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    The Ocean Collective Founder Robin Staps

    "Our new album is a journey"

    Interview von Anne
    02.05.2021 — Lesezeit: 14 min
    Deutsche Version lesen
    The Ocean Collective Founder Robin Staps

    On 25 September, the second part of The Ocean's acclaimed album "Phanerozoic" will be released. We have all been eagerly awaiting this moment. I now had the honour to talk to The Ocean founder Robin Staps about making "Phanerozoic" and the band's Berlin-based post-rock label Pelagic.

    Anne: Hello Robin! Thanks for taking the time! I feel very honoured to meet you! How are you doing?

    Robin: Very well, thank you! There is a lot to do! The new album has just been finished and we have pressed more than 11.000 records on vinyl. All of them need to be packed now. Of course, there are always things that don't work as you would expect them to. For example, this time we made photo books of the 2019 tour, which consists partly of travel photography and partly of live stuff. Unfortunately, they were delivered much too late, and then there was a printing error and we needed to print them again. Now we are all waiting for this last piece of the puzzle. So it remains exciting!

    Anne: That sounds like a lot of work! How has your year been so far?

    "We used the break for new projects"

    The Ocean. Picture: © The Ocean Collective
    The Ocean. Picture: © The Ocean Collective

    Robin: Overall, it has been a very productive and fulfilling year for us so far. The Corona crisis made us switch over to projects that we otherwise wouldn't have had the time for. After our South American tour in May and Wacken and the Prognosis Festival in March were cancelled, we decided to change our focus. We were able to use the time for things we always wanted to do and so in the end the cancellations had something good for us.

    Anne: You just mentioned that you are busy packing the records at the moment. You have not only a music talent when it comes to The Ocean. With Pelagic you have founded a successful label where some of the most famous post-rock bands are signed. So is it still the case there that the founder also takes care of everything? How big is your team at the label at the moment?

    Robin: Well there is Paul our drummer and me and four more employees. Until two years ago it was just Paul, Steve, and me. Then we grew surprisingly fast. Luckily a lot of great people from our circle of friends helped us. They jumped in first and now they are working for us permanently. In the meantime, we have distributed all the tasks quite well. Paul takes care of the digital stuff, I mainly do sales and production planning, Dennis does logistics and Chris does playlists and PR.

    "Pelagic has grown fast"

    Meanwhile, this is a full-time job for all of us. In the past, when we went on tour with The Ocean, I simply did less for the label. In the meantime that is no longer conceivable. It has simply developed into an extensive apparatus.

    For example, we have our monthly vinyl subscriptions, where 250 subscribers get their records every month. In the meantime, we have to take the whole thing a bit more seriously than we did at the beginning.

    Anne: Let's come back to the artwork topic: Besides the music, your LP box sets are also masterpieces of art. Most recently, you added fossils or wood-clad USB sticks to your special editions. I hardly know any bands who spend so much love and work on their records. How important is the artwork to you? What part of the overall concept does it play?

    "Our artworks are getting as much attention as our music"

    The Ocean at Logo, Hamburg, 2019
    The Ocean at Logo, Hamburg, 2019

    Robin: The artworks take up a large part of our overall concepts. I've always tried to take a relatively holistic approach to music, especially the music I'm making with The Ocean. I enjoy the interplay between art in a 2D or 3D sense and music a lot. The whole product design thing fascinates me. I love pushing the boundaries and trying things that have not been done that often before. The Ocean's ten-year collaboration with graphic designer Martin Quamme is incredibly enjoyable. Like us, he is also keen to try out materials, techniques, and packaging ideas. The interaction between his and my ideas is always quite fruitful.

    I would say that in terms of time, art is on an equal footing with the production of music. Of course, the music has to be written and recorded first. But then another chapter begins, which is usually no less time-consuming.

    Anne: Who had the idea to add fossils to the box set of your last album "Phanerozoic II"?

    Fossils as an add-on to the album

    Robin: We have my father to thank for this idea! I had told him what we were planning with our next album and he said "Oh, that sounds exciting! Why don't you add some fossils to the box?" I laughed at first, but pretty soon I thought that this was a cool idea!

