Interview: THE OCEAN – ROBIN STAPS by Matt D

While at the wonderful gathering that is Damnation festival we caught up with Robin Staps from The Ocean (not long before their excellent headline set!) to talk about his 2018, their new album (which had launched the day prior) and even climate change itself…

So yesterday was a big day with the album launch – how has the reception for it been so far?

Really good! To be honest I haven’t followed it so much the last couple of weeks because we were preparing for the tour and we’ve been struggling with manufacturing issues for the vinyl still so everything was really busy until the day we left basically. It’s been great so far, people seem to really love the record, it connects the people that are into our earlier stuff with the people that are into Pelagial and recent records, it’s that bridge album.

What led to the idea to make this a so to speak double album?

The material was already written and when I was listening to it, it reminded me strongly of the vibe of Precambrian, the riffs were slow, sludgy riffs and just the way the songs were shaping up even with the pre-productions  of the finished album having that Precambrian vibe, at the same time I knew the songs would transform  when Loic would add vocals to it because that’s what always happens and he wasn’t in the band during Precambrian, that’s when it was clear that this would be a bridge between the old and new Ocean then we had the tenth anniversary of Precambrian so it all made sense to go back to that record and continue with a new album basically where Precambrian left off.

Now you’ve split this record into two parts – the first part came out yesterday (November 2nd) and the second part will be out in 2020. Considering the last time The Ocean did two records in Heliocentric and Anthropocentric there was not that long of a gap between them – is the gap between these two by design or…?

Yes it is by design because we didn’t want to throw out too much material at once, people’s attention spans are relatively short these days and there’s no point releasing an eighty or ninety minute album when most people will only listen to half of it basically and it allowed us more time spacing the two albums out to actually finish everything. We wanted to get something out now because we’ve been quite inactive the last two years where we took a break from playing in a band, we all came back at the end of last year and all of us came to the conclusion that we really wanna do a record now. We did record drums together, the second album is almost finished instrumentally but the vocals haven’t been recorded yet and it simply wouldn’t have been possible to do everything at the same time because now we’re touring again on the first record and we’d be struggling finding that slot to record vocals during the next couple of months so I think it was a smart move to do it that way.

Conceptually it also makes sense – the second record is distinctively different from the first and I’ve always liked to somehow divide the material that I write into albums that have this sort of coherence to them and I think throwing all that material into one record wouldn’t have been good artistically either, it’s better to have two separate releases.

What I thought was interesting is that the first single that people heard from this new record was the closer in Permian: The Great Dying. What led to that being the choice?

I think it’s the track that’s the most representative of this record as a whole, it has the really heavy parts and also clean vocals in the verses, when I first heard Loic’s vocal ideas for the track it immediately stuck with me and we all felt like this is the lead track basically, it’s I don’t want to say catchy but it’s like something that sticks to your ears when you hear it! It represents the band and where we are in 2018, it’s quite an unusual track also song writing wise – it’s divided into two different parts but they still kinda make sense together, initially we were going to split it up into two different tracks but then it felt like they belonged together although the second half makes no reference to the first half musically, it’s an odd track in a way but we’re an odd band so it boils down to what we’re doing!

Another thing I love about the record is Devonian: Nascent because you have a special guest in Jonas from Katatonia on that track – how did that collaboration come about?

We were already in touch with Jonas back in 2007 when we were recording Precambrian and they were making The Great Cold Distance, I sent him some pre-productions for Precambrian and asked him for a guest feature and he was really into it but we couldn’t make it happen at that time because we just ran out of time and then the thing was forgotten for years then last year we played a gig with them in Romania where they actually played The Great Cold Distance in its entirety which was for me a very important record – one of the first heavy records with clean vocals that I was really getting into – after that gig we revisited the idea to do something together and I had this particular song in mind where I could really imagine his voice, he wrote his own vocal lines, his own lyrics and the final version on the record is very close to the initial demo that he sent us in February, he really made the song his own within the context of our band and I think it just worked really well, it was a positive experience – that’s how you want a collaboration to be where you don’t have to keep explaining to someone ‘can you please do this?’, he hit the nail on the head right from the start.

Do you think the timing of this record works well given the recent news regarding climate change and the theme of environmentalism that is within the record?

The last track – Permian: The Great Dying obviously makes reference to the current debate about climate change although it’s referencing something that happened at the end of the Permian period when nearly ninety five percent of all marine life were wiped out due to an increase in temperature that is comparable to what we’re facing now actually and although the causes were entirely different – that was mostly increased volcanic activity over thousands of years – nowadays that’s clearly human induced, the causes may have been different but we presumed that the consequences won’t be any different, we don’t have to speculate, we can figure out exactly what happens when an increase in temperature of four or five degrees Celsius happens over the next couple of hundred years, we just have to look at the end of the Permian period and find the answers – ninety five percent of marine life but it didn’t disappear, it resurged in different forms and places but it was a very drastic extinction event, I think that puts the current discussion in the right light.

There was a recent report in how the UK is already experiencing hotter days and heavier rain (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-46064266)

That’s the thing also – we’re looking at very shorter timescales now, what happened at the end of the Permian period was over tens of thousands of years, now we’re discussing a drastic change over a couple of hundred years that is something we have to take into account comparing these events.

With the second half of Phanerozoic does it carry on where The Great Dying left off?

Pretty much, the first record we’ve released now covers the Palaeozoic era and the then the second half is two eras in one: the Mesozoic and the Cenozoic  which are the next two consecutive in Earth’s history – the Cenozoic is the one we currently live in so conceptually it will carry on where The Great Dying left us. There’ll be three songs on each era, one song for each period, this album had six tracks (apart from the intro) as the Palaeozoic era had six periods so it’s all mathematical!

I can’t tell you how we’re going to approach it lyrically for the second record yet, with Pelagial it was a concept album about a journey from the surface of the sea to the abyss of the deep sea but the lyrics weren’t talking about deep sea creatures so it was a journey into the depths of the human mind based on the Stalker movie and this time we took a similar approach for the first record so there’s a lot of references to events that happened but the lyrics actually deal with human issues, if you want to create music that has any kind of emotional impact there’s no point writing about rocks!

What have been your favourite albums of the year?

Let me ask my Spotify! [both laugh] I can tell you I’ve been listening a lot to the latest Scraps of Tape (The Will To Burn), I’m listening to a lot of electronic stuff – contemporary, downtempo stuff that’s completely not related to metal at all and obviously a lot of stuff I’m releasing on my label (Pelagic) – Arabrot, an Australian band called YVLA that we released last year that I’m still listening to a lot – really heavy album with great dynamics and a band that anyone that listens to Cult of Luna for example should check out, I just recently discovered Spotlights, Crippled Black Phoenix’s new record is awesome and I really got into Love Sex Machine as well.