Into the deep – an interview with Robin Staps from The Ocean

By Georgi Bomb

The Ocean are a band who delve more into the musical creative pit than a lot of metal bands around these days. Not content with falling into a standard band category, there is so much more to the collective than first glance. Self-designed lighting,thought-provoking lyrics, members of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and a live show with enough electricity to power a lighthouse. Currently promoting last year’s twin albums Anthropocentric and Heliocentric which together represents a philosophical examination of Christianity. Founder Robin Staps intends to constantly push those boundaries in his writing and band performance while still learning along the way. Georgi Bomb went to meet Robin on The Ocean’s first headlining show of the tour.

A rough start to the UK including some disappointing shows and a few technical hitches have led to a low morale within the band but things seem to be looking up, ” You know, new tour, new crew, new people, new bus so yeah, that combined with the lack of sleep and just general exhaustion after touring the US for six weeks. We had two sh*t shows but since then, we have played in Manchester, a show in London and all those shows were awesome. This is our first headlining show so it is awesome to be able to play a longer set. We are looking forward to the next couple of days.”

Embarking on a reasonably long headlining tour before hitting festival season full pelt; playing Green Field (Switzerland), Hellfest (France), Metalcamp (Slovenia) and Summer Breeze  (Germany), it is revealed the difficulty in captivating the atmosphere that is so easily accomplished within a dark, club setting. “We have this light show, which we are not going to be able to have tonight as the place is just too small but we bring our own lights and everything is designed in oceanic colours, blues and greens; it is all very dimly lit most of the time so you don’t really see our faces. That contributes to that atmosphere we are trying to create with music and that is just impossible when the sun is shinning in your face at 3 o’clock in the afternoon on a big open-air stage. That’s the downside of it, the upside obviously is playing to a huge crowd and I do enjoy that.

“We try to pick a set list that is representative of what we do which is difficult because we have six albums and with 35 minutes, there is not much room and some of our songs are ten minutes plus. It has to focus on the latest two albums, so it will be two tracks off Anthropocentric and Heliocentric. We try to have a set list that is representative of what we are right now but still be able to give people who are into the old material the chance to hear some of that too.”

The most exciting news from The Ocean is the gossip surrounding the production of a DVD. The collection of footage started alongside the release of Heliocentric in Switzerland during spring of last year. Also included on the DVD will be a special, one-off show from January 2011 at the Museum für Musikinstrumente, a museum for musical instruments in Berlin. “It was a really different setting and not the typical crowd. It was a seated audience among a collection of historic instruments  from the 16th Century. We had a cello and piano player with us and it was really cool but it wasn’t the typical Ocean show. We have had our documentary filmmaker with us for pretty much the whole US tour and now he is going to stay with us until probably the end of the tour.

“We don’t really know what the end result is going to look like as we don’t know what shows are going to be on there. We also filmed the last London show and there is going to be at least two or three songs from that in there too. Possibly some summer festivals as well so there is going to be lots of different live footage from all over the world basically and lots of behind-the-scene stuff. We are pretty excited about it; it is going be at least a double DVD with lots of material and judging from what I have seen so far, what Alex has cut for a behind-the-scenes trailer from the US tour, it is going to be really interesting and cool so I am looking forward to that.”

Heliocentric and Anthropocentric are lyrically powerful and as said previously, touch on the area of Christianity and challenge it; with lyrics like: “Reason won’t concuss the irrevocable truth, And if there’s contradiction: Keep the faith, burn the proof”. (Metaphysics of the Hangman: Heliocentric). There must be something that drives or inspired Staps to approach a chosen subject in the way he has. “It is something that usually has been with me for a while when I get there, it’s not like I go to the library and find stuff that nobody cares about except for me!

“In this case, I’d been thinking about it for a long time and I was first exposed to it when I was 16/17 years old and living in the US in a die-hard creationist, Christian family and had these discussions with my back then host’s sister on a daily basis about dinosaurs never having existed or being 85,000 years old. Since then, I’ve been thinking about that quite a lot and I studied philosophy and obviously read a lot of religious philosophers too.

“There are lots of other things that I want to do and we are just trying to take it further than your average metal band. We invite people to tag along but I also appreciate it if people just want to bang their head and don’t give a f*ck about the critique of Christianity, that’s fine with me too. I think lyrics are important when I appreciate a band but I don’t read the lyrics of every band. It is when I really get into it then I want to know what’s beyond the surface so fair enough if people just want to rock out that’s cool but for those people who do want to dig a little deeper we hopefully give them some ground to dig in.”

Despite having access to technology and synths, The Ocean choose to work with classically trained musicians and have the pleasure of introducing members from the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Staps, intrigued by combining the band with non-typical instruments found in metal, found the process a learning curve, discovering how to write and arrange compositions for classical instruments. However, it isn’t just the metal heads learning from the process, “It’s an experience for them [the classical musicians] because they are not used to playing to a steady beat; tempos are loosely interpreted in classical music, it flows and is something that speeds up and slows down gradually. In a rock band you have the dictation of the click, it’s always the same kind of tempo usually, unless you have an intentional tempo change. That’s something that is new for them, something they regard as an experience.

“We do have two people with us now who play classical instruments who are into rock so it is the ideal setting but they are very hard to find”. The introduction of two new players (Dalai Theofilopoulou – Cello and Irakli Mamrikishvili – Piano) will make a difference to the recording process, as Staps explains, “they can actually relate to out music, not just play off the score sheet without a clue what is actually happening and what we want to express.

“I know our piano player is really keen – he just wrote his own symphony – he is really into writing, he doesn’t just want to play, he wants to contribute in the creative sense and that’s cool. I’m really looking forward to that. I think it is going to be easier to write parts because he understands what I want and how I want it to sound, and he knows how to develop the actual parts. That is going to be a different process and I am looking forward to that.

“We have had different players on every album, I am confident Irakli and Dalai are going to be joining the extended core line up in the future because they are like the ideal people for this job.”

The interview wouldn’t be complete without the discussion on whether there is a new album on the horizon? “Writing will probably be this year, recording not until next year. We did two albums last year so give us a break and bear with us, please! This is the year we will spend on the road mostly, this is a three and a half month tour and we are pretty much in the middle of it right now and then we have summer festivals.

“Sometime in July and August I am going to go back to my house in Spain and start writing there but recording isn’t going to start until next spring probably so it will be a while. I can’t tell you at all what is going to happen because there is nothing written right now. I can’t write on tour and I don’t think any of the other guys have written anything yet. We will see how it goes, we are usually pretty quick with that, once you are in that mode, there is just an overflow of ideas.

“It does take some time, I mean some bands take two or three years to write an album. That wouldn’t happen with us, writing is not the big deal; recording and bringing in all the instruments which go with it – that is what takes time.”

Check out The Ocean’s upcoming shows here. Anthropocentric and Heliocentric are out now on Metal Blade Records.

Read a live review of The Ocean here.

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