Back in the states for their second headlining tour of North America, Sydney, Australia’s Ocean Alley are still riding high from a massive 2018. Last year, their second and latest album Chiaroscuro debuted at No. 15 on the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) albums chart, and their song “Confidence” off that record came in at No. 1 on Triple J’s Hottest 100. Consisting of vocalist Baden Donegal, guitarist Angus Goodwin, bassist Nic Blom, keyboardist Lach Galbraith, guitarist Mitch Galbraith and drummer Tom O’Brien, the psychedelic six-piece has not stopped since then. And with two new singles “Stained Glass” and “Infinity” out now, Ocean Alley are charging ahead and looking towards a bright future.
I was lucky enough to chat with brothers and band members Lach Galbraith and Mitch Galbraith before their show at Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn on June 20.
20 Watts: How are you guys? How’s the tour going?
Lach: Tour’s been great.
Mitch: Tour’s good. We’ve been busy like last year.
20 Watts: What’s been the funniest moment of the tour so far?
Mitch: There was a friend traveling around with a friend of the support bands when we were playing in Whistler. We were out with them late one night, and then we woke up in the morning and he showed up to the gig the next night with a cast around his arm.
Lach: Scratches over his face.
Mitch: I was bummed we missed it, but apparently he went out and went roller skating.
Lach: Down a hill. He doesn’t know how to roller skate.
20 Watts: That’s not good.
Mitch: [laughs] Yeah.
Lach: He said he was coming to a tree, and instead of hitting the tree he just threw himself onto the ground. Downhill!
Mitch: No one’s got left behind yet on the bus. We’re doing pretty good, but we don’t want to jinx ourselves.
20 Watts: Did he break his arm?
Lach + Mitch: He fractured his wrist.
20 Watts: Well at least that’s all that happened. Could have been a lot worse.
Lach: Yeah, exactly.
Mitch: Of course, of course.
20 Watts: So when you’re on tour do you have the chance to work on new material?
Lach: We try to every moment that we can. It’s a bit hard just because of the amount that we’re moving around. There’s usually a guitar and an amp plugged in at the back of the bus, so if anyone’s got any ideas it’s easy to just plug in and record on their phone.
Mitch: Sometimes we get plenty of time in sound check and setting up where we can sort of muck around on stage, but we normally try to keep all the writing sort of separate from when we’re on the road. I don’t know maybe we’re just lazy or unorganized, but we can’t seem to do the two at the same time.
20 Watts: So you like leaving the writing for at home?
Mitch: Yeah, we have a specific space where we like to play.
Lach: When we’re in a creative environment.
20 Watts: Where is that place?
Mitch: Well we do a lot of writing in the living room back home — in the flat where we’re living.
Lach: Inspiration station.
Mitch: Yeah and that’s just in town where we grew up near the beach, so we spend a lot of time kicking around there. Not doing much, just tinkering on the instruments.
20 Watts: And do you guys live together?
Mitch: We used to. Lach lives down the road with the bass player Nic. And the rest of us are in the other flat.
20 Watts: I really like your two new singles [“Stained Glass” and “Infinity”]. What direction do you think you’re going with those?
Lach: It’s hard to say at this point. I suppose we’ll get a better scope of what we feel like the album will become as we start doing more songs. At this point it’s got a bit of a cosmic feel to it. Something spacey and far away.
Mitch: Yeah true.
Lach: At least in terms of style.
Mitch: And tonally as well. It’s making sure we get our focus back on natural instrument sounds and really focusing on the drum sounds. I know OB’s [O’Brien] been doing some extra drum recording sessions with Callum our sound engineer. And he’s been experimenting on some other drum kits. We’ve all got brand new guitars and Lach has some extra keyboards, so maybe we’re just going back to focusing on making stuff sound cool. The way those two songs were written, they were just sort of tinkering around the guitar and then we just sort of built it up from there and tried to make all of our beautiful new instruments sound as best as they can. Callum Howell our producer and sound engineer definitely helped with that.
