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By Alexander Laurence

Oceansize are one of the few epic songwriting bands in the post-Radiohead era. They are far from a single-minded band. All their songs are created with input from all five members. Their influences ran the gamut from prog rock and old heavy metal to alternative metal, shoegazers, and even the avant-garde noise. They dismiss the label of "New Prog." They released one of the most original records of the year: Effloresce. They are very average looking fellows who can make some powerful noises.

Oceansize is Mike Vennart (vocals/guitar), Gambler (guitar, Steve Durose (guitar), Jon Ellis (bass), and Mark Herrin (drums). With their intimidating live shows, their Marshall stacks, and several strong independent releases they got named Manchester's best-unsigned band. The following year, they toured with the Cooper Temple Clause and made an appearance at SXSW. Shortly after, Oceansize were signed and quickly issued their first widely distributed Relapse EP. After another EP they made some successful tours and set their sights on America. I met them in Los Angeles, which was there first visit ever to the West Coast. I watched them get photographed for a magazine spread. It was bizarre because the photographer slipped and cut his leg and was forced to take photos while bleeding severely.

The album Effloresce was released stateside in April 2004. They were in the midst of a tour with Mclusky. I spoke to Mike Vennart and Steve Durose.


AL: What part of Manchester do you live in?

Steve: We all live in the Old Trafford area of Manchester. None of us were actually born there. The drummer is from Scotland. Three of the guys are from Yorkshire. Old Trafford is a very hip area. There is a lot of music in that area. A lot of bands live in Chorlton.

AL: Is there a bohemian crowd that hangs out there?

Mike: There is a lot of clubs and bars there. They have been coming under ridiculous threats at the moment after a number of complaints. The mafia took over the nightlife for a number of years and there was a lot of gun trouble.

AL: How did you all meet each other?

Steve: We all went to college there. We started a few different bands there. We came from all over like I said.

AL: What were some of the previous bands you played in like?

Mike: Pretty terrible. We were in a grunge band. When I met Steve I asked him to be the new guitarist. I wanted to be experimental and unusual and still write pop songs. We were terrible at it. We didn't go anywhere for a while. When we got a new rhythm section, we re-thought what we were doing and got better. We had more vision. Although we don't all like the same music and have different tastes, we can see clearly where our music needs the most work.

AL: What do you think of the idea of if you want to really be a revolutionary band, you have to rethink the whole guitar/bass/drums dilemma? You have to include the glockenspiel, the accordion, and the ukulele.

Mike: That is more like Talk Talk's style. You have to apply that to everyone and every band. You have to absorb what everyone else has done and do something different. Any ideas and riffs that sound generic don't get used.

AL: How do you write the songs in the band?

Steve: It's like a jamming process. It's been like that since we first started. All the songs on the first album have come from jams. We record all the rehearsals and the writing process that happens with jamming. We try to hear all the little gems that come from the jams. We work on those sections. Since we work in that sort of process there is not one single songwriter. It's always a group effort.

AL: You self-released a few EPs over the years?

Mike: Yeah, we did two or three. Some of those songs like "One Day All This Could Be Yours" we did them again with Chris Sheldon. We felt that the previous versions of some songs weren't very representative. They were good songs. When we did them again, I think the songs were allowed to shine. One of our first songs was called "Relapse." There were many versions of that song. It ended up being on the Relapse EP.

AL: Have you played a lot of shows?

Mike: I guess. I haven't counted them.

AL: How did you meet the producer Chris Sheldon?

Steve: He had produced a few records that we liked such as Biffy Clyro. Chris was interested in working with us. We didn't know him. But we met him and Chris is a nice guy. He was interested in experimenting. We thought let's go for it.

Mike: His records sound great. He is very forward thinking. He knows how to manage the time. That's important because time is money.

AL: He did a lot of live takes?

Mike: Yeah, we some live takes. We did some overdubs to smooth things out. It's a nightmare to mix all these guitar sounds and pedals. You do have to layer the sound.

AL: You use a lot of guitar petals and effects?

Mike: Yeah. We have so many different sounds. We are trying to create these different atmospheres. There is a song on the album "Rinsed" that is not really 100% live, because the original idea we had for the song wasn't working out. We had to figure out what to do. We had a three-note bassline. We had to work out a new tune around that. We just had a jam. It was a late night. That was the first take of it. They wanted to trim it and make it an intro to the album. We thought it was too good so we left the whole thing intact.

AL: Oceansize seems like you have psychedelic rock, pop music, and hard songs, and each song can wander in any direction.

Mike: In Britain we get tarred and feathered by the press as a "New Progressive" act. We do like Pink Floyd and a bit of Black Sabbath but there are a million more things we have been more influenced by. It all depends on what you think Prog Rock is.

AL: It is a lot of lazy journalists who think that all music reminds them of something previous. I don't think that bands sit around and listen to Velvet Underground and then copy it.

Mike: In our band nobody likes the same music. We would never sit around playing each other records. Most of the time nobody is going to share the brilliance of a record with you. There are only certain records that we all loved together.

