The Ocean into the depths of their art

The ocean is what is the most immense on this planet, and it is far from being entirely explored. Finally, it is like art which always offers something to discover for he who desires to penetrate it. It is thus no surprise that the ocean intrigues man, and particularly artists, and artists like… The Ocean. A band originally created as a group, which takes pleasure in always stretching its limits, whether musical or conceptual.

With Pelagial, it is not the ocean’s stretch that has so interested Robin Staps, the band’s leader, and his fellow musicians, but its depth and its gradual atmosphere changes, moving from light to darkness, from noisiness to silence, with time slowing down little by little. It is also a way to compare it with human psychology in the work’s singing version. It can’t be said that The Ocean has chosen the easy way, even if Robin Staps tells us that Pelagial is an album that is meant to be easily accessible and obvious for the listener: “You don’t win anything if you demand to much from the people”.

It is the reason why Pelagial is probably the most accomplished work of the band, but also the most accessible one. We therefore took some time to talk about it with Robin Staps, who reveals us the secrets of this fascinating journey into the deep and his strong connection with the marine environment.

« The ocean is a passion that’s going through all my life. It’s even on my arms, everywhere! I studied it, wrote my thesis on it and I have a band with a significant name. It goes through different aspects of my life. »

Radio Metal: In September 2012, you stated that the new album would have very few vocals, if any. We did hear the new album and this isn’t the case. What’s changed since then?

Robin Staps (guitar): You will know that the new album comes in two versions, one with vocals and one without vocals. We’ve kind of stuck to the original plan to keep it instrumental, but we’ve added a vocal version. It’s a long story behind it. Originally, when I had the idea to do this album, I couldn’t really imagine how to fit in vocals. It was meant to be a journey from the surface to the bottom of the sea, so what are you going to sing about? It was a concept that wasn’t really calling for lyrics in the first place. I didn’t want to have lyrics about sperm whales fighting with giant squids, or anything like that, silly sea-creatures-related lyrics. So I thought it could work as an instrumental record. We have done instrumental records in the past, with Fogdiver, and we all listen to a lot of instrumental music, so we kind of settled on making an instrumental record. What also contributed to it was that our vocalist, Loïc, had serious health issues. His voice had really suffered from the intense tour we’ve done in 2011 and 2012. I wasn’t sure whether he could still play with us live, and he was like: “I don’t really know if I’m gonna be able to tour with this band anymore as intensely as before”. So that also added to our decision to keep the record instrumental. But what happened then was that we had a break, of like six to seven months in 2012, after our Australian tour. During that time, Loïc’s voice recovered and got much better. At the same time, I realized I really wanted to have vocals on this album. We have established Loïc as the lead singer of this band, and we wanted him to continue being part of our live shows. So we started recording some vocals, just for the last two tracks, and it ended up being really great. So we decided to try out a few more things over other parts. At the end of one week of just trying out sketches, we had vocals for almost the whole album. Then we decided to do the album as two versions, because we were very attached to the vocal version. We thought it would be cool to release the record as two versions, instrumental and vocal.

You’ve said that you didn’t see what kind of lyrics you could use for this record, but you’ve released the album Precambrian, which had a geological thematic. It was hard to imagine vocals for that theme as well!

That’s true. In the end, for Precambrian, we didn’t really sing about stones flying through the air or volcanic eruptions that would be typical of the Precambrian period, or anything like that. It was more in a metaphorical way. We have done it with Pelagial again. In the first place, I wasn’t really sure how to approach it. It was also a musical decision: the way the album was written, it was already very full. There were lots of samples, lots of classical instruments and piano parts, so there wasn’t really any need for vocals. For a long time, when we listened to it, we thought: “This album is finished as it is, it feels good as it is; we don’t really need to add vocals to this”. But like I said, then we kind of changed our minds. That’s what happens when you work for too long on an album, you start having ideas! I still think the instrumental version works great, I love it the way it is. But on the other hand, I also think the vocals really add a new dimension to the whole thing. Loïc is an outstanding vocalist and he really adds depth to it. We solved the difficulties with regard to lyrics in a way that I think is very satisfying and cool. I think it’s good that we’ve done it that way.

