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Ocean Alley: the psychedelic surf rock band from Down Under

| Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Ellis Riojas | The Observer

If Sublime, Jimi Hendrix and Neil Young had a baby, it would be Australian band Ocean Alley.

Even with over a million monthly listeners on Spotify and a massive fanbase in Australia, they are still regarded as a small alternative band in the United States, and this needs to be changed. Ocean Alley, comprised of Baden Donegal, Angus Goodwin, Lach Galbraith, Mitch Galbraith, Nic Blom and Tom O’Brien, is reviving old school psychedelic rock and creating something completely fresh and modern while still paying homage to great rock bands of the past.

I had the opportunity to interview Ocean Alley’s lead guitarist, Mitch Galbraith, and we talked about their recent album “Lonely Diamond” and music in the times of the pandemic.

Willoughby: Thank you again for joining me today! I would love to know how you would describe your guys’ sound.

Mitch: People have always tried to put a genre to it. But we like to explore different genres with our music, and so we haven’t really felt like it’s any particular style. But if you could pick one, people have labeled us “psychedelic surf rock” before, so that kind of works a bit. But we like the label “psych rock!” And we’re probably creating more rock sounding music these days than when we first started; it was probably a bit more root sounding then. So yeah, psych rock, I would go for psych rock. Yeah, that’s a nice one!

W: How did you guys meet? And how did you guys come up with the name Ocean Alley?

M: We were all friends before we were a band. We just met around town. We grew up surfing together, hanging out at the beach, and a few of us went to school together. We just sort of started hanging out at the back of [Nic Blom’s] parents’ place in this shed just playing guitars and stuff. We started playing covers like Neil Young and Jimi Hendrix. Then we found a passion for writing our own music and we’ve been doing that ever since — just the same six of us.

Then the name “Ocean Alley.” We used to go skateboarding in the evenings around town, just cruising down hills to pass the time. We had this fictional zone that we’d skate down through all these houses, and one of us named it “ocean alley” or something. But it’s kind of like a metaphoric happy place for us. It’s a place where we grew up together and when we became friends and where we still live today.

We also kind of borrowed it off of Stevie Ray Vaughan. He has a song called “Tin Pan Alley.” We used to listen to those tapes, and we liked that whole aesthetic. It talks about being in a dingy alley and crap shooting and stuff. So we kind of wanted to just juxtapose those two feelings next to each other, I think, in the name.

W: I know that you guys are independent musicians and gaining great popularity in Australia and slowly building a base in the States. What does developing music independently mean to you?

M: It kind of just throws back to how he started, just playing in a shed together because we just love playing music. Playing bigger and bigger venues, we were just getting stuff done by ourselves and we sort of slowly grew. It’s a great feeling, knowing that you’ve done all this yourself and, also, you own all of your own music, so you don’t owe any money or any music to anyone.

W: I’d like to quickly talk about your 2018 album, “Chiaroscuro.”

M: Yeah, it’s an Italian word.

W: I know you probably get asked this all the time, but what does it mean?

M: It’s a term that was used in Renaissance for painting, more specifically. It’s about using light and shade to create high levels of contrast and add drama to artworks. So when we created that body of work, we noticed that there were pretty much two groupings of songs — ones that were quite upbeat and other ones were a bit more introspective. So we decided to play with the idea of duality.

W: You can definitely tell the contrast between the two albums [“Chiaroscuro” and “Lonely Diamond”].

M: I think we were sort of trying to [do that]. We might have got a bit carried away on “Chiaroscuro” exploring stuff, and there’s a bit more of a push and pull there. We’re just kind of probably trying to rebel against some of the slowest songs that we wrote at the beginning of that record.

And it was kind of much the same on “Lonely Diamond.” We wanted to make sure we had a good mix of light and dark and updating downbeat songs, but I think as a whole it was just that we pulled it off a bit better because we were a bit more experienced and had more time. So, it definitely sounds a bit more cohesive than our previous album.

We wrote the intro track and the outro track last, and it’s like spaghetti western, definitely a style that we hadn’t really wrote in before.

W: What inspired your new album, “Lonely Diamond?”

M: It was a progression, just moving forward from what we’d written before, and we wrote these songs over a much longer period of time. As they came together, we realized themes of loneliness and contemplation, but for us, it was about musically exploring new stuff, as it kind of always is.

It’s important for us to arrange songs in a meaningful way, and I suppose that’s how you get a more cohesive record. That’s fun for us. The intro track and the outro track were the last two songs we wrote, and we wrote them on the last day in the studio. We sorted it so they were in direct response to pretty much everything that we had laid down. So they’re quite meaningfully injected into those those spots, you know?

W: You guys released [“Lonely Diamond”] in June, right in the middle of the pandemic. How has it affected the release?

M: We haven’t had the chance to tour it live, and there’s a few songs that we were playing before we released the record like “Stained Glass,” “Tombstone” and “Infinity,” but the rest of them we haven’t had a chance to play on stage. We’re actually going away tomorrow for a week of rehearsals and a little bit of writing because we have our first gig back, just out of Sydney next Thursday to 500 people in a COVID-19 safe environment. So that’s pretty exciting!

We’ve almost forgotten how to play all the music since it’s been so long. We’ve been doing other things. So we’re going through a week of rehearsals to try and remember how to play 21 songs.

We were going to do two tours in the U.S. this year, but that’s just been pushed back. Everyone’s got to be patient, and everyone’s in the same boat and it’s no one’s fault. I think everyone in the music industry is just really hopeful that it’ll bounce back as quickly as it can when it’s safe to do so.

It was important to us to release that record in June because we had it done. I’m glad we released it because it would have been a long time. We had the music and we write music because we enjoy doing it and other people enjoy listening to it. So once we had it, it was kind of on us to kind give it to the world.

W: Can you tell us more about your involvement with the “Feel Extraordinary” campaign?

M: We’re involved with a few charities over here [in Australia]. One of them is a mental health charity that started around our area to address youth mental health and to try and facilitate the conversation. So since we’ve got so much downtime, we figured we might as well do something to help and get the conversation started. All the money went to three great charities: Cerebral Palsy Alliance, One Eight and Red Dust, and they deal with youth health services in remote areas of the country and indigenous children as well.

It’s great that we can use our powers for good, and it’s really special to us because it gives our music a bit more meaning. It’s a way that we can not only make people happy who come and see our music and listen to our music, but indirectly make other people happy.

Go check out “Lonely Diamond” on all streaming platforms and their recently released “Lonely Diamond (Live in Studio)” on Youtube.

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About Willoughby Thom

i am the associate scene editor. if you didn't know already, my favorite band is Oingo Boingo.

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