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Hakim: Well, hello everyone, today I am in Villeurbanne with The Ocean. For those who know me, they’d know that this is my favorite band, ever, and it’s quite cool for me to be able to talk to you, so, thanks for that. So I have quite a few questions that I wish to ask, regarding the band itself, what you’ve been up to lately, starting with something I’ve been willing to ask, probably, rather to Robin, because, as far as I know, you are the founder of the band, so you might know literally everything about it.
The question is actually somewhat basic, I’d say ; the band being called “The Ocean”, and also considering that starting from the demo “Islands // Tides” up to “Phanerozoic”, there has been lots of references both through lyrics and literature as well, considering what you’ve been using as influences, that relate to the ocean, the sea, basically. And I’ve just been wondering, considering it’s the name you’ve given to this band, what is your relationship to the ocean as a water body.
Robin: It’s always been a great source of inspiration for me, I didn’t grow up anywhere close to the sea, but I spent some very intense moments of my life somewhere close or in the sea. And yeah, I’ve just always drawn a lot of inspiration from it and it’s still like that, I can sit by the coast and stare at the sea for hours, it’s just something that calms me and gives me ideas, for, creating things; so it was like, a natural thing to choose that as the band moniker. I have to say I probably wouldn’t do that again if I was to start a band right now. It was 20 or 25 years ago. But I guess this is what happens when bands grow old and you start thinking about the choices you took, and sometimes you have regrets. I have no regrets with the name, but I probably wouldn’t do it again.
Hakim: Okay, thank you. I don’t know what you guys think about the band’s name, and the idea of the ocean as a water body, if you have anything to add?
David: Yeah, to me ; I am from an island, surrounded by water, so ; when I realized that most of the music is written close to the sea, I felt very identified with the name, the identity of the band, so yeah, it matters with where I come from and also who I am as a person, I would say.
Robin: What you said is actually true, that the last four records were written in a place really close to the sea, on that island where you are from, which is a coincidence because that happened before you joined the band, actually. But yeah, that shows again how important this has been for creating the music of this band ever since the beginning.
Hakim: Thanks. And, well, continuing with, well, general influences; the sea is one thing. What I’ve noticed while reading your lyrics, and not just the lyrics, you have a lot of what I would call, extramusical references in the band. A lot in literature, because there are lots of quotes from different authors from French, English, Russian, German literature, over the course of your discography; people like Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Baudelaire, Edgar Allan Poe and so on. And more than literature, there are as well a few references to movies, namely, if I’m not mistaken, the movie Enter the Void, by Gaspard Noé, and also Stalker, by Tarkovsky, which both have been used respectively on The Quiet Observer and on the Pelagial album. What I’ve been willing to ask is “How do you come to use so many extramusical references and infuse them in music. I can easily guess that you’re into art, all of you, art in general, not just music of course, but I’m kind of interested in the process behind that.
Robin: I find it interesting and a bit bizarre that you talk of extramusical influences, I mean, music is expression, it’s art, and of course the sources that this inspiration comes from naturally lie outside of the music itself. It can be anything from everyday life, it can be from other artists, writers, poets, movies you watch ; if music only was the inspiration for lyrical content, then the music would be self-contained. I don’t know. From my experience, it just doesn’t work ; like, I regurgitate and digest the things that I find interesting in the world around me, and that happens to be in all these realms of art, literature and moves, and then philosophy ; personal experiences as well. And all that is woven into these records ; you’ve done your research very well, it’s correct that the track The Quiet Observer is actually inspired by Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void movie, which I think is a brilliant, totally underrated film on a very inspiring topic ; it’s tragic that after Irréversibles, it wasn’t the success that it should have been, but, a brilliant movie, absolutely, and that’s a good example of just, something that strikes you, and then you weave it into your own creative output in a way that makes sense and represents both you and the film, and this has always been the goal, with Pelagial as well, which is based around the backbone of the Stalker movie, but in a very abstract, not in a literal way, in an abstract way it’s going around the same spiral towards the origin of your wishes that this movie is approaching, basically ; at the end, when the protagonist gets to the center of the zone. The whole Pelagial album is doing that lyrically as well.
