The Ocean Party are relentless. Fresh off the back of releasing their sixth record in seven years, the wonderful Restless, the band are currently in the midst of a mammoth country-spanning tour.
We caught up with the band’s bassist, Mark Rogers, when the band were in Sydney to soak up some wisdom on how to be a self-sufficient band, getting out of your own creative arse and touring with your best mates.
We caught up The Ocean Party’s bassist Mark Rogers amidst their massive Restless tour to chat about their hectic touring ethos, recording in a lounge room, and the Wagga music scene.
HAPPY: So, you guys all grew up together in Wagga Wagga, is that right?
MARK: Yeah, so all of us were in the same school and were in about a year of each other, and then Zac (drums) is Lach’s (guitar/vocals) little brother, so he’s a few years below us.
HAPPY: I know it’s a pretty standard question, but how did the Ocean Party get started then?
MARK: Well we’ve always played in bands together in one way or another growing up, like we had a lot of youth bands. Wagga was a weird anomaly in regional NSW as it actually had a really solid youth music scene – there’s like 75,000 people living there, probably more now – and there was bit of funding going into the arts council which meant they established a bunch of nice little initiatives.
There was this thing called ‘Libraries Aloud’ that was basically gigs at the library for underage bands which was really cool, and another youth-run council called ‘Youth Voice’ who put on a bunch of gigs as well. And this little bit of funding from the government meant that so many bands, so many bands, started coming out in this little period of maybe three or four years ‘cos you could regularly play gigs every month. And play original music too.
You look at Wagga now and it’s just pub cover bands, right? But during that tiny little period there were so many interesting, weird bands playing original music who were thinking that that’s what they wanted to do with their life. So I think that the ethos behind our band kind of came out of that period. You know, everybody wanting to write original music with a particular bunch of people.
Then the other guys all moved to Melbourne and formed the band, and I was just a fan that kind of played bass for their tours sometimes, then I moved down and joined the band as a songwriter proper.
HAPPY: I was just looking over your epic tour schedule and I noticed you guys do make a huge effort to play regional shows, which I think a lot of bands don’t. Why is that?
MARK: Yeah well I think that stems from growing up in Wagga. I mean, growing up in Wagga, any bands that came through… it was just great, it was a really cool thing to do. And you know, there are venues there, there are places to play. Even if it’s garbage in terms of there being no ‘scene’ or whatever it’s a place to play, and that’s amazing. I reckon some of the best gigs we’ve played have been tiny weird places. Not even pubs sometimes, just somebody’s art space or something like that. We’ve had so much fun playing those.
HAPPY: I feel like people would just appreciate it that little bit more – maybe that makes it a little more special for them.
MARK: Yeah, and I think so for us as well. Touring is something that we really enjoy, it’s massively fun and we’re a hugely self-sufficient touring band in that we sleep in the van – it’s a machine. So it makes a lot of sense for us to have a lot of dates lined up. It might like kind of gruelling, but it’s better than doing massive stints. We can just be like ‘hey we’ll just pop over to Nambour and play a gig, or go to Toowoomba…’ You know what I mean? That stuff sort of just makes sense for us. And there’s a lot of interesting shit going on in those towns as well. Cool people wanting to listen to music, you know?
HAPPY: I guess other bands might purely be thinking that it’s too expensive.
MARK: Well fuck, we’re not making money anyway, might as well do something we enjoy. I don’t think we’re the kind of band that has the mentality that we need to be like ‘we need to play this gig well to get that, or that’ – you know, that kind of ‘careerist band’ thing has never really been us. So, I think for us it’s more about making it sustainable and making it fun.
HAPPY: I think that’s the way to do it hey?
MARK: Well for us it is anyway. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with bands being like ‘I want to do this particular thing in order to do this’. But I think we’re more comfortable just going out on tour because that’s what we do in October or whatever, you know?
HAPPY: How do you guys stay sane, touring so heavily and sleeping in together in the van? It sounds like it might get a little filthy.
MARK: Filthy yeah, in terms of it smelling really bad. But I think because we’ve all grown up together it’s like we already have a language together. By the end of the tour, it feels like there’s no filter between what we say and what we think. Nothing that we say matters at all. We’ll just say a certain phrase, and that phrase will become a time killer… I think the best thing to do is not to worry about staying sane, but to just lean into the fact that [touring is] its own weird microcosm, and that’s a pleasurable thing to experience.
HAPPY: It sounds like you guys have a bit of a brotherhood vibe going on.
MARK: We’re all best friends you know. And we’ve been best friends forever, so it feels like the band is a project that the friendship works on.
HAPPY: I guess usually it’s the other way around.
MARK: Yeah, as in you build friendships through the band… I guess I feel that playing music and putting out records is kind of like an extension of how we exist together as friends, so it never feels like – I mean we clash sometimes – but it never feels like… stressful or anything.
HAPPY: Having played so much together around Australia, what’s been your favourite, more obscure place to play?
MARK: We had a really fun gig in Rockhampton – I don’t think many people stop in Rocky. I can’t remember the name of the space, but it was this really wonderful warehouse art space thing which had a bar and this dude cooking Japanese street food, like katsu sandwiches and delicious chips and stuff. So we played there, and there was fuck all people but it was such a beautiful space. And I kind of like those gigs where we don’t have much more than a vocal PA and our amps, which means there’s no sort of ‘step’ between you and the audience. You’re hearing what they’re hearing. And you can ride that really interestingly.
HAPPY: So smaller venues suit your sound in a way then?
MARK: It’s just different. It requires something different to play those kinds of venues, compared to playing like Beach Road Hotel or something. Playing a venue like that one in Rockhampton, you have to know that your sound is going to fill that space. I like shows where you get to sit back a bit too. I like both. But it is kind of nice to just be in a small room with a bunch of people doing that stuff.
