- Tiana Speter
EXCLUSIVE: Ocean Grove Take Us Track By Track Through New Album 'Up In The Air Forever'
Just over a week ago, Oddworld icons Ocean Grove unleashed their hotly-anticipated third full length album Up In The Air Forever. A sharp and triumphant follow up to the band's second album Flip Phone Fantasy, Up In The Air Forever not only showcased the significant and dedicated trajectory the OG gents have been on since facing ongoing setbacks via the COVID-19 pandemic, which arrived right on the doorstep of their sophomore release.
And with Up In The Air Forever snagging the band their third ARIA top ten entrance, debuting at #8 on the Albums charts last Friday, what better way to celebrate the brand new OG opus than by grabbing Twiggy Hunter and Sam Bassal to take us deep behind-the-scenes. So without further adieu, please join Twiggy and Sam's track by track for Up In The Air Forever.
SAM BASSAL: I think FLAVA is probably the one song on the record, early on anyway, that feels pretty in touch with our roots. Kind of, I’d say a “comfortable” song, but I think it’s just a really cool opener. We always like to open our albums with something that feels kind of like…
TWIGGY HUNTER: Pure nostalgia.
SAM: Yeah, real nostalgic. And our roots are really held up in nostalgic themes and sounds, and that sort of stuff. But I think that’s one a heavier Ocean Grove fan would enjoy.
TWIGGY: Yeah, it’s kind of the SUPERSTAR from Flip Phone Fantasy of Up In The Air Forever, in a way. Definitely when we wrote it, we knew it had to be the opener. It just had that pure OG energy - like, the classic sound. And that’s never going away either, that sound is just so fucking natural to us. Sometimes we’ve gotta change it up a little bit, just so that when we come back to that - which we will - it’s just so much more exciting. We didn’t wanna just write a linear album, or have the same sound the whole way through, and I think FLAVA is a good way to start it off. It kind of metaphorically oils everyone up to be ready for the rest of the album.
2. SEX DOPE GOLD
SAM: SEX DOPE GOLD was new territory for us straight away, I don’t think we had explored necessarily in the past with a song that sounds like that.
TWIGGY: We were playing around at Sam’s old studio with the riff, and the chorus and everything like that. That was actually just something we were bouncing around on, and he’d had samples aside for a while. And we kind of had this “on the spot” moment idea…it was right before I left Sam’s house. It was minutes before I left Sam’s place, and I was like: “Oi, oi, oi! Track this, track this!”
SAM: And our girlfriends were drunk on the couch behind us (laughs). We were trying to record, and they’re sitting there pissed as! And I’m like “shut up, we’re trying to record!”. It was that day, yeah?
TWIGGY: Maybe another day?
SAM: Oh, OK. That’s a story for another one, sorry.
TWIGGY: I think that was a different day. But I said to Sam “let’s track this idea, I’ve got an idea in my head”. We hit record, and on the first take we’re like: “yep, sick, that sounds good!”. It was more a melody that I had in my head, it was almost like Nine Inch Nails-ish, the feeling. And with my tone and my nasally vocal and stuff, it’s not necessarily that Nine Inch Nails-ey. But it just was an idea that had to get out - and we got it out! In that moment we knew it had to be a hook. So, the rest of the song kind of wrote itself around that. Dale Tanner and I write lyrically just as much as each other throughout the album, bounce off each other. And a lot of the songs, the themes are very “current world”. Lyrics are one thing I haven’t actually looked at for quite a while because we’ve been so busy with everything else.
SAM: I think the one thing we’ve always done, and Dale will probably tell you this too, is that we always leave lyrics open for interpretation as well. That’s the biggest thing with Ocean Grove: I might even interpret our own songs differently to the way that Dale sees the song’s meaning, or that Twiggy sees the songs playing out. But with SEX DOPE GOLD, we just needed to have a bit of an upbeat banger that was kind of heavy - but not heavy. I think it’s heavy in a weird way, which is different for us.
3. CALI SUN
SAM: We had this one for a long time. Twiggy had it for a long time before I got my hands on it and I begged him to use it. But it almost was in the works for Flip Phone Fantasy, but we held it until we got it right.