So, yeah, it’s very different sources of inspiration that you can find in the records, and also, always, a testimony of a certain time and what I, as the person who wrote those lyrics, was interested in at that time.
Hakim: Yeah. I was basically asking because often, when you’re talking with bands or reading reviews or interviews, they’re just like “Yeah, I’ve been inspired by this band and this band, which is of course fine and important, but they do not necessarily talk about the rest and of course, there is something else. Well, this is something I like to focus on, too. This explains the question, I guess ; and to continue on that, I was just wondering whether you had, all of you, things in mind, whether from movies or poets or drama, whatever you enjoy, that you’ve been thinking putting in a future album ; or things that you’ve been willing to use but haven’t used yet. I mean, if there’s anything.
Paul: The question is always like “How do you process what you experience and what you digest on a daily basis as well, and in music, that’s kind of a way of processing all of these things and making them accessible somehow ; like for ourselves, as well as other people, I personally don’t really know always what going on in Robin’s head, so it’s always a bit of a surprise how the lyrics will turn out, but there’s always, I think, a very personal level as well, of communicating in ways that maybe sometimes are not visible on the surface, you know, and I think there’s also the expression magic, in that, surrounding these hidden thoughts in a different way, and philosophically speaking as well. That of course helps us to, I don’t know, make sense of the world and make sense of what we think, communicate with other people, you know. I don’t know what’s cooking under Robin’s surface right now but I’m pretty sure it’s gonna be interesting.
Robin: I can tell you that the only record where the actual conceptual, lyrical backbone was there before we wrote the record is Pelagial. That’s the only record where the idea was there before I started writing the record. All the other records, the music was there first, and then I started writing lyrics, and the whole thing was then put into a conceptual frame, by writing, because that’s also the thing: things develop into one another and in the end you may end up in a totally different place than what you had initially been looking for, and this is part of the beauty of the creative process, you know, I think with the songwriting it’s the same, sometimes you start out with an idea and you end up in a place you had never expected, and with the lyrics, it goes like that as well, so it’s a lot of different factors influencing one another and when it comes down to that and because of that, I can’t answer your question saying that we have this next idea for the next three records and it’s all already plotted out. It’s not. There is music for two more records, but only the lyrics for the first one of them have only come together very, very recently, actually.
Hakim: Well, thank you for that. I would like to continue with these references, but going back to your recent records, the double Phanerozoic album, and going back to Nietzsche, who is, I think, central to these records, especially, if I’m not mistaken, this idea, which has been referred to in the first one, of the Eternal Recurrence, which is from, I don’t know the German title, I only know the English and French ones. In English it’s "The Greatest Weight", from The Gay Science (Robin spells out the German name). I cannot speak German, sadly! This is about, if I recall correctly, the idea that everything is cyclical and goes back to its start and where it began, and starts again in a similar fashion. This is something that, from a more geological point of view I guess, can be perceived through the events of extinction through the Earth’s evolution which have been referred to also in both albums ; and I think, tell me if I’m mistaken of course, that there’s a parallel that can be drawn between human activity and these cyclical extinctions, as in the idea that humanity has been repeating several mistakes on and on and we all know of the impact it has on the environment and on our quality of life in general. Considering this is not the first time, in my opinion, that the band criticizes elements from what we could call the Modern Age, on tracks like "The Greatest Bane", from an earlier album (Fluxion) ; so tell me if I’m wrong in saying that there’s a whole idea of using Nietzsche and these geological events to try to express these ideas of what humanity has been doing to the planet, or anything else it could mean.
Robin: Yeah I think it’s a nice connection you draw there between older themes and topics and the latest records which indeed show that also creatively, everything is cyclical and time is not a linear progression, but something that is built around real occurrences of certain events, and this is the topic that these last two records is exploring, it’s a very old idea, which was found in old India and Egyptian writings, not only in Nietzsche’s, he was the one who rediscovered that; and we applied that, of course, to a very different context, a geological context, looking at what happened in Earth’s History, and you will find certain recurrences of events that happened over and over again long before humanity came on the face of the Earth, and you can also apply it to your own simple, personal lifespan, where you have these certain déjà-vu experiences of going through certain occurrences over and over again. That’s basically the general topic of the Phanerozoic records, the first one and the second one, and Nietzsche was only the latest modern philosopher to shed some light on that but it’s actually very old ideas.