HAPPY: Absolutely. And hey, congratulations on getting the new record out. How’s it feel?
MARK: Thanks man. Yeah it feels good. I kinda feels like….
HAPPY: You’ve just smashed one more out?
MARK: Yeah well, it kind of comes down to that practical kind of things where, because there are six songwriters, an album can come together a lot quicker than if say old mate Kevin Parker has to write and record and do everything. It’s the same things as wanting to tour all the time – that’s fun for us, it’s a pleasurable way of making a record. Lachie said this the other day and I agree with him, that it’s not really about like ‘this album we’ve gotta go 80s, or this album we have to do this, or that we have to respond to any trends that are going on right now’ – [our records] are snapshots of where we are at at any particular time. So I feel like there is less pressure on each release, which is a great creative thing for us.
HAPPY: With so many fingers in the pie, does it get a bit confused in the studio or when you guys write?
MARK: Not really. Most of the time we’re just recording ourselves anyway – and Snowy [guitar/vocals] mixed and mastered the whole thing this time too which was fucking great, another step towards being self-sufficient – and we’re usually pretty sensitive about like ‘this song should be on the record and this song shouldn’t’ and knowing when to play or to hold back on people’s songs and what each individual person’s style is.
And because we basically learned to play our instruments together, we learned to write songs together, we’ve heard each other develop as songwriters through time. So we’ll be like ‘oh Zac is doings this kind of stuff now, or he’s pushing down on this kind of rhythmic thing, or Lachie is doing this and Curty is interested in this…’ you know what I mean? We kind of know then how to sit around each other’s music really well, and how to play into it.
HAPPY: That sounds like opposite of confusion. It sounds like you guys completely understand each other.
MARK: I think so. Of course there are times where…with six people it feels like ‘shit there’s no room here for me’.
HAPPY: Yeah so how do you guys record?
MARK: This time we did it by all going away and doing it in one go. But on the last record that’s just come out [Restless] it was all a bit pieced together. Whoever had time would go out to Zac’s house in Box Hill to record bits and pieces. Then we’d be like ok now we have the drum track for that song, now you and you have to come in and do your bit. But on this next record, which is pretty much already done, as a reaction to that process we decided to all go away and do it at once. So all of that accidental stuff and the processes of figuring it out in the room were captured, which was really fun.
HAPPY: Tell us a little bit about your home studio.
MARK: Umm, it’s kind of like there’s just equipment – there’s no studio, the studio is just like the mics or whatever that you can buy online. When Zac was living in Box Hill with a couple of other guys we’d just go over there and record in the lounge room.
HAPPY: [Restless] sounds incredibly polished compared to so many others who record in that kind of style.
MARK: Yeah I guess, we’ve kind of gotten – ‘cos we’ve recorded a lot – maybe we have good instincts about it or something, I dunno. But this last album is a tribute to Snowy, I mean he’s absolutely come alive as a mixer.
HAPPY: I’m so impressed.
MARK: For the last album, Lightweight, we did it in a studio with John Lee at Phaedra which was really fun. But for this one were keen to see if we could do it ourselves, take what we’ve learned and do it in our own setting again. That was really satisfying. Being able to access some equipment, and all that pirated software means you can just go and do it, you know? There’s no gatekeeper, you just go and do it. Of course it takes heaps of practice and thought. And I think on the first couple of records we’d always go into the studio to record the drums, but then we bought some good mics and we’d learned so much from watching them [producers/engineers] do it. We’ve never been super into needing to have some super cool tube amp from a fucking million years ago that so and so had.
HAPPY: You just play your shit?
MARK: We just play our shit. We’re a bit more interested in the songwriting than microtones.
HAPPY: I guess when the songwriting is strong enough it speaks for itself.
MARK: Hopefully. And then whatever the tone around that there is it just support it
HAPPY: Speaking of tones, I definitely notice an 80s, Echo and The Bunnymen, Church thing going on [on Restless], but there is so much other stuff happening at the same time. Is that a product of you having so many songwriters, or do you guys all write with a particular sound in mind.
MARK: I think so, but I think it’s different for each record. Those influences are definitely part of it for some of us. But weirdly I think there’s this knock-on effect where one of us will write a song or record a demo and everyone else will be like ‘hmm they’re doing this’ and in a counterpoint to that, or to support that, decide that they need to do this. I remember doing it quite consciously on Restless, where Zac wrote a lot of the songs early like Pressure, Second Guess that were really bass-driven, rhythmic and kind of playful, but also quite dark – especially with lyrical content. And then with my song Teachers, I thought ‘hey that vibe might work for it’.
HAPPY: It sounds like you all feed off each other in that respect.
MARK: Yeah I guess so. There’s just no room otherwise. I can’t just go and be like ‘I love Echo and The Bunnymen or The Go-Betweens’ and just run with it. There’s a bit of that, but it’s more like some songs we write fit well with some that the others are writing at the moment, and that works, you know what I mean?
The Ocean Party are at the tail end of their Restless tour right now. Catch them at the following dates and buy their record here.
Thu, Oct 20 – The Bridge Hotel, Castlemaine*
Fri, Oct 21 – The Metro, Adelaide*
Sat, Oct 22 – The Eastern, Ballarat*
Sun, Oct 23 – The Birdhouse, Wagga Wagga*
Sat, Oct 29 – The Bird, Perth
Sun, Oct 30 – Mojos, Fremantle
Fri, Nov 4 – The Grand Poo Bah, Hobart
Sat, Nov 12 – The Tote, Melbourne