INTERVIEWS

Interview with Oceanhoarse – “There will be no stopping us.”

Interview with Ben Varon and Jyri Helko from Oceanhoarse during Tuska Festival 2018.

Beast In Black made an announcement that Oceanhoarse would join them during their first two club shows in Finland. “Who is this Oceanhoarse? I never heard of them”, a thought that raised many eyebrows in the Finnish metal scene. The surprise hit the scene pretty hard as established faces from the scene connected with each other and started the project in the shadows in 2016.

For two years Ben Varon (ex-Amoral), Jyri Helko (Warmen), Tommy Tuovinen (ex-MyGrain) and the talented Oskari Niemi had been working hard to make this project super tight and with great success. The very first Oceanhoarse single was released in January, soon followed sold-out shows as a support act for Beast In Black and the band were able to fill up the stage of Nummirock this early on in their career with great ease. 

Many raving reviews later, the band is finally ready to have a discussion with me about Oceanhoarse. Ben Varon and Jyri Helko made time to chat with me during their visit at Tuska Festival. 

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© Uzi Varon

Hi guys, thanks for meeting me. How was the festival been for you? You have been hanging around and you had your show yesterday how was it?

Ben: The show was great!

Jyri: Yeah it was intense! The crowd was really good.

Ben: I was pleasantly surprised by the number of people who showed up, because we weren’t the headliners. We played at the same time almost as Gojira did. Their set ended and we started, so there were a lot of people and we even got a mosh pit going on.

It must be really cool to see a mosh pit happening from up stage! Was it the first time that there was a mosh pit during your show?

Jyri: I think that not during every gig, but every second gig there’s a mosh pit… I hope it’s gonna be a tradition from now on.

The ones I’ve been to so far haven’t had any. (laughs)

Ben: Nummirock, for example, had a little pit action going on. We’re getting there (laughs).

Jyri: And Bar Praha!

Bar Praha is so small, I wonder how that worked. Was it like a three people pit? (laughs)

Jyri: Exactly, but it still counts! (laughs)

So, talking about your show at Nummirock. How did it go? It was your very first festival show as a band, right?

Ben: It was our first festival as a band yes!

Jyri: It was good. I was pleasantly surprised that even though it was probably the biggest stage we have played on so far, it seemed like we had done this before! (laughs)

Ben: Which we actually have (laughs). But just not with this band.

Jyri: It was definitely a confidence boost!

Ben: I think we’re definitely comfortable on bigger stages. Like literally. We all need room, cause we all just move around and need our space. The bigger stage you give us, the better we take care of every inch of it!

Jyri: It was cool because it was probably the first time that we managed to fit all the stage props we have exactly the way we wanted. Once you’re an opening act, you need to make the stage look as cool as possible with a limited amount of space. So Nummirock was a whole different level for us.

So what was different about the show? You usually have the risers for the both of you and of course your mascotte?

Ben: Yeah, we have the stairs, the Mascotte and we have these big cross T’s. But you need a big stage to put those anywhere.

Jyri: Since it was an outdoor stage, this was also the first time we were able to use pyrotechnics.

Oh wow! You basically went crazy! (laughs)

Ben: Yeah, that’s the idea with this band! (laughs) Every time we have an opportunity we do it bigger… And more. More is more as Yngwie said.

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What’s also interesting about your band is that you had your first sold-out show when you only had released one song. I didn’t know what to expect when it was announced you were going to play there. No one did. For two years you have been working underground on things, but how did you guys get together?

Jyri: We have done a lot of preparations behind the scenes. Ben called me like two and a half years ago. He basically said that Amoral was about to end. I was a bit surprised and then asked what he’s gonna do next.

Ben: And I said, I’m gonna start a band with you of course! (laughs)

Jyri: I was like okay, let me think about it for a day or two or so. But actually, I called him just a couple of hours later. (laughs) and told him I had one song which we could start working on already.

Ben: That’s how it started. When I realized the band that I was in, couldn’t go on as it was with all the scheduling problems and the motivational problems. I asked myself why I was wasting a year of my life writing and recording an album if I couldn’t even tour with the guys because some of them didn’t want to tour? I decided to put the past in the past and start a band with guys like me. Guys who really wanna do this, 100%, no… 120%. The whole band consists of guys with the same drive as me. There will be no stopping us. That’s exactly what we are doing. He [Jyri] was the only guy that I knew for sure that is just as crazy about playing live as I am and about writing metal music. Our job was then to find two more.