TWIGGY: I wrote this one originally about a little L.A heartbreak. I used to spend quite a bit of time over there over the years, and it was just a moment in time. I actually wrote the chorus, “I’ve been feeling sick in the California sun / I’ve been kinda sad in the California love / Didn’t mean to break your heart / At least you got one left”...I wrote that on the way to the airport. That’s a whole other thing, because originally I didn’t write it for OG or anyone - I just wrote it as a song. It definitely is cathartic to be expressive in moments of pain and shit like that through music. I recorded a really rough and shoe gazey, dreamy, acoustic version of CALI SUN in 2017, I think?
SAM: And I stole it!
TWIGGY: Yeah, I’d shown Sam, and he was like: “fuck! That’s catchy, sounds sick!”. And…
SAM: I ruined it and turned it into a rock song (laughs).
TWIGGY: We both have archives and archives of stuff we’ve written over the years from different moments of our lives. And you listen back to something you wrote in a period where you’ve felt like absolute shit…and when you’re feeling pretty good, you’re like: “fuck! That’s actually a pretty nice sounding song now that I’m not actually in tears or actually feeling fucking terrible”. So, CALI SUN was just an idea, a song I had and then pulled it up again during the writing process of this album. And after we’d worked on it a little bit back and forth, we could never just, like, get it down, we could never make a complete song from it. And then something happened and a bit of inspiration kicked in at one point in lockdown, and we were like: “sweet! We’ve worked it out, this sounds good”. Did the back and forth, me and Dale rewrote or wrote the verses together and got everything feeling pretty good. We went from a super shoe gazey, dreamy, acoustic song, which I dunno if the world will ever hear…but I reckon someday maybe Sam and I, maybe for the Ocean Grove reunion tour when we’re 75 years old, we’ll pull it out and play it there or something like that.
SAM: It’s slightly publicised, but before we made Flip Phone Fantasy, I had written an entire record that I threw away. And in short, the short version of the story is: before we had any lineup changes, I started writing music that we're kind of currently putting out right now that has this more, sort of, Brit Pop-inspired sound. And BUSTIN was a song where half of it musically was written during that time period that was off that scrapped Ocean Grove record, purely scrapped because it was written too early, it wasn’t the right time to drop it. Then once again, like some of the other songs, Twiggy and I got together…
TWIGGY: The actual “I’ve been bustin’ for a hit, man” part, we wrote on my bed at my old house, that was years ago. So, the little hook in BUSTIN, we wrote whilst sitting around in my room playing our electric guitars acoustically, just fucking around before we went out or something in like 2018 or 2017 potentially?
SAM: Potentially 2017, hard to say! I don’t know what year is what anymore to be honest!
TWIGGY: We remembered that and kind of had that in the back pocket for a long time. And that was just another one, it came together.
SAM: It’s almost a blend, a blend of a song that I had made before Flip Phone Fantasy and then thrown away, and then rejuvenated and brought to life with Twiggy and I mucking around one day before we needed to leave the house. BUSTIN is definitely the “feel good” song of the record.
TWIGGY: I do remember when writing it actually, we were in a period when we really didn’t want to think about it, the last thing that we wanted to do was actually write an album. So, getting that morale up and stuff was actually pretty hard, but we knew we had to do it. I still reckon that the sample at the start of BUSTIN gives me full Robbie Williams vibes, that FIFA menu, like playing FIFA and you’re on the menu and that’s the song that’s playing. Or a Friday night football, like “here we are, Friday night football, fucking Collinwood versus St Kilda, whatever”. And you just hear the intro to BUSTN, it just revs me up!
5. SILVER LINING
SAM: Another one that I stole! So, I’ll put this out there, my I have one really good skill, I think, is that I can hear or detect when I think a song or something being put in front of me is gold. And that’s why when Twiggy might make a little demo of something that only has an out of tune guitar and his vocal that sounds like dog shit (laughs)...he’ll send it to me.
TWIGGY: Sounds good, I reckon.