    We started researching right away and found a very nice lady at the Geology Institute of Munich who was also pretty interested in our project. She helped us to get these fossils in this quite large quantities. After all, there were 1.000 boxes! You can imagine that this was not an easy job. You can't just make these things - they need to be found! The difficulty was that they all had to have a similar size, weight class, and price range. But together and in stages we made it. There were 150 trilobites from the Euritium and when they were used up, there were 200 Orthoceras and so on. She collected them for us at various trade fairs and from different online providers.

    Anne: That is very elaborate and beautiful. It's something when you put a trilobite on the shelf together with an album. The second part of the album "Phanerozoic II" will be released on September 25th. You can already hear a few songs and I have to say that they make you want to hear more! Are you satisfied with the outcome of your work?

    "Going with the flow felt overwhelming at first"

    The Ocean at Logo, Hamburg, 2019
    The Ocean at Logo, Hamburg, 2019

    Robin: Absolutely! For us, the album is some kind of a special record. The story behind it is very different from the ones before. Normally, when we go to the studio, I have a pretty good idea of how the album will sound like, what it will look like and which songs are on it in which order. The individual sounds have always been very elaborate. This time we simply took a lot more distance from these extremely detailed pre-productions.

    We've just let things happen. In the beginning, it was a bit difficult for me. It felt pretty overwhelming. I asked myself the question of whether the whole thing would really become an album or maybe a loose collection of songs. But in the end, it worked out very well. Beautiful things came out of that spontaneity, which surely wouldn't have happened otherwise.

    "The album has different phases"

    The new album has become a journey that begins at one point and ends at a completely different one. You can't anticipate what to expect when listening to the first song and I like that very much. It's not just randomly strung together songs. It goes through different phases and evolves from one phase to the next - from one song to the next.

    All in all, it is very diverse and broad - even more than on the first part of the album. I think the sound is amazing. I think it's the best The Ocean album yet. It comes closest to the idea I had of what I want to do. I am also very happy with the artwork and the packaging. We have put a lot of time into it again.

    "The records are looking awesome"

    The Ocean at Logo, Hamburg, 2019
    The Ocean at Logo, Hamburg, 2019

    Anne: How was it to hold your work in your hands for the first time?

    Robin: When the vinyl was delivered last week, it blew my mind. I have to say, the records are looking just awesome. We used a very special paper that we had to do a lot of tests with. It has to be glued and folded into gatefolds without opening or breaking. It has a very special structure and is simply beautiful. We spent a year with the press shop and various manufacturers because of this. When you hold it in your hand, it closes a chapter with very positive aspects. You have the feeling that it was worth all the effort.

    Anne: "Phanerozoic II" was not created together with the first part then, was it?

    "The songs were created in 2016 and 2017"

    Robin: The songs were all written more or less at the same time. That was 2016 and 2017. There is always a certain latency between writing and releasing. Especially when it comes to double albums. At the beginning of 2018, we started recording the drums for both albums. Most parts of the songs had already been there at that time - they were just differently elaborated. The ones for the first part were already pretty much finished and the ones for the second part were partly still in a raw state. After recording the drum parts, we finished the first part. In 2019 we were on tour with it all year long.

    At the same time, we finalized the second fragment. I recorded some of the bass parts together with Matthias on our tour with Leprous, which we did in November. For the vocals, I did three sessions with Loïc in the summer. That was sort of between the festivals and our tour. You can say, the album was finished on the road - embedded in our tour and the production of "Phanerozoic I"

    "I studied geography"

    Picture: © The Ocean Collective
    Picture: © The Ocean Collective

    Anne: All in all you are pretty much into concept albums. Sometimes it's about scales, sometimes about depth zones of waters, and sometimes about geological ages.

    With your new album "Phanerozoic II" you continue the concept that started in 2018 with the first part "Phanerozoic I". How did you get the idea to dedicate an album to the Phanerozoic? Or even before that to the Precambrian1?

