Oceansize playing in Fremantle (2009)
|Genres||Progressive rock, post-rock, alternative rock|
|Labels||Superball, Beggars Banquet|
|British Theatre, Kong, Pocketknife, Biffy Clyro|
Richard "Gambler" Ingram
Oceansize were an English rock band from Manchester, formed in 1998. The band consisted of Mike Vennart (vocals, guitar), Steve Durose (guitar, backing vocals), Richard "Gambler" Ingram (guitar, keyboards), Mark Heron (drums) and Jon Ellis (bass guitar) for the majority of its career, with Steve Hodson replacing Ellis on bass guitar in 2006.
The band released four studio albums, in addition to a number of minor EPs and singles, displaying a wide array of influences from several genres including post-rock, math rock, psychedelic rock, space rock, and post-hardcore. Following a twelve-year career, Oceansize announced their split in February 2011, with the members moving on to different projects.
The band members met each other while attending music college in Salford, where the various members performed in a range of different musical acts very stylistically different from the band they would go on to create. "[The bands were] pretty terrible," said Mike Vennart. "We were in a grunge band. When I met Steve I asked him to be the new guitarist. I wanted to be experimental and unusual and still write pop songs. We were terrible at it. We didn't go anywhere for a while. When we got a new rhythm section, we re-thought what we were doing and got better. We had more vision. Although we don't all like the same music and have different tastes, we can see clearly where our music needs the most work."
Though known as a Manchester band, Vennart, Gambler and Ellis are originally from Yorkshire, DuRose from Birmingham, and Mark Heron is Scottish. Steven Hodson, who joined the band later, is the only member of Oceansize to hail from the Manchester area.
The band subsequently named themselves after Jane's Addiction song, "Ocean Size". According to guitarist Gambler, the band's then-bassist Jon Ellis came up with the name: "I think, at the time, he was thinking what we would sound like. Jane's Nothing's Shocking album, which has the track "Ocean Size" on it, was definitely a big influence."
Over the next few years, Oceansize would release two self-released EPs Amputee and A Very Still Movement. This in turn led to interest from Beggars Banquet Records, who signed the band in 2000. The band's first release on the label was the Relapse EP titled after a very early composition that had been through many different reworkings. The EP was produced by Cardiacs leader Tim Smith, a long-time hero of the band.
Oceansize's debut album Effloresce was released on 29 September 2003 on Beggars Banquet. The album spawned the singles "Catalyst", "One Day All This Could Be Yours" and "Remember Where You Are", each of which featured a music video. The album garnered considerable critical acclaim, with music critic Ben Hogwood stating that: "with their broad harmonic language and fluctuating rhythms it's difficult to give an alternative to Oceansize, which is always a good sign. If pushed I would say they've taken a good liking to '70s rock but taken on board the works of bands such as Muse and The Cooper Temple Clause, along with the more expansive end of Seattle grunge music.".
Two years later, the band released their second album, Everyone Into Position on 19 September 2005. The album track "Meredith" was featured on the popular television drama The O.C., and one of the album's singles, "Music For A Nurse", became the soundtrack to an Orange advertising campaign entitled Fish during summer 2006. "Music For A Nurse" was also featured in the motion picture The Invisible (2007), and both "Music For A Nurse" and "Meredith" have also been used in the BBC drama series Waterloo Road.
Oceansize have mixed views on the album as a whole. Despite the band's view on the record, critics and fans have generally praised the release. The lukewarm review the album received from Pitchfork was the one that seemed to be the most consistent with the band's own thoughts on it. The review singled out the album's more progressive tracks such as "You Can't Keep a Bad Man Down" and "Ornament/The Last Wrongs" for praise while criticizing songs such as "Heaven Alive" for sticking to closely too alt rock conventions that the reviewer ultimately felt was holding the band back. Despite this, Mike Vennart has stated frequently that Everyone Into Position is his favourite Oceansize album.
Following the release of Everyone Into Position, Oceansize subsequently left Beggars Banquet. The band sought a new record deal that would better support the band in terms of promotion and financial backing for international touring. Mike Vennart implied in a recent interview that the record deal was contingent on the band writing two tracks "on order" for the company. These mp3s were released on the band's Myspace page around Christmas 2006 as a band-described gift to the fans. The two songs were "Red Rag to a Bear" and "Siberian Bullshit". In the posting of these mp3s, Vennart described these tracks as "warts an' all," and suggested that they would not show up on the new album.
On moving to new label, Superball Music, Vennart described the move as a chance for the band to move forward: "we reached a point when we'd gone as far as we could [with Beggars Banquet]. We needed a new home and these guys offered it to us on a plate. We're the only band on the label at the moment, so they can't do enough for us."
Everyone Into Position marked the final appearance of bassist Jon Ellis. On 4 December 2005, the band issued a press release, stating that Ellis was leaving the band, but would still contribute musically. On 16 January 2006 frontman Mike Vennart issued a short post on an Oceansize messageboard announcing Ellis' replacement, Steve Hodson - a member of the Oceansize side-project Kong and also the drummer in Capulet.
