The Quiet Before The Storm: An Interview w/ Robin of The Ocean
HessianHunter got the chance to talk to Robin Staps from The Ocean about his label Pelagic Records, their massive new compilation, touring, atheism, and everything in between.
Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for us, Robin! Between the release of the massive Pelagic Records compilation In The Twilight, These Rocks Have Teeth and the upcoming documentary THE OCEAN – Collective Oblivion, in addition to playing occasional live shows in Europe, it seems like you’ve had quite a busy 2017. Do you ever sleep, Robin?
Collective Oblivion was released in 2013 already, we’ve just been posting excerpts from the band documentary on our Facebook again this year. So yes, I do get some sleep, from time to time 🙂
The Ocean has not been doing much this year, apart from slowly working on our upcoming record, but it’s been a really busy year for my label Pelagic Records. We moved into a new warehouse, started expanding our retail distribution to North America and Australia, pressed over 12,000 vinyl and signed a lot of new artists this year.
In The Twilight, These Rocks Have Teeth is 3 hours long. That’s, like, an entire season of Rick And Morty. Do you intend it to be listened to as a complete piece in one sitting, or more as a collection to be browsed piecemeal?
We spent a lot of time on making this not only a representative cut through our roster, but also a very listenable playlist. So yes, it is absolutely meant to be digested in full. Due to the stylistic diversity of the material, we decided to have some sort of segregation: so the first disc or playlist, In The Twilight… focuses on the calmer, more post-rock oriented side of the label, while the 2nd disc or playlist, … These Rocks Have Teeth showcases the heavy side of the label. If you combine the 2 in that order, you get a 3 hours playlist indeed, that will hopefully leave you wanting even more, haha…
The Ocean is still signed to Metal Blade Records, right? Was there any difficulty in putting out a song on “In The Twilight…” through your own label Pelagic while you’re still on their roster?
Yes, we are still on Metal Blade.
It involved some discussion, yes. But Metal Blade have always been supportive of the band and have actually helped me start Pelagic back in 2009. Back then, I wanted to repress our Fluxion album on CD, and asked them if they wanted to release it… they did not at that time, but they told me “why don’t you go do it yourself?” And so I did, they hooked me up with a distribution deal in Europe, and that was pretty much the beginning of Pelagic Records. So I am quite grateful to them, and also for what they have done for The Ocean ever since 2006.
Do you have specific criteria for the artists you put out on Pelagic, besides that you simply like the music?
That is definitely the most important criteria, but not the only one. I probably would’ release a band’s album whose music I like, but whose artwork and visual aesthetics I would find horrible. It all has to make sense to me, and I also need to get a good vibe communitation-wise with them. There are some bands that are very self-sufficient, in a way that they have their setup and they take care of things like merch designs, booking etc. themselves. Then there are bands who are not like that, and it’s a lot more difficult to work with them. To be honest, I much rather work with a crazy perfectionist who is really anal about what type of cardboard they want to print their vinyl sleeves on then someone who doesn’t give a fuck.
If I remember correctly, more than once The Ocean has planned a large tour of the US, then gotten fucked over at the last minute due to Visa issues or other problems. Are you haunted by some kind of evil ghost? Or do you never come to the US because you hate our freedom?
That happened once, in March 2016 when we were supposed to go out with our friends in Intronaut. At that time visa processing took a lot longer than usual, and we were between booking agencies so our petitions were filed too late. The fact that we had 2 different members in the band since our last US tour raised immigration’s attention and so they gave it an extra check-up, which killed our tour.
So that was a bummer! But that won’t stop us from trying to get into your country again in the future, haha… we love touring the US, it’s always been a blast, despite the challenges such as the ones I was just talking about…
Seeing a band at your level play a string of last-minute DIY shows in the states back in 2011 made a huge impression on me as a young man, because I saw how hungry you were to just do what you do best and play shows, even if the circumstances aren’t ideal. Where is that “DIY or die” attitude among other heavy bands who think a show without a $30,000 light system just isn’t worth playing?
That’s a very legit question. I grew up in the hardcore scene which always put great emphasis on DIY, and for me that has always been a very important aspect of playing music. I was never interested in trusting my music and my life into the hands of a manager, when I can do most of these things myself just as well or better. And sometimes life is a shithouse. We ended up with a cancelled tour back in 2011, after we already had our flights books. We managed to jump on another tour, which was great – but that tour ended in Vancouver , and our return flights were booked out of Boston. So what were we supposed to do: sit down and cry? Book new flights? There was no budget for that. So our only choice, really, was to drive back, find places to crash and ideally play some shows on the way on very short notice. And that’s what we did, and we had a great time doing that.
I find that a lot of the metal and post-rock bands I respect the most come from a hardcore punk background. Neurosis, And So I Watch You From Afar, and of course The Ocean come to mind. Would we all be better off if every musician got into hardcore as a teenager? Maybe we should petition the U.N. to draft some international laws about it.
I totally endorse that. Hardcore changed my life, and made me become a more independent teenager that wanted more from life than he had before. That is the greatest gift life could give you.
Of all the grim and corpse-painted satanic metal bands I’ve seen perform live, I still think The Ocean is the most evil thing I’ve ever seen on stage. You specifically, Robin, have an otherworldly aura about you when you perform that makes me genuinely frightened. You’re very public about your atheism, but are you secretly making deals with the devil for creative inspiration?
I am humbly honored by this compliment 🙂
Being an atheist, I regretfully must claim that neither the devil nor God exists, so I would be contradicting myself if I confessed to making deals with the devil. It’s probably the evil eyes of my fucked up ancestors looking through mine when I play live. Their lost souls live on inside of my liver, and they like to take a look at the world outside from time to time, when it’s dark around me.
When can we expect more new music or tours from The Ocean?
We are currently working on 2 new albums, which will see the light of day eventually in 2018 and 2019. That’s why we’re not touring much this year, we played around 300 shows during the Pelagial touring cycle, and we feel like it’s about time for something new now. So this is the quiet before the storm right now, in oceanic terms…
Cheers Robin, thanks for your time!