author PP date 01/11/07

After some initial set up difficulties and over a two hour wait, I finally managed to get everything sorted to interview Mike Vennart, the vocalist and frontman of British experimental rock band Oceansize. After the casual introductions from his and my side, he apologised for the inconvenience and told me that they tend to improvise a lot when it comes to doing press on tour. For example, the original time that I had agreed with the Danish promotional agency wasn't suitable for Vennart, as he apparently must eat exactly three hours before playing a show in order to sing properly. And he wanted to see Brett Anderson from Suede, who were playing at Store Vega just a few hours before Oceansize were scheduled to play at Lille Vega. Mike's quite an interesting character to meet. For a mainland European, he seems like an atypical Brit that we get to see in so many TV shows, the snobby, arrogant one with a very 'proper' accent. But despite the appearance (which he also upheld during their liveshow, by the way), he was fairly open about a lot of topics, slagging off The Mars Volta, NME and Kerrang! in the process.

RF.net: Hi and thanks for doing this interview with us. First off, how are things in Oceansize?
Mike: Real good. Just had a really nice meal. Some of us man burgers, as opposed to women burgers. I had a wok, literally a fucking wok, they bring you a wok to eat out of, full of beef, and it was brilliant. And the music is going fine, yeah.

RF.net: How's the tour going - you are just starting about now aren't you?
Mike: No no, this is our third European day, it's been great. We're doing a country every day. So far we've had Holland, Germany, and of course Denmark. This is our first ever show in Denmark, so we are pretty stoked.

RF.net: Any expectations?

Mike: Yeah! Well we got friends who are in a band called Amplifier. Do you know Amplifier?

RF.net Of course.

Mike: They always tell us that it's fucking good down here. Plus I just got to see Brett Anderson [Suede] for free as welland I like Brett Anderson, I think he is really fucking cool

RF.net: Back home you play to slightly larger audiences compared to this place as far as I know...?
Mike: Not really.

RF.net: No? Well, at least people are more familiar with your material, I would imagine, because you are more established over there and you haven't had that many records released over here yet. How does that kind of filter through to you as a band?

Mike: Umm, I wouldn't necessarily agree. We haven't played in Copenhagen obviously, but we've played all over Europe, and we've played pretty much the same size audiences as we do in the UK. It always used to be different in Europe, it'd always be a lot bigger crowd than in the UK, but now it's just balanced out, but we still prefer playing in Europe definitely.

RF.net: How come?

Mike: Well, you get treated better. You get better food, better beer and all that kind of stuff. Often there's even an ironing board, that really helps me. [PP points behind him at an ironing board] - exactly! There's no washing machine though, that's been bothering me all day really.

RF.net: You've just released a new album called "Frames" - can you tell me a bit about how you feel about the album?
Mike: It's probably the best thing I've ever done. But I suppose that's an easy thing for me to say. It's our first album for general label Superball. It's our first album with our new guy Steven Hodson on the bass. We feel pretty fresh, we feel pretty rejuvenated. Because, you know, it's hard to summon the enthusiasm when you've just lost a bass player and just lost a record deal, or rather when you've just binned your record company. So we feel pretty lucky. Good times.

RF.net: The album cover for "Frames" - it's all red. Is there some kind of theme you guys are trying to convey through it that you could elaborate a bit on?
Mike: Nahh [laughs].

RF.net: No? It's just red? It's not just your version of the Black Album, just in red?

Mike: I just think red is a very fiery color. It's very aggressive, but it's not morbid. I think that white has a purity to it, black has a death vibe. I think red is just soft. It can mean lots of different things. It can be angry or it can be sort of celebratory. I don't know. It's very old, anyway. I think that we just wanted a plain cover this time, we were just sort of sick of trying to find different fucking monsters and things like that, it's just like "God, pick a color!"

RF.net: So if you compare "Frames" to "Effloresce" and "Everyone Into Position" - how would you describe your artistic progression?
Mike: I think we're still the same band. We still sound the same. It's just that we've actually become a lot more accomplished at what we actually set out to do. I think that you can hear.. the first album is kind of like a "Greatest Hits" of all the songs that we'd been playing up until that point. The second album was written from scratch, there were no leftover songs. We sort of experimented in a more sort of radio-friendly, I don't use the word pop because we couldn't be pop even if we fucking tried, but I'd say "Everyone Into Position" is the most melodic album that we've done, and I dare say it's the most melodic thing that we will ever do. I can't imagine that we will return to some of those attempts of a four or five minute single. This one is just a delibarate headfuck. It's supposed to annoy you, it's supposed to get on your nerves, it's supposed keep you waiting, it's supposed to challange you. And you're not supposed to like it at first. But I think that our fans tend to get the record, this even happened on the first album, you know, there was all this anticipation for it, then they get it, and they don't like it because they think they will love it immediately. Then sure enough, it might take two months, or it might take a year, and then they decide it's the best thing we've ever done. It happens every time so I try not to worry about people's initial reactions. That's why when we were writing this record I didn't really think, nobody really thought about anybody's reaction to it except for our reaction, and I think that's made it a stronger record because we've care free about it.