The band's third album, Frames, was released on 1 October 2007 on Superball Music. Artwork for the album was provided by Robin Finck of Nine Inch Nails and Guns N' Roses. Originally entitled The Frame, the band elected to alter the name slightly after an incidental suggestion; Vennart explained that "one of our friends, who's in Future of the Left, said 'I love the title... Frames, isn't it?' We just thought, 'well it wasn't, but that's a lot better. It's an angular title, it evokes strength and structure and it's quite cinematic." The album was trailed as featuring "a lot of songs about grudges and negative energy", with the song "Commemorative 9/11 T-Shirt", inspired by a gift to Vennart by band Cardiacs, which includes a time signature of "11/8 or 9/8, so when we were naming the song it was like 'it's in 11, it's in 9, it's got to be 9/11".
In May and June 2009, Oceansize supported Sydney band Cog on a national tour of Australia, along with other support act Calling All Cars, playing a string of dates which included shows in capital cities Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide & Brisbane. Of the tour, Mike Vennart spoke of the excitement, saying "from the moment (the tour) was mentioned, I was just hammering our manager, going 'make it happen!'"
On the 1 August 2009, the band played the Sonisphere festival at Knebworth, joining Linkin Park, Metallica, Nine Inch Nails, Alice in Chains and more for the weekend festival. On the 21 August 2009, Oceansize supported Biffy Clyro at the Edinburgh Corn Exchange and the reformed Faith No More on the 25th
The band released a live box set in September 2009, entitled Feed to Feed. The release is limited to 5000 copies. The live recordings are taken from a series of shows the band performed on three consecutive nights at the Roadhouse in Manchester. The band played each of their three studio albums from start to finish, one album each night, including related b-sides. The boxset contains three DVDs and four CDs.
The band started working on their fourth (and ultimately final) album, Self Preserved While the Bodies Float Up in fall 2009. In January 2010, the band embarked upon a UK tour, showcasing new material According to Mike Vennart's Twitter, the recording of the album was completed on 17 April, with Vennart stating "Recording is complete! Album 4 is go! It's all on Chris Sheldon now". Mastering was completed at Abbey Road Studios on 18 May 2010 by Sean Magee. On 22 July 2010, Oceansize posted one of the album's songs, "SuperImposer", on their Superball website, and made it available for download via Twitter and Facebook.
Self Preserved While the Bodies Float Up was released on 6 September 2010. The album showcased a heavier side to the band, who stated that it probably was their heaviest studio album to date. However, Vennart claimed that the album still had the diversity found on other Oceansize albums. The band subsequently toured to promote the release.
On 25 February 2011, Oceansize announced via the band's Twitter and Facebook pages that they had split up. No explanations were provided. In an interview a year later in 2012, Vennart commented "It's tricky. I'd kind of like to tell the story but it's pretty dramatic. It would alter the sound of the records that we spent ages dreaming up, and to some people it might sound all a little petty. But it was so fucking ugly. Suffice to say it was a recurring problem that grew and grew and it couldn't be ignored or tolerated anymore." On 31 May 2013 Vennart finally put an end to most speculation via a post on Twitter, stating that after a disastrous band performance at a concert in Warsaw on 23 October 2010, Gambler had quit Oceansize and that this had broken up the band. In reply to a fan who tweeted a video of the performance, in which Mark Heron's drumming seems considerably affected, Vennart commented: "Stay off them drugs, kids".
While Vennart refused to blame any individuals in particular, he had previously admitted (in a May 2012 interview with the music blog Undersong) that persistent drug abuse by at least one band member had undermined Oceansize and led to the circumstances surrounding the split: "Whilst Oceansize had no delusions of grandeur, there were those in the band that just weren't up to the job. Put it like this, when you watch Biffy Clyro live you can rest assured that they are pretty much stone-cold sober. They're certainly not drunk, stoned, on downers or tripping their tits off on some new circuit-bent Chris Morris-esque tablet. They're easy to play for cos they know how to play the songs and they play them correctly every single night. There's an inherent trust there. There's also a respect for their audience - they understand that their fans may have travelled miles, saved up money for tickets, planned their life around a show. It's this respect for each other and their audience that has stood Biffy in good stead and it has helped take them to the top. That mindset has to be in place before you even consider a setlist. This respect and these qualities were, I'm sad to say, not consistent in the ranks of Oceansize. Even if the opportunity had ever presented itself, Oceansize simply was not allowed to move forward. Whenever we had to step up to the challenge, the same fucking turd was on the doorstep."
While Vennart has pointed to Heron's Warsaw performance as the primary impetus, an interview with Gambler shed more light on the subject and suggested it wasn't the sole reason for the breakup. While he acknowledged Heron's performance in Warsaw was indeed a major factor, he also pointed to the end of a long term relationship as a factor in his decision to quit the band. Gambler does not rule out a reunion in the future, though he does not believe it will happen any time soon.
Following the breakup of Oceansize, various members went on to other work or continued with side projects which they'd begun prior to the split. Gambler (under his real name of Richard A. Ingram) had already begun a solo career in parallel to Oceansize, while Steve Hodson and Mark Heron continued with Kong (and Hodson continued his ongoing solo work as Mild Eyes). In 2011, both Mike Vennart and Steve Durose took on work as touring guitarists for other bands - Vennart with Biffy Clyro and Durose with Amplifier.
