There never seems to be a shortage of new bands in Finland, which means there’s always something new for listeners to try. However, that makes it all the harder for new bands to stand out among the masses. A few short years ago we heard that Ben Varon was putting a new band together called OCEANHOARSE, and their debut EP is finally incoming out tomorrow! Fortunately, we caught them on their press day in Helsinki to talk a bit about who they are and what they’ve got to offer! These guys may be grim and metal on stage, but in person, there was plenty of laughter and a lot of passion for what they do.
Hi and thanks for taking the time to chat with us today! Just to get the basics out of the way, can you tell me a bit about yourselves, how you know each other, how OCEANHOARSE was formed, where the name came from – the basics.
Ben: Well let’s see, we formed maybe 3 years ago. I called Jyri [Helko, bass] up, that I was going to end the band I was previously in and I wanted to start something brand new with new, dedicated people who really wanted to do this seriously. Jyri was the first and only guy I knew to call. “You’re like me, you’re just as stupid as me, you just want to bang your head into the wall until it goes through.” [laughs] He agreed to join me in this new adventure.
Then we started looking for drummers and that took a while because we didn’t know of any good drummers who weren’t already in 5-15 other bands. That wasn’t going to cut it because we want to rehearse a lot and want people to focus on one thing. Luckily we got word that there was a guy who just moved to Helsinki from Jyväskylä, which brought Oskari [Niemi] to the table.
Joonas [Kosonen] was the last guy in the group. We met him through our friend; we used to play in a band together and I asked my friend Arto if I could call his singer. [laughs] Like you know how you call the father before you ask a girl to marry you, I called Arto to ask permission to ask Joonas to join OCEANHOARSE.
Joonas [in a deep voice]: Bend the knee.
Ben: [laughs] He was like, “You may.”
A “kiss the ring” sort of situation.
Ben: [laughter] I kissed the ring and then I called Joonas, who was the fourth or fifth singer we tried out. It was clear from the first song that we needed him in the band. Then we gave him the million dollar cheque.
Joonas: Yeah, of course.
Ben: And he said, “I’m in.” [laughter] That’s the short of it. The name? It’s the hardest thing to come up with a band name, especially now because, first of all, all the good names… or all the names… or all the words, actually, are taken already by other bands. The second thing is – which is important – that you can actually find us online on social media or if you Google the name. If I called us Glass, we’d need to be the first thing that pops up if you Google “glass.” There’s a lot of bands that you just cannot find online because of this. So we knew we wanted to figure out our own word or thing. We had the mascot first, actually, the idea for this guy with tentacles and a horse skull. Hence… OCEANHOARSE.
Joonas: “How about we just call the band ‘oceanhorse,’ but we misspell it!” “Genius, let’s go with that!” [laughter]
Ben: So here we are, stuck with a stupid name from here to eternity. [laughter]
Well, you answered the next question there, regarding who the “jailbreak cthulhu” was – he’s the oceanhoarse. Now I know. Does he have a name?
Ben: Officially he’s just the oceanhoarse.
Oskari: There’s no show without him. Or her! You don’t know.
Perfect! How would you say that your version of heavy metal differs from other bands, or would you say you’re more of a traditional heavy metal band?
Oskari: I think we are not traditional. It’s hard to compare to anybody. There are some really clear influences, of course, but our mix comes from our own passion and energy. The songs are sometimes hard to play and fast and heavy; that makes the sound a bit dangerous. I think that’s the OCEANHOARSE sound: going 200 kilometers per hour down the fast lane.
Ben: It’s a weird thing. We just discussed how we don’t really know how to describe this genre of metal ourselves, so I’m still waiting for somebody to tell me exactly and give me a good example of what genre this could be. [laughter] But we definitely want to have a lot of the traditional elements, because that’s a lot of the music/bands we really like, yet we also want to have our own twist to it.
Joonas: It’s a natural combination of the stuff that we like and has influenced us.
In the same way they say that every story has already been written, all of your influences have come together to create a new original product?
Oskari: Exactly! That’s what you have to do if you want to pop up.
Very cool! Now personally, I liked your music when I heard it online, but it wasn’t until I saw you guys live that I really started to get into it. If I were to take a guess, I’d say that you dedicate a lot of your time and effort to making your live shows great – is that true? Have you been hoping to really sell yourselves as a live band?
Oskari: Hoped, for sure.
Ben: Yeah, it was one of the things I discussed during the first phone call with Jyri, to make a band that’s all about the live show with everything focused on bringing the energy out live. All bands say that they’re live bands, but not every band is a great live band. That’s our #1 goal, to be a great live band.
Are there any songs that you’ve released so far that you haven’t played live yet?
Ben: No, most of them we’ve played many times, even before releasing them, which is the best way to try them out, to see if they work, if the crowd reacts to them.
Joonas: Test them out and bring them back to the rehearsal place to see if there are any corners we want to cut down or add something into it.
Oskari: Talking about the live shows, I think the powerhouse guy here [pats Joonas], he’s exactly what we need: a big strong guy. What I can see from behind the drums is this guy [points again to Joonas] making a show. I think it’s working out, though I’m only seeing what’s happening from behind the drums. [laughter]
Regarding the EP, “Voluntary Bends,” you’ve released at least half of the five songs already. Did you plan all of the songs for the EP and release them one-by-one, or is the EP more of a compilation of singles?
