Saturday, May 2, 2009

Oceansize prepare their 'Progressive Death Indie' for Australian shores

If there has been one thing that consistently puzzles journalists when it comes to Manchester-based band Oceansize, it is how to label their music. And I think this is exactly where music journalism needs to stop. Oceansize are a band that transcends labels, and this is something the music world has not yet fully grasped. In a world of Pop, Rap, Metal, Emo and whatever, Oceansize have managed to easily avoid any tag that does the band justice. From the largo 'Women Who Like Men Who Like Drugs' to the Meshuggah-esque riff-blasting of 'Sleeping Dogs and Dead Lions,' Oceansize are a band who explore all the boundaries of music…and then break them. Even songs like 'Trail of Fire' can feature big guitars and double-kicking drums one minute, then delicate, ambient, finger-plucking warmth the next. To label this band is simply useless. Instead, Oceansize can truly claim to let the music speak for itself. In fact, the only label the band accepts is a genre they coined, 'Progressive Death Indie;' they are all and none of these genres, and the term is also a prime example of their humour. For a band that makes music of this quality, you could forgive them for being pretentions and egomaniacal, but instead the 5 boys from the UK, lead singer/guitarist Mike Vennart, guitarist/keyboardist Gambler, bassist Steven Hodson, drummer Mark Heron and guitarist Steve Durose are well known for their down to earth vibe and ability to crack a joke, even at their own expense.

If you haven’t yet heard of Oceansize, I don’t blame you. In fact, this author only recently stumbled onto the band thanks to a late night drinking session, in which a certain pay-television music channel was playing in the background. 'Unfamiliar', the band’s lead track from their most recent release, 'Frames', appeared amongst what had previously been a night of awful hair metal. It was love at first listen. I was shocked that this band had not come across my path before. Given their maturity, sound and expansive parts, it was hard to comprehend that the band had released 3 albums (2003’s 'Effloresce,' 2005’s 'Everyone Into Position and 2007’s 'Frames') and a host of EPs which had never before graced my ears. Lead singer Mike Vennart however admits the band has been somewhat of a ‘slow burner.’

“It’s amazing that 10 years down the line that people are still finding out about us. We always knew that it would be a bit of a slow burner…We’re still turning new people on. If we were looking and noticing that the same people were coming to see us time after time, I think we’d be pretty fucked.”

And so, since forming back in 1998, the band are about to finally made it to the shores of Australia, thanks to an offer from Aussie legends *Cog* to support them on a national tour. Oceansize are no stranger to support tours, having been taken on the road with the likes of The Smashing Pumpkins, Porcupine Tree, Biffy Clyro and their own personal heroes The Cardiacs. However, this particular tour was an offer that the boys from Oceansize rate as high as any other.

“From the moment it was mentioned (the tour), I was just hammering our manager, going ‘make it happen,’” says Vennart. “We’re really, really, fucking excited. We’ve known about this tour for a few months now and all of us are beside ourselves. We’re fucking gleaming. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Despite the excitement, Vennart admits with a bit of laughter that he still gets a little worried about just how the crowd receives the band: “I do wonder sometimes, you know, if people when they have seen us bother coming back!”

Indeed, Oceansize are very aware that this is Cog’s headline show, and that they will be playing to an audience likely to be unfamiliar with their work. The band have recently been in the studio recording an EP which they hope to release in September.
However, the band is unsure whether this material will make an appearance during the Cog tour.

“The (new) stuff that we’ve got completely ready, I don’t know if it will work for Cog’s audience. I’m sure we’ll do some of our trippy stuff, but yeah I guess our set will be a little more weighted towards the heavier stuff. I can’t imagine we could play something like ‘Legal Teens’ (a song from the forthcoming EP)…it might start people thinking that we’re fucking gay cocktail waiters or something” he laughs.

So just what does the new Oceansize EP sound like?

“There’s no big fucking blast beats, no metal, there’s no riffs, there’s no loud loud on it. The whole EP is a more gentle affair. There’s stuff on it like 'Music For a Nurse' (from Everyone Into Position), that sorta stuff. There is stuff on this EP that every time I listen to certain bits of I think people are going to go ‘oh my god…’ I try not to worry about what people think, but certainly there’s at least one song were people are going to go ‘what the fuck are they doing?’” he laughs. “It certainly sounds like us, but it is a bit different.

“The idea of this more-chilled EP is something that we’ve been thinking about way before we got signed. It would be nice to be able to do different albums and EPs, with different flavours. And we thought about how the second album ('Everyone Into Position') was quite scattered, with a million different styles on it and I think that turned a lot of people off in some ways. So we thought if it’s an EP, let’s just do something that is one flavour, rather than try and put in all these different colours into it and freak everybody out, because it’s not going to work for thirty minutes.”

On top of the forthcoming EP and the full-length studio effort due in March 2010, Oceansize will also be releasing a box set to celebrate their 10 years in music. Titled 'Feed to Feed', the set contains the band’s three performances at the Roadhouse where they played their 3 albums, back to back, on DVD as well as CD. 'Feed to Feed' is tentatively scheduled to see a June 29 release. But outside of music, the band is reluctant to set any goals.

