The Ocean Talk India Return, New Album
The German metallers’ guitarist and founder Robin Staps are stopping by the country after more than four years as part of their whirlwind tour around the globe promoting ‘Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic’
At their shows, Berlin-based prog/post-metal band The Ocean get fans engaging them in discussions about philosophy by thinkers such as Friedrich Nietzsche. Guitarist and founder Robin Staps says he got into Nietzsche at 16 years old, when he was already into hardcore and metal music. “I was thinking, ‘Those words should be lyrics to songs.’ Especially the aphorisms, there’s so much truth condensed into short concise phrases and sentences and that always impressed me,” Staps says over the phone from Berlin.
On their latest record, Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic, Staps goes one up and intertwines Nietzsche’s work on the Eternal Recurrence with the Palaeozoic period, when complex life forms began to evolve. “Cambrian II: Eternal Recurrence” comes across as the most emotive and heavy song from The Ocean, who have been known for their sprawling, detailed and cerebral approach to concept albums and double albums such as Heliocentric and Anthropocentric (2010) and 2013’s Pelagial, which featured one side with vocals and another completely instrumental.
Just about a year after releasing Pelagial, The Ocean made their way to India in 2014, for what became an infamously bad time for the band. They were scheduled to perform at The Great Indian Octoberfest in Bengaluru, which The Ocean called off due to nonpayment of dues. A last-minute club gig was secured, which led to one intense experience for fans and the band. Staps recalls their debut trip to the country as “very difficult” but says the band enjoyed their performance. “It was still, for all of us, a very special experience… to be actually be able to play and give people what they want,” Staps says.
The band returns to the country this week after working with Bengaluru-based blogger Ramakrishnan Krishnan, founder of the Unscene gig series. Unscene presents The Ocean India tour kicks off on January 10th in New Delhi, followed by shows in Mumbai (January 12th), Bengaluru (January 13th), Guwahati (January 17th) and Hyderabad (January 18th). Staps says, “We’re very excited that we can make this happen now. I think the setup this time is a lot better. The guy who’s booking the tour has been very hands-on and very communicative.”
The tour is part of what is likely to be The Ocean’s biggest year yet, including stops in Australia and New Zealand, North America and European festivals such as Hellfest in France, Summer Breeze in Germany and Brutal Assault in Czech Republic, among others. Ahead of kicking off 2019, Staps spoke to Rolling Stone India about their new album, shooting a music video in India and more. Excerpts:
It seems like 2019 is going to be a nonstop year for you guys. How much work has gone into putting all this together just for this album cycle?
It’s always a matter of luck. When you have a new record out, get a lot of good press and there’s interest, then festival bookers will take notice and the offers come in. But this is our agency taking care of that. They book other bands like Cult of Luna or Alcest, for example, so they always have more bands to offer to festivals. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. With Hellfest, we’ve played twice and this is the third time for us playing. There’s some other festivals that we’ve worked on for years to get an offer, like Roskilde Festival, we played in 2014. We’d been talking to them for seven years (laughs) till it finally worked.
How has Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic been received so far?
It’s been absolutely great from what I gather. People seem to dig it. You never really know when you come back after five years. Pelagial came out in 2013 and it’s been quite a long phase without releasing albums for us. It’s not like we’ve been inactive. We toured a lot, but hadn’t released a record since 2013. We didn’t know what to expect, but on the other hand, we felt very strong and confident about this record. It seems that people really dig it.
I think it’s a record that kind of reconciles the fans who are into the heavier, more raw and abrasive side of the band with the fans that are into more clean vocals and melodic aspects of it. Somehow we wanted to make this record as a bridge between Precambrian (2007) and Heliocentric conceptually, but also musically.
It feels like the emotional weight of this album is a lot more than previous Ocean records – was that the goal?
I guess it’s something that happened but we did want to make a distinct effort compared to Pelagial, which was very cerebral type of music. We didn’t want to do that again, not because we don’t like it any more, but because we wanted to do something different. We wanted to make an album that feels very raw and immediate, that has this continuous vibe going through it from the beginning to the end.