    Robin: The idea is already relatively old. We published "Precambrian" in 2007. At that time I was very much involved with geological ages. The connection with the album is that I studied geography at that time. I tried to visualize the music of "Precambrian". In front of my inner eye, I saw prehistoric scenes and landscapes. Somehow it was all very fitting. The theme complements the archaic and monumental music well. After "Precambrian" we did quite different things. But somehow I had the feeling that there was still a gap somewhere that we had to fill. From a conceptual and from a musical point of view. I figured out what was missing was the Phanerozoic. The time in which we still live today, but which already began 550 million years ago.

    "The idea for the collaboration with Katatonia was born in 2009"

    Between the albums "Precambrian" and "Heliocentric", which were groundbreaking for us in different ways, something was also missing musically. With "Precambrian" we found our sound back then. On The other hand, "Heliocentric" was a completely new beginning with Loïc's vocals, which may have initially offended some people. I wanted to close this gap with "Phanerozoic I" and "Phanerozoic II". I think that worked out pretty well. The two records are not only a journey into the past but also show where we stand as a band in 2020.

    Anne: You worked together with Katatonia for one song on each of both parts. How did the collaboration with Jonas Renzke develop? Did you record both songs in one session?

    Robin: That also goes back to "Precambrian" times. I got in contact with him back then. Katatonia was just in the studio recording "Great Cold Distance" and we were in the studio making our album. Jonas liked our material and we were already talking about a collaboration back then. But unfortunately, it didn't work out because of time constraints. We were almost finished and Jonas was in the studio with Katatonia. Ten years later we played with Katatonia in Romania when they played their 10th-anniversary show for "Great Cold Distance".

    "Suddenly everything went its way"

    The Ocean at Logo, Hamburg, 2019
    The Ocean at Logo, Hamburg, 2019

    We were invited to play there and started to work on our idea again. I sent Jonas the song "Devonian" from the first part of "Phanerozoic" because I could imagine him singing along with it. For him, it was love at first sight. Shortly afterwards he sent us demos which basically ended up on the album in the exact same way. Because it worked so well, we repeated it when we recorded the second part. It was very spontaneous.

    Actually, there were already vocals by Loïc for the part and the guitars were already recorded. Then Peter completely rebuilt the synths in a pretty brilliant way and somehow it didn't fit with the rest. We were already on tour with Leprous and didn't have much time. Someone said "Why don't you send the new part to Jonas" and suddenly everything went its way.

    Anne: You said before that a lot has changed for you with Loïc joining the band. For me, his mix of singing and shouting fits perfectly with your compound of brute and melodic parts. How did you find each other?

    "Loïc is the perfect singer"

    Robin: In 2009 our former singer Mike Pilat quit. During our tour with Opeth in 2008, he had decided to leave the band. At the same time, I was at a point where I wanted to try different things musically. We tried out a lot and took our time to find someone new. Loïc joined us through our soundman Julien from Switzerland, who still records the drums for us today. He knew him through Loïc's former band. Loïc recorded some demos of our old songs for us. Among other things, we sent him "Firmament", the first track of "Heliocentric".

    He improvised freely and we liked it so much that the vocal lines went straight to our album. Loïc had never screamed in a band before but always sang clean. In addition to his practised and versatile voice, he could also scream ultra brutally. He simply brought everything we had dreamed of. He could do anything. We immediately started with our recordings for "Heliocentric". Loïc is originally from the French part of Switzerland and hardly spoke any English at that time. So we had to pay a lot of attention to the pronunciation at the beginning, which took a bit of time but in the end, everything worked out perfectly. Since 2009 he is a permanent member of the band.

    "There are many more band members than people on stage"

    The Ocean at Logo, Hamburg, 2019
    The Ocean at Logo, Hamburg, 2019

    Anne: You started as a band collective. Can you briefly describe what it is all about? Would you still call yourselves like this? After all, you have been in a more or less unchanged line-up for some time now.

    Robin: Recently we recorded again under the name "The Ocean Collective" and printed it on posters for example. We were simply a loosely organized group of musicians when we started. There were many more band members than people who were on stage when it came to gigs. In the meantime, up to 20 people belonged to The Ocean Collective. There were for example three to four guitarists, although we mostly played live with only two or three. That was decided according to who had the time and desire. For a while that worked very well for us. But at some point, we realized that we spent a lot of time in the rehearsal room this way. The concept had simply been exhausted in some way.