20 Watts: Was that a collective decision to do that?
Mitch: Yeah, we all write together and we’re all on the same page all the time I think. And with all the new gear that we had access to we just had a lot of fun exploring with the new sounds that we could. And we’ll probably just continue to do that when we’re writing the next stuff. Just gonna come up with some songs, some chords, some melodies, some ideas… something to catalyze the process.
Lach: We like a natural kind of progression of writing. We don’t try to force anything too much.
Mitch: Pretty much what we write ends up getting recorded.
Lach: So if it feels good and it sounds good to us while we’re rehearsing it, we’ll expand on that and really get into what can make the song better.
20 Watts: I can see that new sound in the two new music videos. They seem different than the previous ones. I was wondering how that came about?
Mitch: We definitely made a conscious decision to change the style of music videos we had. We’re working closely with The Sauce Collective from Queenscliff back home, from Manly back home. And Tyler [tour manager] and his buddies came and helped us — they came up with the idea and the storyboard for the video clips.
Lach: We’re keeping the themes together in terms of colors and stuff like that. Colors and style — we’re trying to get that down a certain avenue, so it’s not kind of two shades of different things. It’s done to have a bit more direction on it.
Mitch: Yeah and a bit more cohesion in between the different video clips.
20 Watts: Do you all help with that and get involved in the music video process?
Lach: It usually starts when we mention an idea or we give them a direction to head down. And then we give them the creative freedom to come up with something, which they’ve interpreted from what we said. We trust them to work to the best of their ability, and what they come out with pretty much all the time we love. We’re like ‘that’s great, let’s go with that.’
Mitch: We just them little bits of feedback to tweak it and stuff. Maybe change the color of that or timing of that. Most of the time whatever the boys come up with, we’re pretty stoked with.
20 Watts: And I’ve noticed there are some similarities between the two videos where some symbols are the same like the sun and the door.
Lach: The circle and the door, yeah.
20 Watts: Could you talk about that more?
Mitch: They’re just broader, metaphorical symbols, and the reason why we sort of wanted to start making our videos maybe a bit more vague to the audience is so that it’s challenging and interesting for them to try and divulge a meaning out of that stuff. And so we didn’t sit down with a list of metaphors and symbols that we wanted to include. That’s just how it came out. But I think just straight on the outside the video and the way that it’s done both of them suit each of their songs. Now it’s just up for everyone to try and find their own meaning and find out what it means to them. That’s exactly what we did to it — that’s exactly how we found meaning in it. We didn’t really go plan any symbols, but after the fact we could then…
Mitch: Yeah exactly. Both of the new videos definitely compliment each of those new songs very well.
20 Watts: So for example what does “Stained Glass” mean to you guys?
Lach: Well, Baden writing the lyrics, we kind of sat down with him — he always writes the bulk of the lyrics and then we help refine it if we want a message to get across. “Stained Glass” kind of represents trying to be true to yourself and not trying to put on any facade or wearing a mask if that’s going to be detrimental to your personal self. The idea of stained glass is kind of — you can always see through clear glass. Stained glass is a little bit harder to see through. So there… even we took some time trying to derive a meaning from what that was. And I feel like that is where we are at now.
20 Watts: How do you guys stick with that mentality of staying true to yourself while touring, writing new material, and getting bigger?
Lach: It’s easy. We all keep each other grounded.
Mitch: Yeah, definitely. We don’t let any of ourselves get away from anyone else. We’re always keeping tabs on each other. It’s good that we’re all still really close friends because you can tell someone that they’re being a dickhead or they’re not doing something cool. And that’s probably what your friend wants to hear.
20 Watts: Yeah, no hurt feelings.
Mitch: Yeah, and we praise each other when we’re doing well not for any other reason than we’re proud of what we’re doing together.
20 Watts: And I noticed with “Infinity” that the mellowness of the song feels different than your other more mellow, relaxed songs. Can you talk about that?
Mitch: Yeah we probably felt that the last few songs that we’ve done — even the last handful that we wrote on Chiaroscuro were maybe a bit down-tempo. We decided to make something that’s a bit more boppy, and we wanted to piss everyone off slash freak them out at the end. So we whacked out that sort of funk section. It was just an attempt to be a bit more upbeat, especially after “Stained Glass.”
