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Robin Staps Of The Ocean Takes Stereoboard Down To The Depths Of New Record ‘Pelagial’ (Interview)

Friday, 03 May 2013 Written by Ben Bland

Right, well, to kick things off I’d like to, predictably, talk about ‘Pelagial’, the new record. How do you see this album as being a progression from the ‘Heliocentric / Anthropocentric’ albums a couple of years back? 
I guess the main difference is that this album was written with a master plan in mind, as one piece of music, whereas the "-centric"s were more of a collection of random songs. What tied them together was the lyrical concept, while the music was very heterogeneous, and as a matter of fact the conceptual ideas behind the centrics came into place after the music was already written. 

Another thing is that we have grown together as a band since the release of the centrics. We have spent the last 2 years on the road and played a lot of shows around the globe. We know each other both personally and musically and I guess that is something you can hear on the new record. 

How far is this record concept driven? I know you’re very ambitious with such ideas usually! 
Well, I did not want this to be some detached concept, I really wanted the listener to be able to feel and experience the journey from the surface into the depths. Conceptually, it's not a 'brainy' album like the '-centrics' maybe were. It is a very introspective, personal record, and in order to understand the basic idea behind it, you don't have to know anything about the Pelagial depth zones, as a matter of fact. All you need to understand is that it's a journey, musically and lyrically, from the surface to the depths of the sea, and analog to that, a psychological journey from the surface into the abysses of the human mind. To be honest I think everyone can experience that even after the first listen, because the music starts out pretty and light-weight, and is getting progressively darker, heavier, slower and lower in tuning throughout the record. The underwater sounds and samples further enhance that feeling of the deep, of claustrophobia, pressure and fear, during the second half of the record... 

How did you go about writing the record? Was it as a whole piece or as separate tracks? I listened to it the other day and completely missed all the track breaks, so it’s fair to say that it definitely works as one whole piece of music!  
That's good to hear, and it was indeed written as one piece of music. We did not decide on whether we were even going to set any track marks at all, until just a few days before mastering. They are at times fairly arbitrarily set. The first four tracks, for example, are not four separate songs; really they are one piece of music. We decided to set track marks for convenience reasons mainly. It just makes life a bit easier when you can access certain sections of the record separately.  

How involved are the other members of the band with The Ocean’s creative process?  
I wrote this album basically on my own, but then Luc contributed his drum parts. He interprets my pre-productions very loosely and really gives it his own twist, which is awesome. I’ll be honest, he knows a hell of a lot more about drums then I do! The same for the bass parts and of course the vocals. Everything else (guitars, samples, strings) was pretty much my territory. Jona was not involved with this album at all, neither recording nor writing-wise, as he was busy with his side-project. 

Are you performing the whole record every night on this tour? How are you presenting it live? 
That's the plan, but we will have to make compromises at one point. When we'll be doing the Summer Slaughter tour in the US this summer for example, we won't have enough set time to play the whole album, so we will need to cut it somewhere. 

Also, to me the live performance of this album is kind of tied in with the video projections (the 'Pelagial' movie that also comes on a special DVD along with the limited box set version of the album that is available from www.pelagic-records.com/shop), so sometimes when we can't set up our screen and projector because of stage space / clearing issues, we won't play the album in its entirety and play some old songs instead. It is possible to break up the new album and play only parts of it, not everywhere and at any spot, but we can play the first 15 minutes of the album for example, and then go into something else… or start with something else, and then play the last 25 minutes of the record.  

The Ocean have definitely been one of my favourite live bands to witness over the years, but you never seem to have much luck when it comes to touring, with van breakdowns and the like. As a band that seems to throw everything into performing how frustrated do you get if the circumstances aren’t absolutely spot on for you to perform as you would like? 
Well sometimes it can be really shit and you find yourself wondering why you're even doing this but those moments are fairly rare, and balanced out by the moments of awesomeness that come with touring. As a punter I find it more exciting to see bands in a smaller venue, though, so I think that, sometimes, the smaller shows, where conditions aren't ideal and where the production has to be compromised, are still the ones that feel best for us. 

The record is coming out in two ways, instrumental and with vocals. I believe this is because Loïc had some health problems. Did that have a major impact on the creation of the new album? 
Yes and no. The album was originally written to be instrumental, in disregard of Loic's health. This was simply because of the fact that for a long time, I could not imagine how to approach writing vocals and lyrics for the album - the idea of this album, the journey from the Surface to the Bottom of the Sea, did not essentially call for vocals, and as a matter of fact it turned out to be quite difficult to find a cool way to approach the lyrics - I did not wanna write about the lives of deep sea creatures really, because their lives are rather boring, you know?

Given all that, we were planning for this record to be instrumental from the very beginning. What happened then was that Loic's voice got better and he was very keen on being on the album - and after a few months of taking a break from playing shows last year, I had also come to the conclusion that it would be a huge loss not to have him on the record. So then we started recording some vocals, still without lyrics, just very intuitive melodic vocal lines, and started getting all excited, and then by the end of the week we had recorded vocal sketches for almost the entire album. So then I had to face the question of how to approach this album from a lyrical point of view again, and I found a good way, but that would be another story... 

With regards to the creative side of the band, is it a constant process? Are you always coming up with ideas or do you sit down and think, “Right, what do we do next?” 
 Hmm, I always have ideas, but I am compiling them and waiting for the right time for them to find their way out of me. I am not constantly writing, as a matter of fact I am never writing when I am on tour. I need space and time and to fulfil all the clichés in the book, I need to be close to the sea in order to write music! Right now the album is done and I carry a healthy dose of emptiness inside of me. Fulfilling emptiness, if that is not a contradictio in adjecto, not the type of frustrating emptiness, but more the feeling of having achieved something, having released something that needed to come out, and now it's there, and that makes me feel good. I don't feel the desire to already start thinking about the next thing yet. 

Where do you go next? What’s in your plans for the rest of the year? 
We are currently finishing our tour of Europe with Cult Of Luna and Lo!, then we are playing a set of shows with Mastodon in Europe in June, and in July/August we are touring the US with Dillinger Escape Plan, Animals As Leaders, Periphery and a bunch of others. After that we are returning to Asia to play 3 weeks of shows in Taiwan, Hong Kong and China and then we are doing 2 weeks in Russia. Our 3xDVD entitled 'Collective Oblivion' is coming out some time in the fall / winter, and we will be headlining Europe in October / November.

So, the year is pretty much planned out with plenty of touring and the forthcoming DVD release. It's gonna be a three disc set, and the main contents are a band history part, two complete live shows, several other clips from around the globe, and tour documentaries from Europe, the US, China, Russia and Australia. The latter is the most exciting parts for me, although most people will be most interested in the live parts I assume; although they turned out great as well don’t worry! It's really an all-encompassing DVD that tells the story of this band from the beginning to today. It’s the end result of more than 3 years of work, during which Alex, who has been filming the thing, was with us all the time and on all continents. His camera has captured some amazing moments of glory, shame and fun, and I am glad that all this material is finally coming to shape now. It's a bit of visual diary of my life in the past 3 years!

‘Pelagial’ is out now via Pelagic Records.


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