Hakim: Thanks. I don’t know if you have anything to add, any insight (Both David and Paul say they don’t). So, this being said, maybe let’s continue with more straightforward stuff; I was willing to ask, considering that a few years ago, maybe 4 or 5 years ago, you had done a tour to play again Precambrian in its entirety, because, well, Phanerozoic is a follow-up to Precambrian, technically, and geologically; and I was wondering, considering that during the pandemic, there was another anniversary, of Heliocentric and Anthropocentric, which ere released in 2010, I was wondering whether you had plans to do some anniversary thing for those, well of course during the pandemic, any plans were long-forgotten, sadly, but I don’t know if there’s anything that cooking up about that, whether it’s just adding some of these older songs to the setlist, or in a similar fashion to what you did with Precambrian, maybe play those again live, at some point. What do you have in mind? Or is it a secret?
Robin: To be honest, we’re in that age, now, we have released ten studio records, there’s an anniversary coming up every year, literally, so we could be playing, for the rest of our careers, anniversary tours, and that would be enough. I think we want to focus more on writing new stuff and touring with new material rather than constantly revisiting old things. Precambrian was exceptional because I believe it is one of the most important written records in our history. Here's the thing, not to say Heliocentric and Anthropocentric are not, but Precambrian connected conceptually to the new records we released in 2018 and 2020, that’s also why we decided to put that in the spotlight again and do this anniversary tour. We could do the centrics next, and then Pelagial is turning ten next year and so, you know, like I said we could go back to doing that. But I would like to revisit some Anthropocentric and Heliocentric tracks live, we’ve discussed it already on future tours. We’ve kinda excluded those on recent tours, and that’s not because I feel like we would take conscious distance with the material on these records, they’re the first records with Loic on vocals and there are still a lot of tracks on those that I think can work really well in a live environment. So I think it’s gonna be more of a case of incorporating some of these tracks into the current set, but no plans to do an anniversary tour or show. Also, it’s a lot of work. Like, for Precambrian, I mean, I’m the only one who was in the band when that record was released, so for everyone else, they basically had to learn a very complex record for a very short tour, and the relationship between investment of time and what you get out of it is not always healthy. That’s also something you have to keep in mind, of course. It’s like a super special occasion, big festival, you might want to do that, but it’s a lot of preparation work, so…
Hakim: I was wondering because, as you’ve said, they have been kind of excluded, and although I have seen you quite a lot of time in the past 5 years, I maybe have heard “Firmament”, from those two, and nothing else, I guess, which is why I was asking; I personally like all of your albums. I would, as a fan, enjoy hearing a bit of everything, but of course that’s your choice and it’s fine, and I love the recent stuff as well so I don’t really mind. Well I don’t know if you have anything to add (addressing Paul and David).
Paul: It’s also that, as Robin already said, a band is changing over time and we have a different band setup as well, now, we’re six members on stage, with Peter playing the synths. Some songs work better with him on stage, because he can join in as well, and some songs, he wouldn’t really be able to play anything, and that would also probably look a bit weird on stage if you just wait until you can join in again. And as Robin said, it’s a lot of work learn, relearn all these songs and adding another layer on top of this, it just takes a lot of time. I don’t know. It just has to make sense in the setlist as well. Dynamically speaking and in the story we want to tell live. I think right now we’re on a good path, musically, yeah.
Robin: And that’s a way of breaking out of the cyclical thing, to actually move somewhere and develop and evolve. I find that is one of the greatest challenges.
Hakim: Yeah, I mean, all of that makes sense. Next, there’s something that Robin more or less already answered to. In fact, it was about what you had been doing during covid. You already said that you have like, two records of music ready, and well, during the pandemic you also played two livestreamed shows, which you recently released on CD and vinyl, which were both great, I’ve been in front of both, they were really amazing, even though of course quite different, I don’t know how you felt about those. I was willing to ask, of course, what you’ve been up to, except from that. You said you’ve been working on lyrics recently, for a next one. Should we expect something soon or not so soon? What are your plans, what have you been up to during this time and what are your plans for now?