“After the second album we stopped trying to make goals. We started getting a chip on our shoulder about not having broken through and being broke. We started not setting unrealistic goals, but we were getting to the point where if you start expecting certain things to happen, you’re going to be pretty fucking bummed when they don’t.

“So we’ve got to the point where we kind of literally float through the whole thing. We don’t really think about any long term plans. We really do live for the day. I’m sure that our record company or our manager have some kind of financial expectations of us. All we really want to do is to be able to pay our rent. We really fucking don’t care about anything else.

“Having this kind of mentality,” Vennart admits, “has paid off. We’ve stuck to our goals and made the records we wanted to make and forgot about the fact that everybody is listening to us and just concentrated on turning each other on. And that is a risky thing to do. I don’t think a lot of bands can do that, especially the bands higher up the ladder.”

So just how has Oceansize been able to afford to take the time to concentrate on the music, not work ‘a day job’ outside of the band and afford to solely concentrate on music? After all, Oceansize are hardly chart-topping, despite their loyal fan base.

“It recently became viable for us to not work in outside jobs. Me and Gambler had been working for a long time at the Manchester Academy. We were working there as security” Vennart laughs. “Which, basically, was a fantastic job, because all it really entails is, now and again, is telling people to not stand on the bar or throwing a drunk guy out. 99% of the time we were just watching the gig, which was fantastic. We got to see a lot of great stuff that I would never ever have got to seen had I not been doing that job.”

So how just how can a band like Oceansize possibly get by in the modern musical and financial climate?

“Most of the success, financially speaking, that we’ve been afforded is via movies and adverts, you know, people getting in touch with us who want to use our tunes for a horror film or something like that. A lot of post-rock, experimental bands don’t sell a lot of records. But if you can get into the movie thing or anything like that, it’s going to make life a whole lot easier.

“The money from a mobile phone advert has enabled us to build a recording studio. If we can afford to keep the rent up on that place, then that means that we can make records forever.

“We’ve all got a purist sense that we don’t want to tarnish the sentiment of our music, but at the end of the day we’ve got to continue, we’ve got to survive, and that doesn’t mean compromising the music. It means letting the music be used in ways that we didn’t necessarily have in mind.”

I noted in a previous interview that Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack for Terrence Malick’s epic film 'The Thin Red Line' had been a particular influence on 'An Old Friend of Christy’s' from 2007’s 'Frames', and wondered whether Oceansize’s relationship with the medium of film would play a further part in any upcoming releases.

“The Thin Red Line thing was me re-discovering that amazing soundtrack and just trying to get something like that going. Those riffs, they were my riffs; the concept was my concept so that was my fault. But (for the new EP) it hasn’t been a case where some one has come in and said ‘hey, let’s do something like this’ or ‘or I’ve been really getting into this kinda vibe, why don’t try this.’ Music is just pouring out of us. Certain people, specifically Steven (the bassist), is a fearless composer. Things just fall out of him. Whereas with me, I’ll think of a riff or I’ll think of an idea for a song and I’ll probably chew on it for about a month before I dream of playing it to anybody, and have them laugh at me and calling me a dick. He’s so spontaneous. He can have an entire concept for a song within a couple of hours, and it will be all recorded, ready to go. I just wish I had his balls!”

Oceansize’s incorporation of 3 guitarists is something that would generally lead an observer to assume that the music is incredibly messy and that each guitarist is fighting for prominence. However, Oceansize have been able to humbly allow the music to flow through them and instead create beautiful, layered, guitar-driven music. And while Gambler is noted for also playing keyboards, there are a number of songs in which all three guitarists are operating at once. I asked Mike just how the band has been able to create such a coherent, textured sound without it turning into guitar over-kill. His response, like all others, was incredibly humble.

“I honestly don’t know. We don’t really talk very much about it. It just works out. We just sort of subconsciously look at what each other is doing and work out where you would fit in with that. There will be a couple of instances where you’ll see all three of us working out something, (but) it really is instinctual. There is a new song that we’ve been fucking about with and there was a part that Gambler was playing, so Steve wanted to work out a harmony for it. And that’s it. That’s about as in-depth as it gets really,” Vennart says laughing, throwing off allusions to a rocket-science like formula that one might expect from a band with so many layers and instrumental deviations.

So what material can we expect to hear from Oceansize during the Cog tour? Vennart admits that the band have yet to formally discuss a set list, other than the fact the band will lean towards some of their more upbeat material to win over the Cog crowd. When this author suggested that the song 'Ornament/The Last Wrongs' (from 'Everyone Into Position') should make an appearance, Vennart laughed and suggested that the song will be closing out the set.

“We can’t not play that, you know? It’s got to a point where if we finished a set with anything other, then we’ll feel short changed, let alone anybody else.”

Vennart goes on to say that the song has been a crowd favourite for a long time: “so many times we’ve found playing it that the people who hate us, by the end of that song, are walking away going ‘that was excellent, that was fucking good!’”