SAM: He’ll send it to me, and 9 times out of 10, I can hear exactly where this needs to go for this to be a really big song, or a really, really good song. And SILVER LINING was another one of those.
TWIGGY: I grew up very heavy in punk rock and first tracking of songs and fucking garage rock, I love messy shit and raw shit. But Sam is a tech nerd, which is a very good thing because I couldn't do half of the shit that he does. But the combination works so well because I'll throw this mess at him and he will take that…
SAM: Clean it up…
TWIGGY: Be a little bit annoyed, because it's actually very fucking messy and I'm like: “bro, it sounds sick! Let's just release it as is, first take!”. Come back I’ve gotta do 20 takes over and over and to get it right (laughs) - but we get it done in the end. SILVER LINING is definitely…we lost friends and lost family through lockdown, and I think lyrically what you hear on the song definitely represents a moment in time. I really wrote a big part of that for my pop who was on his deathbed, he was dying with cancer for a good couple years where it was all up in the air, whether he was gonna survive or not. He survived the Hungarian revolution when the Nazis and the Russians invaded back in the day and lived a crazy, crazy, crazy fucking life. To see him there in this state, in his final days over the past couple of years, to see how this thing was destroying himafter all he'd been through was a big, you know, it was like: of all of the things he's been through, this calloused, calloused man, and this character I've looked up to my entire life and stuff - this is the thing that's like gonna take him out?! It’s a rough thing to see with anyone, it's the same with seeing someone with severe depression or going through loss or going through any form of pain; the hardest thing is for those watching on and realizing they can only do so much to their own degree from their own perspective, and you can only do what you can do for someone before they reach their eventual death or fate takes them. The first person I showed the track to when it was complete was my Nan, because it's like: “when he goes, read the lyrics, listen to the words, you'll know exactly what to do and what you know, who you're supposed to be, what you're supposed to become when he leaves”. And I wanted it to be that fucking song for anyone who’s gone through that and similar things, or going through something, they can actually use it and hold onto it through rough times. And actually allow a song to give tyou realisation of your own impermanence, to be able to appreciate every single little moment in life and cherish every moment and realise how important every moment is, even down to the shit things. Because all the shit things are there only to complement all the good things that you go through in life.If there were no shit That’s mostly what the song itself is about. But the origin of the hook for it originally - we were a bit torn because we’d had someone put forward the idea to write some stuff that we could send over to DMAs. And the melody, I wrote it in the shower, literally just singing in the shower. Got out, drenched (laughs) picked up my guitar, and I’ve still got the shitty little iPhone recording of me playing the guitar unplugged. I was like: “fuck, that'd be a good track for DMAs!”. And then Sammy boy comes in and goes…
SAM: “No you’re fucking not giving that one away!”
TWIGGY: Sam’s like, “no thanks, that’s ours!”. I brought it in and we worked on it, chipped away at it as we do with every song, chip away the stone through reveal the statue beneath. And it became a fucking pretty incredible song song.
SAM: It’s definitely one of my favourite Ocean Grove songs that we’ve ever done. There's just something in it. Everything that Twig said, his meaning behind it and things like that: I think anyone can find their own version of that and listen to that song and it will just make them feel, you know what I mean? It's a very sombre and heartfelt feeling of a song, and we usually have one on each record. We've ended up putting two on this this one though. I think it's definitely a beautiful kind of timeless song for Ocean Grove.