Robin: You can expect something fairly soon. The first one of these two records is pretty much recorded, and will be mixed in the coming months, and released early next year. That’s the plan. The second record is written, but we haven’t started recording that yet, so this will be something to follow later next year, probably.
Hakim: Is it, or, are those meant to be a double album, like you’ve done before, or will they be separate?
Robin: No, they will be separate. The next, uh, I don’t know if I should already take that ahead, I guess not, uhm. The next record is going to conclude this chapter that we’ve started with Precambrian, finally, so Phanerozoic II was not the last part in that saga, if you want. But then it’s really done. So the second one of these records will be something completely different, if anything at all.
Hakim: That is actually exciting, I’m always up for something different as well! Which is something that musically, you’ve been doing well I the past 20 years, I’d say, because the sound of the band has been evolving, probably also thanks to new members that have been coming in, and there’s always been lots of additions, with many different instruments, like for example for the second Phanerozoic album, if I’m not mistaken, you’ve recorded some instruments while touring in countries you’ve been visiting, which is both bold and amazing, and it sounded great!
Robin: Yeah, those are the moments of inspiration I was talking about earlier. You know, when we toured Armenia, we had this flute guy (duduk) who was a contact of the local promoter come to our show just before soundcheck and he brought this array of beautiful instruments and somehow we instantly clicked and he knew what to do. We played him a track he had never heard before, he started improvising and we were all struck, like, this is amazing, and it ended up on the record. So, yeah, that’s the beauty of traveling and touring, meeting people and taking something from that, almost like a tour souvenir, it’s really nice, I think, and, yeah.
Hakim: Anything else to add, guys? Not so much. I’m sorry Robin is taking the spotlight. Anyway, we’re nearing the end of what I had to ask you. Going a bit away from the band, as I know, you also run your own label, Pelagic Records, I was wondering if you had any new signings or announcements coming up, releases, bands that you’re looking forward to in your roster, that are going to release stuff soon. There’s a lot of things being announced already, lots of great stuff, and probably a lot more coming up.
Robin: Absolutely, two releases per month is the schedule until the end of the year, I think we’ve mostly announced everything through until early fall. The Burst boxset is the big project of the summer, and then in September, we haven’t really announced what we’re going to release there yet, but it’s gonna happen very soon, I don’t want to take that ahead now, but we have two new releases coming out every month until the end of the year, and very likely also in 2023, which is the right schedule for us, for many reasons, if it’s more than that, the releases start competing against one another, and if it’s less than that, then our subscribers will get angry because they’re expecting two records, so we kind of have our schedule laid out and there’s lots of exciting new records by already signed Pelagic bands coming out soonish, there’s a new Lost in Kiev record, I can tell you already, there’s a new Psychonaut record coming, there’s a new Herod record coming in the coming months, and a new Karin Park record, we’re looking forward to each and everyone of them, because we are very proud of all of our artists and these records are all going to be amazing.
Hakim: You should be proud, it’s also one of my favorite labels, everything that you’ve been putting out since I’ve known you, for like, ten years, something like that; it’s been a great ride personally, and for many fans as well. (turning to David and Paul) I don’t know if you guys have bands that you’re personally looking up to on that roster, for future releases, if you have anything to add.
Paul: Well, since we’re also touring with them right now, I think the new Psychonaut record is one of my personal favorites from the upcoming releases. The band is very inspiring and very creative, they have a lot of output, constantly reinventing themselves, and I think that’s one of my favorites.
Hakim: Thanks a lot.
Robin: There’s another French band that we haven’t announced the signing yet with a record coming out before the end of the year.
Hakim: Great! Do I know them?
Robin: I can tell you it’s great Post-Rock. It’s not their debut record either. It’s their third record, they already have a name, but they were signed with another label, before that. Instrumental band.
Hakim: I know many, and maybe I know them. There’s a good chance I know them. I’m looking up for that.
Robin: They have a really weird name, like a lot of French bands.