20 Watts: Was it a spontaneous decision?
Lach: It was an idea that was pitching around of what the song could have been.
Mitch: We actually wrote that in the studio, didn’t we?
Lach: Yeah, we did.
Mitch: Angus [guitarist] and I wrote the riff at the start kind of and it was kind of jangly.
Lach: It was almost an option to really base the song of that, but we felt like we had more of a connection to what came out as the finished product. We love the sound of it, and exactly what Mitch just said — we wanted to just shift people a little bit in their seats after hearing all that kind of flowy, melodic stuff. And then just whack — funk, rock. The stuff we really love playing.
20 Watts: Will more songs be like the ending of that one, or are you going to try to balance both sounds?
Mitch: We’ll definitely try to balance both sounds. ‘Cause we use that technique quite a bit I think — having a distinct ending that stands out. And so like we said with all the down-tempo songs that we’ve written, we wanted to do something up-tempo. I’m sure we won’t be doing the funk-riff…
Lach: Not for every song [laughs].
Mitch: Not for every song, yeah. So it’s always innate of us to write balanced music. We don’t want to write ten of the same songs.
Lach: We want there to be something in there for everyone.
Mitch: We want to explore the music ourselves, and we want the audience to stay interested.
20 Watts: I noticed that with “Stained Glass,” too, at the end. It kind of opens up, and it’s different than the beginning of the song.
Mitch: Yeah. It’s providing that balance.
Lach: We love smashing ideas together and creating a hybrid of styles.
Mitch: You got to put the yin with the yang. There has to be that balance there.
Lach: We love doing that because we all have the same but also quite different tastes in what we enjoy and what we listen to or what we prefer playing. So for us to mash it all together that’s where we really kind of thrive. That’s what we love to show off — that we can amalgamate two different styles together to make a great song.
20 Watts: And when you hear a finished song, do each of you see yourself in that song? Your specific style?
Lach: Well absolutely because we workshop it, we go over it and we get it into our bones.
Mitch: And we all write our own parts. There is a little bit of each of us in every song.
Lach: It’s all of us. It’s divided six ways, six of us in that song. And we all feel happy about that.
20 Watts: Bringing it back to “Stained Glass” and “Infinity” — do you remember what you were listening to at the time that made it so?
Lach: Oh, that’s tricky.
Mitch: We all listen to so much different stuff. Oh, I don’t know.
Lach: That’s tricky.
Mitch: I’ve been listening to Faye Webster. She’s a female singer-songwriter from Atlanta, Georgia. That’s like acoustic. That’s got country kind of vibes, as well.
Lach: I’ve been listening to some Turkish-influenced kind of psychedelic stuff.
Mitch: Yeah, right.
Lach: One I’m listening to now is Mdou Moctar.
Mitch: That’s new information to me, and I couldn’t tell you what anyone else would have queued up on their iPod right now when we’re writing those songs. And we don’t really talk about it. It kind of doesn’t matter. We never go out to try and copy anyone that directly or try to consciously be influenced by people. We’d rather it come out subconsciously, more so. We don’t talk about our influences and we don’t try to sound like any parts and stuff. The most work we do with that is probably when we’re first getting in the studio and workshopping sounds.
Lach: Figuring out a starting point.
Mitch: Giving our producer Callum Howell some recordings of tones and stuff that we like from other songs.
Lach: It’s all kind of sitting in us — the stuff that we’ve listened to and the way we interpret that into our own music.
20 Watts: What would you say is the hardest part for each of you when you are writing your parts to a song?
Lach: I suppose for me the hardest part is moving away from what is predictable and what people can kind of expect. Of course people enjoy familiarity and like things to sound kind of wholesome and safe in a way.
Lach: Approachable — stuff that sounds like something they’ve heard before. But there’s a fine line between doing something that’s too different and something that’s really similar. There’s that little tiny razor’s edge in the middle where you think you can go somewhere — you have an idea, but you’re not quite sure. And then it happens, and then it’s a pleasant surprise because it’s not exactly what you thought it was going to be. But it was enough for you to stir something and go, ‘I can feel that.’ A surprise, a genuine surprise.