6. HMU (ft. lil aaron)
SAM: This one's my favorite, so HMU in short…one of my biggest musical influences personally has to be the Neptunes, Pharrell, Chad Hugo and Timberlake from that one era where they were doing, you know, this sort of sound. In the past we've channeled that because that sort of style of music comes out really naturally for me, we’re just kind of paying homage to Pharrell and whatnot. But, this one was one I wanted to just keep for me, it was not written for Ocean Grove, it was just from my archives of solo songs and things that I just have that I make. And I think it just came down to it, where I just really wanted to put it on an OG record because I liked it so much. I had laid it all down, the song was completed. I actually sing on that song! That’s my vocal for the most part on that song. Then I think we had an actual sit down chat, Twiggy and I, and we said: “look, if this song's gonna make it on the record, we need to put like someone on a verse, we need to give someone”. And one of Twiggy's very good friends, lil aaron, we'd spoken in the past about writing together and doing something together, and it was the perfect song to just do it! One text later, lil aaron’s jumped on, done a verse. And I think in terms of an album from start to finish - after listening to crazy, heavy, thick rock for the first three or four songs, and then you get quite a beautiful ballad like SILVER LINING…we needed a song to pick you back up again, to get you in the mood for BORED and the big, exciting pump up songs after it. I don't want people to look at it as an interlude or a kind of a throwaway song, I think it's a fucking banger!
TWIGGY: It’s got replayability.
SAM: I think it'll surprise a few people. I think it'll be the kind of track where people are like: “oh, OK, that's a left turn”.
TWIGGY: It’s definitely got an Ask For The Anthem thing happening in a sense, same kinda sound, which is a thing that Sammy does well, and it just made sense to get lil aaron on it. He’s just a classic, and he kind of just tracked it within minutes.
SAM: It was kind of near the dying end, in true Ocean Grove fashion, we’re always right on the deadline, pushing things to the very last minute. And there was a second there when we were like: “OK, are we gonna actually finish the record?!”. We still need a feature, and we had to finish one other song. But I think it’s a banger, I think people will love it, and I really wanna play that song live.
7. BORED (ft. Dune Rats)
TWIGGY: BORED is a take on, from our perspective: be who you want to be, do what you want to do, fuck the norm, positive mental attitude…approaching everything with that mindset of: I could fuck up here, but whatever I do, whatever I want to do, to grow or to become a bigger person, whatever - it's not gonna destroy me. Like that's sure. Unless you’re jumping from a plane without a fucking parachute, obviously that's gonna kill you. But basically, the song is a representation of that child within you to actually take leaps and to be fucking risque and bend the rulea. It's definitely in line with my childhood, for sure. Growing up in a country town where there was not much to do and, you know, we'd get in trouble. Our options were: go to the one skate park, steal cars, get pissed, get on drugs, get into trouble, constant repeat. Obviously the few things here and there, like go fishing or go swim in a fucking dam and come out covered in leeches were other options. But the options of the things to do were very, very limited. And that led to that hunger within me as a kid to fucking do something bigger and become someone bigger than who I ever wanted to be. I really struggled growing up to find people who had the willingness, that same willingness as me. And I think it's the same with Dale and with Sam, it's why we work so well together as well, it’s that same willingness. Fate has brought us together and we happen to be the such similar characters within the way that: we're a bit bratty, yes.. But we're also very fucking willing and want to bend the rules and wanna do things that are extreme. And I guess we just love taking risks, and BORED is definitely representative of breaking out of those four walls of more normality and taking on shit that is gonna be fucking hard and gonna be a struggle. But: if you're stuck within four walls of a mundane life, there is a way out and it may just be kicking the fucking wall down. I guess over time life gets tougher and you are trying to keep up as a human being, and that childlike fucking energy within you just eventually goes away…or it doesn't go away, it's there still, but you just lose sight of it. And I want this song to be the fucking thing that unlocks it within people so they can actually go: “you know what, maybe I'll go and do that fucking crazy exciting thing that I've wanted to do for the past two years, especially in lockdown, but just haven't brought myself to do”. There are songs for me personally that I'd listen to as a kid and they would unlock that creative feeling or that feeling that we’re trying to create via the album and the Oddworld 3000 shoe, both the artwork and the literal shoe. This is why it all made sense in our heads - it's that feeling of the shoe, you put the shoe on and you can take on the fucking world and nothing's gonna hurt you because you've got that confidence and that ability to just be fearless in doing whatever it is that you want to do. And I think the song should be representative of that as well for people.
SAM: And it’s also catchy as fuck. If you listen to that song and by the halfway point, you don't have the chorus stuck in your head for the rest of the day, then I'll be shook.
