Beyond the Fathomless Depths
CoC chats with Robin Staps of The Ocean
by: Jackie Smit
Robin Staps is a man with big ideas. An ardent admirer of Neurosis, The Melvins, Godflesh, King Crimson and similarly unhinged acts who have taken undiluted surrealism and given it a soundtrack, his quest to create something equally grandiose and expansive led him to Berlin, where at the turn of the century, he founded what ultimately would become The Ocean. Combining lush, orchestral movements with Lynch-esque soundtrack elements, the band quickly won a cult following with the instrumental _Fogdiver_, before turning heads with the equally expansive, but more metal-orientated _Fluxion_. Now comes _Aeolian_ -- the next chapter in the increasingly curious tale of The Ocean. Gone are the ethereal melodies and the tranquil passages; replaced instead by thundering, layered heaviness that recalls (and at times eclipses) Meshuggah's finest moments. I caught up with the man himself to discuss the new record, the band's elaborate live show and where this sonic journey may be headed.

CoC: _Aeolian_ is often referred to as the evil twin brother of your last record, _Fluxion_, because it explores very similar ideas with a distinctly heavier and more brutal bent. Is that something that was intentionally done with this record, and was it always your plan to let the two records connect to each other in that way?

Robin Staps: Well, originally they were actually planned to be released as a double CD. Both albums were recorded at the same time, and the material on both records comes from the same era of song writing. So, it was supposed to be all one record, but we realised pretty quickly that we weren't going to be able do that, because our label at the time wasn't very into the idea. So we had to split up the songs in a way that made sense to us, and in that way the heavier songs got assigned to _Aeolian_ and the rest made it on to _Fluxion_. Because of that we decided that we'd focus on _Fluxion_ first and finish that -- this was after the guitars and the drums had already been recorded -- and that was released in August last year. Then after that, we went back to _Aeolian_ and finished that up.

CoC: So, are we to assume that there's an overarching concept that ties the two records together?

RS: Not really. Like I said, the songs all come from the same time. I think that _Aeolian_ shows a side of The Ocean that was always there, and I think that people who have seen our live shows know that. So, it's not like we suddenly decided that we wanted to start making heavier music. As far as a larger concept -- I've been told that we have song titles that synch into another and supposedly our artwork is interconnected as well. But there isn't a concept that runs through the lyrics or anything like that.

CoC: How did changing labels midway through completing these two albums affect you?

RS: We were looking for a label after _Fluxion_ was released because we weren't happy with how the album had been handled, particularly in Europe where it wasn't available, and basically we were looking for a bigger platform from where to release _Aeolian_. So we started sending out a couple of _Fluxion_ packages and gave the labels an idea of what we wanted to do. We ended up with Metal Blade, and they seemed most reasonable. They were really into it, and they really wanted to release it. It didn't affect the creative process at all, because by that point all the basic tracks for all the song had been recorded. We recorded the vocals in 2005, but that's about it. The recording had largely been completed before we started looking for another label. Metal Blade gave us money to do extra mixing and extra recording work, but we didn't really use it for that. We mastered _Aeolian_ after we had signed to Metal Blade, but basically we had started recording this album by ourselves and we wanted to keep it that way. We use most of the money we have ever received to buy equipment for our recording studio, because that's the way that we like to work. We have all the time in the world and we can do whatever we want, where if you're at a hired studio, you always have to be looking at the clock and that just sucks.

CoC: One thing about _Aeolian_ that's very noticeable in comparison to _Fluxion_ is that it's got a much more chunky and impacting guitar sound.

RS: It all comes from the same guitar tracking sessions, actually, on both albums, but we used different equaliser settings and a couple of different effects for _Aeolian_. We also had a few more options when we were finishing up _Aeolian_, and after listening to _Fluxion_ I grew very tired of that guitar sound very quickly, so I wanted to adjust it slightly. _Aeolian_ needed to be a straightforward record on the surface that people could get into easily and understand, but that would continue to kind of reveal more of itself. That's really what makes this whole thing so special to me: that we were able to write and record both _Fluxion_ and _Aeolian_ in the same sessions and they're such different records, but at the same time they still work together.

CoC: Now that you mention that, I was quite surprised that _Aeolian_ came out after _Fluxion_, particularly as it seems to be an album that's more readily accessible. What was the thinking behind that?

RS: When we had finished up the basic tracks for each of the records, initially we were actually thinking of bringing _Aeolian_ out first. But if you look at our first record, _Fogdiver_, that was an entirely instrumental album and it was much calmer than either of the two other albums. So we felt like that album connected much more easily and naturally to _Fluxion_, because they both had a lot of orchestral parts and a lot of very diverse instrumentation. The breach between _Fogdiver_ and _Aeolian_ would have been much bigger. The other train of thought was that there are so many bands out there who seem to get softer with every release, and we basically wanted to buck that trend and get heavier with each album.

CoC: Did you ever have any concerns over how fans of your earlier, calmer work may react when confronted with the death vocals and the heavier guitar riffing on the new albums?