Hakim: I’ve been wondering, just one more thing. Through your label, you have lots of merch items for every band of course, you’ve been trying to do lots of different things as well, especially for The Ocean, there’s quite an extensive variety of merch items. There’s one thing, though, that I personally would like and haven’t done yet. I was wondering if that was something that maybe you were thinking about at some point or maybe it’s something I haven’t seen for some reason. Do you think at some point you might release tabs of some of your records? Whether The Ocean or other bands on your roster.
Robin/Paul: That’s a question for David!
David: That is something I started doing, like, I know, for The Ocean, like, writing tabs for Phanerozoic II, but that is a lot of work and I was thinking that maybe if we do Phanerozoic II then we have to do Phanerozoic I, and that was the moment when I was like, uuuughh, I don’t know if I should continue, but I think it’s a beautiful project. It’s something I enjoy doing as well, but it’s also a lot of work and there are other things that have priority right now, but yeah, there are some tabs, there are actually tabs done already.
Hakim (in the distance): Bass tabs? Just asking because I play bass.
David: Bass tabs? I don’t think we have any bass tabs.
Robin: This is quite chaotic. We have tabs for Pelagial, I think, that are pretty accurate, but we don’t have any bass tabs, we’ve had different bass players in the band, and it’s always been a struggle for them to learn what their predecessors had come up with just based on studio tracks. This is how everyone has learned it, and we’ve never had a bass player committed to tabbing things out. We should make it like an open source thing, and have people… I think that would be the best, having actually fans do it, and we overview it, like this is correct, this is not correct, but if the root work is done, that would be the best approach, to let the community do that, because people love to engage and yeah, maybe we should just start a project like that.
Paul: There’s actually been tabs for Phanerozoic done by someone online already, which was just recently sent to us by a friend in the US. I haven’t checked it out yet because I’m not a guitarist, but I heard they might be quite accurate, actually.
Robin: I don’t even know where.
Paul: I can forward you the link. And I don’t know if we can force Mattias (Hägerstrand, bass player) to write down his tabs, I think he would hate us for it, but maybe we can take care of that. I’ve been starting to write down the drums as well, but it’s just a lot of work, as David said, and there’s so much going on all the time, and you have to have the time for it, you know, and as David said, we have other priorities right now, including finishing the new album and working on more music.
David: I’m glad to hear about this question because this is something I also wondered myself, if people were interested in guitar tabs and stuff like that, so it’s cool you brought it up!
Hakim: Well, thanks a lot! Well, I guess I’m more or less finished, I’m just going to add, thank you for taking a bit of time to answer my questions, it’s been really my pleasure, and considering how much I love your band and respect you as musicians and people, it’s also something really important for me, so I’m quite happy, to be honest. Now, one minute or so, if you have anything to add, anything you’d like, all of you, feel free to say whatever you’d like, but in any case, thanks a lot.
Robin: Thank you, I think you’ve covered everything pretty thoroughly, I have nothing to add.
David: Well we have a European tour in September/October, you’ll find all the dates on social media. And we hope to see many of our fans there!
Hakim: And maybe we’ll meet again because I’ve been to at least one of your shows for every tour in the past 5 years, it’s going to be like the seventh time today!
Robin: I think there’s only one show in France I the fall, that’s Lille, if I’m not mistaken. And maybe the Colmar show I the East will be rescheduled, and that might happen at the end of October. After this, tomorrow, we’re going to Toulouse, then Montpellier on the way back after Spain, and then we’re playing Bataclan in Paris in January.
Hakim: If you come to Colmar, I’ll probably be there, because that’s where I’ve been born and where my mom’s family’s from, haha, so we will see each other again, definitely, and anyways, we’ll be seeing each other tonight, you on stage and me in the pit, in any case. Thanks again for having taken a bit of time for us. It’s been a great pleasure for me, and well, see you soon!
A propos de Hakim
Hakim, il ne faut pas le tenter. Tout est prétexte à pondre une chronique de 582 pages (Tome I seulement). De quoi vous briser la nuque en lâchant la version imprimée depuis une fenêtre. Un conseil : Levez les yeux !