Holly Cruise 22/10/2007
Oceansize interview. Manchester 9th October 2007.
We're backstage at the Manchester Academy where, in a few hours time, Oceansize will be unleashing their seismic “progressive death indie” on a sell out crowd in what constitutes a homecoming show for the band if not the members themselves. Comprising what they jokingly refer to as a “supergroup” of Manchester University bands of the time, Oceansize currently consist of a Brummie, a Scot, two Leodensians (yup, that's a person from Leeds) and one Chorley-ite brought together by a desire to meld their favourite bands (essentially Radiohead and Mogwai), and to avoid sounding anything like a certain Mancunian band with a rather long shadow. Theirs is a sound similar to a storm - giant guitars crashing against each other, doomy basslines undulating beneath, tricksy time signatures, and of course the obligatory parrots on backing vocals.
Hang on, parrots?
Amazonian ones: to be precise. Somehow a perfectly innocuous question about the band's recent move from Beggar's Banquet to new label Superball Records lead to some unusual animal related revelations.
So you've got yourselves a new record label...
Mike Vennart (vocals/guitar): “Yeah, we reached a point when we'd gone as far as we could [with Beggars' Banquet]. We needed a new home and these guys [Superball Records] offered it to us on a plate. We're the only band on the label at the moment, so they can't do enough for us. It won't last, eventually they'll say to us you can't have any more cocaine and whores, you can't have that gold plated toilet seat. I want to buy a load of cats but I can't imagine they'll want to bankroll my feline obsession.”
Will you take them on tour with you?
Mike: “Y'know, they like going out do cats, and when you're on tour they don't know where they are and they get really fucked off.”
I was impressed to find they have a parrot in the Ents office here.
Mike: “Yeah, it's normally quite chilled but it's hopping about today… my father in law had some parrots. Very intelligent.”
Did he teach them to talk?
Mike: “Well, we've actually got some parrots on one of our songs. At the beginning of 'Ornament/The Last Wrongs' [from Everyone Into Position] there are all these weird ambient noises and what it was is that a friend of ours was in the Amazon jungle and recorded all these parrots. They sounded like kids laughing and shouting, not parrots.
Steve Dunrose (guitars): “I thought they were kids!”
Any other odd sounds on the new album?
Mike: “There's scissors on one song [mimes scissors, we resist the temptation to mime rock and win]. We got that idea from the Cardiacs. By the way the Cardiacs are the best band in the world, absolutely incredible. Never ever tour and they're here on 21st November so make sure people go to that!”
The love for the Cardiacs is understandable. Both bands are frequently lumped with, and utterly reject, the tag of “prog”. It's not hard to see why. For the average punter, rightly or wrongly, “prog” brings to mind wizards, concepts and cosmic lyrics. Oceansize have none of these things. If there's any concept at all on Frames, it's grudges. [bit about grudges] Hence the band prefers the tag “progressive death indie”, especially Steve. “I like that. It's pretty cool. Mike came up with that, and it's better than new prog.” It's certainly appropriate.
Oceansize have a larger following than even they seem to realise. It's evident in the headache they are having as we arrive about the size of the guestlist, with the band writing and rewriting their guestlist almost constantly through the interview. When asked what was making the band tick at the moment Mike replied in a somewhat exasperated manner, “What's making me tick at the moment is the relentless pursuit of guestlist from people I don't even fucking know! It's always like this in Manchester.” Later on Mike fields a call on behalf of guitarist Gambler (inconvenienced by a kebab) from yet another friend of a friend trying to get in to the show. “I'm answering on gambler's behalf, he's eating a kebab... You'd better not be ringing for a fucking guestlist. We're shut now. We've raped them for guestlist spots.” If it all represents a headache for the band themselves, then it's also a sign of the growing interest in the group who are certainly some way from what the mainstream considers to be popular guitar music at the moment. Not that this makes their current situation much different from the beginnings.