Mitch: The hardest part of song-writing for me is, especially if I’m starting on my own trying to get an idea, is worrying about how the other guys in the band would approach writing their own part to that. And so sometimes you can think too much about what type of part the other members are going to write and what they’re going to sound like and try and bend your writing to that. It’s a fine line — same with what Lach said — you kind of gotta be bold and brave in what you want to write and not worry about how it’s going to turn out. But then again, you do need to tailor-make some of the writing for the certain people that are going to play it, the certain people who are going to approach it with their part and their eyes. So it’s a bit of a push-pull there.
20 Watts: When I have writer’s block, I’ll usually go for a drive, a walk, or something like that. Do you have something that you usually do if you’re struggling to come up with something?
Mitch: Go to the pub. Or go for a walk.
Lach: Yeah, go for a walk. All my ideas — my favorite ideas — come to me when I’m lying in bed on the cusp of falling asleep, or in the shower or sitting on the toilet.
Mitch: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Lach: It’s for some reason, it’s so strange.
Mitch: Sitting at home with nothing to do, twiddling my thumbs.
Lach: If I feel blocked, and I really need to write something, I’ll do something that is the complete opposite in every sense. If I’m sitting down writing, I’ll go for a walk or a run and not think. Just listen to something that’s completely different to what I’m trying to get across. Just opposites, so you can find that middle ground.
Mitch: I’m more of a go to the pub or go for a surf guy.
20 Watts: What is your ultimate goal that you guys have in mind for the band? The dream?
Mitch: The dream is to keep having this as a dream job.
Lach: Being supported by this.
Mitch: Becoming career-musicians. Whether or not the band stays around for as long as some of the old classic rock bands. The Rolling Stones are playing in a few days.
Lach: The security and safety of knowing that we can just write music for the rest of our lives and not worry about all those essential things in life. That we can do this and survive off it.
Mitch: Yeah, so that’s the goal. I suppose what we’re trying to do right now is just keep at it and keep working hard and putting our heads down and not trying to worry about where we’re going to end up. I think if we just relax and just go with the flow, it’s gonna work out as good as it’s gonna work out. We’re just happy ripping through all these shows, traveling the world.
Lach: Meeting new people, playing in cool places.
Mitch: Meeting new people and honing our craft in the studio. We’re still frothing. We won’t be stopping any time soon.
Lach: There’s a lot to do.
20 Watts: When you were younger did you envision this as your life?
Mitch: No way.
Lach: I always knew I wanted to perform.
Mitch: Yeah, Lach studied acting for a bit and he’s classically trained at the piano, so Lach was always going to be a performer.
Lach: I always wanted to be a performer. I didn’t want to do anything else.
Mitch: We were going to be builders [laughs].
Lach: I didn’t know I was going to be a musician. I thought it was going to be acting. Maybe it will in the future, not sure.
Mitch: He doesn’t have the face for acting anymore.
Mitch: Maybe a radio presenter.
Lach: Maybe. I can also say some dumb shit, so probably not [laughs].
Mitch: I was going to be an engineer to be honest. I flunked my uni degree because I was too busy rehearsing with the band. We’ve never planned it out, we just kept focusing on the next gig and went from getting paid a 100 bucks playing a bar down the road…
Lach: Didn’t look too far ahead. Just kept our eyes and our feet in front of us.
Mitch: One step after the other, and it’s worked out perfectly. And we’re so grateful for all the support that everyone’s given us. It means we can keep doing what we love and we can keep — hopefully — writing music that everyone else is gonna love too.
Here are Ocean Alley’s remaining North American tour dates!
Fri June 28 – House Of Blues (Bronze Peacock), Houston, TX
Sat June 29 – Stubb’s Jr, Austin, TX
Sun June 30 – House Of Blues (Cambridge), Dallas, TX
Tue Jul 2 – Bluebird Theatre, Denver, CO
Fri Jul 5 – Kilby Court, Salt Lake City, UT
Sat Jul 6 – Rio Hotel, Las Vegas, NV
Sun Jul 7 – House Of Blues (The Parish), Orange County, CA