Jyri: To me it’s all or nothing. I’m really privileged to get a chance to play with guys like Ben, Oskari, and Tommy, who are as excited as I am. I had similar problems and circumstances in the past with my previous band. So, this was quite a natural decision. Only the strongest survive, so to say.

Ben: Well sure, especially when you think about it, it almost seems as if all the musicians have four, two, seventeen bands, whatever. Everybody has too many projects! We spend seven days a week on Oceanhoarse, how would we even have time to play in two other bands and tour and make albums. Maybe that’s also one of the reasons why many bands never go anywhere. Because you spread yourself too thin. If four guys put 24/7 every week after week, month after month, on just one thing… Imagine how far you can go. See how far we have come in just five months. In January our first single came out and we already played ten to fifteen shows, big shows, festivals, had a bunch of great reviews out. Things are moving forward.

Jyri: That’s how things should be like. You know, you have to step out of your comfort zone to get things happening. That’s the main reason I love to work with these guys, you know. Everybody is willing to take equal responsibility!

Ben: Yeah, not like I’ll try my luck with seven different projects to see if one of them maybe sticks. None of them will stick if you don’t put your heart and soul into it.

Exactly! I also feel that your approach of not putting a lot of material out there before a debut album is kind of the way things used to be. Nowadays, it’s all about social media presence.

Jyri: I’m pretty pissed that for some bands it’s just smoke and mirrors. Everybody says that they’re a super good live band, but then when you go see them, they’re actually quite average. We put 100% into every show we do. We change the setlist constantly and we try out new stage gimmicks every time we perform.

Ben: Yeah, new cover songs and such. We think about what we could do next all the time.

Jyri: Yesterday we played a Pantera cover…

Ben: …As a tribute to Vinnie Paul. We thought it would be a good idea and people really seemed to like it.

In Bar Praha you played “Cowboys From Hell” right?

Ben: It was Bar Praha’s birthday party. That’s why we decided to play “Cowboys From Hell” there.

Jyri: Actually we heard the news that Vinnie Paul passed away when we were driving to Nummirock. It shocked us. Next thing, we started considering which song we were going to play to honour him and in the end, we decided to do “Cowboys from Hell”. The “Cowboys From Hell” era has a sort of similar vibe that we have.

Ben: Yeah, especially when it comes to Tommy’s vocal range.

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© Uzi Varon

The first thing I thought of when I heard you play for the first time is that you do have a very strong Pantera-vibe in your music.

Ben: Yeah, they’re a big influence. We’re not gonna lie about that. But to go back to what you said about doing things in secrecy, that was the idea. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of all these bands putting all their stuff on social media, like “Oh something big is cooking up, something big is coming soon. Here’s my fucking plectrum. Or we’re doing something, what could it be?” Just try to shut up for a year. Amoral went down under in January and when we formed Oceanhoarse, we decided to not say a word, we didn’t, nothing. Everyone kept on asking me what I was going to do next. Every show people would come to me like “So do you have a new band?`” I told them that I did, but if they’d ask me to tell them more, I wouldn’t.

Jyri: We were not ready yet to tell anyone.

Ben: We just wrote and wrote, and rehearsed and rehearsed. We wrote like 20 songs and threw out 10 of them when we realized that after playing them for friends or family that they weren’t that strong. We polished the material, instead of being like “Oh hey we have 5 songs, let’s play a show.” That would have been a crap show with a bunch of crappy shows. We wanted to do it when it was 100% ready, once we would be out of the gate. That’s what we did with the Beast In Black show. We rehearsed until we were ready and the show went really well.

Jyri: Yeah, actually it gained us a lot of other shows.

Ben: Every show we played, we got more shows because of that show. I’m sure yesterday’s after-party show, there was a bunch of people from the industry there, we’re gonna get some show offers out of that show.

Jyri: For many people, it was the first time that they actually saw us.

I thought it was really cool that you played together with Beast In Black. Because they have a similar story actually. They played at Tuska before they had an album out. In that sense, you have a similar history.

