The Ocean are a behemoth of progressive metal founded by guitarist Robin Staps. The band runs the gamut from the most beautiful orchestrations and landscapes to a punch in the gut yowl without much effort and a completely natural sound. Staps took this sound and used it as the foundation to start his own record label, Pelagic Records. Pelagic Records has gone onto success in its own right signing bands such as the underrated God is an Astronaut, Bison, p.g. lost, and Spook the Horses among others. We had a chance to speak with Staps about his first concert, the beauty of his hometown of Berlin, and how Pelagic Records began.
The Ocean originated in Berlin, Germany. What do you think it is about the city of Berlin that generates such a mysterious creative aura?
Robin Staps – “It’s a place that was characterized by a vacuum of both authority and capitalism after the breakdown of the wall for a couple of years. This vacuum sucked in creative people from all over the world at that time, who started projects, which then spawned other projects, from arts to alternative ways of living and underground culture in general. Today this vacuum is no longer there (though you wonder why we never get police raids of clubs where the whole world knows that every single person in there is high as the sky), but the city has a legacy now that can’t be wiped away, and the amount of venues, bars and clubs is overwhelming compared to any other city.”
Can you speak to how the band (collective) formed?
Robin Staps – “THE OCEAN COLLECTIVE started out as a collective of varying members back in 2001. At times we had 3 or 4 different guitar players in the band, as well as a pool of classical musicians that were somehow part of the band, but not permanent members. Over the years, the collective was consolidated into a more consistent band lineup, though we always played with different people, and there have always been a lot of people contributing that were not band members, but still very important towards creating what we do – guest musicians, video artists, lighting designers, classical players, etc.”
The Ocean flips seamlessly between melodic beauty and fits of guttural rage in an instant. Where do the stories you tell come from when writing music?
Robin Staps – “I just write music that someone finds its way to me, or out of me… writing music, or any creative action, is a mysterious process. I don’t really know what I am doing in a conscious way. I mean I know what I do musically, but it would never work to build a song from theory. It’s always a matter of trying out things that you find challenging and promising and that just sound cool to you, and then taking it from there… in the end, songs usually take unexpected turns, and might end up in a completely unforeseen place. But that’s the thrill of it. You start somewhere, you walk down a certain road that eventually branches of in multiple directions and you need to choose which way to walk. It can lead to a dead end, then you go back… or it can lead to new waypoints and sudden, unexpected discoveries. It’s the best thing in the world.”
How did you start playing guitar?
Robin Staps – “My dad gave me one and I started fooling around…”
What was the drive behind starting Pelagic Records?
Robin Staps – “When I started out, I didn’t really have any ambitions with the label. I just wanted to release an out of print The Ocean CD, and then there was another band that I was into and so I wanted to help them out… and things just took off from there, I started enjoying this type of work, and then my 3rd release was God Is An Astronaut‘s “All Is Violent, All Is Bright”, which was a success and made me motivated to continue.”
What are the best and worst parts of owning your own label?
Robin Staps – “Best: being able to do what I love doing for a living, working with great artists, meeting inspiring people and getting to choose my own work hours, that’s pretty sweet!
“Worst: oh, a lot of bad experiences over the years too, of course. About half a year after signing with my first distributor, they went bankrupt. They still owed me money for a couple of months sales, and I was all of a sudden in the situation that I had thousands of mainly CDs spread out all across Europe between Portugal, Norway and Greece… and now had to arrange for them to get shipped back to Berlin. I reached out to their partners in every territory and could secure a number of direct deals with them, so they would simply sign over my stock to a new direct account. A bunch of stock, however, was lost forever. I learned to be more careful, both with regards to invoicing regularly, and with regards to choosing partners and controlling stock…”
“In the Twilight, These Rocks Have Teeth” has on it some tremendous bands. How does it make you feel that you’ve been able to build this world of brilliant music?
Robin Staps – “It feels great, haha. We spent a lot of time on making this not only a representative cut through our roster, but also a very listenable playlist. 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 and listening to it makes me happy that I get to work with so many great bands.”
What influenced you to want to become a musician?
Robin Staps – Maybe watching Guns N’ Roses back in 1991? I was a huge fan… or maybe it was the raw energy at my first hardcore shows, that was Sick Of It All with support from Strife… I was sold after that, I wanted to be active, not just a spectator, but a participator.”
What was the first concert you ever went to?
Robin Staps – “Oh, the very first concert I ever went to was Bryan Adams, ahahaha… I was like 6 years old and I went with my dad. I guess my taste of music back then was a little too influenced by that Robin Hood movie, which I liked. Then I went to see Michael Jackson on the Dangerous tour and that was pretty sick.”
If you had to be buried with one, or two, records what would they be?
Robin Staps – “Neurosis – Times Of Grace, and Breach – Kollapse”
What’s next for The Ocean?
Robin Staps – “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…
“With Pelagic, we have exciting new releases by Spook The Horses, Lesser Glow, Hypno5e, Arms and Sleepers and Abraham.
“Other than that, check out the new YLVA record. Incredible, super heavy new band from Melbourne. If you are into early Cult Of Luna or Times Of Grace -era Neurosis, this is up your alley. Stream the album through Revolver.”
For more on The Ocean Collective check out: