Ocean Chief should be defined as one of the seminal doom bands to have emerged since the new millennium. Monolithic in their musical style of doom, this Swedish band from Mjolby, have submitted to the public a number of releases. All of these have conveyed to the discerning listener an unwillingness to comply with what’s currently “in” and “happening” in the varied doom scene.
These guys define doom as a majestic and dirty art form. Garnering opportunities to expand mind, body and soul, their tailored songs explore the slow rhythmic hammering of iron nails into imagined long boats, while drawn out Sleep-esque riffs give wind to the sales of long forgotten pagan dreams. Drugs have never been an overt part of the band persona, yet Ocean Chief brings to us psychedelic landscapes populated by Norse gods and the ways of ancient lore.
For many people Ocean Chief continues to be one of those bands that you may have heard of but don’t know much about. In an effort to correct this shortfall in knowledge I asked Bjorn from the band to answer some questions about their music and their relationship to the Norse gods.
The band issued their first demo in 2002 and have been for the majority of the time Tobbe on drums and vocals, Bjorn on guitar and Jocke on bass. In more recent times Ocean Chief have added a fourth person to the band. Can you explain the reasons for wanting to change what has been up to recently a dynamic and enduringly strong three piece?
First off, thanks a lot for the nice words. Highly appreciated. Well, since we have used a synthesizer on all recordings to add an extra dimension, we were curious on how it would be like to have one live as well. We tried it out a few times and eventually it evolved into having one in the band fulltime. The new guy, Johan, was well known by all of us, so it was not that big of a deal. Ocean Chief has been around for quite some time now, and it felt like some change in the line-up would do more good than harm. With this new line-up we can think in different ways when arranging new songs.
Many may not understand the need to have strung out long songs, for example both the Kongh split you did on Land O’Smiles and the more recent Funeral Orchestra split on the small Norwegian label Aftermath Music consisted of one song on each 12″. While the majority of the population seem to suffer from short attention spans you guys seem intent on bucking the trend and heading off in the opposite direction. How do you approach song writing and do you have anything to say to those that would dare criticise the duration of your songs?
I think it all comes very naturally if ones goal is to get “lost” in music. When finishing up a song of respectable amounts of minutes, it’s like you’ve been on a trip you don’t even remember you started. It’s an exploring experience because you are all in it together. We approach our song writing by learning one part at a time, mixing them together around and around before agreeing on something, and then mostly in the end we just let it go to see where it leads us… The arrangements change continuously. And yeah, you need to have a long attention span, otherwise you’re lost in the wrong way!
Typical associations that can be made when listening to Ocean Chief is that you “sound like” Sleep, Electric Wizard, Toner Low but I am wondering whether you feel these similarities actually betray the essence of the band? Would you say that’s a fair assessment to make?
Yeah, I would say that’s fair. When starting the band I was influenced by such albums as “Jerusalem” and “Dopethrone” for sure. The heaviness of those made way for me to discover a lot more doomish acts. But as years pass by you get influenced by so much more music. But I sure understand if people compare us with those acts, since we’re all fuzzed out heavy rock. Still, I found Ocean Chief as more of a “riffing” band, and most of the time even a bit heavier than the above mentioned.
Ocean Chief songs are majestic journeys; formulaic in their delivery each song builds to a heart pounding crescendo and with it comes silence as the needle hits the run out groove. What motivated you to play this music? And what is it about your music that allows for total immersion?
Actually, that’s a very hard question… I guess motivation comes from life itself. Small-town-boredom has always been the recipe from where I live. There’s simply nothing else to do. There’s not as much activity as in former days, but it’s still the main reason I still live in this place. The reason for playing this kind of music is that it’s one of my favourite genres, plain and simple. It’s purification in its purest form.
