Interview: Ocean Alley
It’s bold to say, but 2019 is the year of Ocean Alley. Coming off the back of their Triple J Hottest 100 2018 win with their hit “Confidence”, this psychedelic surf rock band from Sydney’s Northern Beaches has seen exponential growth and their latest material is there to back it up.
Ocean Alley is currently in the middle of a North American tour, before bouncing back to Australia for the ‘Mystery Oz Act’ slot at Splendour In The Grass. All the while, trying to sneak in some writing for their third studio album. Their recent release, “Infinity” has given fans a taste of what to expect and boy are we loving it.
We got to catch up with Ocean Alley’s guitarist Mitch Galbraith to chat about their hectic touring schedule, the band’s humble beginnings and upcoming festivals.
So how are you doing Mitch? Where are you right now?
I was just hanging up washing in an RV park in New Orleans.
Wild. How’s New Orleans? I hope you’re trying some good Creole shrimp and things like that.
We did have some oysters last night, I think, which were really nice. They were local.
But they can’t compare to Australian oysters, of course.
Well they were actually really nice, to be honest. I like Australian oysters, but they were, you know, they hit the spot. They were perfect.
Nice. I’m into it. So yeah, you’re in the middle of a 28-date North American tour. How’s it been going so far?
It really good. We’ve covered a lot of miles, hey. We’ve played plenty of sold out shows, but the response has been awesome. We’ve had so much fun and I think the crowd have had fun, too.
So what is the travel situation? Are you guys on a big old tour bus?
Yeah, we’re on a big tour bus. It sleeps 12 and there’s 11 of us on at the moment. Big silver tour bus and it’s towing a giant box trailer.
Oh my God, that’s a tank. Do you guys have a good road trip playlist going?
To be honest when we’re driving we’re mostly sleeping in the back.
But to be honest, we don’t share much of our music with each other that often. We’re all into the same stuff. But on our personal road trip playlist, I suppose you’d call them, something that we probably don’t share as much as other people. We all have some different insights into stuff. So yeah no, we don’t really have a road trip playlist.
That’s alright, that’s valid. And so, you travelled around the States last year with Tash Sultana. Is it good to be back? It’s obviously it’s different now that you guys are headlining.
Yeah, it’s fantastic to be back. And we’ve hit a couple of the same towns where we’ve been before. And that’s really… it actually doesn’t feel too far away from home when you show up to a place where you know where to get a drink from and you know where to get something to eat.
But as for the shows, they’ve been much smaller than the past shows. But you know, it’s our headline show and the people have bought tickets to see us, so the crowd’s definitely more animated when we’re on stage this time around, than with Tash.
That’s so exciting. And then every time you return, you’re going to feel the traction. You’ll just be seeing a growing crowd.
Yeah. That’s the plan. I mean, keep coming back and if we can manage to do that and then hopefully we do get some traction.
Absolutely. And looking ahead at your schedule, you’ll be wrapping up in the States at the start of July and then you’re coming back to Australia for Splendour. Then you’re over to Europe and the UK for August/September, and then you’re back to Australia for more festivals. Does just hearing that make you tired?
Yeah, it does, actually. But we told our manager that after he’d booked this American tour, no more six week tours. There was a cap at four weeks. And I think straight after he booked this tour he booked … he said he’s booking Europe and he said it was three weeks. And then he came back, I think, a month later and said, “Uh, it’s actually blown out to four weeks, gentlemen.”
So it doesn’t … this is what we love to do and this is our career and our passion, so we know that that’s what we have to do to make it all happen. So it is a bit daunting sometimes, but you kind of just got to keep plugging away, you know?
When it rains it pours. So you kind of … you got to take it while you can get it, I guess.
Exactly. You got to eat while the food’s around.
Exactly! Are you guys finding time to write on the road?
We do have our guitars set up in the back, but we don’t normally find a lot of time to write. It’s just sort of the way that the … I guess as we were just talking about, the schedule is so hectic. And if we’re not setting up or playing or out at a bar later after the show, then we’re asleep. There’s not much time, but…
I can imagine it would be hard to feel inspired, as well. You’d just be exhausted most of the time.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s pretty tiring. It’s hard to be inspired in that kind of situation. But then I suppose subconsciously when we get back and when we do get the time to write, we do, however, draw on all these experiences that we’ve had touring, when we’re writing our music.
That’s good. So it’s very symbiotic in that sense. Let’s talk about you guys as an ensemble. Ocean Alley, there’s six of you and you’re all from Sydney’s northern beaches. Can you take me back to the humble beginnings? How did Ocean Alley form? Where did you guys know each other from?
We were all friends that sort of grew up together. A few of us went to the same school and yeah, we just lived near the beach in Sydney. And in the beginning it was just us hanging out in the back shed, to be honest. And we finally picked up instruments and decided to start writing some music and doing some covers and all that sort of stuff. We just built from there and fell in love with it. And we’re still doing that very same thing to this day, I suppose.
