Following on from last week’s release of their stellar, eclectic debut record ‘The Rhapsody Tapes’, we catch up with Ocean Grove’s Luke Holmes about the album, musical freedom, potentially alienating fans, to their (hopefully) very bright future.
When the call connects, I hear from Ocean Grove vocalist Luke Holmes from up in Coffs Harbour, NSW, where the band was stationed due to their national tour with The Amity Affliction and Hellions. At this point in time in late January, ‘The Rhapsody Tapes‘ is only a week and a half out from its release and it was only a week earlier that the Melbourne band performed at this year’s Unify.
Holmes expressed to me how lucky he and his band mates were feeling with all of these great opportunities, saying “I think that everything has really fallen into place for us lately, with Unify, this Amity tour, and getting the feature album on Triple J this week. We’re just feeling so fortunate with all of these well-timed factors giving the album an even bigger push!”
He adds, “It’s something you can never really expect, especially considering it’s our debut album too.”
And he’s right. For their debut record, Ocean Grove has come out of the gate swinging, both in terms of their actual music as well as the attention and traction gained with audiences and the media (myself included because I truly loved it). Likewise, this attention was hinted at early on by the band’s pre-order sales at Unify.
“We actually drove Dale’s ute into the grounds of the festival and we sold pre-orders out of the back of his ute with our OG stubby holders as well. We sold out of all the pre-orders we had – all 100 of them – and we did not expect that. We’ve obviously never done a full-length album before, and we’re not completely sure how the charting works, but we’ve been told that those pre-order sales could actually mean a few more spots on the charts.”
Now, only a handful of people outside of the band and label had heard the record prior to its release and radio feature spin, and the nerves had definitely kicked in for the vocalist and his bandmates. Especially considering the curveball directions they have taken their music in here, like on ‘The Wrong Way‘, ‘Slow Soap Soak‘ or ‘From Dalight‘. But those nerves, and at the risk of it all sounding like a press release spill, also come with admiration and fulfilment for their own work.
“We are just so happy with it and we’re also really happy how we’ve been so experimental with our own sound and our own musical boundaries. It’s something we’re deeply proud.”
The buzz word surrounding Ocean Grove right now is the self-appointed phrase, “Odd World Music”, one that you’ll most likely see mentioned in any current interview, article or review about the band (again, mine included). That term, though, doesn’t necessarily apply to hardcore or nu-metal, but nor so does it apply to 90’s alt-rock or electronica; all of which are elements featured on this record.
Holmes sums up the album as well as this self-coined phrase by saying “I think that it’s the sum total of all our music tastes.”
“The Odd World Music idea encompasses all of the musical misfits that don’t fit into a single category or genre. I think that many people in our modern society are becoming very progressive in many aspects, especially in their music tastes. It speaks volumes that we are a heavy band that can get good radio play; which is also happening more and more. And it’s weird in a way, as sometimes it’s hard to hear an actual instrument on radio playlists. With this album, we had the time with this record to bring everything out to the table; metal, grunge, drum & bass, and so on. We can really go anywhere. We want to be the unpredictable band that can push boundaries; wanting people to guess where we’re going next.”
This album’s stylistic variation is a BIG reason as to why I personally love the release, yet it’s very easy to see why many listeners would be put off by it. For it was on my first listen through, around the time of hitting ‘Slow Soap Soak‘ that I realised I needed to expect the unexpected from then on in. But with such vast sonic jumps between each song, I ask ol’ Holmes if they think they’ve risked alienating many of the crowd that flocked to them with their first two EPs.
“No. We aren’t worried about that at all”, he says rather bluntly.
“We’ve always claimed to be an experimental band. We are of the opinion that all of these 12 tracks are standout songs, with no filler. What has really excited me about the record is that everyone who has heard it so far has all had different favourite songs. At the end of the day, we’re trying something new for us. Whether people understand it or if they can’t wrap their head around it is fine, as we are happy with playing the music that we really love.”
A noble cause, to be sure.
Besides, even with the eclectic genre mixing on their album, there are songs for heavy fans (‘Beers‘, ‘Stratosphere Love‘), songs for Aussie rock fans (‘The Wrong Way‘), songs for EDM lovers (‘From Dalight‘), and so on.