All those tracks were written in a short timeframe and in the pre-production phase, they had that vibe. I thought on the one hand this sounds like Precambrian and on the other hand, I knew that when Loic is going to add vocals to it, it’s not going to sound like Precambrian. That kind of knowledge was there.
For writing lyrics, that’s always the most difficult part for me with music. It takes the longest. Sometimes you rack your brains for a whole day, and by the end of the day, you’re like ‘This is all shit. I’m not using any of that’. Sometimes you write a very long song, for two hours and that’s it, that’s to the point. It’s tricky business.
There’s no precedent for the way you write concept albums, intertwining philosophy with evolution. What are the reference points in concept albums, music or even just art for you?
I’ve always been intrigued by concept records which started with Pink Floyd. There have been interesting concept records over the years, but when I’m writing music, I try to disassociate myself as much as possible from contemporary things, which obviously doesn’t always work.
There have been a couple of bands and albums that have had outstanding importance for me, with regards to inspiring me as an individual and an artist creating music. I was never at the point where I thought I should do the same thing or something similar.
Has there been anything more recently, where something you watched or read or heard recently made you feel like it inspired you or opened a door for you?
To be quite honest, I haven’t watched a movie in a long time. Netflixing with my girlfriend lately and that’s all I’ve been doing, because I’ve been so busy working. Of course, I’ve been listening to a lot of music. There’s always great contemporary things as well, but on the other hand, the older you get, the harder it becomes to feel that sensation of overwhelming excitement you’d get when you were a teenager.
I still go to a lot of shows, but I rarely have that experience where I’m so blown away that my jaw drops. But it does happen. Nowadays, I also listen to a lot of contemporary electronic music and I’ve had in the last two or three years, some very intense experiences actually listening to electronic music that wasn’t even a live performance, but a very good DJ set.
With regards to contemporary bands, I’ve been listening a lot to this band called Scraps of Tape, from Sweden. They’re a small band on Denovali Records and their 2018 record [The Will To Burn] is really good. I was surprised to discover a new band where I feel everything is in the right place. I highly recommend that record.
When is the second part of Phanerozoic coming out?
We’ve already recorded drums and guitar. We still need to track bass and vocals. The record is written and we just need to finish recording it. We’re not going to have time to do that until May (laughs), so I’m definitely sure it’s going to come out in 2020, probably in the first couple of months or around March or April, something like that. That’s the plan for now.
Coming to your India tour, what are your plans while you’re here, outside of the shows?
We’re only doing five shows, but we’re there for a good two weeks. So we will have time to see stuff and we really wanted to do it this way. The more we want to get out of touring is when it’s not just venues and roads.
It was discussed like that from the beginning. Actually, Loic (Rossetti, vocalist) and I and Craig Murray, the guy who did our video clip for “Cambrian II,” we’re going to meet in Delhi and we’re either going to go to Benares or to the other side to Rajasthan to film a video clip for “The Great Dying.” Craig already started with it and he’s in Bali and started filming lush rainforest and vegetation for the beginning of the clip and by the end of the clip, the idea is for it to dry out and have more desert type of sceneries. I think northern India is a great place for that. We’re in the process of thinking about what to do.
We’ll also have some days off in Guwahati I think and in Bangalore as well. We’ll definitely get to see some stuff.
Unscene presents The Ocean India Tour 2019
January 10th – Studio XO, New Delhi (w/Ioish)
January 12th – Above the Habitat, Mumbai (w/Jatin Talukdar Project)
January 13th – Fandom at Gilly’s Redefined, Bengaluru (w/Orchid, Flaw & Order, Pandora’s Box)
January 17th – Xtreme Sports Bar and Grill, Guwahati (w/Maximal, Jammers Graveyard)
January 18th – The Moonshine Project, Hyderabad (w/Hostilian)