How do you write lyrics for such a thematic?

The album is a musical journey from the surface to the bottom of the sea. I approached it by visualizing that journey, starting with very lightweight sounds and chord progressions that are major-dominated. It reflects the surface level, where you have lots of light, an abundance of marine life, and all that. I finished with slow, heavy, doomy kind of stuff. That’s what the music is doing, that’s what the production is doing and that’s also obviously what the lyrics are doing. But I didn’t want them to be literally about a journey to different depths; that would have been boring. We approached the lyrics as a journey from the surface to the depths of the human mind, so it’s a very psychological album. It’s very personal and very different from the “centric” albums we’ve released, which were mainly a critique of religion from different philosophical angles. This album is different; it’s a very introspective, personal and psychological album. But it’s the same kind of journey: a journey from the surface of something into the depths of something. In the case of the music, it’s the sea, and in the case of the lyrics, it’s going through different stages and the depths of the human mind.

You started working with Loïc in 2009. Do you think he has opened doors for the band music-wise, thanks to his wide range?

Absolutely. When Mike, our former vocalist, left the band, I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to add another vocalist in the first place. But then I decided that I really wanted to. But if there was to be another vocalist, I really wanted someone who could do everything. It took us ages to find that person, who ended up being Loïc. I really wanted to be able to do everything musically and to have a vocalist who could carry that. That’s the case with Loïc: he really can do any kind of vocal style. His screams are very powerful, but his singing voice is even stronger than that, I think. He has a very wide range, but he also has a very soulful voice. That’s something we heard immediately when we heard his demos, his recordings from his older bands and his takes on some of our songs. When we heard it, it was kind of immediately decided: that was the guy we were looking for. Of course, knowing we have a guy like that in the band, it enables me to approach writing music differently. I know what’s possible, I know what vocals can do over a certain part and I know that there are no limitations. Of course there are always octave range issues: some things are too high or too low for him. But that’s the case with any vocalist and he will always find a cool compromise. But generally, anything is possible and that allows me to approach writing music much more freely now. I don’t have to think of a limited realm, where only screamed vocals would work. I can write songs that are based only on piano if I want to. It can evolve and go through all different kinds of stages, feelings and moods. That’s great and that’s definitely something Loïc has brought into the band.

« I’m not dissing people who buy their stuff on iTunes, that’ totally fine. It’s just that something is lost there and you have to be aware of that. »

The album is supposed to be one single piece of music, but it is nevertheless cut into distinct tracks. Were there any pressures from the record company to not make it a single 53-minute track?

Not, it was our own decision, actually. It was a decision that came very late, just the day before the mastering process. Up until then, we hadn’t really separated the record. The way the track marks are set is fairly arbitrary. The first fifteen minutes of music on the album are divided into four tracks but to me, that’s really one song. It was written in a piece. What led up to the decision to set those track marks was mainly the fact that we wanted certain sections of the album to be accessible somehow. Although it’s meant to be consumed as one, and that’s the way we will play it live, it’s always more convenient when you want to listen to just a certain part, or play something to your friends, to be able to access certain parts. We also wanted to use some of the videos that Craig Murray has done for the album and launch them as video clips. So we had to cut it into sections that made sense. Finally, another decision that led up to it is that you get less money on iTunes if you have less than eleven tracks. I don’t want iTunes to make money out of my music, so that’s also something that played into it. It’s just a stupid system. In the end, it doesn’t really make a difference. If you don’t like track marks, you have the vinyl version, where it’s all like one track anyway. If you listen to the CD version on iTunes, you may have short stops between the songs, but if you just buy the CD, you don’t have those either. It’s not a compromise, it’s just more convenient to get to a certain passage of the record.

I heard the packaging of the album was going to be really cool. Do you do those great packagings to fight against the iTunes system, that you’ve just called stupid?