This shit’s got layers.
One particular song that stuck out to me was ‘The Wrong Way‘. Namely how Holmes actually isn’t on the song. This spurned the next part of our conversation; what happens if the band goes in a direction that he as a vocalist cannot best represent?
“We’re always going to be doing a lot of different things, and I don’t think there will be a time when we’ll be just writing choruses. However, if that was the case and I could not keep up, I’d be the first to say that it was out of my league.”
Honest. I like it.
Holmes continues down this thought path, saying that he didn’t need to be on a song like ‘The Wrong Way‘, saying “I think a lot of bands think that “there’s five of us, so all five of us need to be playing on these songs”. And there are moments on that records where it’s just Sam [Bassal, drums] and myself playing around with a sample and my vocals over the top. We really made this record with what was best for the music.”
He also counters my original question and ponders if the reverse could ever happen for the band?
“See, you could ask the question that because there’s a song on there that’s just Sam and I, are we gonna kick out Matt [Henley, guitar] or Jimmy [Hall, guitars] and become the next Twenty One Pilots?” But at the end of the day, we’re trying something fresh. But it’s a good question, man, and you know what? I would still definitely listen to and be a fan of the band if they wrote 12 songs like ‘The Wrong Way’.”
Similarly, the singer speaks about their initial intent for the alt-rock anthem, and how they’ll present ‘The Wrong Way‘ and these other new songs live.
“We really didn’t want to tarnish this track [‘The Wrong Way’] by having this beautiful and epic song and then just chuck in a breakdown section at the end. Plus, when we play it, I can just jump side stage for it and have a sip of water while they play it. It’ll also be really interesting to put these songs into our live format and how we build the live show around it.”
Now we arrive at the band’s sixth member – Running Touch. He’s the eccentric steampunk guy shown in their music videos for ‘Intimate Alien‘, ‘I Told You To Smile‘ (which is still a fucking banger), and ‘Lights On Kind Of Lover‘, as well as the occasional live show appearance. He also features vocally on their debut album’s third song, the powerful ‘Thunderdome‘. For those unaware, Holmes
“Running Touch, he’s a founding member of this band and that’s what came first and foremost”, states Holmes. “He’s toured with us, we do all of the writing with him, going all the way back to The Dead Years. The EDM work of his came after the fact but he’s a vital part of this band and a mate through and through. The last tour that he actually did with us was our Buried In Verona tour years back.”
“When we began this album, he was the firs point of call. He started writing on Ableton and had these very bare bones recordings and it was interesting to take those electric bare bones recordings and making the album into what it is. He was just a huge part of it!”
The vocalist then pauses, before bringing up something that he has rarely, if ever, spoken about in terms of Ocean Grove’s internal writing process.
“I don’t think if I have ever spoken about this before an interview, but when he [Running Touch] writes the songs, he’ll come up with the vocal takes. For ‘I Told You To Smile…’, he came up with all of the lyrics [which may also explain the poem Touch delivers at the start of the clip], and then I went over the top of what he had done. It was just so perfect that there was no point changing it; he did an amazing job.”
“Maybe even better than my parts”, chuckles Holmes.
With little time on the clock left for our interview, I discuss with the frontman about how this album could see the band securing far bigger and better tours and shows, wider popularity and greater financial success, all with the added bonus of playing music they themselves adore. And I bring up whether or not the band may further change their sound over time to appease the wider masses of the mainstream?
Well, he has an answer for me.
“Ocean Grove will always be a part of the heavy music scene. That’s where we’ve spent the most time, that’s where our friends are, and that’s where we’ve come from. I do think an opportunity lies there in bands like us bringing heavy music to a place that it hasn’t yet been before. We believe it’s about making other audiences more acceptive and aware of this music, rather than us changing our band and going somewhere else for those people.”
And look, if there is one band that can lure in and convert the legions of non-heavy listeners, just on the virtue of giving them something exciting, something engaging and something different….then Ocean Grove is most likely the band to do it!
‘The Rhapsody Tapes’ is out now via UNFD. Go get it. It’s fucking great. Read our review of it here, nerds.