RF.net: So, you've just released it two weeks ago, and you say it might take two months or one year. Does that affect you as a band playing those new songs live, with people who might not prefer those as much as the old ones?

Mike: Yeah well.. I mean.. the kind of stuff we write.. it's so complicated. Something grates at you, and you think, for example lets take a song like "Only Twin", the way that that song starts, and then you've got piano, and then vocals start, and you think you know how the song's gonna go, and then the drums come on and completely turn the song on its ass. And I think the fact that the song doesn't go the way that your brain expects it to go, I think that's just a classic example of us just pissing people off, because it's not what they know. I don't know what I'm talking about. But I think that it just flaunts tradition, really. People don't like it because they're not used to it.

RF.net: For me, much of "Frames" record is a feeling or atmosphere based. So I'm curious to hear, what are some of your favorite passages or moments on the album and why?
Mike: There's the middle late of "Only Twin", from about half way through to the end. I think that just travels beautifully. It changes tack, but yet it's the same sort of progression. On "Savant", passages that are in the song.. I just think that they're some of the most interesting things that we've done. They're actually very complicated but they don't sound complicated. I don't want us to make flashy music for people to rub themselves to in their bedrooms, you know, it's meant to be from the heart, and it's meant to hit you in the heart. I think it's the most soulful album we've done.

RF.net: So when you play those songs live, what actually goes through your mind?

Mike: Umm.. "Are you singing in tune?", "Is that guy looking at you funny?", "Is his guitar still in tune?", just shit like that. Sometimes I'm a bit caught in it, and I remember at Manchester when we played, I was too busy thinking about what the songs actually mean and that's a terrible thing to do. It's hard, if you start thinking about what certain things, where they came from, it just fucks with you and you can't sing it properly. It's really annoying.

RF.net: So you just said some of the structures and arrangements are very complicated. So how does an Oceansize song, let alone an album, come together?
Mike: We just literally plug in and start playing and press record. We record absolutely every rehearsal that we do. All we do is jam all day.

RF.net: Like improvisation or what?

Mike: It's total improvised. Somebody will come in with the bare bones of a riff that they've maybe not even finished writing, and we'll take that, and jam on that for maybe twenty minutes, and out of that twenty minutes there will maybe be four or five variations of this unfinished riff. So you just store all this stuff, just log it, and put it away. You do that for about three months, every day for three months. You'll probably have about forty different ideas. From those forty different ideas you start stockpiling songs. It's not rocket science, we just sort of glue things together, and hope that they'll work.

RF.net: So have you ever thought about doing that jamming thing live, if you've ever seen The Mars Volta do it, they sometimes change their songs completely?

Mike: Yeah, that's exactly why we don't do it, because The Mars Volta are just fucking terrible. I don't know, it's not the 70s anymore if you know what I mean. There's no time for watching someone play a drum solo or a fucking slap bass solo. Put that guitar down and get out!

RF.net: In the beginning of the album, you've got a lot of these really melodic tracks with a little bit more going on. And half-way on, except for that one track where you have a little bit of screaming - after that it becomes a little bit slower and a bit more silent. Did you write those songs in order, are they in purpose or?
Mike: I think the first riff we wrote was actually "Sleeping Dogs and Dead Lions". And you always think, "Man lets make this album heavy", and then you just write whatever you fucking like the sound of. You can't write to a blueprint. You can't write to order, you can't say that this record has got to be like this. The only thing we said was lets make something really dark. And everyone has got a different idea of what really dark is. And we said we would make sure that there are no singles. Lets just not bother writing any fucking verse chorus verse chorus sort of tunes because we're just not into it at the moment. And that was it, that's what happened. If you plan, you're going to fuck it up. We're a band that's inherently organic. We can't plan anything because everybody's got say. If you're gonna come in and say the album should be like this, chances are that everybody's gonna tell you to fuck off. So it's pretty weird.

RF.net: Do you have some kind of inspirations or influences you could mention, and how they have affected you?
Mike: Yeah, I mean we've all got different things. I still bore everybody by making them listen to The Cardiacs, they're my favorite band. Gambler's really into [indeciphrabable], Steven's really into Cursive. Steve Durose is really into The Shins. Everyone listens to completely different things. Mark really likes the more sort of harder edged, maybe metally sort of thing, but also the sort of post-hardcore vibe.

