the first place, we’ve always been trying to write heavy music with no boundaries in mind.
\r\nMusically, I don‘t think there is the one thing that might categorize us. The influences that have shaped our sound are just too diverse for that; our musical spectrum is just too wide.
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\r\nRobin
: What I think is really different from most other bands in our field is our whole approach to writing and arranging songs. Even other experimental bands like Neurosis for example stick to a sort of minimalist approach, reducing every idea to its most basic elements, whereas The Ocean could be described as the epitome of »maximalism.« We tend to make songs really »full,« with a lot of instruments, lot of guitar tracks, multiple singers, sounds and little details, plus all the visual aspects like the light show and videos.
\r\nAnother thing that sets us apart from pretty much all other Metal or Noise kind-of bands is the way the project is organized. As you said already, there are 26 musicians playing on the album—but in a live environment we’re usually between five and nine, depending on whether it’s a tour or a single show, and on logistic as well as timing issues. At this moment we have five guitarists in The Ocean Collective, but usually we only play with two of them at the same time. It‘s great to be in a position now where a lot of people are asking to be part of it, so there is no longer a shortage of musicians. It has its advantages to have a constantly changing constellation of people around you. New people bring in a fresh breeze, and personally I just wouldn’t wanna tour for 10 years with the same lame old farts, you know. There are so many brilliantly talented young musicians out there nowadays, as compared to five years ago; it’s amazing. There are downsides of course (keep in mind, for example, that all these people need rehearsals!), but so far we‘re convinced that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.
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\r\nYour new album, is quite difficult to everyday listeners, at least until the listener gets into its mood. What do you have to say to those who will play the album for the first time?

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\r\nNils
: Get a pair of decent headphones, turn off the lights, and be prepared...
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\r\nRobin
: I think the album is not so hard to get into, it’s just long and it takes a few spins maybe... but most people I have spoken to were initially captured by the vibe of the album. There’s a lot of subtle little details to discover even after the 10th time listening to it, so I agree to Nils’ suggestion to digst the album with headphones, in darkness... it’s an experience.
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\r\nIn some tracks of the album, the atmosphere implies a scenere of an old horror movie, for example the fourth song, when the atmosphere is kind of spooky! Does horror and darkness play an important element in your songs?

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\r\nNils
: It does play an important role, but it‘s more like we just let it happen; it‘s not that we particularly want to produce extremely dark music. I think that‘s a problem with much of so-called dark music, and maybe with pretty much all of the Gothic and most of the Black Metal genre... it often doesn‘t come across as natural to me; it feels rather contrived, like if they were desperately trying to be as dark and as misanthropic as possible. But that just doesn‘t work for me; it has the reverse effect. A band like, say, Dimmu Borgir, I just find ridiculous; if I didn‘t know better, I‘d think they were a caricature of themselves. In our case, darkness and misanthropy are omnipresent as well, but so is irony, and if you see us live, you‘ll probably notice that we actually enjoy what we‘re doing.
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\r\nThe booklet of Precambrian has this quote “Precambrian is our stance against myspace-induced volatilness and transience… etc”. However, you you’re your own myspace, and subsequently you also promote your music from myspace. Isn’t that kind of contradictory? Is myspace a necessary evil for bands today?