It’s not to fight against it, I’m not opposed to it. I run a record label myself and we are selling all the records on iTunes, because for a lot of people, that’s the only way they buy music. If they buy it on iTunes, it’s better than if they download it for free, obviously. It’s not a fight, it’s not a question of something being right or wrong. I personally think that, if you still want to make people buy music as a physical product, as opposed to a download, you have to give them a good reason. Packagings are the only reason that really works. People are really keen to get something that looks nice, that’s an overall artistic piece of work, as opposed to a shitty jewel-case CD. If you put a lot of effort into that, people will reward that. From my own experience, there’s quite a lot of people who do that. Maybe it’s a certain generation, I don’t really know. We grew up listening to records that we bought physically in stores and that’s not the case with most of the kids who retrieve music these days. But at the same time, physical sales are increasing, not decreasing. There’s a large group of people who like to buy music as a physical product, but you really have to offer them something. That’s why we have these special packagings. It’s not something for everyone and I don’t mind if people buy the record on iTunes, that’s totally fine for me. If that’s more convenient for them, and they don’t have an interest in having music as a physical product, fair enough. In the end, it’s about the music, not about the piece of wax that you buy, or the CD that you buy. It’s just that we’ve always approached our music as part of a larger whole, which also includes packaging, merchandise designs or the video performances we have live. All that is part of the same bigger whole, basically. In order to get the full picture and really appreciate it, I think you need to have all the parts. It’s a matter of choice, everyone can pick what they want. I’m not dissing people who buy their stuff on iTunes, that’ totally fine. It’s just that something is lost there and you have to be aware of that.

What can you tell us about the album’s packaging?

Once more it comes in a very extensive packaging. Basically, we have two different box sets, a vinyl and a CD box set, that consist of a Plexiglas box with five acrylic layers in different shades of blue, one for each Pelagic depth zone. There are six hand-printed screens, and when you put them on top of one another, you get a 3D visual effect. They’re transparent, but you have a pattern printed on them. Depending on the angle of the light, you get different reflections. It’s gonna look very cool. I haven’t seen it myself, ‘cause it’s still being made. The vinyl or the CD is actually sitting underneath those layers of Plexiglas, on the ocean floor, so to speak. It’s a very expensive and difficult packaging. We had to deal with a lot of issues that came up during the process. These boxes are very heavy, the vinyl box weighs five kilos! And if you put five kilos on a vinyl record, it’s going to damage the record. So we had to put the Plexiglas in a way that it sits on rails, so it doesn’t actually press down on the vinyl and the vinyl sits between those acrylic rails. All these things had to be dealt with between the Chinese manufacturing company and my European office. The boxes are being made in China, but not for money reasons, simply because you can’t get acrylic layers in five different colors of blue in Europe. You can get blue, red, green and yellow, but you can’t get five different types of blue. That’s why we had to go to China. I’ve been writing e-mails to them for four months on a daily basis now, and they’re finally being shipped as we speak. They will arrive in Europe in about two or three weeks. We’re very much excited! I think it’s gonna be a very different record packaging, probably like nothing you’ve ever seen. Both these special box set editions also come with a special DVD done by Craig Murray, that basically contains the live visuals we will show during our shows. It also comes with a 5.1 Dolby Surround mix of the album. In order to really dig deep into this album, you should listen to it on a 5.1 system – which I don’t even own myself, so I’ll have to go to a friend’s place to check it out! And watch the movie. The movie is really an important part of the album to me. It’s something that only comes with those box set editions. The vinyls are already sold out, but the CD is still available on pelagic-records.com.

« I didn’t want to write more than 50 minutes of music at once. I’ve kind of moved away from that a little bit, because people’s attention span is rather short these days. You just don’t win anything by over-challenging people. »

Mid-2011, you announced that this new album could well be a double album. In the end, do you think this would have been too much to digest?

I didn’t want to make it a double album like Precambrian, with two separate CDs. I only wanted to make it a double album with a vocal and an instrumental version. I didn’t want to write more than 50 minutes of music at once. I’ve kind of moved away from that a little bit, because people’s attention span is rather short these days. You just don’t win anything by over-challenging people, I think. Everything that needed to be said was said after 54 minutes of music. That wasn’t planned; it could have been 70 minutes, it could also have been 40 minutes. It’s an album that was written in one piece, really, from the beginning to the end. When it was finalized and written, I was like: “All right, that feels good. That’s the album. We don’t want to add or take away anything”. And it just happened to be 54 minutes of music. But that was not a choice. I don’t sit down and write an album and say: “OK, it’s gonna be that long”. I don’t even think it’s gonna have to fit on one CD or on two CDs. That’s not how it works. I write music and then, when I feel the album is finished, that’s it – however long that may be.

