Talking down the phone, Luke Holmes sounds excited. Although he and his band Ocean Grove have been making music for the last seven years, their new album The Rhapsody Tapes is still days away from being released and he listens keenly to our impressions.
“We haven’t had much feedback so far because only a handful of people have heard it,” explains the singer. “We’ve kept it to ourselves until now.”
The album is something of a change of pace for the Melbourne sextet, seeing them move away the influences of Slipknot and Korn that informed their previous work, and embracing a diverse range of sounds and structures.
“We’ve always wanted to push the envelope as far as we could and be an experimental band, but in the past we hadn’t had enough time to fully explore the possibilities,” he says. “It was a natural inclusion of music that we’re all into. We’ve all got different tastes in music and literature, so it was really important to us that this record represents all of those interests.”
They were afforded this freedom by taking matters into their own hands and recording everything themselves, holing up at the home of drummer Sam Bassal and spending long nights writing and recording.
“Sam’s house is about 50km west of Melbourne. The setup is minimalistic, just four walls, drums and not much else,” says Holmes. “It was like shift work, we’d come and go, people would do other jobs, and then we’d be up all night. Except for Sam, he was there all the time.
“It was maddening trying to get it done in one big hit sometimes, but those were limitations we put on ourselves. It’s about the effort and the quality of hours, not number of hours you put in. The process was a bonding experience for us as well.”
One of the album’s biggest surprises is the way in which elements of electronic music are effortlessly interwoven with their established heavy rock sound. This is thanks to band member Mathew Kopp, who also releases music under the name of Running Touch. Although Kopp does not perform live with Ocean Grove, much of the impetus for The Rhapsody Tapes started with him.
“It all started with Running Touch,” says Holmes. “That electronic influence has been in our music previously, but this time we let him take the reigns and bring whatever he wanted. We were keen to explore that side of the sound, and it brought this dark mood to it. The majority of the writing was just Sam and Running Touch, and Dale [Tanner] and myself with our vocal parts.”
“Running Touch had all these little snippets that he had started making on Ableton, and he came and played them to us, either as they were or on guitar,” says Holmes. “Some of them, like ‘Stratosphere Love’, were just little snippets, and some of them stayed that way. Songs like ‘From Dalight’ has more of a drum and bass rapping going on it, which is something that I’d never really done before. It made me push my boundaries and be a bit more adventurous. It helped us grow as musicians.
“Sam uses Logic to record on and he imports the samples from Ableton. But really some songs were just the Ableton track and not much else anyway. ‘From Dalight’ was a session with just that whole track in it and some vocals I sang over the top.”
Embracing the experimental nature of the sessions, the band were determined to let the music lead the way, rather than force its direction. “There are some songs that I’m not on, which is pretty unusual I guess for a band to not have their lead singer,” says Holmes. “There’s one song, ‘The Wrong Way’, that Dale sings, and that’s because if I was on there it would take away from the credibility of the track. We wrote to our strengths, so it didn’t make sense to force anything to go any particular way on songs where it was written by just one or two people.”
That’s not to say that the process of interpreting the sample-based tracks as a band were seamless. As Ocean Grove prepared one of the album’s singles they realised that something was not quite right.
“We had ‘Thunderdome’ as a finished song, and it got to the release date and we said to the label it’s not ready,” says Holmes. “We had this issue with taking a minimalist electronic track and adding all of the instruments to it, and we probably went a bit too far the first time. So we had to pretty much scrap it and start again.”
Looking ahead, this does raise the question of how Ocean Grove will replicate the layered sound of The Rhapsody Tapes when they play it live.
“We’re going to have to go and spend some time perfecting the songs before we got out and tour,” admits Holmes. “We’ve played a couple of the songs already, we’ve played ‘From Dalight’, which is quite sample based, we’ve played ‘Beers’, and ‘Intimate Alien’, so we can pull off these songs.
“We’re still quite in check with who we are as a band and we’re not going to go out and do something that we can’t do live. The same with my vocals, I made sure we didn’t do anything in some crazy key that I cant sing, because then people would say ‘the recording sounds good but they can’t pull it off live.’”
The Rhapsody Tapes by Ocean Grove is out now on UNFD.