“When I think about that song it was just such a fluke. It was supposed to be an instrumental b-side! But we literally knocked the tune together in about 2 hours. We had all these left over bits and we’re like ‘fucking hell, we’ve got to use these bits, they’re all really good,’ and we glued them together the day before we went into the studio and just went ‘yep, that’s cool, that’s a b-side, that’ll do.’ And then while we were recording it, slowly but surely I started thinking of some words for it and then it just came together. As soon as we put the singing on and got Steve to do the choir parts, everybody was like ‘fuck, that’s gotta finish the album!’ And it’s just totally amazing that things like that can still happen. You can plan shit as much as you want, but you’ve got to be open for little miracles.”

And in my mind, it is a little miracle that an Oceansize tour of Australia is about to take place. I asked Mike if there was any chance we’d see the boys Down Under again, and he suggested that unless they become ‘rich and famous,’ this is likely to be the band’s only stint in Australia, given the costs to tour overseas. So if you have not got tickets yet, you had better get in quick, because this is likely to be the only chance that you will have to see Oceansize, and if Michael Caton were to attend the tour, I am sure he would leave asking himself 'how can one band have so much talent?'

Between Oceans Tour
With special guests
Oceansize and Calling All Cars

Wednesday 27th May The Hellenic Club CANBERRA ACT Matilda Street, Woden, CANBERRA
With Calling All Cars Tickets $30 + bf from the venue (02) 6281 0899 &
Doors open 7.30pm

Friday 29th May Wrest Point Showroom HOBART TAS 410 Sandy Bay Road, Sandy Bay, HOBART
With Calling All Cars Tickets $25 + bf from the venue 1300 795 257, &
Doors open 8pm

Saturday 30th May The Saloon LAUNCESTON TAS 191 Charles Street, LAUNCESTON
With Calling All Cars Tickets $25 + bf from venue 03 6331 7355 &
Doors open 9.30pm

Thursday 4th June Metropolis FREMANTLE WA 58 South Terrace, FREMANTLE
With Oceansize (UK) & Calling All Cars Tickets $35 + bf from, Star Surf Perth, Planet Mt Lawley & Milss Fremantle
Doors open 8pm

Saturday 6th June The Hi-Fi MELBOURNE VIC 125 Swanston Street, MELBOURNE
With Oceansize (UK) & Calling All Cars Tickets $35 + bf from, Missing Link &
Doors open 8.30pm

Sunday 7th June The Hi-Fi MELBOURNE VIC 125 Swanston Street, MELBOURNE
With Oceansize (UK) & Calling All Cars Tickets $35 + bf from, Missing Link &
Doors open 8.30pm

Thursday 11th June The Hi Fi BRISBANE QLD 123 Boundary St, WEST END BRISBANE
With Oceansize (UK) & Calling All Cars Tickets $35 + bf from or
Doors open 8pm

Friday 12th June Newcastle Panthers NEWCASTLE NSW Cnr King & Union Streets, NEWCASTLE WEST
With Oceansize (UK) & Calling All Cars Tickets $30 + bf from, &
Doors open 8pm

Saturday 13th June Selinas - Coogee Bay Hotel SYDNEY NSW cnr Coogee Bay Rd & Arden St, COOGEE
With Oceansize (UK) & Calling All Cars Tickets $35 + bf from &
Doors open 8pm

Sunday 14th June Entrance Leagues Club BATEAU BAY NSW 3 Bay Village Road, BATEAU BAY
With Oceansize (UK) & Calling All Cars Tickets $25 + bf from,
Doors open 8pm

Wednesday 17th June Sugarland Tavern BUNDABERG QLD
52 Johnson Street, BUNDABERG
With Calling All Cars Tickets $25 + bf from the venue (07) 4150 5999 1300 762 545
Doors open 9pm

Thursday 18th June Great Western ROCKHAMPTON QLD
39 Stanley Street, ROCKHAMPTON
With Calling All Cars Tickets are $25 + bf from the venue (07) 4922 3888,,,
Doors open 6.30pm

Friday 19th June Andergrove Tavern ANDERGROVE QLD 64 Andergrove Road, ANDERGROVE
With Calling All Cars Tickets are $25 + bf from the venue (07) 4955 5444,,
Doors 8pm

Saturday 20th June Bombay Rock TOWNSVILLE QLD
719 Flinders St, TOWNSVILLE
With Calling All Cars Tickets are $25 + bf from the venue (07) 4724 2800,,
Doors 7.30pm

Sunday 21st June Brothers Leagues Cairns MANUNDA QLD
99 - 105 Anderson Street, MANUNDA
With Calling All Cars Tickets are $25+ bf from the venue (07) 4053 1053,,
Doors 9pm


  1. I must first admit my absolute fanboyism for Oceansize, but please check them out, they are the most incredible set of musicians, and some of the nicest blokes you will ever meet.

  2. I've just discovered this blog through a friend, and already I'm impressed. Thanks for getting me on to Oceansize, they're a really interesting band! It's great to see such experimentation. Have you tried out any of Mike Patton's side projects (Mr Bungle, Tomahawk, etc.)? They might be up your alley.