RF.net: A lot of those are very different I think compared to the sound that you guys have. So they don't actually directly influence you?

Mike: Yeah, I can't say that that's everybody's favorite band. But that's who we are all kind of listening to at the moment. And something to be celebrated is the fact that we don't all like the music.

RF.net: I've read that you guys are very close to a rather similar UK act called Amplifier - you are referring to each other as 'brothers in amps'? What does that mean?
Mike: Well, there's a British phrase called "Brothers In Arms", so we say "Brothers in Amps".

RF.net: So how come you came to have this very close relationship that the phrase implies?

Mike: It's quite strange. As we were forming our band in Manchester, they were forming their band. I don't quite remember how we met, but we played them one of our rehearsal tapes, and they were like "this sounds like our fucking band". And we'd never heard of them, and they'd never heard of us. And we just became really friendly after that. They're really good guys. We don't really feel affinity with many bands, you know, you feel that you got something that you got something in common, or you could play together a lot. And we just like hanging out, they're just around the corner from us now, so we see a lot more of them.

RF.net: I have a question about this tour specifically. You were listed as having Hopesfall as your support, but they're not here. What happened with that?
Mike: I honestly don't know. They were coming, and then five days before the tour, they pulled out. I think that it was probably a financial issue. Getting them from America. It might also have something to do with the fact that there's five people in the band, and four people left, and they got four new guys in. Apparently, that's the second time it's happened to Hopesfall. The original guy, who was in the last lineup, wasn't in the lineup before that. So now they're going out and playing all these songs that nobody in the band has written. It's more Spinal Tap than it's possible to be, I'm sure!

RF.net: What are some of the goals that you have set as a band - where would you like to be in three years time?
Mike: Oh I don't know about that. I mean, I got asked very recently, because we've been going nine years now. Somebody was like "Did you imagine nine years ago, what did you think you would be doing, are you disappointed? And I was like, "Well, not if you think about it. I imagined that we'd made a bunch of albums and we would've toured all around the world", and that's exactly what we do.

RF.net: From the UK, we see these kind of bands coming out like Lostprophets or Bullet For My Valentine who released like one record, and BOOM, they're all over the place. Do you ever feel the frustration that you guys...

Mike: They'll go down even quicker than they went up. And I tend not to listen to them. Those kind of bands are the product of a major label mentality that's fueled by a fucking gaping hungry media. The magazines in the UK are the most corrupt in the world. You can buy yourself a front page cover. So really it's money that runs the mainstream music. Which is obvious. It's something that used to really get me down, but I've grew up quite a lot and I couldn't give a fuck anymore because, you know, it's not gonna do a band like us anything getting into the fucking NME, because everyone that reads the NME is a fucking asshole. You've got to be an idiot if you wanna read the New Musical Express, you don't give a fuck about music. You care about shoes and fucking haircuts, and what fit jeans to wear.

RF.net: I think it even applies here, I mean they release all the Kerrang, Metal Hammer and everything over here, imported.

Mike: It's terrible. It's got worse, as well. Do you know what they do now? Kerrang! started doing this, I don't wanna slack Kerrang! off because they're always very nice to us. But the NME, when you get your album reviewed, and the reviewer gives it whatever mark out of 10 he wants to give it. The editor then reserves the right to downgrade that album depending on what his tastes are. So for example, our album got a 9, because we know the guy who wrote the review, and the Editor has obviously just decided that "Well, I don't really like Oceansize, I'm not gonna bother listening to this fucking record. It says Oceansize on the front, it's probably worth just a 7." So that's what we got. But you read the review and it makes us sound like one of the best fucking bands in the entire world.

RF.net: And Kerrang! are doing this as well?

Mike: I believe so. In order to give an album five stars, you have to ask permission.

RF.net: I've noticed that. For example if your name is Funeral For A Friend, you get five stars for everything you release in Kerrang.

Mike: It's a fucking blow job. It absolutely... I can't let it annoy me anymore. But one day, I'm gonna meet the editor of the New Musical Express, and he doesn't realize this, but one day, we are gonna meet, and he's got to answer my fucking questions.

RF.net: What's the story behind the name of your guitarist / other vocalist Gambler?
Mike: Yeah it's his real name. You don't know the Gamblers in English names?

RF.net: Well I looked around the promo material, and nothing where I looked listed his first name so I thought maybe it might have been an Alias or something!

Mike: [laughs]

RF.net: Thanks for the interview - any last words for the fans before we wrap up?
Mike: Buy our fucking record, please!

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