You’re back to an oceanic thematic. Do you consider this as a return to the band’s sources?

Probably, yeah. It’s the most oceanic album we’ve done so far. I don’t know why we haven’t come up with that before. Well, I kind of do know: I’ve had the idea for a long time, I’ve wanted to make this album since 2008 or 2009. But I just didn’t really know how to approach it, because there are so many different things I could do. It’s very, very difficult to write 60 minutes of music in one piece as opposed to five minutes. The challenges are completely different. So for a long time, I was just postponing, because I didn’t know how to do it. At first I wanted it to be a linear progression, to start fast and go slow, to start with higher tuning and go to lower tuning. When I started writing, I realized that it wasn’t really working. I didn’t want to make it a boring avant-garde drone album, it should still rock. What is interesting in music is that there are usually surprises and unexpected things. So I had to step away from that linear approach a little bit and not have the tempo continuously slow down all the way from the beginning to the end of the album. It had to have certain swirls: it’s going up and down, and there are some unexpected moments. It’s not that linear and I think it’s very important for the overall intensity of the album. And they don’t compromise the concept.

Your albums are often focused on elements, like geology or the ocean. What fascinates you so much in these? Is it the uncontrollable aspect that makes them mysterious that interests you?

It’s a good question. I don’t even consciously make these decisions, I think. For FluXion and Aeolian, it was mainly just the album titles. The songs on these two albums were a completely random collection of songs from different times and different eras. There’s no real conceptual coherence behind that, just the titles that make reference to geology again. I have studied geology, so I guess I have some kind of interest in that field. That’s where all those terms like FluXion and Aeolian and Precambrian are coming from. But FluXion is not about fluxion, and Aeolian is not a record about the wind, you know? It’s been basically just titles. That’s different now. Pelagial is really an album where the concept goes into every detail: into the lyrics, into the music and the way it’s been written, in the packaging… Everything has been taken care of with a lot of effort. It’s the first time we’ve done it that way. Before that, it was more random and arbitrary. But what fascinates me about the sea, I can tell you that. I have spent some of the most intense moments of my life in the sea: I’ve nearly drowned twice. I’ve also spent beautiful moments in or close to the sea. It’s always been a huge source of inspiration for me, all the sides of it: the beautiful side, with the sunset and the coconut trees swaying in the evening breeze, as well as the raging storm sea, with big waves and stuff like that. It’s always had a huge impact on me. When I write music, it’s usually close to the sea. I need to be in a place with a wide horizon. I don’t know why; it’s something mystical, something unexplainable. It just draws all my attention to it somehow.

Actually, Devin Townsend has the same fascination: he did Ocean Machine about it. Do you feel close to his vision of music?

I love the guy, he’s awesome. We toured with him in the US last year, and became fairly close. It was a really cool experience. I haven’t really been a huge fan of his music until this tour started and I got to know him as a person and I was exposed to the music on a nightly basis. But now I am, I think it’s great. He’s a visionary guy and an incredible vocalist. I do like the fact that he also plays with larger conceptual ideas. There are a lot of humorous contexts, which are completely missing in the rest of the metal world. That’s awesome, and props to Devin for doing that. I think it’s very cool.

You’ve said earlier that you almost drowned twice. Can you tell us more about that?

It was just experiences in my childhood. Once I swam into a school of jellyfish and their stings made me unconscious. My dad had to look for me under the water and get me back up. He saved my life. When we were back on the surface he slapped me so I would come back to consciousness. (laughs) That really helped. It was quite a disturbing experience, really. I was still kind of there, but under the surface everything was quiet and peaceful, and I didn’t really know it was happening. It was all caused by the pain from the jellyfish stings, but I wasn’t feeling fear or anything like that. I was close to drowning but, fortunately, my dad saved my life. The second time was when I was almost flushed out of a basin on a steep coast in Spain, which pooled into the sea with really big waves. I was clinging on to the rocks, I had scratches and blood all over my body, but I wasn’t pooled into the sea. If that had happened, it would have been the end, because the waves were massive. The coast was very steep and the waves would have thrown me against the rocks. That was two very close experiences, where I got to experience the power of the sea and what it can do to you.

