Self-reliance, initiative and forward thinking mentalities – blend these together with a fixation on re-imagining the status quo, and you’ll be met by one of Australia’s fastest growing acts.
It’s a bitterly cold evening in early May with daylight plunging into Melbourne’s familiar winter darkness as the sun sets across the bay, and the St. Kilda nightlife is bustling as is its familiar custom. But amongst the chaos usually rife within the Fitzroy Street Precinct, there is an electricity in the air – an aura of concentrated anticipation excreting from the bodied mass spilling out of The Prince Bandroom and onto the pavement. The gathering crowd is buzzing with excitement for this evening’s proceedings – the return of hometown heroes Ocean Grove.
Upon arrival, it becomes evident that tonight’s chosen venue will undoubtedly be well beyond capacity for this sold out performance, with a line of people stretching itself down the street. But through the haze of perspiration and second hand smoke, you can see the excitement in the eyes of hundreds of young punters, some of whom have travelled hours to be here from regional pockets unfamiliar to most. They laughingly recollect their individual tales of frustration at navigating through Melbourne streets, all the while frantically believing they would miss an act they’ve waited weeks to see. But thankfully, they’ve made it on time, and the boys make good on their promise. Exploding onto the stage with a resonating force, the boys perform a set that sends the congested crowd into a frenzy; allowing them to collectively escape from reality and lose themselves within the music.
”This is not something I thought we’d be doing when we started out” Ocean Grove’s vocalist Luke Holmes passionately exclaims to the masses, beaming widely and exuberating a sense of amazement and pride in what has been accomplished.
Holmes never foresaw tonight’s scenes of chaotic enthusiasm within his wildest dreams when he came together to play music with some of his classmates at St Bede’s College – a private boys school in the Melbourne bayside suburb of Mentone which boasts a catalogue of AFL footballers, politicians and performers as part of their alumni. Holmes realises that even at this stage of the game, he has exceeded any goals he set out to do at the beginning; reiterated by the fact that the five piece have been signed and released their debut in the last twelve months alone, something once thought unimaginable.
Our conversation begins just one week prior to their string of sold out hometown shows. Holmes lies bedridden in his new apartment, having recently injured his knee – unable to walk and still awaiting scans. Despite the adverse circumstances, he retains a sense of burgeoning excitement over what lies in store for both he and his bandmates over the coming months; a national tour in support of UK metal juggernauts Architects, a slot on the Slam Dunk Festival in the UK coupled with a slew of headlining shows in London and the Netherlands, and a place on the line-up at Splendour In The Grass – undoubtedly one of Australia’s most prestigious and culturally significant music festivals. At just 22 years old, Holmes realises with this newfound success, he is on the precipice of being a part of something much bigger than anything he could have foreseen. With the group having fallen just shy of 200 shows in their seven year tenure, the opportunities they’ve been presented with are a far cry from the band’s initial formation when they were only teenagers.
“We had no real gauge of what was right and what was wrong. We didn’t understand what the next level was. We just wanted to go play shows and we’d play any and every show we could. One of our earliest shows was playing in a burnt out fish and chip shop in Frankston. We’ve played a strip club out in Dandenong. Some people might have seen it as a waste of time, but we saw it as an opportunity to continue honing on what we were doing and working on our sound.”
Heavy music has always been championed by a reliance on DIY ethics; an ethos that revolves around empowering the individual by encouraging an alternative method to facing the obstacle. Heavy music has always lain left of centre to the mainstream – it remains a style consistently decried by the masses and estranged by its own ideologies, forcing bands to be self-sufficient and enabling the artist to self- produce poignant and emotive works with limited means. Ocean Grove’s debut The Rhapsody Tapes exemplifies this notion; an album produced entirely by the group’s drummer Sam Bassal in his bedroom studio in the suburban sprawl of Melton – a small city that satellites Melbourne’s western fringe. With this setting, Holmes and Bassal, joined by guitarists Jimmy Hall and Matt Henley, bassist Dale Tanner, and their studio member Matt Kopp (a solo artist whom performs by the name Running Touch) sought to produce an album that blurs the line between reality and perception whilst ignoring orthodox conventions. It’s this adherence to the DIY ethos that has allowed the group to spearhead their own destiny, and retain complete control of their direction. It’s this setting that allowed them to refine their distinctive brand of art – a style they call odd world music.