RS: Well, that's an interesting question, actually, because the heavy aspect and the vocals in particular have always been a part of The Ocean's concept. It's not like we got a vocalist later on and decided to change our sound. With _Fogdiver_ we basically got the opportunity to do an instrumental album because our label at the time were not really into heavy vocals. So we just thought, why not release an instrumental album? We had five tracks, they sounded great and it's always something that we had wanted to do. I also think it is representative of what we were doing at the time, and all five of the songs are interesting because they're all very different from each other. So we put those together and that became _Fogdiver_. The vocals were always there, and when we did _Fogdiver_ we actually spoke to our singers about it and they were very into the idea of us bringing out an instrumental release first. It's true that _Fluxion_ confused a lot of people that liked _Fogdiver_, and I think a lot of the fans who were into stuff like Mogwai or whatever kind of lost it when we hit them with the death metal vocals at shows. But at the same time, we got a lot of new people who thought that _Fogdiver_ was too mellow and who were really into our new stuff. It's always like that -- you always gain new fans and lose old ones with every release. There are people who won't like the new record as much as they liked _Fluxion_, and there are some people who will find a bunch of new stuff that they like more about the new album. We just don't care -- we do what we feel is right for us.

CoC: Reading your biography, it is very clear that The Ocean is built around a very a grandiose concept, and it seems to me like you guys are very much still in the process of getting to where you want to be. As far as that cycle is concerned, how close do you feel The Ocean has come to being all you envisioned to be when you started it?

RS: There's still a lot of things that I want to do that I haven't been able to do so far. For example there's still a lot of work to do around the video concept for our live shows, and there's a lot of things that I have in mind that I'd like to try out musically. You will always have bigger and higher goals, but I think we are pretty much where we were hoping to be at this point. I also have to say that a lot of the ideas and the concepts evolve over a period of time. It's not like I had everything mapped out when I started the band. For example, when we started out we never considered doing the sort of light show that we have at our gigs now. That kind of evolved over time when we realised what a big part that played in creating atmosphere. Plus, of course we realised that the lights that were being used at most of the venues were total crap! So we came up with the idea of doing our own lightshow, and that's just an example of ideas that we had that developed over time.

CoC: So for the benefit of those who haven't seen you live yet, talk me through the video and light show that's become a part of The Ocean's performances.

RS: So far our live show is basically seven people on stage and a synchronised live show. We have video clips that are meant to go with certain parts of the songs -- mostly the calmer stuff -- and those consist of a lot of outtakes of movies like "Stalker" by Andrei Tarkovski. But right now, we're working on a new concept using self-made video stills, and this won't come necessarily from movies only, but from stuff that we've collected over the years. Basically the plan is to put this together with the light show and then synchronise the whole thing to our music. It will all be custom-made for the music. As far as the material for the videos is concerned, I don't really want to talk about that right now; it's still in the development stages and we basically have a guy working on it for us as we speak.

CoC: What gave you the inspiration to create an overarching concept that is this elaborate?

RS: <pauses> Whenever you see a band on stage, I've always felt like there's a lot of things that affect your experience outside of just the music. There's the lighting, there's the number of people on stage and the quality of the sound and things like that. I was always very interested in bringing those elements out on stage, rather than just have five people playing guitars, bass and drums. That idea evolved into what it is right now, because of the other people in this band. Our percussionist [Gerd Kornmann], for example, had a bunch of different ideas about how to use waterpaint on stage and what we could do using different tools. So it hasn't all been my brainchild.

CoC: What can we expect to see from The Ocean in the next twelve to eighteen months?

RS: A lot of touring. We're hoping to hit places like the UK very soon and we'll be embarking on a big European tour in March, which will take us right through April as well. There are no plans for the rest of the year yet, but hopefully we'll have more tours and we're also looking to maybe do a couple of support slots, especially in places where _Aeolian_ is the first Ocean album that's had a domestic release. I also hope that we'll have all our albums released in places where they've been difficult to get a hold of, because I do think that all three of those records are really representative of what we do as a band. So we're talking to the Metal Blade guys about that. There won't be a new record in the next twelve months, but in the next eighteen -- maybe. We're working on new material right now, but we'll see when we get it recorded.

CoC: What is the new material shaping up like?

RS: <laughs> I don't know. Right now there's two or three songs and I don't think that we'll be turning our backs on the orchestral _Fluxion_ stuff, but at the same time I want to keep the momentum going from _Aeolian_ and focus on the heavy stuff. But who knows? We try to stay open-minded when we do this, and we try to make what we feel works best. I think that the next album will probably sit between _Fluxion_ and _Aeolian_, but with a bit of distance from those two, if it makes sense.

CoC: Will your studio remain something that's for personal use only, or are you going to open your doors to other bands at some point?

RS: Time will tell. At the moment the only band we've recorded there is The Ocean, and my first non-Ocean band. If I find the time, I'd love to open it up to other bands, but we'll see what happens. I'm still studying at the moment, and between The Ocean and my other band...

CoC: What's this about another band then?

RS: It's early days, but it's really heavy Eyehategod-type stoner / sludge stuff, but with some interesting transitions and melodies. I can't tell much about it now, because we don't have a singer yet. I've just recorded some basic tracks so far, so we'll see what happens.

CoC: Thanks for your time, Robin. Is there anything else you wanted to add?

RS: No, I think we've covered pretty much everything. I just hope that people will pick up _Aeolian_, as well as the other albums if they haven't heard them yet.

(article submitted 2/1/2006)


ALBUMS
8/23/2013 A El Naby 9 The Ocean - Pelagial
3/28/2011 P Azevedo The Ocean - Heliocentric / Anthropocentric
11/24/2005 J Smit 8.5 The Ocean - Aeolian
GIGS
11/1/2011 D Lake The Devin Townsend Project / The Ocean / Rome Apart Ziltoid Invasion, Good Vibrations
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