The Ocean Interview

After completing a massive jaunt around Europe with the Dillinger Escape Plan, Robin Staps from The Ocean Collective took some much valued time out to come chat to Daily Dischord. We had a chat about the bands recent problems on the road in Madrid, the concepts of their most recent albums and as you can see in the first question, apparent bowel problems Robin has…

Much thanks go to Metal Blade for helping hook us up with the band, and many, many thanks to Robin himself for taking time out to chat!

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DD: Hi! First of all, thank you for talking to us! Who are you, what do you do in the band, and for an ice breaker, tell us something about yourself that is really embarrassing?

Hello my name is Robin Staps, I play guitar and I have been shitting my pants for the last 3 days. Drank a rancid Ayran (Turkish yoghurt drink) on Saturday and was too drunk to realize it was bad. On the way home I shat in a plant pot while some people were yelling at me that they were gonna call the police. Then I went into a 24 hour pharmacy but didn’t have any money left as I had spent all of it on alcohol so I tried to convince the lady to give me a pill for free but she wouldn’t so I told her “look, if you don’t give me that goddamn pill right now then we both have a problem…”

DD: For the readers on our site who haven’t yet had the fortune of listening to The Ocean, what are you guys all about? Tell us a bit about the band.

Imagine you’re diving in the Red Sea, or in Belize… you’re at about 20-30 meters, abundant marine life all around you, lots of beautiful coral fish in amazing colors… there’s moray eels hiding under the rocks but they are not really dangerous, you’re looking at Parrot fish and Clown Fish and Sea Fans moving gentle in the current… all of a sudden, you’re running out of breath. Your regulator fails. You don’t have a spare. You always bring a spare, but not today. It’s not your lucky day. You look up and see a huge water column above you. You panic. And while you desperately ascend in a rush, the CO2 in your blood expands, explodes… the sparkling water effect. You get terribly sick from the CO2-intoxication and you panic even more as you realize that you won’t reach the surface in time. And in the midst of all this, a big fucking shark is closing in… that’s kinda what we sound like.

DD: The obvious starting point for this interview would be the recent robbery you were a victim of in Spain. Can you tell us a bit about the incident?

We were robbed on the highway 30 kilometres before Madrid. Two guys in a black BMW pulled us over with fake police IDs. They asked for our van papers and IDs and wanted to know if we had any money to declare. We were not skeptical at this point, as it’s normal in Europe that you have to declare larger amounts of money when you’re crossing borders, so we told them we had merch money with us, and the guy wanted to see it. When we showed them the merch wallet, the guy reached through the open window, seized it and ran back to the BMW in front of us, where his colleague was waiting with running engine. Unfortunately our van and trailer don’t match the speed of a BMW…

DD: How does a band carry on touring after such an incident? What was the general feeling like around the band when this happened?

we were so fucking angry. We didn’t know if we could afford to continue the tour for a few days and we’ve been thinking and discussing a lot, as all of us were faced with a situation of getting back from two months on the road with absolutely nothing in our pockets but lots of bills to pay at home. We are facing a loss of over €6000. We then decided to carry on and try to be positive and then we started a donation program through Pelagic Records and have had great feedback so far. It seems we have a lot of really devoted fans who are willing to help us out. Lots of people who preordered our album donated five bucks and right now we have almost half the money back, so that’s great.

DD: As you mentioned, you obviously managed to continue touring which is great. How was this tour with The Dillinger Escape Plan you’ve just finished, and how has the crowd received you?

Absolutely awesome, really good shows every night. Dillinger are an amazing band and crew, all nice humble people with no attitudes, we were all hanging out every day and we’re all on the same page musically and as people. Loic has been guesting for Dillinger every night on “Sunshine the Werewolf” and Ben returned the favor and played piano for us on “The 1st Commandment of the Luminaries”. It’s been a great honour for us to be on this tour, I have been a fan of the Dillinger Escape Plan for more than 10 years and just to watch them perform every night for 33 shows in a row is awesome.

DD: You’ve probably lost count of the venues you have played the world over, but what venue is your favourite to play and why?

There are a few. The Vera in Groningen is among my favourites, it’s a huge place and it has everything that makes a band happy: a good size stage, good sound, lighting, nice and friendly staff (there are 130 volunteers working there), incredible food…. and the band apartments are right on top of the stage, so you can get completely shitfaced and don’t have to worry about packing your stuff and going to a hotel. Other venues that I really liked, more for aesthetic reasons and the atmosphere of the place, include a place in Leipzig called “UT Connewitz”, an old decrepit cinema, and Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London.

DD: How is life when you guys are not on the road? Do you have jobs to go back to or do you keep busy writing more music?

We all have jobs. Luc is working in watchfactories, Jona is working in a bar, Louis is studying architcture, Loic has his own studio and I run a label called Pelagic Records (we’re doing our own The Ocean records in fancy packagings and vinyl editions as well as some side-projects of mine and a few other bands) and a festival called Friction Fest and do translations for a Berlin-based company.

DD: How much of an impact did Loic Rossetti have on the songwriting of your two new CDs?

Loic is really unique in that he can tackle any kind of vocal style you could imagine, from clean, soulful singing to raspy shrieks. He’s never satisfied with himself and that makes working with him really smooth, because he’s not the typical “this is my vocal line, take it or leave it” kind of singer. He’s never giving up and always wants to give his best.

