Oceans of Slumber – From Catharsis to ValidationSunday, 23rd August 2020
Transferring numerous aspects of doom, atmosphere, extremity, and darkness into the realms of progressive metal isn’t as easy as it sounds – and yet Oceans of Slumber have achieved critical acclaim while attaining a fervent fanbase through their discography to date. Their latest self-titled album may contain the first work of a major lineup shift (only vocalist Cammie Gilbert and drummer/pianist Dobber Beverly remain from 2018’s The Banished Heart), but there’s an obvious teamwork aspect to this material that takes the band to new heights of emotional resonance and connectiveness. The diverse and dynamic traits song to song provide comfort and strength from initial exposure onto each subsequent listen – almost giving that proverbial weighted blanket or virtual hug necessary to get through challenges or struggles in one’s life.
During the midst of another rollback in Texas to safety measure for coronavirus as positive numbers spiked when trying to open up again, we spoke with Cammie about the reasons behind the recent lineup changes for Oceans of Slumber. We also tackle the relationship she has with drummer Dobber on a musical/personal level, her poignant thoughts on specific fan interactions with material that she has written and connected with, plus solid, thoughtful discussion on the virus and racial tension currently taking ahold of America and possible solutions to consider.
Dead Rhetoric: In between albums, you’ve had some significant lineup changes to arrive at what is now Oceans of Slumber in 2020. Why did these member shifts occur, and what do you think the newest members bring to the table that changes or impacts the sound and output of the band?
Cammie Gilbert: There are a lot of different things that led to the other band members exiting the band. Touring is hard, and there were some shifts with being satisfied with the direction of the band, and incorporating my voice in the band, that the other members decided to just step away and go on with their lives and personal pursuits. It’s fine, it is what it is. It’s hard to be a modern band in today’s music industry. We decided, Dobber and I, that we are striving to maintain a new album and a new sound. We want to continue on with the effort that we have put in with the band, and opened up to different people who have this mutual love for this dark, progressive doom. The new guys, Zan (Alexander), Semir, and Jesse bring such a passion and excitement to the direction that the band wants to go in – the confidence and the sound we have now, they’ve brought a consistency to our influences and our temperament. They have fallen in so well to what Dob and I envisioned and wanted for the band. It’s been phenomenal having them on board and astounding, their sound – they have a unique darkness to them that adds a unique dynamic to these songs.
Dead Rhetoric: Your latest self-titled album will be the fourth full-length for the group. Often musicians refer to their discography as their babies or children considering the amount of effort that takes place from initial conception to final product. Where do you see the evolution of the band for this record in comparison to your previous discography?
Gilbert: I feel we came into this with different ideas, and more concepts and influences to take into account to make things work. With the new album, we’ve steadied on a specific kind of approach. We’ve taken the portions of the albums we’ve previously liked the most, and woven them together to feature this grander, atmospheric, bombastic approach to what our sound can deliver.
Dead Rhetoric: When it comes to the lyrics, your vocals, and the delivery – how do you interpret and achieve the right atmosphere and emotion, as I’d imagine it’s not an easy process sometimes to reach the best performances on first or second takes? And what do you want the listeners to get through the subject matter this time around?
Gilbert: When it comes to delivery, I don’t think much on what I’m doing. It’s more of an experience, and what is coming out is coming out. What I’m literally trying to record, I let the song fully take me there and dive into that experience. I feed my head with the song, the little mini-movie that plays out against the lyrics I’ve created, I let it come out as raw and unfiltered as it wants to.
What I hope people get from this is a feeling of solidarity and these feelings of catharsis and validation to some of these things that they are feeling, negative emotions that they are having. Music is this visual experience where you can kind of feel these things without doing them, or get lost in them. I want the message of these songs and the feelings of these songs to be a safe place where you can experience the darker side but in a healthy and acceptable way to get these feelings out.
Dead Rhetoric: What can you tell us about the cover art this time around? Is it a process that you work with the artist to give them ideas, or do you give them the songs and let them create on their own?
Gilbert: We enjoy giving them the songs and letting them have creative freedom. If we like their art it’s the reason why we sought them out, that’s their interpretation and not been what they’ve been told to draw. Giannis Nakos has been our friend for a while, he’s done some shirts for us in the past so we were eager to have him fully unleash himself on a cover. We sent him the album with no direction or vibes and asked him to create, and this is what we got and it was perfect. It shows that album is conveying what we wanted it to, the first test for the album art, when you get it back it should capture some of the vibes. It’s fully open to the interpretation of how people see it, and how people feel it manifests or represents the album. We all have our own thoughts, the colors and everything about it feels so right for the album.
Dead Rhetoric: And what was it like working with Dan Swanö to make the final record that much more special?
Gilbert: He did an incredible job, he’s an incredible artist himself. He and Dobber have been friends for a while. He was eager to have him put the finishing touches on this, his ear for the atmosphere and aesthetic and balancing out all the intricacies and elements that we put forth. It’s a matter of trust for the final mastering, and he did an above and beyond wonderful job to giving us that gloss and finish to the material.
Dead Rhetoric: Considering the versatility of your progressive metal style, which incorporates numerous outside the box influences, do you believe there are certain core elements that define what Oceans of Slumber is all about song to song?
