"We can't wait to hit Chengdu"

Chengdu Music: First off, what brings you to Chengdu?

Robin Staps [The Ocean guitarist and founder]: Well, we've been wanting to come over to China for a long time and now finally we've managed to establish contact with a reliable agency and promoters, so we're stoked to finally get to play this huge country, and to get to see a fair bit of it! I am very interested to find out more about the Chinese music scene and culture in general. Really looking forward to this trip!

CM: How important is the visual element in your live shows and in general?

RS: Very important. We try to create a certain dismal, cold atmosphere on stage by means of lighting and visuals, to support the music. We have our own lighting system travelling with us (not sure if we can bring this to China though), it's all synchronized to every detail of the music, as we play entirely to a sequencer. It's a bit like a little movie being conjured on stage, it's got a David Lynch feel to it somehow. There is indeed a certain cinematic quality to our live shows, also because we have visuals for every song that take up the song theme and are based on the lyrics. Hector Saenz, who also worked for Ministry and many others in the past, is in charge of these for "Heliocentric", and Craig Murray, who has done clips for Nine Inch Nails and Converge, did our "Anthropocentric" visuals.

CM: We see you’ve released quite a few albums to date. How do you go about marketing the albums and will you be able to retire on the royalties anytime soon?

RS: Ha, that would be amazing, but unfortunately that is out of touch with reality. Unfortunately, a lot of people do not buy records any more these days, but merely pirate them -- and as a band, you don't get any royalties for illegal (free) downloads or bootlegged CDs! We try to sell our albums as much as possible by offering extensive and artistic packagings -- there are still a lot of people out there who like to get something special. We have a 4xLP vinyl box of our last two albums, that comes with silver foil print and with two gatefold covers with silver-and gold-foiled PVC dials that are attached to the gatefold with a screw and are turnable. The artwork is depicting the album theme -- the sun at the center, and the earth and planets orbiting around it. This is something you cannot download and this is why we fortunately still sell some records, but royalties are by far not enough to even merely live off of it. You can view all these albums and packagings at www.pelagic-records.com/shop, by the way.

CM: How do you go about marketing yourselves as a band?

RS: We leave that up to our labels usually. We just create our music and art and focus on achieving the best possible results there. Of course we care about the whole surroundings as well, such as press photographs, who always establish a certain image of a band, and also record packagings, as mentioned in my previous answers. All this is important to create and communicate your identity as a band, and this is what fans appreciate about us.

CM: Is there a special kind of audience you would like to attract in China?

RS: Not really. We are inviting everyone to come out to our shows and get carried away by our sound! I am curious to see what kinds of crowds we will draw. In Europe it is somewhere between post-rock crowds and metal crowds.

CM: Who are some of your musical influences as a group?

RS: We all come from different backgrounds, so I can only speak for myself. I grew up as a hardcore kid, getting into more abrasive stuff in the early 90s like Unbroken, Groundwork, Rorschach, Neurosis, later Converge. Then I discovered the Swans at one point, later Krautrock and nowadays I'm listening to lots and lots of non-metal or rock stuff. And it all has its input into the music I write.

I have always appreciated bands like The Swans or Neurosis for the fact that they did not stick to genre limitations and incorporated untypical elements into their albums (such as strings and electronic components) and live performances (visuals). This obviously has forged my own desire to expand my musical horizon and to work with elements and instruments that are not commonly found in metal. I never considered The Ocean to be a mere metal band in the first place. I think we have always been a progressive band playing progressive music. That's a very broad term, but it does fit what we are trying to do.

CM: We notice that your band pics on Myspace were all taken underwater. How come?

RS: Well, we are called "The Ocean", so there you go! That was a really fun shoot. We went to a friend's place whose aunt has a swimming pool and spent an hour or so swimming under water towards the camera. It was difficult to get one picture where everyone has his eyes open and where nobody's hand is in front of someone else's face so it took a while, but it was great fun.

CM: Any upcoming shows in Chinese cities you are particularly looking forward to? Why?

RS: I'm looking forward to every single one of them. I have never been to China before so everything is exciting for us. Obviously the larger cities are more likely to attract bigger crowds but I am also particularly interested to play in some of the more rural provinces. And I am looking forward to Chengdu because of the beautiful surroundings. We will have 3 three days off there and our Chinese agent and translator lives there so hopefully we will get to see something.

CM: How easy is it keeping a band together for a number of years? Where do you find the motivation?

RS: It is difficult, not to find motivation, because I love this kind of life and it's great to work for yourself and not for someone else -- but to keep it together. People's priorities in life change, and we have had a lot of changing members over the year. People start growing families, marrying or picking up "real" work or they realize that the life of touring is not made for them. It's very difficult to keep a steady lineup together for many years, especially when you're playing fairly underground music.

CM: Would you say that your musical direction has changed over the years?