Ben: I actually asked Anton [Kabanen] myself. I contacted him and told him like “Hey you have these shows, and we could really use the help. I know nobody knows us, but if you give us a chance, we won’t disappoint you.” He worked it out and I’m grateful to him that he pulled those strings.

Jyri: Apparently he liked the material and noticed that we are serious about it. It turned out to be great!

Ben: That’s really cool of him because he could have just told me to talk to his manager or he could have that that they’d a band that already has an album out. But they gave us a chance and we’re very respectful of that. They’re an awesome band, they’re so good at what they do.

Jyri: Anton is really humble and you know, if he likes something he is not faking it. Hardworking as well.

Ben: He’s serious about his metal as well. (laughs)

How was it for you guys to have your first show, without knowing if the crowd would actually like your music? You’ve all been in established bands before, I’d assume you wouldn’t be nervous anymore to perform live, but were you?

Ben: We were yeah! Of course.

Jyri: Well yeah, actually once we started to play, we knew it was going to end really well. We have practised so many hours and played all the songs a thousand times before. Although it was the first gig, still, the confidence I get from these guys while playing is immense.

Ben: And we also did some rehearsal gigs for friends in our rehearsal room. Which was a great idea from our drummer Oskari. He said to just invite some people, like 8 to 15 and play for them. That was really nerve-racking, cause you have friends and family members right there, standing in our little rehearsal room and performing for them. But that was a great way to test the material, get reactions and feedback.

Jyri: That was our boot camp for the gigs (laughs).

Ben: The good thing is we didn’t do it in public, so you didn’t see us fucking up and trying songs that aren’t that good. We just played it to our friends and made sure no one is recording anything. Because people were asking if they could put something out on social media and we were like no you can not because nobody knew anything about us.


I’m actually amazed that it stayed a secret for so long.

Ben: It’s actually funny, because the more it was secretive, the more people wanted to talk or hear about it. “Have you heard the new project?” “Yeah, I’ve heard a song?” “You did, what was it like?” It is more interesting if you keep something hidden, everyone was like well I want to know too.


It’s also a really good marketing campaign because people get excited by secrets and then it becomes a hype.
Ben: We didn’t hype it. We just didn’t play (laughs).

Jyri: We actually considered the main thing to be writing songs and practising them, doing the groundwork first. Apparently, we were doing a bit of marketing also (laughs).

Ben: By accident. (laughs)

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On top of that, you now have a very strong live sound. I’m curious to know what you will sound like on your debut album, even though there are already three songs released. The digitalization of the music industry has caused that bands often sound very different live than on studio album. How is your album going to be like?

Jyri: We’re just trying out things and we are releasing a new song in a month. We’re actually in the middle of the mixing process right now. We are also planning to make a music video. I think every song we’re releasing is going to show a different side of us. Once the album is going to be out, all those sides are tying up together.

Ben: We don’t have any plans for an album yet. We just want to do a few singles now, do a few videos, having the word out without having to spend eight months writing and recording in a studio. We like playing shows every weekend. Next Monday for example, we’d just go, me and him [Jyri], writing a new song, so at our next gig, we might play something new that no one has heard before. We’re just trying to be more spontaneous at the moment. That’s the fun of being a new band, we don’t have the burden of seven albums in our back catalogue that we have to play. We can do whatever the hell we want in our next shows.

Jyri: We can actually try out different things, which is cool. It’s totally different compared to the traditional album process that consists of six months of writing songs and one month of recording and finally, after the recording process, you start to think “Wow, how should I play this live?”

And you’re also not tied to a label, right?

Jyri: Not yet.

Ben: We’re still in discussion. Still negotiating about it.

Jyri: We have some negotiations going on.

Ben: We wanna find the right label before we release any proper albums. We don’t want to do it ourselves. I’ve walked that route with Amoral before and it’s just so much work and then it just stays within a small clique of people. We want it to get it to a higher level, right from the start. The first album should already be a big release. Not just another indie band releasing their debut album. That’s not what this is about. What you said about the sound, people sounding very different on albums, that’s one of the things we don’t want to do. We definitely want the live sound to be audible on the album too. It’s gonna be one guitar, bass, vocals, drums. There will be no computers, there will be no synthesizers, no tuba, no orchestras, no whistles. Just us four.