Loic’s voice has gained a lot during this year’s touring. He is much more confident now and has more power in his screaming, it has also become a bit darker and lower. The recording session for Heliocentric was difficult for him. Most of the vocal lines were already written when he joined the band, and it was the first time we worked together in a studio environment. There was quite a bit of pressure on his shoulders. He was still struggling with his English pronounciation as well as he is a native French speaker. This time everything was easier, we are really good friends now and working in the studio was really efficient and fun. We could really focus on his voice and on melodies and vocal lines without having too many things in the back to worry about and he did write a lot of his own lines.

DD: It’s not often a band releases two full length CDs in a year. Was this always the idea or did you just have too many songs you didn’t want to leave off of the album?

I wrote the Heliocentric material within a rather short time-frame in the summer of 2008, and at the same time our other guitarist Jona wrote some songs as well, that were different and didn’t really fit so well with the Heliocentric material. That was one of the reasons why we decided to make it two albums from the beginning – but now that they’re both done and out I realize that Jona’s material wasn’t even so different from mine, it all blends together well and it also blends together well with the Heliocentric songs. Another reason was that people’s attention span is rather short these days and we didn’t want to overcharge people with 100 minutes of rather demanding music at once, like we did with Precambrian. We felt like we wouldn’t be doing our own songs justice if we did that. Furthermore, the thematic realm is so large that it was just too much to tackle within a single album.

DD: Being a fan of the band I’ve always been intrigued about the deep influences your albums revolve around. What are the main concepts behind “Heliocentric” and “Anthropocentric”?

Anthropocentric is continuing the all-encompassing critique of Christianity that we begun with Heliocentric. Where the former was approaching the subject more from a historic perspective, focusing on the copernican turn and the effects the scientific discoveries of this time had on Christian belief and the power of the church, the latter is approaching the subject from a more philosophical and personal angle. The central question is the contradiction of the theodicy-problem: if God exists and has the three main attributes that Christians want Him to have: omniscient, omnipotent and benign, then there could be no evil in the world. If you agree that there is evil, which is not too hard to get anyone to admit I guess, then at least one of those three attributes cannot be true: for if He was benign, he would not tolerate evil. And if He was omnipotent, he would have the power not to tolerate evil and be able to change it. The album orbits around this problem, the relation between man/reason and God.

There are 3 songs on the album that are called “The Grand Inquisitor” part 1, 2 and 3. These songs have been inspired by the chapter of the same title in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel ”The Brothers Karamasov”: a conversation between the brothers Ivan, an atheist, and Alyoscha, a monk. Ivan tells Alyoscha the story of a Second Coming of Christ in 16th century Sevilla. According to this parable, Jesus is arrested by the Catholic inquisition. The grand inquisitor who interrogates Jesus casts a new light on the legend of the temptation of Christ: he reproaches Jesus with having betrayed humanity and having deprived man of salvation by giving him freedom and self-determination. The conversation between Ivan and Alyoscha mirrors, to some degree, the conversation between the grand inquisitor and Christ and raises more questions than it answers. This long dialogue, which for the most part is rather a monologue of Ivan, is so complex and recondite that one could easily find inspiration for 10 concept albums about Christianity in it.

DD: You’ve been with Metal Blade for quite a while now, releasing four albums with the label. In an age where it’s so easy for bands and artists to share their music on the Internet, how important a role do labels like Metal Blade have for bands like yourselves?

It is true that you can do a lot more yourself today than just 5 years ago. You can not only record a good sounding album but you can also promote your band yourself – if you know how to do it. A label like Metal Blade is still important for us for various reasons – they know how to promote an album better than we do, they have contacts that have grown over the years and get us lots of press and exposure, this is their daily job basically and I’m glad I don’t have to do this myself. Another reason is that they run collective advertisements in all big magazines for all their releases, which a small label with just a few releases a year and smaller budgets could never afford.

We still release our quite a bit of The Ocean material ourselves though – all the stuff that Metal Blade doesn’t wanna do because they think it’s too expensive. We’re doing a limited silver-foiled 4xCD box version that includes the Heliocentric and Anthropocentric albums as well as instrumental versions of the albums, and the same as a 4xLP box… all that is available at Pelagic Records shop.

DD: What advice would you give to up and coming bands looking to get support from independent labels like Metal Blade?

First of all, play shows wherever you can and get an idea of what a life on the road is like and ask yourself the question if you really want this. If so, then practice, rehearse a lot, listen to good music (!), be unique, don’t copy or steal from bands that still exist, and try to get together with the right people, not only within the band but also in terms of booking, label, management etc. – people that are honest and believe in the band – hard to find.

DD: It’s been a busy two years for the band. What does the future hold for The Ocean?

A break! We’ve been supporting Dillinger and Anathema across Europe and now we’ll take it easy for two months. We will then play a European headlining tour in march and a US support tour in April / May. And then it’s almost festival season… we’ll be busy next year.

DD: That’s a wrap I think! Thanks for taking time out to do this interview. Have you any last words to say to our wonderful readers?

Keep on trucking girls. Peace

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The Ocean’s two latest albums Anthropocentric and Heliocentric are out now via Metal Blade.