Gilbert: I’d say first and foremost, the emotions behind the songs. Its less to do with the genres or elements within that song, and more about conveying a specific experience and a specific atmosphere around each song and the album as a whole. I have to give it titles and constraints, we enjoy a lot of black metal, the abrasiveness and harshness of death metal, and the drumming and guitar styles. Harsh vocals will also have a place on our albums, as well as the soulful-esque and melodic structures that I bring. It’s the foundation of where I learned to sing and how my voice comes out, sad clean singing. Those are the fundamental parts that you’ll experience in any song that comes about from us.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the major differences between the studio and the stage for the band? Do you get greater connection and engagement from one aspect versus the other, especially considering your natural personality traits as an introvert?
Gilbert: Absolutely. The studio is like going to the doctor and telling you that everything is wrong. You are under the microscope, it’s so surgical and exact, there’s a precision to what you are doing that it can be quantified and contained within the album. What’s wonderful about live is you can get it wrong, you can mess it up, you can change it every night if you want and it’s spectacular. You get that feedback and maybe you go harder on one section, the whole body is brought into the song when you are performing it. You get to see right away the effect that it has on people – obviously if they are into it, they are giving something back then. Everybody there becomes a part of the song, and that’s a wonderful service to the song. There is so much more from a live performance. There is a therapy too, because you are taking a song that was a mixture of pieces and it helps you get it out there.
That’s why I enjoy the performance side of it, but just singularly being on stage, there’s something about the expanding nature of a song that can be a lot to take on. I feel most confident on stage, even though it’s not because I’m the best at being on stage. I feel like I can do no wrong because there is no perfect way to do it. It’s my band and my songs, and my interpretation and presentation of that, no one can do it differently. There are fewer restrictions or pressure put on me, it’s the opposite than the studio. They want to see the song and experience the song, and I’m doing just that. I feel so much more self-aware and anxious off stage – who I am becomes all these other things. I’m a daughter, I’m a spouse, a mother-figure, but on stage I get to be a singular, one-mode person and feels a lot easier than the rest of life.
Dead Rhetoric: Have there been any specific fan interaction stories related to songs that you’ve created that have touched you over the years?
Gilbert: Absolutely. Specifically for “No Color, No Light” off The Banished Heart album. That album will end up being I think very different from the rest of our discography moving forward and its predecessors, it was such an emotional purging. Anybody that identified with that album was coming from a pretty hard emotional place. That when they were coming up to talk about the connection with the song, it was so much weight and so much vulnerability that was being shared from them. I felt like I had shared that vulnerability too within the song, and hearing people sharing their grief or losing someone, almost always I would be in tears. Sometimes people would hear the beginning little notes, tears would start and I was wondering if they were crying first or if I was crying first. Or if I made them sad or if they were already sad.
It’s a very intense experience and it’s one that I don’t take lightly. I remember the touring and these moments, a lot of time people want to share in the good moments and everyone wants to talk about being happy. When you have the grief, people leave much quicker and they live you alone in it much quicker. Sometimes the songs are all you have to not feel so alone in these moments. If my songs can provide that, a different hug in real life, you get to be wrapped up in that moment again from the stage, it’s validation for this point you are at to help you get through it. It’s been real impacting.
From the new album there are new songs like “To the Sea” and “The Colors of Grace”, I think they are going to resonate with people that are in these more vulnerable moments. Now knowing from “No Color, No Light” what that means and what that entails, it prepares you to be there and accept these exchanges. I’m mentally prepared better. The first tour performing “No Color, No Light” was full on devastating. I ended up cutting the song some nights because I couldn’t take on feeling that emotional, it’s hard to sing and cry at the same time. We left it off some nights because of how much weight I felt from singing it, a handful of nights we played it last because I would cry and going into another song, it doesn’t feel good. I’d leave the stage and have to compose myself for a good five to ten minutes, sometimes more. Between the hardships of touring, it’s mentally challenging, and physically challenging. It wasn’t putting me in a healthy spot. Now with that understanding, I look at it differently and I’m better prepared to handle these exchanges among people.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve chosen many intriguing cover songs over the years from Emperor to Pink Floyd, Candlemass to the Moody Blues among others – both inside the metal genre and outside of it as well. What have been some of your favorites that you’ve tackled, and do you ever receive any feedback from the original artists of how they feel about your interpretations?
Gilbert: We did hear back from Candlemass, their drummer – it wasn’t the singer. The drummer reached out and said it was cool, but I think that was the only one. We’ve chosen some covers with bands that now either don’t exist or those people aren’t around anymore. The one that made it on the new album –
“Wolf Moon” is one my favorite Type O Negative songs. I think it’s so diabolical that we got to do it as a band. I thoroughly like it. “Strange Fruit” is a very unique cover to us. I don’t think we would ever try to perform that live, it would be heart-wrenching. It’s such a historically impactful song, and it holds so much importance to me as I grew up hearing it, we covered it and put it out in such a way that it means a lot to me, to Dobber, and to the band.
I enjoy all the covers that we do. When a new one is presented, I most likely know the song but I really like to do a deep dive on where the artist was when they wrote it, and the things surrounding it. Find as many live performances of it as I can, and really see how they felt it. See where in myself I feel it, and give it my own take and adaptation. It’s always a fun challenge to undertake doing a cover.
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