By Andrew Bansal
German progressive metal band The Ocean released their latest concept masterpiece ‘Pelagial’ via Metal Blade Records last year, and after a touring run across the world they’re back in North America finally able to do what they aimed to with this new album right from the get go, to play it live in its entirety. Currently on a tour here with co-headliners Scale The Summit and support acts The Atlas Moth and Silver Snakes, The Ocean have been blowing minds and satiating fans one city at a time. On their off-day in Florida on March 20th, I spoke to guitarist and mastermind Robin Staps over the phone to discuss the tour and lots more. Enjoy the conversation from the always insightful Staps below.
Robin, how are you doing today? It’s a rare off-day for you in a forever-busy schedule!
Yeah, it’s been a really tiring tour with very long drives. So it’s good to not play a show, just hang out, relax and get some beach time here in Daytona. So yeah, we’re all in good mood and good shape, the tour has been really cool so far and we’re looking forward to the few shows we have coming up. So everyone is highly motivated for the rest of the tour.
I’ve seen you a few times recently and I think the tour you’re doing now with Scale The Summit is the best you’ve done in North America, not only because you’re getting a long set but also because Scale The Summit is a progressive band that’s very different from your sound.
Yes, it’s completely different and that’s why we thought from the beginning that this package was going to be interesting because there are certain similarities but in the end they’re coming from a completely different background as musicians compared to us, and the music they play is different from ours too and that’s what makes it interesting. You don’t want to go out and see the same band five times in a row when you go to a show. That’s what I wanted, to make the package diverse and musically interesting, and I think we’ve accomplished that. Also, The Atlas Moth are a phenomenal band and I’m a big fan of them, and Silver Snakes opening up the night has been a really good choice. I’m really happy with this package.
You’re finally getting to do a full set. Based on the LA show I can say that your fans are even happier than you are, that you’re getting to do the whole of ‘Pelagial’ on this tour.
Yeah, it’s great that we’re finally able to present the album the way we wanted to, the way we do in Europe. But still, it’s a stripped-down production that we’re putting on this tour. But we get to show our video projections and bring out parts of our lighting, which is sequenced to the music as well, so it feels like a proper show as opposed to doing a tour like Summer Slaughter where we had 25-minute set times, 10-minute changeovers, no production at all and most of the time really shitty production conditions. This tour is a lot better and I feel like we’re getting a lot closer to how we want us to come across. The Ocean live is an audio-visual experience and not just a normal band’s show. I think our live performance is largely inspired by something that bands like Tool do, of course on a much, much smaller level, kind of fitting into what we can afford at the moment and what we can do. But it is an audio-visual, holistic kind of thing that we’re trying to do and that’s why playing a tour like Summer Slaughter has been hard for us. But on the other hand it was great exposure and we had to look at it from the perspective of being a promotional tour and from that angle it was definitely a good choice to do that tour. But I’m very happy now that we can present this whole thing for the first time in the US.
You said that it’s still a downscaled production as compared to Europe. How much of a difference is there still, from what you’re doing on this tour and what you do in Europe?
Well, in Europe basically we’re bringing out more lighting fixtures and different projection screens. Our projector is more powerful. We have a couple of lighting fixtures that we just couldn’t bring over here because they’re too expensive to buy or to bring over on the plane as they weigh too much. We’re trying to experiment quite a bit with the production that we’re bringing out here. It’s still similar to what we did in our last European headline tour in November, but like I said, it is a bit stripped down. It is about 60 per cent of what we do in Europe.
You didn’t bring your own projector, so what are you using on this tour?
We’re sharing the projector with Scale The Summit. We actually did bring out our own projector but we can’t use it a lot of the times because in Europe we usually hang it to the ceiling with a truss mount but we couldn’t bring that over because it was too much to bring, and it seems like in most venues here it’s impossible to have that kind of projector setup. So that’s why we’re using Scale The Summit’s projector most of the time. It’s not nearly as powerful as ours but it still works and gets the point across. I prefer using our own in an ideal scenario but this is all self-criticism at a high level. The fact that we can show our projections at all in itself is great.
