Written By: Alex-Fi
What do you get when you throw former and current members of Cynic, Exivious, and Dodecahedron all together in a room to record music? If you said something like quasi-jazz infused blackened death fuckery, you’d be absolutely…wrong. Completely. Like, not even close. What you do get instead is some of the loveliest sounding prog rock you’ll hear all year. Who knew? The project is officially called Our Oceans, and is the brainchild of Tymon Kruidenier, ex-Cynic and currently one of Exivious‘ lead guitarists. He checked in with us to discuss the project, how it all came about, and why going dynamic played a big role in producing their self-titled debut.
MFi: So for those not familiar with the project, can you give us some background on how Our Oceans got started and why you decided to crowdsource it?
Tymon: This project was something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I’ve always loved singer/songwriter music and Our Oceans is basically our somewhat proggy and abstract version of that. As far as crowd-funding goes; we all love the concept behind it. It opens up a more direct and equal relationship between the listener and the artist. Also, we had a very successful crowd-funding campaign with our other band Exivious two years ago. So it just made sense!
MFi: One might get the impression from the project’s name that you are trying to save our planet’s most valuable natural resource; however, after listening to the debut, I would say the band’s name refers to our own personal “oceans of emotions” that we all have on a daily basis. Can you tell us how the project’s name came about and the true meaning behind it?
Tymon: Haha yeah, we’re hippies, but not that badly. Like you concluded, it has more to do with the emotional side of things. It doesn’t have a very specific meaning though, I like the fact that it’s open to interpretation. For me personally, I like to look at the ‘Our” part as a reference to everyone and everything, while the ‘Oceans’ part would refer to depth and life. The two words on their own are very generic, obviously, but together they form quite an elegant bond.
MFi: This record has a much different vibe to it compared to all the band members’ previous projects, which include Cynic, Exivious, and Dodecahedron to name just a few. What motivated all of you to move away from your extreme metal roots, and did it come natural or did you have to constantly fight off Jasper (Dodecahedron) from trying to incorporate a blast beat fill here and there?
Tymon: Imagine that, Our Oceans with blast beats! You know, I understand that it might be odd from an outsider’s perspective. But we honestly don’t really look at it as “moving away” from something. We all have a very broad taste in music, from introspective singer/songwriter music to the most obscure metal. We love it all! And even though we do have our roots in metal, we do feel equally at home in other genres.
MFi: Where was Our Oceans recorded and how long did the album take to produce from start to finish?
Tymon: Everything was recorded in The Netherlands. We started by recording the drums at a local studio. Gear wise they didn’t have anything special, but the acoustics of the room were fantastic! So some engineering buddies of ours put all of our gear together and just recorded the drums that way. The rest of the instruments were recorded at my own little studio. The entire process took about a year. Longer if you take into account the composing of the songs.
MFi: Given that the record took so long to write and record, did you encounter any technical challenges in the process?
Tymon: No, technically it was a pretty smooth ride. The reason it took so long was because I took over the vocal duties half way the recording process. We actually started the band with a female singer and she recorded vocals for about half of the album before we realized it wasn’t going to work out with her. So at that point we did a full reset for the vocals and started from scratch.
MFi: Your self-titled debut is also produced a lot differently compared to the Exivious records. Is that because it’s not a metal record in the traditional sense, or was this a calculated decision from the project’s onset?
Tymon: I guess that’s a natural consequence of doing a different style of music. The production should serve the music, that’s what it’s all about to me. It also really depends what you define as “production” of course, there are many different perspectives on that. Many people seem to refer to it as only a mix thing, but I think it’s much bigger than that. To me, it’s the vision and realization of that vision of how something should sound. I can talk about it for hours! But I’ll quickly point out some key elements of this production, to illustrate what I’m talking about. The kick and snare are tuned much lower than I would go for with Exivious. It doesn’t need that up tempo, energetic ping, it’s much more about a dark and textured vibe. The guitars for Exivious are quite bright and almost sterile, whereas the guitars on Our Oceans are 95% Fender Telecasters, which produce a very characteristic, twangy sound. It gives those “sweet” singer/songwriter parts a bit more “bite” and “dirt,” for some much needed contrast. The bass sound, curious enough, is very much the same for Exivious and Our Oceans. It’s mixed a little differently, but production wise I’d call it the same vibe. It simply works for both production styles.
MFi: Would you say though that maintaining a high-level of dynamics was part of articulating your overall sonic vision?