So you’re a no tape band?

Ben: Yeah, definitely! We had some rules when we started the band. We made an actual list of what we don’t want out of experience of seeing other bands doing it and from the bands we’ve played in before. One thing we all had in common, we used to have bands who would use backing tracks and computers and all these bullshit things that only delude the live sound. It also just creates more problems. When you have a fifty-minute changeover and the fucking MacBook doesn’t work, that’s not a good situation to be in. (laughs) Under no circumstances will we use a click track, backing tracks and laptops on stage. Everything you hear live is going to be out of those four people.

Jyri: To me that’s also a big part of the process because I really love bands with a distinctive sound. So that you can actually recognize the band, you know, once they start a song and not when the singer kicks in. It’s a shame that so many bands are quite generic nowadays. That’s what we are about to change.

Ben: You should be able to after a couple of album to tell that it’s Oskari playing the drums, it’s Jyri playing bass, it’s me playing the guitar.

I think you’re definitely on the right track! Separately you guys have a very distinguished style.

Ben: Thank you! It’s good that it shows already. We spend a lot of time just working on the sounds and arranging the riffs. We only have four elements, so we really need to be careful with the arrangements, what the bass plays and the guitar riffs. We make it as big as possible. We want it to sound like a one hundred piece orchestra, where we just forgot the orchestra. It’s not an easy thing to do.

Let’s get back to when you mentioned that you had pyro-techniques and stuff like that in your show at Nummirock. If you had an unlimited budget, what would your perfect show look like?

Ben: Oh Lord. (laughs)

Jyri: That’s a difficult question. We’re probably going to combine all the elements from our childhood heroes, like Iron Maiden with their Eddie theatrics and the pyros from Judas Priest or Pantera or something.

Ben: We would combine the stuff that you like from the previous bands and trying to come up with our own twist. One thing we really want to do is because everyone is having a LED screens now, video shows. We’re more interested in having concrete stuff to climb on and different layers and metal and props.

Jyri: Bring metal back. (laughs)

Ben: Physical metal on stage. (laughs)

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And actually all the big bands from the eighties bands use props rather than LED screens, like Accept and Skid Row.

Jyri: There’s a certain vibe to those things.

Ben: It’s real stuff, it’s 3D. It’s not just a video running. Everyone has those videos, it’s so boring.

Jyri: I think Arch Enemy was the first band on Tuska to have a proper drum riser, like one meter tall. All the other bands are using the smaller one. When I was a kid, I was a huge Iron Maiden and Megadeth fan, the whole point of their stage setup was that the drummer is way up there.

Ben: We have so many ideas and our friend Dean Clayton, has been working closely with us to create all the logos, the helmet and the creature. He’s a secret member of the band. (laughs) He’s always coming up with ideas, drawing our album, single covers. He’s calling me once a week with ideas. “We could try this for the stage, dude!” “Well, that’s costs 100,000 dollars. We don’t have to do that right now. But I’ll get back to you in two years.” (laughs) So we have ideas from all the different steps, what we’re going to do when the stages get a bit bigger when we have a festival show and so on. We try to be flexible, but realistic at the same time. We don’t have a 100.000 euro to spend on pyro techniques every single show. A good idea goes a long way, watch all the stuff we already have, we have special lighting of our own, this and that and effects. If you use a bit of your imagination and put some effort into it, you can do a lot with only a little money to give the audience a bigger show.

Jyri: It’s good that we can pitch our ideas to each other. We rehearse so much, five times a week and every once in a while someone comes with an idea, a stage prop or something and we talk about it. It’s teamwork.

It’s also interesting that those big bands you mentioned like Iron Maiden are still evolving. I don’t know if you went to their show, but to me, it felt like it was Iron Maiden vs. Rammstein vs. Ghost at times. They always come up with great ideas for new shows and everything is always different and sensational. It’s nice when bands work more as a team. Anyhow, it seems like our time is running out. Thank you so much for the discussion guys, before we wrap things up completely, is there anything you’d like to share with our readers?

Jyri: Thanks to all the people who have attended the shows. Please check out our new single “Intruder”.

Ben: Out in a month or so. I think this is going to be the fastest and heaviest song that we’ve released up until now. We want to show that side. See you at the shows!

 

 

 

 

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