    On the other hand, The Ocean Collective has always been more than the musicians you can see on stage. We always had this pool of people around us who belonged to us. There is for example graphic artist Martin Quamme, with whom we have been working since 2006, Craig Murray, who does our videos, and our crew members Chris and Jean, who do the sound and lighting for us. They know every song by heart. Jean basically plays the keyboard on the light desk. All of them are not on stage with us, but they are extremely important for what we do. To honour them, the collective idea is still in use.

    Anne: You have been around for no less than 20 years now. Congratulations on your anniversary at this point! What would you say has changed for you as a band since the beginning of The Ocean?

    "We are looking back on an eventful time"

    Robin: An enormous amount of things have changed. It almost feels absurd when I think that I started with this dream 20 years ago. Just looking down the street here. Our first rehearsal room was in Görlitzer Straße on the other side of Görlitzer Park. I live on the other side now. This is where everything started back then.

    In the meantime so much has changed. The line-up changes of course and the influences that all the different people brought into the band. On the one hand, I am very grateful that we have had a solid lineup for several years now, which I can always rely on. Otherwise, we wouldn't be where we are now with the band. On the other hand, it was of course also exciting to experience all these changes. Everybody gave us their ideas and inspiration. You can say we are looking back at a cool and eventful time.

    "We are good friends"

    We also went through different times. Loïc and me, for example, had very different ideas from time to time. But in the meantime, we are really good friends. Everyone in the band appreciates what we have in the band. It enables us to play concerts between Romania and Kazakhstan and get paid for it in the best case. We know we have an incredible privilege. Now in our late 30s to early 40s, I think we're all at this point where we have left the little arguments we had in our 20s behind. Everyone understands when it is time to shut the fuck up, you know?

    On tour, everybody has a bad day. At the end of the day, we are all great buddies and we love what we do. So there is no end in sight. Quite the opposite. In the past, it all depended a lot on our constitution. Today many things are much more solid. Everyone delivers and we don't have to rehearse as much anymore. Everybody is learning their parts at home and when we meet, we can do the songs. We only have to work out the details. So we don't have to spend so much time in the rehearsal room anymore. Our work has become more effective. But I also think that this is a normal side effect of getting older. You have to make your experiences - and I don't want to miss them.

    "We finally want to play live again!"

    Anne: You are usually on the road a lot. You had also planned to play several festival shows and concerts this year. Do you miss touring in the meantime?

    Robin: Yes, pretty much! First I was very thankful that we can do a break for a year or so because last year was intense. We spend the whole year 2019 on tour. In January it was India, then Australia and New Zealand, then our big European tour, then all the summer festivals and the Russia-Japan-Kazakhstan tour, and then the tour with Leprous. After that, you like to hang out at home and focus on other things.

    But we had enough of this now. I just talked to Paul today that we want to go on tour again. We are wanting to play live again!

    Anne: And when will it start again?

    Robin: We have planned to play a gig at the Gloomaar Festival in November. It will be a small setup, probably even a seated concert. Nevertheless, we are looking forward to it!

    "2021 there will be a tour!"

    Anne: I'm also really looking forward to hopefully hearing the new songs live soon! How do you want to handle your planned tour in January?

    Robin: It will happen! It is only a question of time! The tour in January is certainly a brave undertaking. In principle, we have to reassess the situation week by week. If it doesn't work out, we have already planned a backup routing for June with the same cities and shows. Tickets will keep their validity or can be returned. One thing is for sure: We will play a tour in the first half of 2021. I am not giving up hope!

    Anne: I keep my fingers crossed and wish you all the best for the start of the new album! I am very excited!

    Robin: Thanks for your time!

    Here is a teaser for the upcoming The Ocean Album "Phanerozoic II" for you.

    The Ocean Collective - "Oligocene"

    1. The Phanerozoic is the youngest aeon or aeonothem in the history of the earth. It covers the period from 541 million years before today until the present. The Precambrian covers the period from the formation of the earth about 4.56 billion years ago to the development of the animal world at the beginning of the Cambrian about 540 million years ago.

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