Further post-Oceansize projects emerged quickly after the breakup. Steve Hodson worked with the band Chandelier Swing while Mark Heron worked with improv band Shamefaced and released new music under his Kong alias of "Krem". Mike Vennart and Gambler reunited in the duo British Theatre, who released their debut EP via Bandcamp in February 2012. In a February 2012 interview with The Line of Best Fit, Vennart mentioned that he was writing with Steve Durose again for an as-yet-unspecified project. Vennart released his debut solo album in 2015, titled The Demon Joke, collaborating and touring with Gambler and Steve Durose once again.
In regards to influences, Oceansize claimed to have an eclectic source of inspiration. Gambler has attested that everyone in the band had "such diverse influences. I think it would be a list a mile long. The obvious ones, especially for me, would be Radiohead, Mogwai, Aphex Twin, Nine Inch Nails and Tool; I think I could probably go on all day. I mean if you looked at our record collection you probably wouldn't think it." Other cited influences have included Jane's Addiction and Cardiacs.
Known associates of UK groups such as Amplifier, Biffy Clyro and Aereogramme, earlier in their career, Oceansize were also frequently grouped in with the space rock movement that had gained some underground popularity at the time - essentially heavy alternative rock with shoegaze leanings. One of the band's earliest major tours was with Cave In, who they were frequently compared to especially in their earlier years. Since their breakup Oceansize have been cited as an influence by a wide variety of bands including Rosetta, and Black Peaks.Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree is also a known fan of the group, ranking Everyone Into Position and Frames as two of his favourite albums of the 2000s. Russian band iamthemorning took their name from the Oceansize song "I Am the Morning".
Oceansize often stated the bulk of their writing was the product of fruitful 'jam sessions,' with Steve Durose explaining after the release of Effloresce that "our sound has just evolved really, but right from the first rehearsal, we kind of had it in the bag. We were on mushrooms and just jammed for ages, and then we listened back to the tapes. About three songs from Effloresce were born in that one rehearsal, and we just realized we had something special happening. Everything comes from jams, though. That's the way we write." In regards to structure and time signature, Durose cites drummer Mark Heron as a key collaborator; "Mark's very into strange beats, so what will start off as a very simple idea, once it's been through the Oceansize washing machine will come out as something sounding quite bizarre at the other end." Gambler has advocated a 'no strings' approach with the creative process, saying that "I think we have been tied into the whole progressive thing for quite a bit now. When we formed the band we didn't think we were going to be this or that sort of band. We're forward thinking as far as our music is concerned".
Kong (consisting of Steven Hodson and Mark Heron) recorded their debut album Snake Magnet in the summer of 2007 at The Works Recording Studio in Bredbury (where Everyone Into Position was recorded). Kong signed with Los Angeles-based label White Drugs, home of The Bronx and released Snake Magnet in 2009, with two singles preceding the release (on Brew Records).
Gambler - under his real name of Richard A. Ingram - released a solo album Consolamentum in May 2010 on a small Manchester label called WhiteBox. He has also sometimes played bass guitar with the post-punk band Pocketknife, and released a couple of CD-Rs independently consisting of solo piano music.
In 2010, Mike Vennart joined long-time friends Biffy Clyro as second guitarist on all live dates. He has continued to play as a Biffy Clyro touring musician: Gambler also joined the Biffy Clyro live band in 2012.
On 7 May 2010, Steve Hodson was announced as the fill in bassist of Future of the Left as the short term replacement for the recently departed Kelson.
Currently ex-bassist Jon Ellis is recording and producing tracks from underground Manchester band "The Marivaux".
Oceansize shared a camaraderie with fellow Mancunian band Amplifier, with the bands referring to each other as "brothers-in-amps". Mike Vennart and Steve Durose supplied backing vocals on two of the tracks on Amplifier's self-titled debut album, while Amplifier's front-man Sel Balamir is credited in Oceansize's song "Sizeofanocean".
During the recording of Everyone Into Position in 2005 at The Works Recording Studio, Vennart ran into Snoop Dogg, and recorded guitar parts for the rapper's demos. After a phone call from Polydor Records requesting use of the studio, the mystery client turned out to be Snoop Dogg. "This studio is where we have done a lot of our work but it isn't an industry blinged up place, it's just a nice and comfortable basement studio. We ended up being his skivvies for the night literally making pizza and frying chicken for him. He worked out that I was a guitarist and sent me driving at five o' clock in the morning to fetch my guitar because I'm left-handed. I ended up playing all these cheesy porn soundtrack guitar riffs to him for about three hours until I couldn't play it anymore. He likes everything really loose, definitely not tight. His grooves are unorthodox. I'll be honest; I didn't appreciate his music until I saw how they do it all. After every gig he does he has somewhere booked out so he can just turn up with about fifteen guys who all have a Macintosh and just make beats all night. It was really great watching them work" elaborated Vennart.