“We’re a psychological band, and we were exposed to see what it’s like to play a show where there’s nobody there. It forced us to really take initiative and gain some DIY sensibility. It’s prepared us for down the track, by forcing us to make the most of the shows where there would be eyes on us.”
Undertaking these sensibilities, the collective soldiered on as the years passed and they grew up, spurred by a refusal to stagnate or abandon their personal causes whilst learning as they went along through consistent bouts of trial and error. As time progressed, this persistence began to pay off, with the group gradually gaining the attention of bigger names whom took notice of what they were doing. It was through getting the attention of familiar faces within the industry that were well versed in the business that their repertoire began to grow. With a growing brand behind them, the band only reaffirmed their original work structure, seeking to bolster their song writing abilities and build an image – a workload that would be simplified in time by their enlightened understanding of the music industry from a true insider perspective on both fronts; artistry and business.
But what does make them stand out amongst the rest? Despite heavy alternative music being mostly ignored by mainstream culture as a mere footnote of something generally unimportant, every city and regional centre in Australia boasts their own respective scene with each scene possessing a multitude of acts, like an infinite gathering of star clusters throughout the cosmos. Heavy bands are a dime a dozen, but only those that boast a unique characteristic whilst being self-confident of their intentions will get anywhere in the end. It’s within this particular concept that you will find the key to Ocean Grove’s ever burgeoning success – they are the collaborative effort of six individuals to express something truly unique. They seek not to create art that is essentially derivative, but instead to subvert convention to their suiting.
“When we were younger, we spent so much time trying to find ourselves and discover what Ocean Grove was in terms of our music, our image and what we were about. We never wanted to be the carbon copy of another band, we wanted to be Ocean Grove and we set out to find what that is.”
Their mission of self-realisation is continual, but their purpose is always clearly defined. Prior to the launch of their debut, the band put forth their mission statement; the outlined promises of an artistic collective that urges the fans to throw away all their preconceived notions of artistry and embrace a side of music unexplored, through letting the very concept of the band’s unique style fill the minds of their audience whilst seizing all awareness. Despite our conversation’s theme of reflection with wider perspective, Holmes asserts that at this point in the game, their gaze is fixed forward towards the future.
“The way that we’re built in a business sense is that we always place focus on everything that will happen six months from that point. Things like our upcoming tours or even our slot on the Splendour line-up – we’ve been aware of months in advance, where we always have to keep incredibly tight-lipped on. We’re always trying to make sure that we’re one step ahead. Though at the same time it’s always good to take that step back and appreciate all the awesome things that we’ve been able to do. At this point if we stopped tomorrow, I’d still be very happy and proud of all the things we’ve been able to do.”
Despite heavy music being characterised as the antitheses to a mainstream audience by retaining itself as a functioning body that lurks within the shadows, recent years have shown a surge in popularity for the genre, due in part to artists like Ocean Grove and their many contemporaries. Upon its release, The Rhapsody Tapes was pegged by Triple J as a feature album before landing at number five on the ARIA charts.
“I definitely feel like we’re a part of a different wave of bands like Hellions or Trophy Eyes that are coming through and doing things their own way. It’ll definitely be interesting to see where that goes – getting opportunities like being offered a space on Splendour or even being booked by the companies that often book the headlining acts on those bigger festivals. I mean Splendour have never had a heavy band before and they’re taking us on, so it’ll be good to explore this uncharted territory.”
With the late hour approaching, our conversation begins to come to a close. But there still lies one simple question; throughout all the trivial hardships one must encounter as a musician, how does the group maintain itself through both the good times, the bad times and the pressure that mounts behind being part of something much bigger than any one man?
“We’re all good mates in the end. We share a good comradery and we’ve got a good morale between us, and I think that’s what allowed us to stick it through everything. Getting from one point to another in music is one thing, but keeping a band together and ensuring that morale remains unmoved is a pretty rare thing.”
Ocean Grove have established themselves and firmly put their foot in the door that separates the odd world from the real world. If at this point you are not aware of who they are or what they’re setting out to do, then don’t worry – you will be.