SAM: NOISE is another big song, we're really good at writing big-sounding rock songs, to be honest. I think NOISE came about…that was another Zoom specialty where literally the start of that song almost was written as a joke for fun. But then we were like: “hang on, this is really catchy!”. And we liked it that fucking much that we decided to keep it how it is. I think Dale would be able to touch on it more, but I think from the chorus, “All I hear is noise” and those lyrics - they’re almost saying that we don’t need the normalities of life that I think a lot of people are after and searching for and striving for. I think that especially, what the chorus and the bridge in particular are touching on, is just how: at the end of the day, all I hear is noise, I don’t need to do this. I don’t need to work a nine-to-five job to make me happy.
TWIGGY: It’s kind of like a broad take on that stuff, whether it be the teacher that is telling you that you can’t be who you wanna be or do what you wanna do, or the more conservative people saying “you can’t wear that short skirt” or “you can’t wear that crop top”, or whatever it may be because it shows too much skin, or a fucking neighbour who tells you to turn your music down because it’s not their taste. It’s like: “you know what? Fuck you! I’m gonna do it. As long as it’s not hurting you, I’m gonna do it. And I need to fucking do it because this is all part of the fucking learning curve of life”. It’s definitely a big eff you to people in general trying to hold you back from being your best self. People have trouble realising that their opinion on others is totally based on the fact that you believed, in every step of your life, differently to the person you’re fucking judging. And it takes a lot for someone to be able to look at another person or experience the way another person goes about their own life and just be OK with it. People try too hard to shape others, world views and things like that. But you break it down to first principles, I think it all comes down to helping people realise that allowing others to be themselves is the highest form of self realization. think a lot of the lyricism on NOISE definitely touches on that: I know who I'm supposed to be, what I'm supposed to do, where I'm supposed to go, get outta my way. But at the same time, I’m not gonna hold a grudge - if you want to come along for the fucking ride, then you’re welcome!
SAM: This was late in the piece, this was 11th hour-type material where we were getting to that position where we knew the album was due, and we have a pretty good read on a full body of work when it feels like it's missing something. I think for us at that point we're like: “hmm, it's missing one flavour, this one certain type of flavor of sound” - and we didn't have it yet. In general, we knew we needed a song like SILENCE at that position point on the album, and we wanted to get one going. And just like majority of the others, I think the main hook of the song in particular was just something that Twiggy had put together by himself in his downtime. And as soon as I heard it I was like: “that’s it, we have to use this and put it together”. And I think SILENCE in particular highlights something that we’ve been trying to publicise with this record in particular; that we’re trying to change the ideals and what the normal is for being a band. I think a lot of of people will see a band and go: “oh, OK, that's the guitarist, he plays guitar. That's the drummer, he plays drums” - hereas I see Ocean Grove as a group of artists. I like to think of Twiggy as an artist, myself as an artist, Dale as an artist. And because of that, we have different roles. Like - Twiggy play is bass in the band as well, but it doesn't mean he's just the bass player that’s writing bass parts. It’s so much more than that. It's trying to break that norm bit, and I think in this song, it's another song where it's meant to feel a little bit more electronic, a bit more of a rock hybrid…
TWIGGY: Beastie Boys…
SAM: Beastie Boys, and Twiggy’s rapping so much of the vocal, and it’s just such a group effort. And it doesn't really feel like it, to me anyway, because I know how we made it; but to the outside, it's a different type of of song and a different role was played from each of us in that song. But either way it's very fun and energetic, a high energy number.
TWIGGY: I think more people are picking up as we go, but like we really want to get across that we're not linear. And we're a revolving role band. We really love Beastie Boys, so when thinking of the Beastie Boys, they know who they are and what they're supposed to do and stuff; but that's not like one single thing, everyone contributes to every little part of it. And, as Sam said, people may hear SILENCE and think it's Dale rapping, but it's literally just me fucking rapping the whole thing. And it was a quick turnaround of a song!
