Sydney's prodigal sons get sentimental over their breakout LP.
It goes unsaid that Ocean Alley might just be one of the hardest working Australian acts today.
Initially dismissed as just another band riding the wave of psychedelic, reggae-tinged rock that erupted from Sydney in the 2010s, the independent Northern Beaches act’s tireless touring schedule and a dedication to better themselves with each release ultimately proved to be the X Factor for their early success, building them a fervent live following and establishing them as a powerhouse act on the local festival circuit.
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However, it wasn’t until the release of their debut record Lost Tropics in 2016 where the fruits of Ocean Alley’s labours really began to reveal themselves.
Tapping into the raw, groovy sounds of their earlier material yet showing significant songwriting maturity and instrumental dexterity, the record proved to be a creative watershed for the band, and listeners took note straight away.
Sold-out national tours and maiden visits overseas shortly followed, and within two years, Ocean Alley found themselves as one of the country’s hottest bands thanks to the success of their follow-up Chiaroscuro – and the rest, as they say, is history.
With the record recently celebrating its fifth anniversary, Ocean Alley cracked open the archives to reflect on Lost Tropics for us, digging into each track on the record to paint a snapshot of a band on the cusp of their commercial breakthrough.
We played ‘Lemonworld’ for a long time after we stopped playing others in our set from Lost Tropics. I think that was because it felt like a quintessential Ocean Alley track at the time. It had a great response live so we kept it in the set for a while.
I don’t think we are as keen to play it these days. It’s hard to keep loving old tracks as you keep making new ones. There is the natural progression of our songwriting and changes in our tastes that keep us looking for something new and fresh. It has definitely pulled its weight these last five years.
Like the opener, I think ‘Hold On’ felt like a classic song for us at the time. The groove moves around a bit but I think we did a good job moving from the verse into the chorus.
We couldn’t help ourselves at the end, so of course, there’s a big build up with a ripping guitar solo. It also copped a fair flogging on stage over five years, following ‘Lemonworld’ long after we’d stopped playing the other tracks live.
‘Pretty Little Devil’
There was a specific person who inspired this song but it’s probably a relatable story for most. It was always enjoyable to play live.
I’m pretty sure Nic would turn his bass guitar way up just to make sure everyone heard that sweet groove. Good call. The stage would hum and buzz as the crowd swayed along.
If we could change the bridge section now, we would get those guitars with way more crunch and drive.
The credit for the chorus line of ‘Feel’ has to be given to Lach and Mitch’s cousin Ratto. We were sleeping in his Mum’s garage in Perth after she kindly let us stay after playing a show.
Ratto barged into the garage at 9am the next morning holding a slab of beer and found the pile of us severely hungover and reluctant to join him for a morning drink. He told us we were useless and then, drawing on his immense wisdom, profoundly explained that “…you only feel as good as you feel”.
Well, he was bloody right! So we wrote a song about it.
This is just a song about a holiday. It’s nice and up beat in contrast to a lot of the other tracks.
It’s a friendly song, pretty simple and doesn’t have much oomph behind it – which is great if that’s what you’re into, but I feel like we’ve been trying to move away from this vibe for a while now. We push ourselves harder these days to create something more substantive.
‘Stripes In My Mind’
Listening to it back five years later, this track seems pretty weird. We had heaps of fun recording and playing this one live. It was a chance in the studio and on stage to get carried away in the moment.
I’m glad we had tracks like this in our set that were not so serious. The laughing at the end of the track is Baden and I reckon it turned out better than we thought it would.
‘Sleep On It’
One of our favourite B-sides that we haven’t played many times live! The song is about feeling cheated and ripped off and I think we did well to match the music to the story the lyrics tell.
The verse feels affirming and optimistic and the chorus and bridge contrast that with a more punchy rhythm and the riff played in unison.
This track has a super fun groove and was a good time in the set a while back. It was about how we felt when we started touring overseas for the first time. We were psyched to find ourselves in new and unusual places and always made the most of it, stitch-ups included.
‘Fly On The Wall’
I’m pretty sure we set out here to make something more intense to sit amongst the other softer songs on the record. This was always a big one live, snapped guitar strings and lots of pushing and shoving in the crowd.
‘Partner In Crime’
This is the track off this record that we play most these days. It still regularly gets a run. We performed it in 2019 at triple J’s One Night Stand in Lucindale with Meg Mac and Will Morrissey on the saxophone.
We are so stoked that the track came all that way from the record to sharing the stage with two amazing musicians in front of a very special crowd.
We wanted to close out the record with something weird and different. We had a bit of fun with vocal effects and percussion and decided it should go drum free.
Nic, normally on the bass guitar, wrote and played all the guitar parts. I don’t think he could be bothered to teach the other guitar players so he just did it all himself in the studio. We’ve never performed this track live either – maybe one day we’ll have to give it a crack.
An exclusive re-press of Lost Tropics will be available for Record Store Day on June 12. Ocean Alley are touring nationally in August/September – tickets are available here.