“When we started you were either supported by or playing with an Oasis style band all the time. We weren't getting anywhere,” says guitarist Gambler. It didn't stop them. A perfect example of the strength of small but dedicated local scenes, they are the product of the Manchester Music scene, a loose set of bands and promoters who wanted to be different. With fellow big noise merchants Amplifier, and the more electronically inclined Nylon Pylon (now trading as The Whip) they pushed along with their sound, gaining a hardcore, if small, following and allowing them to work at their own pace and to their own musical agenda. And times are changing.
Within the post-rock genre (another tag the band don't really fit) there are plenty of young bands sharing a love for the booming guitars, skewed time signatures, and funky (yes) basslines which Oceansize have produced over three albums. Not that the band themselves seem able to overcome their modesty and bathe in this. When presented with evidence of their influence on this underground following by the medium of a local promoter mentioning how their name is on the lips of a lot bands he puts on, Mike retreats into self deprecation like a pro; “We're almost a cult band, but we're not even famous enough to be cult. Cult means not very famous, but we're not even a cult band”.
But why is this the case? If you've not heard Oceansize you may well be wondering this. For those who have listened to them it's rather more obvious. For all the hallmarks of prog and post rock theirs is a highly accessible version. There's little ear bleeding feedback or noise for noise's sake. Some tracks have choruses. Some are even sexy (check out the bassline to 'One Day All This Could Be Yours'). Their first album, Effloresce, was a slow burner, which introduced their sonic adventurousness and ability to write a decent song or two. Next came the more electronic Everyone Into Position, which the band view as their most experimental album, both sonically and because they tried to go down the more traditional singles route, a plan which failed to work out, even when Music For A Nurse was featured in an Orange advert soundtracking a fish in a bowl in the ocean. “The singley songs we put out [from Everyone Into Position] didn't do us any good whatsoever,” says Steve, “There might be a few songs on the new album you can sing along to, but they're not our fans' favourite tunes, and they're not our favourite tunes.”
The new album, Frames, signals a return to the rumble of the first album, but does so with new bassist Steve Hodson replacing founder Jon Ellis.
Mike: “I held the previous album in high regard, despite its relative failure. When Jon left I thought we were fucked. This is not a slight on Steven and I never said to anybody that I didn't think it would be as good any more, but I had a vibe about it. Then halfway through mixing it really started to make sense and I knew it would be something our fans would like. It's the kind of record they would want us to make, although I expect our hardcore fans to get it and hate and say 'what have they done?', then a year later it'll be their favourite record.”
The album features “a lot of songs about grudges and negative energy”, right from the off with the intriguingly titled 'Commerative ____ Teeshirt', the missing word being '9/11'.
Mike: “It's not actually got anything to do with 9/11. I was sold a teeshirt by the singer of the Cardiacs .On the label it read 'For ages 9-11', and when he sold it to me he said 'oh, here's one of our commemorative 9/11 teeshirts' so I got thinking about what sort of person would wear a 9/11 teeshirt. Someone who's not really looking to the future.”
Disturbingly you can find commemorative 9/11 teeshirts on Google...
Steve: “This is for the geeks, the time signature itself is mostly in 11/8 or 9/8...”
Mike: “So when we were naming the song it was like 'it's in 11, it's in 9, it's got to be 9/11'...”
Later on that evening the band unleashed their maelstrom. Or so we are told. In all the guestlist chaos GIITTV's press pass was one of those to get lost and our attempt to review the gig failed. At a guess it sounded huge. Like planets smashing into each other. The crowd loved it, especially considering how many of them were long term fans or had managed to blag themselves onto the guestlist (damn them). Chances are more than a couple will have walked out of the Manchester Academy intent on slinging their guitars on and get down to bringing along the next wave of bands who will cite Oceansize as an influence. Maybe one day the band themselves will realise this. For the moment they're ploughing their own determined furrow, capturing attention and hearts slowly but surely. None of the awkward time signatures or song structures seem to be there for any other reason other than they should be. Unpretentious post-rock? They won't like the tag, but it's not the worst one ever. Unpretentious death indie is a lot better though.
Oceansize on tour now, in support of their recent album "Frames."
"Unfamiliar" from the album.
Cardiacs tour soon too.