RS: We have evolved quite a bit. Our first album "Fogdiver" was instrumental, our second album "Fluxion" had harsh, heavy vocals and very orchestral music on it, with lots of classical instruments but still really heavy. Our third album "Aeolian" was a mere metal album. "Precambrian", our fourth album, was a double-album with one short and heavy CD and one long and epic, atmospheric CD, it is probably the most diverse album we have done. Our last double-album "Heliocentric" and "Anthropocentric" is the most advanced in terms of songwriting. We have also had a new vocalist on these two last albums, our singer Loic who is with us now. His voice is much more versatile than our previous vocalists, and he uses clean singing a lot more, so this has changed the direction a bit. There are still some really heavy songs on these two albums but also some quiet tunes dominated by piano and acoustic guitar and strings.

CM: What’s the underground music scene like back home in Germany?

RS: Very diverse and very segregated. There's everything you can imagine here -- traditional metal, progressive metal, hair-metal, hardcore, metalcore, post-rock, indie, and a million subgenres of electronic music. People are a bit spoiled though, because there are too many concerts and shows are pretty big here compared to other places in Europe.

CM: How important are underground music scenes around the world in your opinion?

RS: To me this is where music is alive -- small shows, passionate musicians and audiences who favor a small intimate setting over a huge stage where you will be 500 meters away from the band you wanna see. I have always favored these smaller club shows over big festivals and I think a lot of people do!

CM: We like the artwork and graphics on your website. Can you tell us a little about the thinking behind it?

RS: The website is making reference to the "Heliocentric/Anthropocentric" theme, which we addressed with our last two albums. "Heliocentrism" is the idea that the earth is revolving around the sun, which is static and at the center of our solar system - today this is common knowledge but in medieval times the first ambassadors of this idea were persecuted by the Christian Church, who wanted to make people believe that the earth is at the center of the universe and at the center of God's creation. Our last two albums are circling around this subject matter; they are basically a critique of Christianity."Heliocentric" is approaching the subject more from a historical perspective, focusing thematically on the Copernican Turn and the effects the scientific discoveries of this time had on Christian belief and the power of the church. "Anthropocentric" is approaching the subject from a more philosophical and personal angle. The central question is the contradiction of the theodicy problem: if God exists and has the three main attributes that Christians want Him to have -- omniscient, omnipotent and benign -- then there could be no evil in the world. If you agree that there is evil, which is not too hard to get anyone to admit, I guess, than at least one of those three attributes cannot be true, for if He was benign, he would not tolerate evil and if He was omnipotent, he would have the power not to tolerate evil and be able to change it. The album orbits around this problem, the relation between man/reason and God.

The fact that Christianity has not yet been overcome by cultures, which in every other respect are grounded on trust in the rational mind, is fascinating. Islamic cultures, for example, have not been transformed by the process of enlightenment as occidental Christian cultures have. Our societies have witnessed the rise and the impact of modern natural science. The sets of values and ideologies brought forth by the process of enlightenment dominate our daily thinking and are the foundations of our societies, yet at the same time we still uphold the superstitions that in no way are conformable with the findings of modern science. Because of the prevailing historical influence and power of the church, our culture is based on the peaceful coexistence of preclusive sets of values. It's time to break this cycle of incoherence, and “Heliocentric” and "Anthropocentric" are our contribution -- a reminder of Charles Darwin's legacy.

Both albums are not merely bashing Christianity or religion, but offering different philosophical viewpoints. However, we do take a strong atheist stance. A lot of people have a strong disposition for religious ideas. They want to believe "something", and it doesn't even matter so much what it is in the end. Psychologically, it is a matter of self-deception -- we believe something because we want to believe something. It's the same basic structure as when you're fat and you're not happy with the fact that you're fat, and you know that eating chocolate is only going to make you fatter, but you still eat chocolate while saying to yourself that this is not going to make you any fatter... although you know it's not true. That's called “akrasia" in modern analytical philosophy, or "weakness of willpower", and it's a quite fascinating subject -- how does it work, how do we get ourselves to believe something that we know is not true? [US philosopher] Donald Davidson is offering some interesting explanations here. He basically says our consciousness is divided into semi-autonomous fractions which, to a degree, operate independently. This is why one part of our consciousness can uphold a belief, while another part can uphold a contrary belief. In the end, however, the acting subject is just one entity which performs only one action, so the problem is only being shifted, it seems.

CM: We look forward to the show at the Little Bar, gents. Any last words you would like to share with our readers? 

RS: Looking forward to seeing you all out there soon, guys and girls! Like I said, we have a few days off after the Chengdu show, so we'll be in town for a little while, if you know of any parties or want us to see something, feel free to meet us at our merch stand after the show and have a chat and a beer!

The Ocean China Tour 2011

Sept 22   Shanghai     Yuyintang
Sept 23   Wuhan         Vox
Sept 24   Chengdu     Little Bar
Sept 25   Chongqing  Nuts
Sept 29   Guangzhou 191
Sept 30   Hong Kong  Hidden Agenda
Oct 2      Shenzhen    Hongtangguan
Oct 4      Zhenjiang   Modern Sky festival
Oct 5      Beijing       Modern Sky festival
Oct 6      Beijing       Mao


Check the links below for more information and previews