In an age where the record player is growing again in popularity, it seems Ocean Chief are actually better suited to CD releases than vinyl because of its limited space. Do you find CD is a better formula for the band, since you have so much more time to expand ideas? And what do you believe is being sacrificed by giving everything to the arbitrary value and life of a CD. Vinyl is king to my mind but a record costs so much money to press, it is a quandary that every band faces. Do you discuss the technical difficulties in writing long songs with your band mates with respect to the format you will eventually choose?
We have never discussed the length of our songs except for the latest LP, “Den Förste”, where we knew we had a time-limit to work with, hence the somewhat “short” songs. I guess the CD phenomenon is dying a slow death due to the new technology available. Those who still buy music tends to look more and more at vinyl releases, which is cool, you get so much more in your hands.
As for Ocean Chief we are just glad someone wants to release it, since all we are struggling for is to have a good rewarding time at the rehearsal room. So far we’ve only worked on a DIY basis with labels that either released a CD version or a vinyl version. Next time we’re looking on doing both. Next album will be our best of course!
Certainly the imagery and lyrics of the band indicates they are making more than a passing romantic affiliation with a bygone era. The tribal hypnotic iron heavy riffs emanating from guitar and drums convey a closer bond has been formed between gods and men by engaging in ritual practices on the edge of long lost harbour lined fjords. People may already know the Norse gods are Ocean Chiefs’ muses. In what way do you feel connected to the Norse gods? How have you also managed to negotiate a relationship with them while avoiding accusations that any such religious affiliation automatically infers latent right wing leanings?
I find it very interesting how people looked at life and death in the old days. Before knowing the earth was round and all that. The stories and beliefs are quite extraordinary and contain a lot of fantasy. But I have to say that the Norse gods connection in Ocean Chief is mainly a coincidence. One of the first songs we wrote was called “Oden”, and we thought we could spin similar songs on releases that followed. “Tor” was another song written in 2004, and in 2006 we wrote “Freja”. But the lyrics have always been a bit obscure with no worshipping taking place except for the OCEAN CHIEF. Accusations of being right wing nazis or something like that have been so lame that I don’t even bother to answer such assertions. Old beliefs are what they are.
The sensory explicitness experienced when either witnessing a ritual taking place or listening to Ocean Chief confers upon the person a sense of emplacement, of knowing where one is and understanding the relationship one has with their surroundings. I can only imagine therefore when writing your music that the environment in which the creative process is taking place is very important to you. Tell us about where you guys rehearse and the recording equipment you have access to in the studio?
Yes. The environment around us is one thing we are quite strict with. During all the years we’ve been playing we have always kept our rehearsing to Friday nights. It has always been the highlight of the week so to speak. We look on keeping it moody with just a few spotlights to get the right feeling out of it.
We rehearse in an old worn out classroom, on the second floor out of three, and have been borrowing porta studios and microphones from all around when recording. Tobbe (drums) and Jocke (bass) both know their way in such surroundings, which for me is like a geek… As for myself, I’ve always just cared for the music since I don’t have the right interest in recording-technology and whatnot. I can tune my guitar, that’s about it. It’s been a blessing to have been able to record “at home”, but for the next album we are looking at other options to get a change of environment and inspiration.
Yes that’s right for many of us Ocean Chief live the dream, they can record their songs in the same space they practice in and the results have been astonishing. Bands would pay hundreds if not thousands to achieve the exceptional levels of high fidelity that this band has been able to capture. So I’m interested in knowing what does it cost you a month to have the rehearsal space and do you receive any assistance from the government? I ask this because I know the government can support musicians and rehearsal spaces in Sweden by providing a subsidy.
I feel like a total asshole when saying this, but we pay NOTHING a month. We are in a study circle that allows us to rehearse for free if we rehearse enough to fill up the quotes. The more you rehearse, the less you pay. Now, this is an exceptional deal that comes out of the fact that we live in this small town where there’s not that many bands around. I know that in the bigger cities it’s not like that at all. It’s a thing that shouldn’t be taken for granted for sure.