SAM: I think a lot of our best material is really when we are having fun. And I think that's why it feels natural and energetic, because - no joke - it'll be in a room like this, no external pressure of having to go to some crazy expensive studio on a timeframe budget where Twiggy and I can put a set of headphones on each, hold mic and go: “all right, you do a line. All right. Now you do a line!”. And we're actually having fun as mates writing music.
TWIGGY: We wrote SILENCE in, I reckon, literally an hour. The the chorus was another one that I had that was a bit of an older one. But it's subjective, people can work out what they think that is to them. I'm not gonna go into the fucking meaning of the actual hook, but the song itself in its final form - it needed a bit of slam and pressure at that point in the album, and to play on a bit of the classic OG, some roots, and some hip hop stuff in there.
SAM: Earlier OG roots I think definitely shines through this one. I hold SILENCE and FLAVA in a similar vein, those are probably the two songs for me that still display a sign of our earlier roots. I know it's quite publicised that this record is quite upbeat and sunny and Brit poppy or whatever. But I still think if you look hard enough, the roots are there in their own way. And I think our real Ocean Grove fans who love the band will also pick up on that, they'll get it straight away.
TWIGGY: Old and new! We love a opening up a can of fucking worms with forever-changing sounds and stuff. But this definitely feels like a classic OG track.
10. UP IN THE AIR FOREVER
SAM: It's a beautiful number. I think, once again, it was another one earlier on in the piece, I remember doing a demo so early on. And the one thing with Ocean Grove is that you can never mark a song that you hear from us in demo form as a track that you're gonna get near the end. If we come to you with a demo, let's say a label or anyone that we're showing that wants to hear demos of what we're working on; what you get sent early on in the piece could have a complete change of sound and almost feel like seven different songs by the end, by the time you finally get it. And I remember UP IN THE AIR FOREVER being a bit more guitar-driven an we were gonna take it in a way where it kind of had roots of our first album, being a lot more of the Deftones, lower tuned guitars, but still this incredibly moody feeling. And this one day we muted all of the drums and guitars that were over it and just left the initial sad sort of chords that were in there, and laid some like synths down, and Twiggy had this vocal that we put over the top. Before we knew it, we were like: “it needs to be an electronic-feeling song”, and almost tie the whole record up.
TWIGGY: Some of the sounds in it give me some Matrix-meets-Sneaker Pimps, Sneaker Pimps are one of my favourite bands as well.
SAM: And Blade Runner, that style of sci-fi movies. On a musical front, it definitely is one of the more different tracks on the record. On every album that we’ve done, we leave the listener in a slightly different headspace based on the last track compared to everything that came before it. And if they’re listening to a CD on loop in the car, but the time the opening track kicks in again, it’s kind of this full circle type of thing.
TWIGGY: Lyrically, it’s an ode to a friend of ours who took his own life. It just felt like the right mood, and it’s a super emotive song. We were at Sam’s old studio when we put it together, and thought it was the right time to pay respects in a way to a friend who fucking inspired us all with his music ove the years, and everything he taught me, even just in life, as a human being. It’s shit that I still think of today as some of the most important lessons and stuff, that have helped me grow and helped me pursue music. There was a point in my life where I definitely was struggling with alcohol and drug abuse and deep in severe depression and anxiety, to the point where I literally didn't leave the house for, like, a year. And he has always been an important figure in my life. Musically, UP IN THE AIR FOREVER sounded like a nice song to complement the lyrics that we came up with.
SAM: It felt right to do it.
TWIGGY: It's an ode to like a fucking inspiring individual that like changed our lives for the better. Musically it brings things down a notch and gets a little a bit serious.
SAM: But, as with everything, it’s always open to interpretation. And on top of that, it just rounded out the album nicely as well as a body of work. I think that is the theme that we have with that track. Just as a song in general, it was the right feeling and the right move, I think, for us to put a song like that at the end of a pretty energetic and upbeat album, you know, give people a chance to breathe. It’s a very beautiful song, and I hope that people enjoy that side of Ocean Grove. It’s not something that we do a lot.
OCEAN GROVE'S BRAND NEW ALBUM UP IN THE AIR FOREVER IS OUT RIGHT NOW VIA UNFD.
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BY TIANA SPETER