AL: What records did you like growing up then?

Steve: We went through a rock phase when we were kids. We liked Guns & Roses and Metallica. There are other records that are embedded in my skull and are genuine influences on me like Brian Wilson, Nick Drake, and people like that. I love those records. If you ask the other members of the band maybe these prefer other records.

AL: Some of those people that you mentioned spent a lot of time in the studio. Do you want to spend a lot of time in the studio and do a Pet Sounds?

Mike: No. That would cost a shitload of money. We are not prepared at this point to make that gamble. The more money you spend on a record you increase the chances of never releasing another record. It would be a challenge to build our own studio and learn to use that as a tool for our advantage. We could do whatever we want.

AL: Your friends, the Cooper Temple Clause, bought some barn outside Redding and built a studio and did their second record there.

Steve: Their record sounds fucking brilliant. It sounds a lot better than their first one. They built their own place and make a record that sound twenty times better. Their first one cost a lot more to make. They are sorted. They don't need a record company.

AL: Is there someone in your band who is more technically minded and more into engineering?

Mike: John Ellis, our bass player, is the one who deals with computer stuff all the time. He's getting very studio minded. He produced some of the demos. He can get sketches of songs down. He's learning to mix things well.

AL: What do your families think of the band?

Steve: My folks love it. They are really behind me on it. I am lucky to have parents that want me to do well with what I love.

AL: Do you have any musicians in your family?

Mike: My uncle is the only musician in my family. He is actually coming to our New York show at Mercury Lounge. My parents are all very supportive. They pay my rent for a start. My dad has only seen us once in five years. My mum comes out all the time. I could just fart onstage for half an hour and they would think it was fucking genius.

AL: You have played with a lot of new bands. Are there any new bands that we should look out for?

Mike: Me personally? I like this band from London called The Cardiacs. They have been good. They have been a favorite of mine for ten years now. They are really clever. I never get sick of hearing them. We have played with them before. It was a bizarre experience. In the middle of their set, they wanted us to play one of their songs in our own style. We spent two weeks learning this complicated two-minute song.

AL: It was like a homework assignment.

Steve: God yes. You can get it on the net. There is a good MP3 of it. It's a good bootleg.

AL: They don't write about your band much in the NME?

Steve: The NME does not back up because we are not fashion oriented.

AL: They are announcing to the public that a band can change your life. Since some of their readers are fifteen and have only heard five records they believe it and go out and buy something like Franz Ferdinand or The Libertines.

Mike: It's a tabloid. It's sensationalist. They can control what everyone says and does career-wise. The NME created the career of The Strokes. They don't have pictures of bands unless they have the right clothes or the right hair. If they interview you, they want to hear about sex, drugs, and rock and roll stories. If you don't have any, then they have nothing to write about. They don't like to write about music.

AL: They seem to write about Pete from The Libertines. He is always having drugs problems and quitting the band.

Mike: That is a great story. It's a shame their music is dogshit. All that "I'm a Cockney" shit. I don't mind rough and ragged lo-fi stuff. I used to be a big Pavement fan. It's not anyone's fault. When a band gets hyped up so much, when you get around to hearing it, you are disappointed. Everything you read was bullshit. Some of these bands are not crap. It's just that nobody can live up to the hype, unless you are Nirvana, who truly is going to be one of the greatest bands you ever heard.

AL: Some of these guys in line for your show look like members of Motley Crue.

Mike: It's an honor to play at the place where Motley Crue and a lot of other cheesy metal bands started out. I like that WASP poster.

AL: The Cardigans played here last week.

Steve: I have seen them play a few times years ago.

AL: How long has your record been out?

Mike: It came out about seven months ago in England (November 2004). It has just come out here in America.

AL: Are you playing some festivals this year?

Steve: We are doing some European Festivals. They have taken a liking to us in Europe. I am quite new to this.

AL: Are you coming back to America?

Mike: We would love to. Possibly in the Autumn. We were asked to play SXSW before we had a record deal a few years ago. We played in a place in Texas that was very much like the Troubadour.

AL: Have you written songs for the next album?

Steve: That is what we are doing right now. If we are not touring we are writing new songs basically. We are building a pool of ideas.

AL: What are some of the songs about? You have the one song "Women Who Love Men Who Love Drugs."

Mike: That was in Cosmopolitan Magazine. Jon saw that headline. We were wondering what the article was about.

AL: When you write lyrics do you think about sounds first?

Mike: I think about sounds totally. It's all phonetically and then I'll make sense of it. I'll write some words. Each song writes itself most of the time. I can't say that the songs are about one particular thing. Some are. But most are about various separate things. I carry around a notebook.

AL: Any secret messages to the fans?

Steve: I knew you were going to ask that. Give the music a chance. I hope you enjoy it.

AL: A lot of models show up to your gigs?

Mike: All the time. We had Kate Moss come down when we played The Leopard in Doncaster. She caused loads of trouble and tried to snog everybody.

: http://www.sizeofanocean.com


--Alexander Laurence



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