A big part of any band is their sound and Ocean Chief are surely no exception. By developing walls of guitar thicker than evil grandmas goat-lined long johns the band are up there with Sunn in terms of tonal heaviness. So tell us, about the equipment you have used and use? How has this has evolved since the beginning of the band? In terms of tone and presence what are you striving to achieve with your sound Bjorn?
Up until a few years back I used a Marshall 800 along with a strata guitar. These days I use an Ibanez guitar and a custom built Master Volume Unit from Electric Amp, USA. It has a real organic sound and a feedback superior to most others amps. Check out www.electricamp.com for further info. But the secret ingredient has always been the old Russian Big Muff pedal which simply puts the heaviness up front. Those pedals are king and Ocean Chief wouldn’t be the same without it.
Of course Ocean Chief aren’t the only long boat to have emerged from the ice kingdom of Sweden. So here’s a bit of demographic information, Sweden’s population is equivalent to the London populace, yet it continues to punch above its weight when it comes to exporting doom bands across the world. To name just a few Switchblade, Kongh, Asteroid, Graveyard, and Witchcraft have all made an international name for themselves. So Bjorn what’s the Swedish secret? Could it be the lack of sunlight, the long drawn out freezing winters, or just a penchant for drinking? If London was at the heart of the 60s musical pop movement, Sweden has since taken command of the underground, between punk and doom I can think of no other country where so many of its citizens are musically productive and moreover multi-instrumentalists.
From when I started playing music in 1995 there’s always been a good climate for artists to develop and get things started. Back then there were special rehearsal rooms available with all the gear you needed for those who wanted to try out and play an instrument. That’s the main reason I would say. The long freezing winters are another. The drinking part I guess has its share as well, but one beer too much and I can’t get my shit together, and in Ocean Chief you need to stay sharp, otherwise you’re lost immediately!
It’s unfortunate though that the geographical placing and the huge distances makes it hard for foreign bands to tour this country, and therefore there’s not that many venues available for good gigs. And there are strict laws of keeping the decibel limits under control at those gigs that actually do take place, which sucks. For me, travelling to Germany, The Netherlands or whatever is like entering heaven – doom-gig wise.
Like most people when it comes to music I go through phases, of late I have been spending much of my time listening to Can, Jimi Hendrix and The Doors. So what is currently on your turn table? And what up coming Swedish bands should we be looking out for?
That’s an absolute truth. Different music comes and goes. At this time I’m listening a lot to late 60’s rock, such as The Pretty Things, The Bubble Puppy and Ten Years After. As well as ambient artists like Brian Eno and Jääportit. In the winter I love to crank up the volume for some mind-boggling extreme doom. Tyranny, Abstract Spirit, Nightly Gale, Esoteric – to name a few favourites. Also I must mention Umbra Nihil and Bolt Thrower as recent spins.
I have more or less no idea of new upcoming Swedish bands. The one that comes to mind is the hyped-to-death-band Ghost, the new bestseller from Rise Above. Great groove, crispy production and easy listening metal. The debut album is great and I look forward to what they’ll do next. Other than that, hmm… Griftegård are worth mentioning, and of course the Småland kings known as Kongh. But none of those are very “new”… There’s a lot of old school death metal acts taking form so I guess I’ll namedrop Morbus Chron and Maim too. And I would be a sucker if I didn’t mention my other band Vanhelgd!!!
Finally, what future plans do you have for Ocean Chief? Do you have any plans to tour the continent or to come to the UK? And what about recording new material and future releases?
Recordings will be made. We have got two tunes ready and will record again when have finished putting the other songs together. Those two songs that are ready are real mind fucks to play, and really heavy. So it will be very interesting to see what they’ll be like listening to…Touring will probably be minimal, so if you have the chance to catch us live you should make the effort!!!
Do you have any final words you would like to share with our reading audience?
Thanks for a great interview! We are grateful to all of you who continuously support us by buying records, t-shirts or simply just listening to our doomed music. Praise Your Ocean Chief for Rewards!!!!!!
More info on Ocean Chief at: www.myspace.com/oceanchief
Interviewed by: Pete Hamilton-Giles