Ok, it’s a gloomy wet Thursday here in Auckland and I’m talking to Mitch Galbraith, guitarist for Sydney based retro-cruise rockers Ocean Alley, who release their third album today. A bit sunnier in Sydney, but no surf. These boys were born to surf, living on the northern beaches. Born to survive Covid, as socially distancing comes natural to a surfer. Lock down has been ok for the guys in the band, three of whom live in Sydney, the other three in Byron Bay. And they live together, which is confusing, but it means three of them live together in Sydney, and the other three……yeah, you get it now. So, they have been able to play together and occasionally also together as a whole band over the net. Threesomes and sixsomes.
Ocean Alley was born ten or so years ago, in a back shed, very garage style. All mates, surfing and playing music and sometimes going to school or working. How cool is that? And learning to write music together, as a team, and slowly emerging from the garage to something bigger. Things started to move for them several years later with the release of Yellow Mellow, still a crowd favourite, a psych-reggae piece with Baden Donegal doing a very good Marley. Two albums have followed, so the dreaded sophomore is behind them.
Ocean Alley is Baden Donegal, vocals, guitar, Angus Goodwin, lead guitar, Lachlan Galbraith, keyboards, vocals, Mitch Galbraith, rhythm guitar, Nic Blom, bass and Tom O'Brien, drums. Another three-guitar line-up. Seems to be a trend.
Got the hang of it now?
Well, sort of. We know a lot, but we also know we have a lot to learn……….( why is it that these young Aussie bands are so damn modest? And gracious? Where are the firebrands? The Barnestormers, the Hutches…?) And that’s the challenge, to know they still have a lot to learn about this world and stay motivated to chase it. Refreshing, honest, humble.
So the new album is out tomorrow, how long has it taken?
Diamond Alley is the band’s third album, and it’s taken all of the two years since the last album Chiaroscuro. But this time they have been able to write, record, go touring in 2019, and come back to their work, revising and at times rewriting. Recording over five, week-long blocks during two years. So, the approach is more methodical, iterative, and thus Mitch feels it’s their best work yet. Well he would, wouldn’t he.
The songs are written very much as an exercise in democracy (oh the idealism of youth), with ideas emerging from individual or duo tinkering and put forward to the team in a workshop style. The idea is to make music which is cool to them. Workshop, playbook, iteration, method…these guys have been to business school…..
But they’ve also lasted over ten years, which is more than most bands, so I ask, tongue in cheek, whether they have ever broken up, or almost broken up?
Sure, they’ve had their fights and disagreements, but they are open and honest with each other and work things through. The issue of money, which J J Burnel ( Stranglers) tells me is the main reason bands break up, has never been allowed to feature. They were never in it for the money, and for most of their ten years they never had any, and what they did have went into the kitty. Which draws me back to the record company blurb about the guys’ interest in mental health and their support for local mental health charitable groups and how they have naturally developed a group therapy approach amongst themselves especially during the rigours and disruption of touring. And that must be a difference, generationally speaking, in today’s more open and transparent world. Because what JJ Burnel omits to mention is the other reason, the narcissism which comes from drug and alcohol abuse which was also a major factor in bands breaking up back in the day. Subconsciously if not explicitly, they have arrived at an interdependence which has emerged from mutual appreciation of the sacrifices it takes to be committed to music.
Tell us about your influences, both in terms of the subject matter and the musical influences.
Here we go again. Listen to your parents. 60s and 70s. Black Sabbath and Dire Straits. Bee Gees and Fleetwood Mac. Eric Clapton. Just a melting pot of ideas. What goes through my mind is both the fact that I belong to the lucky generation who grew up listening to all these guys, but also the fact that as a parent myself, I and most of the baby boomers, have influenced a new generation which is why we get to hear all this new music with rich and magical links to the past. Oh, bliss! From Ocean Alley’s perspective, they don’t deliberately pick an influence, they allow the influences to subliminally reflect the values which are embedded in all the influences of their childhoods and youth. How lucky we are….
Now I put the younger man to the test: the guitar work on the last track, Luna, reminds me of Danny Kirwan (but I guess it’s Angus at work there). Hmmmm, I’ve got him there. But I thought you liked Fleetwood Mac? Yes, he’s a big fan of Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks (I cringe). But it’s Angus and Nick who know the 'real' Fleetwood Mac of Peter Green, Jeremy Spencer and Danny Kirwan. I’m giving something back. Mitch, you have to get to know Kiln House from 1970, my favourite Mac album which is mainly Danny Kirwans work, and a little rockabilly from Jeremy Spencer. It’s really evident on Luna, which Mitch tells me is the last song they wrote, with the idea of finishing the intro idea with an outro. Well, more than that. I reckon some of Danny Kirwan’s ashes have sprinkled on Angus and left an indelible footprint on the sound. Intimations of immortality. There’s hope for us all. (Peter Green is still alive, so maybe he’s getting through some other ocean alley)
My final question is where do you think you will be, as a band, in ten years?
Easy, no hesitation, still doing what they are doing today. Still making music for people to like.
And do we like? We certainly do…..
The album opens with Dahlia, a funky two-minute instrumental which sets a scene of promise to come. Tombstone demonstrates their essential cruisy, moody, psych rock style, with vocals slightly fuzzy and back of house. “landed on the right stone, at the wrong time”
Way Down bursts forth like a Wishbone Ash ( check them out Matt), but then they get into their rhythm and it’s wonderfully retro to an aged individual like me, and I can sense the Fleetwood Mac influence, but, which one? Pre or post Buckingham? Watch this space….. Infinity starts with another Wishbony/Buckingham intro and funks it up until it suddenly stops. Which infinity isn’t meant to do.
The album now slows down a touch as Baden’s voice goes up a notch into Up in There, up there in dreamy psych land, poppy as well, and comes down once it’s All Worn Out. A little horn section comes out of the ether.
Back into cruise mode looking through Stained Glass, “that’s why you shouldn’t take drugs” proves my earlier point.
The title track echoes of the Little River Band. Lonely Diamond, another song which has been polished up in the process of recording which Matt has described earlier. But this diamond shouldn’t be lonely, there’s a host of them on this record.
The songs flow. It’s a day at the beach, breeze blowing, laid back summer afternoon. Every day. Wet Dreams must be about sleeping on the beach in the rain. What else could it be? Hot Chicken revs things up, like the other ocean, Ocean Colour Scene, another obviously not so obviously subliminal influence. Another school day for Matt.
And then it happens, twice. Along comes Peter Green and Danny Kirwan, channeling through Angus as he intros into Puesta de Sol. And then we are done, as the outro, Luna, completes a stunning set of songs. And maybe I’m wrong, there’s more Peter than Danny, as I dive deeper down an ocean alley and rest in my case.
Ocean Alley’s third album, Lonely Diamond is out now. Don’t keep it lonely. Buy it for company.
And, breaking news, it will be accompanied by a 12-track visualiser set to premiere this Sunday on YouTube (9pm NZST) with the band jumping online for a live chat.