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\r\nRobin
: I do not generally object to myspace. The general idea is great, since it is essentially the users who keep the whole thing running and working and who make a band popular, in complete disregard of promotional budgets, so it’s kind of a grassroots promotional tool, and I think that’s great. However, myspace no longer works as a medium to share music and attract people to a band in order to make them pick up their records and dive into their art then, when they enjoy it - it has become an end in itself. With an unlimited amount of songs only a mouse-click away, the user simply doesn’t do that next step anymore, but instead, clicks on to the next site. There is so much out there to discover, although 90% sounds the same, and it is that vague fear of missing out on something that keeps everyone in the loop. Adorno speaks about exactly this subject matter when he talks about culture industry in the ’dialectic of enlightenment’, only that it’s regarding radio there, and with myspace it is so much more obvious.
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\r\nNils
: MySpace is neither necessary nor evil. You can do just as well without MySpace, as countless bands have proven and are still proving; and I don‘t think MySpace is a cause or a symptom of a major cultural decline, as some people seem to think. The problem is not MySpace (that‘s why I don‘t think there‘s a contradiction); the problem is (1) the attitude that most of the people on MySpace seem to have and (2) the fact that MySpace supports and perpetuates this attitude. The attitude I‘m talking about is the reduction of a band‘s work to some four or five songs, causing the revival of or the return to an old paradigm: the song. Back in the old days, pre-1948, when records went at 78 rpm, were only 10 inches in diameter and no vinyl-made microgroove was available yet, a phonograph record was confined to, usually, one song on each side. Albums that were more than just a collection of distinct songs on a bunch of shellac records were impossible to realize due to these technical limitations. It wasn‘t until the early/mid-60s that people started not only recording albums, but also thinking »in« albums. The ten or fifteen years that followed were kind of the heyday of the album; just think of the way those things looked – the artwork of Led Zeppelin‘s or Alice Cooper‘s albums was just fabulous and can still serve as a role model for albums today. Then came disco, and it all went down the drain again. The nineties, which went back to guitar-dominated rock music and saw a small revival of the seventies‘ aesthetics, kind of focused on the album again, to a certain degree at least. Now we‘re back in the old days where it‘s all just songs, not albums.
\r\nYou see, the way many of us perceive music nowadays—focusing on the song rather than the album—is nothing new. I‘m convinced that what we call history doesn‘t work linearly, gradually, towards a certain goal, but runs in cyclical patterns, with crucial breaks and turning points in between. At any such break, a new paradigm comes up that, at the same time, is a modified repetition of a certain »ur-paradigm.« Tom and his invention certainly are a problem, for they have, as all media do, re-shaped the way people think about things, and in this case, re-shaped it in a way we don‘t like. But then again, it‘s the same old thing... when Edison came up with his phonograph, people feared nobody would play an instrument anymore (they were wrong). When the radio came up, some were afraid people would spend their nights listening to broadcasts from the concert halls rather than physically visiting them (they were wrong; actually, it encouraged people to go out and see for themselves what‘s going on). And, of course, the Compact Cassette didn‘t cause the decline, but made possible the rise of a worldwide music underground. So even though I don‘t like that song-centered MySpace attitude, I‘m not a cultural pessimist in that respect; I‘m convinced it won‘t last forever, and our album is a contribution to speeding things up a little bit.
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\r\nWhat are your aspirations as a band? Do you feel your latest release Precambrian is a dream come true or are there more things you look forward to?

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\r\nNils
: It‘s not the end of the story, that‘s for sure. After all, there‘s still so many places for us to conquer, and Precambrian is just the starting point for that. However, we don‘t have any fixed plans for the long run. As far as the near future is concerned, we‘re currently in a short months break after the November tour, leaning back to see how the album kicks in, and then go on tour again pretty much all of March and April. We’re doing our first nightliner tour with Rotten Sound, Victims, and Coldworker. A really strange package, but yet another challenge for us, since we’re way different from the rest of the bands here... and we will even emphasize that difference by playing more of the calmer tracks off »Proterozoic« on that tour... let’s see how that goes down with the Rotten Sound fans. We will also go to Greece for a few shows and play a one-week headliner tour in France in April and then head to Eastern Europe.
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\r\nRobin: For me, Precambrian is the best album we’ve ever done and right now I don’t know how to top it, so I don’t really wanna think about a new album. But I know the time will come...
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\r\nWhen do you feel is the appropriate time for a band to release an official DVD? Do THE OCEAN have any thoughts of releasing one?

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\r\nNils
: I think the appropriate time to release a DVD is when you‘ve reached the limits of your other means of expression and have good reasons to believe that a DVD has more to offer than the channels you‘ve been using so far. The Ocean has its music, its lyrics, its artwork, its visuals, and the physical, multi-sensual experience of its live show, all of which we have perfected over the years, and still they offer so much more potential for us to use and discover. I‘m convinced that neither we have reached the limits of these five channels I mentioned, nor that, in the unlikely case that we‘ll ever reach them, a DVD will be the appropriate medium that could achieve things we couldn‘t have done without it so far. Seriously, there‘s no added value, in my opinion. It seems to me that everyone’s putting out a DVD these days just because everyone else does—and because there‘s people buying these things. There‘s so much more interesting, challenging things we could do with our time, energy, and money than trying to digitize everything that The Ocean is about only to provide people with yet another good reason to spend one or two hours of their lives in front of the tube.
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\r\nRobin
: I agree, but then again, we’ve always had this visual side to our music and it is an interesting idea to try to capture that on DVD, but it would have to be well planned and executed in order not to fall into the traps that Nils depicted... we have filmed some live shows on the last tour and we will see what we will do with it, personally I am more interested in offereing other visuals than just the band membrs playing their instruments...
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\r\nThank you for your time and I hope we can see you live in Greece in the near future. Send a message out to the readers of Metalzone!

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\r\nNils
: All I can say is: get ready for The Ocean, ladies and gentlemen, because in spring, we‘re coming to Greece for the very first time in our career, which is awesome, for we‘re kind of returning to where it all began—music and mathematics; almighty Aphrodite and the alphabet...
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\r\nVasilis Mazaris \r\n

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