Tymon: Definitely, I’m glad you picked up on that. I actually took it a bit further than I’ve ever done before, especially when it comes to mastering. I’ve never been a fan of these brick-walled, clipping, ‘Loudness War’ masters. So I always master at lower levels than you usually hear in the pop and metal world, to retain more dynamic range. For Our Oceans however, I decided to take it a step further and basically do a vinyl like master. Especially with the onset of loudness normalization by the likes of Spotify, there really isn’t a good reason for these super loud masters anymore.
MFi: You mention in one Facebook video update that each track on this album has its own unique mix. Can you give us more details on how that came about?
Tymon: Yeah that’s something I’ve wanted to try for a number of years now. In the rock and metal world it’s such an established rule that you have a global production/mix for an entire album and tweak certain details per song. But in the pop world, that’s completely different. A lot of times, all the different songs on an album are mixed by different engineers, recorded at different places, written by different writers, and so on. With Our Oceans, I knew that the songs were quite different from each other, so I wanted to try a similar approach to the pop production thing. We used different drum tunings per song, different cymbals, different mic positions, completely different guitar sounds, different guitars, different effects – all to give each song a specific vibe and a life of their own. So this inevitably means that they also have to be mixed as their own unique thing. It’s a lot of work, but worth it for this style of music.
MFi: Yet the album still sounds cohesive overall. I assume that was still your ultimate intention, right?
Tymon: That was the biggest challenge, for sure. Especially because I didn’t allow myself to ‘copy/paste’ settings from one song’s mix to another song’s mix. I wanted to make sure I made all mixing decisions with my ears and creative instincts, instead of just using a certain tricks and effect chains on a track because it worked in another song. In retrospect, I do hear some inconsistencies here and there, but when they occur, I believe they serve the song. Or maybe that’s just what I tell myself in order not to go crazy over it haha.
MFi: Speaking of which, can you give us a sense of what kind of toolchain you used to process these tracks? You mentioned earlier that you wanted to achieve “vinyl like” sound with this record, but I believe most of it was recorded and processed digitally, right?
Tymon: That’s right, I’m an “In The Box” guy, as they call it. I do love working with analog gear and for the last Exivious album I did actually use a ton of great gear on the drums. But I believe plugins got so incredibly accurate in the last couple of years, that it’s really not about digital vs analog or fake vs real anymore. They’re all tools that can sound great when used properly. I specifically love Slate Digital’s plugins, they’re this company that specialized in making very accurate simulations of analog gear. Great stuff!
Gear wise, I used RME interfaces to record everything, from drums to vocals. For drums I also used a bunch of different preamps and lots of different mics. Guitar wise, almost everything was recorded with the Fractal Axe-FX II, also a digital modeling device, but also incredibly accurate and great at what it does. Vocals were recorded with a Shure SM-7 going straight into the preamp of my RME UFX. Simple. Everything is recorded straight into Cockos Reaper, DAW software that I use for tracking, editing, mixing and mastering.
MFi: Switching back to the music itself, it seems that though Our Oceans may not be a concept album in the truest sense, there is still a lot sonic continuity between tracks. So though I feel a perspective listener could start anywhere on this record and enjoy it, it seems to resonate with me more if I play it in the order in which you’ve laid out the tracks. Was that your goal? And is there an actual story this record is trying to convey?
Tymon: My personal goal when writing music is always to make it a very honest and pure reflection of who I am. In the end, that’s why I write music, it’s a means of self expression. But for an instrumental band like Exivious, that plays pretty complex and at times, heavy music, that reflection can be really abstract. Our Oceans was a chance for me to really show who I am inside, in a more direct and pure fashion. I’ve always loved singer/songwriter music, and Our Oceans is kind of my take on that genre. So I wouldn’t say there was a concept behind this album, other than showing a very vulnerable and real side of ourselves.
MFi: Do you guys plan to do a vinyl release?
Tymon: Nothing planned yet, but if there seems to be a demand for it, we’ll consider it.
MFi: Finally, why do you think this record might appeal to a hardcore metal fan other than the band member’s pedigree?
Tymon: Actually, to be honest, I didn’t think this album would appeal to metal fans at all. But so far, the response has been really good! I guess the metal scene is getting more and more diverse and metal heads are getting more and more open-minded, musically speaking. It’s funny, I don’t think any of us in the band ever really think about genres, we just make the music we like to make. It’s after you recorded an album like this that you’re thinking to yourself: “Oh fuck, we have to sell this album if we want to be able to pay the bills… so how are we going to do that? Who would actually listen to this kind of music?” And then you find out there’s a niche for it somewhere and everything turns out OK! :-)
I would like to thank Tymon for his time. Our Oceans have since officially released their self-titled debut which can be purchased directly from the band’s official webstore or via Bandcamp. Definitely, check it out.