That’s pretty lucky. And also at that sort of age, people kind of … I remember when I was in high school I would used to have band sessions with friends and we’d fiddle around. But no one was ever committed to it. How did you guys have the discussion being like, “Wait guys, we should actually do this legitimately.” How did that all happen?
Well you could say that there was no discussion like that. I’m pretty sure I’d remember. That discussion part never happened, I suppose. I mean, early days we were just hanging out in the back shed writing music, and we just wanted to keep doing that. When we got our first couple of gig offers, it was just an extension from that and it was a hobby turned into a career.
There was a point in the middle where we were talking amongst each other, saying, if we want to continue doing this, we’re going to have to devote more of our time to it. So once we decided that we would keep doing it, we could devote more of our time it and we quit our jobs and did that whole thing.
Nice. And your sound is kind of like a retro rock reggae. Actually, I’ve heard it described as a “psychedelic surf rock”. Is that some of the sounds you guys were listening to when you all started? It’s kind of niche.
Yeah, of course. It’s definitely a product of all the music that we were listening to in the shed that we then tried to emulate when we were writing our own music at the time. We listened to a lot of reggae music. That was… it’s such a visceral style and it’s such a simple and basic… it’s got simple elegance to it, I think, reggae music, and roots music like that. And so when we started playing it was definitely a lot roots based, but now we’re sort of consciously aiming away from that and trying to explore more rock infused sounds, I suppose. Classic rock.
Yeah, you can hear that. And so what is the song writing process? Is there one member who kind of comes forward with an idea? Or is it more that you guys fumble around and jam until inspiration strikes? Is it quite collaborative or is it solo-driven, your songwriting?
It’s very collaborative. We always just write in a room together. So yeah, not too much there. It’s just we all get in a room and sort of set up facing each other and just try to play. People will bring ideas to the session and it’s very diplomatic and we sort of just come up with the ideas as a team, I suppose.
That’s an awesome band ethos. It’s so hard to find that with six people in one room trying to be creative. You know what I mean? It’d be a hard balance, but it sounds like you’ve struck it.
Yeah. And it probably stemmed from how we started, I suppose. We were all friends before we started and it was a slow learning process that we were all involved with 100 per cent together. So we, yeah. It definitely honed our musical bonds in that period, for sure.
And you can tell that you’ve got those solid foundations there. Speaking of your songs, congratulations on your new single “Infinity”, which came out on June 6th. Tell me about this tune, because as you said before, you’re expanding your sound but it’s still is very Ocean Alley.
Yeah. Like we…. And I suppose whenever we write something we’re always trying to aim to do something a little different and explore some new ideas, rather than stagnating and just doing the same thing over and over. So the different… it was just thought about, just the different songs, the last song and the ones that had come before it.
Okay, and it’s the second single off of your third unannounced album. Can you tease any updates on that body of work? Is there a timeline that we can expect?
Definitely not. Definitely no updates or timeframe. It’s going to be a long process. We’re definitely not even halfway yet. We’ve still got songs to write and we’ve got some more stuff to do on the one that we already have recorded.
Interesting. So, do you guys kind of just release these singles as you feel happy with them? Being like, “We’ve just got to share it.” Rather than a sort of build up to the end date sort of thing?
Yeah, totally. We want to give our fans and our audience content all the time. We want them to hear what we’re doing and stuff. So as we record some songs if we really like them we do release them, and then once we’ve got a big collection of songs, we gather them all up into a bunch and call it an album.
It’s simple as that, in theory! Before I let you go, I do want to touch on some of these upcoming festivals. You’ve just been announced for Triple J’s One Night Stand and you’ve also got Spilt Milk, Land of Plenty and Spin Off Festival. Is there one that you’re most excited for? Apart from Splendour?
Yes. Splendour is going to be fun. One Night Stand is going to be super interesting. We’ve never done anything like that. It’s definitely going to be a small big show, if that makes sense. It’s not a giant festival lineup and I’m very interested to be in that part of the world because I have travelled quite a bit around Australia, but I’ve never been to that location, around Mount Gambier.
I think that’s you and most of Australia. That’s down in South Australia, isn’t it?
Yes, it will be in South Australia.
Yeah, that’ll be nice. Good oysters are in South Australia, too – you’ll enjoy that! That’s what I’ve heard.
Yeah, and great white sharks.
Just don’t go swimming, okay? You’re too valuable.
I don’t think there’s many swimming spots around Mount Gambier.
Yeah, true. You’re completely surrounded by mountains… I want to quickly touch on Spin Off Festival, because that’s also just around the corner. Is there an act on that line up that you haven’t seen before that you can’t wait to see or anything like that?
We’ve actually played with a lot of those bands and got some friends to go and enjoy some live music.
That’s always really important. For the fans, it’s like worlds colliding. It’s awesome.
Thank you so much for the chat, Mitch. I really hope you enjoy the rest of your tour around the States, and enjoy your New Orleans food. Go to Bourbon Street for me.
I will, thanks so much.