Do you practice scuba diving?

I do, on a more or less amateurish level, although I’ve done more than a hundred dives. I love doing that. I’ve also written my diploma thesis on coral reef monitoring in Belize, so I spent a good six weeks there diving every day and monitoring coral reefs. The ocean is a passion that’s going through all my life. It’s even on my arms, everywhere! I studied it, wrote my thesis on it and I have a band with a significant name. It goes through different aspects of my life.

« [The listeners] have their own interpretations of [the lyrics], that have relevance to their own lives. Then, when you start explaining what they’re about as the writer of those lyrics, you destroy that, because you’re giving them your experience and not letting them have their own associations and interpretations. »

The music on the album translates the change from one pelagic zone to the other. Is it important for you to make the listener feel what it is about and not just offer detached conceptual ideas?

Yeah, absolutely. That’s what I was saying before, that’s where this album is really different from the previous ones. On the previous ones, it was more or less detached conceptual ideas and now I think you can really feel it. You can feel where you are. When I was writing the music, at any point I knew if this was a surface riff or a depth riff, for example. I kind of knew where every musical part belonged and I think you can really feel that in the result. You feel it’s going down, you feel it’s getting slower and darker. The tuning gets lower and the pressure increases. All the claustrophobic elements are increasing towards the end, which is also emphasized by all the underwater sounds, the creaking and bubbling sounds in the background. So I think you can feel it. I don’t think you have to know much about this album conceptually, you don’t have to know the names of the pelagic depth zones, that’s irrelevant. You feel what’s happening to you: you feel you’re being taken down, the pressure increases and the light decreases. That was very important to me with this record and it’s the first time I’ve approached it and done it that way. The music was actually written with the concept in mind. We haven’t done that with neither of the Centrics, or with Precambrian. The concept always came after the music was written. This time it was different: I really wrote the music knowing all the time what I wanted to do with it conceptually.

And yet, that’s also what can be felt with an album like Precambrian: you actually feel what’s happening to the Earth while listening to the album…

Cool! That’s awesome! I shouldn’t talk so much about that, I guess, because I’m ruining your experience. I get that a lot, though, and I think that’s what’s beautiful about receiving music. [Somebody is giving him a pizza] Hey, pizza time! Thanks buddy! [He continues his speech] What’s really interesting about the reception of music is that, many times, when you start explaining lyrics, for example, you really ruin it for the listener. They have their own interpretations of them, that have relevance to their own lives. Then, when you start explaining what they’re about as the writer of those lyrics, you destroy that, because you’re giving them your experience and not letting them have their own associations and interpretations. That’s why I usually don’t like to do that. A lot of the time, people come to me with really cool interpretations of the lyrics or of things I’ve done, and I have to say: “That’s not the case, that’s not what I had in mind, but it’s awesome! It could be!” That’s the beauty in it, I think: to leave the spectrum of associations as widely open as it can be, so that everyone can find something of relevance to their own life. That’s so much more interesting than writing a song where every word is exactly clear, and where everyone knows what it’s about from the very beginning to the end. That’s why I dig abstract lyrics a lot more, because they preserve that realm of freedom of interpretation. It’s something that has always intrigued me when I was listening to music, too. Bands like Breach or New Roses, they have lyrics that are very metaphorical and very vague in a lot of ways. But they allow you to put in your own content and to feel something that has relevance to you, rather than just listen to what someone else experienced. That’s what I’ve always been doing with the lyrics to this band and the concepts behind them.

You’ve just said that it was the first time you wrote the music based on a concept. Do you think this is going to be the basis for The Ocean in the future?