In terms of the actual visual content of the projection, is it the same thing that you released as a bonus DVD on the deluxe edition of the album or is it specially made for the live show?
No, it is 100 per cent the same. Actually, the idea was to put it out on DVD only after the visuals had been made for the live show. When the visuals were done, we thought it was awesome and should be released as a bonus DVD that came with the limited edition box set edition of Pelagial, which also included the album on vinyl and an instrumental version of it. So the DVD idea came in later, basically. What we show on stage now is 100 per cent same as the DVD. It’s a movie that was made to go along with the album.
So, the venue you played in LA, the Lyric Theatre, it was really cool and intimate and I enjoyed it, but it was a smaller venue than what I was expecting the tour to play in LA. It did create a great vibe, though. There was no barricade and your singer was able to get into the crowd, something that was missing from previous Ocean shows in LA, I think.
Yeah it was cool! Actually it was one of the bigger rooms we’ve played on this tour (laughs). Some stages were really, really small and that’s when it becomes hard to actually set up all the stuff we bring with us. So LA was a fairly decent setup and scenario, I think. Personally, I’d much rather prefer playing a small, intimate setting like that where the room is full and people are up front near the stage, as opposed to a large empty room. I think I really liked that room. We’d never played there before but that was a cool night and a great setup. All the venues on this tour have been around 300-400 capacity, more or less. Unfortunately sometimes that means playing in bars, and in bars they usually have very tiny stages and when we bring out lighting and video production, it becomes a challenge everyday to make it work somehow, to set up the screen and the lights and still have a little bit of stage to move. It’s definitely a compromise playing like that every night but it’s just something we have to deal with. Of course it would be better if the stage was larger, it would just look better and the whole setup would be kind of more dignified. But well, what can I say, we’re not drawing enough people to fill up venues with that kind of capacity. We have to do with where we are right now and make the best out of it. It’s a challenge every day and I think it’s worked out fine most of the times.
Right, yeah I was going to ask if the other venues on this tour are similar in size but you’re saying that they’ve been even smaller than the Lyric for the most part?
Yeah, there were definitely a couple of stages that were really smaller than that. San Diego for example, or Tempe AZ, where the venues were just really, really small and really tight, and hard to make it work. Also yesterday, we played in Orlando where the venue had a really weird shaped stage, very deep but not very wide, so it was hard to set all of our people on there. So yeah, like I said, it’s a challenge everyday but we’re making the best of it.
So, this tour has a few shows left. After that, what plans do you have for the rest of the year?
Well, this tour concludes on April 3rd in Canada and then we’re going back to Europe to take two months off. Then we’re doing summer festivals in Europe. We don’t want to do as much touring as last year because last year was ridiculous (laughs). We wanted to make sure that everybody is able to enjoy this, so that’s why we’re trying to take it a little bit slower this year. But our plan is to come back to the US again, may be before the end of this year or beginning of next year with another bigger tour. But we’re going to see what the options are and I think we’re going to come back to follow up this tour with a bigger support run. Then we’re doing a couple of European territories including Scandinavia and Turkey, and also probably we’ll be going to Australia in September-October or something like that. So we’ll be busy again in the fall and winter but up until then it’s mainly European summer festivals for us. We’ll be doing Wacken and we have some great stuff coming up in Europe. We’re very much looking forward to that.
The Ocean/Scale The Summit/The Atlas Moth/Silver Snakes Remaining Tour Dates:
3/23 – Chicago, IL – Subterranean
3/24 – Pontiac, MI – The Pike Room @ Grofoot
3/25 – Cleveland Heights, OH -The Grog Shop
3/26 – Pittsburgh, PA – Altar Bar
3/27 – Washington, DC – DC9
3/28 – Philadelphia, PA – Voltage Lounge
3/29 – New York City, NY – The Studio @ Webster Hall
3/30 – Boston, MA – Sinclair
04/01 – Montreal, QC, Canada – La Sala Rossa *
04/02 – Toronto, ON, Canada – Hard Luck *
04/03 – London, ON, Canada – Rum Runners *
* = The Ocean & The Atlas Moth only