Ocean Alley out of Australia are set to release the much anticipated Lonely Diamond album on Friday, June 19th, 2020. This album conjures visions of Dick Dale in a gangster fight with James Bond beats that have crashed to shore with a heavy version of the squeaky clean Beach Boys.
With their ‘70s classic rock guitars and synth-heavy sounds, Ocean Alley is hitting their stride. The title track Lonely Diamond is a tad mellow, but overall the sub-pop surf rock charm sounds like some of the best independent music that washes away the gridlock and goes on into eternity. American Blues Scene caught up with Mitch Galbraith of Ocean Alley to talk about the new record, Lonely Diamond.
June Reedy: So it’s Friday there?
It is Friday. Although, what even is a Friday anymore?
ABS: Tell me about it! Well, let me back up to a time before coronavirus. Can you tell me a little about how the tour with Tash Sultana was?
It was so much fun! That was a while ago now. It was an incredible time. We got to play some amazing venues with Tash, big theatre shows in the States. Tash and us get along quite well. The level of her production is just incredible. We are actually using some of the services of her production team to augment our live show as well. It felt really wholesome touring together. We enjoyed ourselves!
I like to reminisce about the time of big live shows.
So that led up to the release of your previous album, Chiaroscuro.
What does the word mean?
It’s a term used in the art world, the painting world mostly. It is a Renaissance style of painting that focused on light and dark. The literal translation means “Light & Dark.” The reason we chose that name to title the record is that we believed it represented the songs in a general light. Although they weren’t grouped in the record together, they were spaced out but there are songs that are light and songs that are dark and we played with that theme of duality.
Love it! So then that landed you a pretty big spot at the Don’t Kill Live Music rally in Sydney. Can you tell me more about that rally?
That was a bit of a last-minute sort of thing. As you may or may not know, the reason for that rally was because the state government had introduced regulations and prohibitive pricing, really, in my eyes to sort of — their aim was to try to address and reduce people dying of taking illicit drugs at music festivals.
They implemented all these new restrictions, they were poorly thought-out and it was a knee jerk reaction. It affected the music industry, our industry negatively so that is what we were protesting. It was a day in the park, everyone showed up. It was kind of weird. That was probably the first music rally we had ever been involved in.
As a protest too huh?
As a protest! Yes! So we got up there in the park and played our songs. It was packed! I remember actually I was doing an interview for a TV show at the time. It was a bit of chaos as you may imagine last-minute organized stuff. I was doing an interview on camera. I was actually live on one of the news channels down here as the rest of my band took the stage. They started the set without me because we were running late. The news presenter was like, oh I think your boys are starting without you. I said yes and ran back from that to strapping on my guitar and getting out on stage. It was quite funny.
That journalist had to love you!
Yeah they did like that. That was a good story for ’em.
Well in that spirit, tell me what independent music means to you. What has being an independent musician meant for your sound?
It’s about having the power as an artist, being in control of your artwork for us. Music and art in general can be such a powerful thing like with these protests, it helps to swing the tide a bit. But for us, it’s just been about the reason we write and make music is that we love doing and we love doing it together as a group, with each other.
We’ve been very lucky. We’ve worked hard. In the early days, we toured Australia a lot. We would save up all our money from work, that would go for fuel to drive around the country. Australia is pretty big, I mean, so is the States but you gotta drive at least 10 hours to get to another capital city. We spent years and years doing that.
The money that we made from touring, playing small shows, we put back into the band. It’s really been a labor of love for us. These days more than ever, it’s easier to do that. I would encourage any up and coming band to try and go down that path first before they reach out for assistance from other people: record labels, sponsorships, stuff like that.
Absolutely! So that brings us up to current times and your new album Lucky Diamond. I was lucky enough to get my hands on an early release copy of “Hot Chicken.” Holy cow! That is finger-lickin’ good!
It is finger-licking good!
It’s amazing! I would definitely describe the whole album as evocative rock. What has changed? What inspired the new album? What is the direction you’re moving into next?
We always try to take our new music relevant to the stuff that we’ve done. In general, it’s a carry on from where we were with ‘Chiaroscuro.’ On top of that, we always try to do something different. Really, we’re trying to do something better. That’s subjective, but we had the chance and we had the time. We recorded this one in between a pretty hectic touring schedule so we had the time to leave the work that we were doing and come back to it with fresh eyes, which we may not have had that opportunity with ‘Chiaroscuro.’ That just gave us a lot more time to rewrite parts.