I don’t really know. I’m not really thinking about the future right now. We just finished recording and mixing and mastering this album, and now we’re in the process of turning it into a live environment. That’s all that’s on my mind right now. I don’t know if I’m gonna write another album in my life; maybe I’ll die before I get a chance to, or maybe I’ll marry an Indian girl and move there and get out of the whole rock’n’roll business. I can’t say. I really try to live in the present, and not worry too much about the future or the past. I haven’t made any plans about the next albums. It could be an album with absolutely no conceptual background, but I’ve always been fascinated by records that have that kind of frame around them and that give you something to explore. So there’s a high likeliness we’ll do something like that again and then we’ll probably approach it like that again: think about what we want to do musically and with regards to the lyrics before we start working on it.

I heard producer Jens Bogren had a hard time mixing the album. Can you tell us more about that?

Well, we wanted it to be mixed in one piece, because we wanted the sound to continue on the path that the writing had already paved. We also wanted the sound to stop being clean and produced to move towards a more ambient, open sound, to reflect the depth part of the album. In order to get that gradually, the album needed to be mixed in one piece and that’s a very unusual approach. Normally, you mix song by song, or you isolate shorter excerpts of the whole thing and then mix them individually. Jens was skeptical at first, but in the end he decided to do it. That resulted in a ridiculous amount of audio tracks; I think it was 290 or something! So he had to be very disciplined and organized to keep the overview and make sure everything worked out. But he was up for the challenge. He’s really keen on doing this kind of stuff and that’s why he was the perfect choice to mix this album. He doesn’t approach every record with the same formula; he actually really listens to what you want to do as a band and tries to get you as close to your vision as possible, while bringing in his own ideas. They are always really good and bring the whole thing forward and lift it to the next level. We knew that before, we had been told he did that and that’s why we decided to work with him. After working with him, I can say it was really the best thing we could have done. He was really open to all these unusual approaches. Although he thought I was completely crazy in the beginning, he tried it out and realized it can work. It was cool working with him.

Did you somehow try to make the lengths of each song coincide with the depth of its respective pelagic zone?

That was another thing I wanted to do in the beginning, but I had to step a little bit away from it. In some parts it works out but not always entirely. The record is divided into eleven tracks and there’s for example Abyssopelagic I, II and III. If you combine those three parts, you get the overall relation in meters. But in the end, it was very difficult to do that. It’s something extremely nerdy that most people won’t even realize. In the end I had to focus on making the music efficient before making these parts work.

« I think art and music need to be pretentious to a certain degree, in order to challenge the conservatism in music. That’s necessary and that’s beautiful. »

The subject of the album is kind of hard to apprehend, because we can’t grasp the immensity of the ocean. We can’t see the entirety of it. How do you manage to represent this subject in your music? Do you read as many books as you can, or watch documentaries?

Not really. This album was not such a brainy album as the Centrics. Like I said, it’s more of a personal, introspective record. It’s not important to know much about pelagic depth zones or the pressure level there. I think the basic idea of the album becomes evident through the music very quickly, and you don’t have to know much about scientific names or the different physical conditions in the different depth zones. It’s not important for it. What’s important is that it’s a journey from one point to another, from a surface point to a bottom point, and that the pressure is increasing and the light is decreasing. That’s something you can feel through the music, so you don’t need to know so much about it. I happened to know a lot about it before I started writing the album, because I have this fascination for everything ocean-related. Obviously, I’ve heard about it. I have a label called Pelagic Records, which is also related to the same topic. In my case, I guess it’s different, but for the listener, there’s no knowledge required to really understand what this album is about. I think it’s very intuitive.

Do you think this album, or even Precambrian, can drive the listener to learn more about these subjects?