We had a lot more time in the studio to hone in the sound of it when it came to writing, demoing it, and then, of course, recording. I think that’s the main difference. We had more time. It’s more thoughtful. Then again it’s that same way that we write. Gathering a selection of things that we’ve written from that period of time and working them together into a body of work. We also try to put a bit more and explore spaghetti western, surf rock vibe in some of the tracks.
Successful! I would definitely agree. I actually made the note that it’s a heavy-sounding Beach Boys.
Yes! Picture Beach Boys meets Santana! I don’t know, some kind of Western. I think we just like that aesthetic. A lot of our spare time, we play music similar to that surf rock vibe. Angus, the guitar player, and myself, we really dig that aesthetic and we spend a lot of time jamming that together so it was really fun to have a goal including that in this record and then going about to achieve that.
‘Chiaroscuro’ was more a detailed goal. But with this record it was an overall goal. We were so stoked that it worked out. The opening track, “Dahlia,” and the closing track, “Luna,” were actually written in the studio, the last week that we had. They were written on the spot. We got together in the live room and said let’s write something cool. It took us a couple of days but we figured it out.
Is this the same production team that you used for Chiaroscuro?
Yeah, it’s pretty much just us and our longtime friend and producer Callum Howell. He also does our front of house sound when we play live. It’s a seamless transition. He knows our music as well as any of the band members, sometimes he knows probably more. He is around it even more than us, to be honest. We just work well together. He’s done the last 4 records with us and he does all our live sound and now he is our production manager. He’s managing our production techs like lights and that.
We are just getting better and better at working together. We know the sequence in, we’re becoming more efficient and the most important part is that we have a lot of fun together. It’s always a very enjoyable environment to be with Callum whether it’s demoing, recording, or the mixing that he does afterward. That hasn’t changed and I think that’s why we feel like we’ve had another success because it just went so smooth!
It is definitely an album in entirety. I really appreciate the build-up within the album. I mean, “Hot Chicken” is the first single – and it is hot – but it seems to be the pinnacle of the album. Not to say it fizzles out from there, but I really enjoyed “Luna.” I can’t believe you wrote that in the studio. That’s crazy.
We haven’t really done that before. It was quite special for us to be able to do that. It was daunting at first, we were like what do we do? We have to write two more songs! How do we finish this record?! We set ourselves that challenge and we achieved it. We were so over the moon about it. It’s probably something that we are going to do on the next project as well.
So what is going to happen next? You’re postponing tour, right?
Of course. We’ve postponed our Australian tour. When this all started, that got rescheduled for next year but to be honest, that is not looking good either. Things have taken a turn for the worse, and we are all about safety. Everyone is in the same boat, our industry is one of the hardest hit. We’re lucky that we have the resources around us now to get through this and keep making music together. If this would have happened to us two years ago, ti would have been very hard to cope with.
Looking at the silver linings here, huh?
Yeah, that’s what we’re all about.
So are you still making music through the time of shelter in place?
Up until about 3-4 months ago, we all lived in the same neighborhood. Half of us in one shared house and a half in another. Half of us just moved up to Byron Bay which is Northern New South Whales. The other half remain in Sydney. I’m in Sydney. So we’ve just been writing in those two groups from home. Tinkering around is the perfect thing to do while everyone is in lockdown.
If we have more time and enough resources, it’s looking like that may be the only type of work we can get done, I’m sure we could end up in the studio again and punch out another record. We wrote those other two songs in a couple of days so it’s something that we have the potential to do. Also, playing the long game, we don’t want to rush into anything. We might put that on the back burner. We’ve got some live performances that we are going to be working on and releasing to people to at least give them some sort of live music that they can enjoy from their own home.
Yeah, so hopefully that will keep everyone happy.
You can make a nice recording of that live footage, too. For now, I’m looking forward to Lonely Diamond on June 19th. For now, we can all listen to “Hot Chicken,” right?
It’s on Spotify, Youtube, all the usual platforms. We should have been on a bus doing a huge tour in the States right now and we are itching to get back. We’re ready to get back on the road. We have all this time right now to prepare for the live shows so that they are top-notch when we can return.
Well you certainly are a six piece of live, bursting energy! The sooner we can all get back on the road…