Yeah, hopefully, of course. We look to open doors. Whether people step through them and walk into a new room to discover something is up to them. Some people just come to the shows and they don’t care about album concepts or song titles or lyrics. They just want to rock out and listen to music and that’s fine for us. But those people who like to dig a little deeper, they will hopefully find some references and some kind of input that will have meaning to them. We’ve had that a lot especially with the Centrics: a lot of people came up to us that they’d got into Nietzsche through reading the lyrics. I think that’s awesome. For Precambrian, we also received some interesting feedback from people who were actually professionals in the subject. One of my former geology professors has become a big fan of the band since that album, so it’s kind of cool, too! Hopefully, some people will find interest in that and pursue it more, and find out things they didn’t know before or didn’t expose themselves to. But it’s not essential for appreciating the music, I think. It’s an offer that we make; whether you take it or not is up to you. Everyone has to decide that for themselves. Personally, I’m interested in bands that make offers and where you feel that you can discover something. You don’t reach the bottom after two minutes of reading the lyrics and you know everything about the band. You must have all these possibilities to look deeper into – but that’s just me. That’s why I’m also into bands that are vague and open, because they leave you room to explore and discover things. But some people don’t really care. If they still enjoy our music, fair enough, that’s fine. Sometimes I go to a show without knowing anything about the band, I just want to rock out because I love the music. That’s cool as well. Everyone has to get what they want out of it.

Aren’t you afraid all these scientific words will make you appear as an intellectual band?

I guess we are! I’m not too concerned about that term. I guess it usually implies something pretentious. That’s the word that comes with “intellectual”. A lot of people tend to think: “These guys have all these big ideas, why can’t they just play a fucking riff?” I hope we can play a riff while having those ideas! (laughs) But yeah, you get that a lot. Some people think it’s super pretentious – and fair enough! Honestly, I don’t care. I think art and music need to be pretentious to a certain degree, in order to challenge the conservatism in music. That’s necessary and that’s beautiful. And if it means failing, or coming off as being overly pretentious, it’s the price you have to pay. But that’s how new things get created all the time. If every great artist was just sticking to the rules as they exist and to the limits of the genre, no new music would ever arise. I think it’s important to constantly challenge the borders and to bring in things that don’t belong. People might think Precambrian doesn’t belong into metal. Fair enough, there’s a point to that. But if you don’t do these things, art wouldn’t evolve and change in interesting directions. That’s why I think it’s very important to do that. And if it comes off as being highbrow or pretentious, it’s the price to pay for it. I don’t really give a fuck. Like I said, we don’t require people to care about that. If someone doesn’t and they still like the music, it’s fine with us. We won’t discriminate those people, that’s totally fine. We just make offers that people can take up or not.

You said earlier that this album was very different from the Centric albums, but actually, “Pelagial” is similar to “Pelagianism”, which relates to Christianity…

“Pelagianism”? I have never heard that word before! I’m sorry, there’s no link! (laughs) I’ve never heard that before, I have to look it up right away!

The Ocean is known for being a collective, but its organization is pretty vague. Can you tell us how you work?

We used to be organized as a collective in the early days, which meant we had lots of changing members and not a fixed line-up, as we have now. We had a guitar player for one tour, then another guy. At one point we had like four or five different guitarists in the band. Usually we played live with no more than two. Depending on who had time and resources to do a tour, we’d do a tour. We had an open pool of members, twenty or twenty-two different people at some points. There were also a lot of classical musicians, who played on the albums but usually didn’t play with us live. This has changed over the last couple of years. Now we have a fixed line-up, we don’t have open positions anymore. The Ocean is Loïc, Jona, Luc, Louis, Chris – our new bass player, who’s replacing Louis for this album – and myself. But we still have the remnants of the collective in the people who play with us on albums: the classical players and people like Thomas Halbom, who appears on Pelagial and also on Aeolian and Precambrian. So there’s still a pool of musicians that are associated with the band, but they are not fixed band members, basically. That’s how the collective is still somehow there, although it’s mainly a term we’ve used in the beginnings, when we were loosely arranged. We had this kind of revolving door policy with regards to members and fixed line-up – or lack thereof, I should say.

One last question: can you tell us more about the pizza you’re eating?!

It’s four cheeses with a bit of basil, and it doesn’t look too great! But it’s the first meal I’ve had today, so I’m happily going to dive into it now!

So it’s not a pizza with seafood?

No, I’m actually a vegetarian. I have shrimps on my arms but I don’t eat them! I like to look at them.

Interview conducted by phone on April 9th, 2013
Transcription : Saff’

The Ocean’s official website: theoceancollective.com

Album Pelagial, out since April 29th 2013 via Metal Blade Records/ Pelagic Records

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