Ben: We released two singles and then the idea of recording an EP came up. We just decided that we wanted to combine the two songs that we had released with Joonas onto an EP, to have them on the first release as a physical copy when the CD comes out. Then we just figured out which songs would best fit the vibe we wanted to give out with our first release. We have tons of material; we’ve been writing for 3 years now and we have 30-40 songs. We just decided that we have these two songs already out, so let’s put two heavy fast ones out and try the Slipknot cover as something extra. So that was the idea, but the singles came first and then the idea to do an EP came after.
Are you using the EP as a lure for record labels then?
Ben: Yeah, hopefully. That’s definitely going to be a tool at least for the booking agents too. That’s what they’ve been saying, that they need a release to get us to festivals. Also for the media, to get some album reviews maybe for the EP. Let’s see if it happens, but it seems that there’s only so much you can do with just singles in the metal genre.
For some reason, this is such an old-fashioned genre when you talk about the industry, whereas in pop it’s the norm. But here people are always asking us when the album is coming out. “We just released a single, we have five singles out now!” “But no, when is the album coming out?” As if that makes all the difference in the world. We thought that we don’t want to do an album yet, so let’s start with an EP.
Back in the day, with records and tapes and CDs, you had a certain space to fill, but now that everything’s digital, you can release as many singles or EPs as you like. Do you feel as if the full album is dying out in the digital age?
Ben: In all other genres it’s like that already. In pop, that’s the direction it’s going in. Maybe it’s been good to test the waters like that with metal too, like we’ve done now. It’s pretty cool to just release singles and have all of this happen for us already with just a single. It’s worked!
Oskari: Albums nowadays need to be all-killer, no-filler. You don’t want to release too many sloppy albums nowadays. It must be all-diamond quality.
Ben: It is a dying art form, because rock fans and metal fans still prefer the album as the format. I know myself, if my favorite band releases a new single, I try not to listen to that one song too much because I know there’s an album coming out in a month and I don’t want to be bored of song #3. I want to hear the whole thing through tons of times when it comes out. I think there’s still a place for albums. It’s my favorite way of listening to music, not just random singles here and there. But there is something to be said! Like Ossi said, it’s a great thing that it’s making people think about what songs to put on an album. You can’t do what you did in ’98 when you just had two good songs and then filled it out, because this song is going to play on MTV and who cares what song #9 sounds like.
Joonas: Now if song #9 sucks, nobody is going to listen to it at all. You can just skip it.
One thing I’ve noticed as a trend with a handful of bands is that some bands have been releasing singles every few months, approximately when there is a drop in streams, and then if they want those songs on the next album, they can include them, but if not, they don’t need to.
Oskari: You can try out songs that way.
Exactly, you can test out the songs in single format and see what the response is, if you want to change it or scrap it or keep it.
Oskari: In the end, you can also take something off Spotify if it didn’t work out.
Ben: “Well that sucked.” [laughter] No matter how much you love the album format, it’s so fast-paced now in the music industry. Your single is as valuable as an album when it comes to your time in the spotlight. Let’s say we put out the album today… 2 weeks from now, the media and the people online are talking about something else, because every day there’s new albums coming out. “But hey, I just spent a year writing and recording this album! It’s gonna take me a year and a half to come up with the next one!” It’s happened before. You just put out an album and people are asking 2 months later when the next album is coming out. Seriously? Do you know how many months it takes to make an album? So that’s why it’s smart to just keep putting singles out at a steady pace.
It keeps the interest alive from people. The fans don’t need to wait a decade for your “Chinese Democracy” to come out. Even if your vision hasn’t fully come together, you can still mess around and release something if you like.
Ben: Yeah, the single format actually fits this band really well. The songs are moderately short, not huge prog operas that need the album format around them to work.
Oskari: Like concept albums.
Joonas: We definitely can do the single thing. And it’s fun, like you said. It keeps it fresh and interesting and fast-paced. I don’t mind releasing singles and combining them to make an album every year, year-and-a-half. Also, there’s something to be said about just hiding in the studio for and then coming out with 45 minutes of music for people to digest at once.
Each way has its ups and downs, for sure. We already touched on this a bit, but you’ve already played quite a few shows for impressive events like RockFest, without a label. How have you managed to get those big shows so early on? Just being awesome, or…? [laughter]
Ben: That helps [laughs].
Oskari: Thank you [laughs]. Not gonna lie, that helps!
Joonas: Next question! [laughter]
Ben: Some of it is just luck, some of it is impressing the right people – some people saw the show we did at On the Rocks a year earlier – and some of it is just having some good connectinos that we’ve made over the years with our previous bands. So it’s not like we had to start totally from scratch. It’s a combination of things, RockFest and Tokyo, just knowing some poeple in the industry who can help out.
Oskari: They see that we are serious about things and that we are aiming high, so that’s the thing. Producers, organizers, they see what we are doing and I think the quality is good, so they will provide some opportunities.
Joonas: The hunger is there, so we’re going to perform.
Oskari: You have to step up the game and give anything to be able to play any show.
To any crowd.
Oskari: Every show is an opportunity to play more shows, make connections, and have fun of coruse. It’s about having fun.
Well that’s another thing I’ve noticed about your live shows. You always look really enthusiastic to be there, really excited about it every time. It’s cool to see, because so many bands are just up there sighing like they’d rather be anywhere else.
Joonas: A show is always the pinnacle of working. We work, work, work every week, we try to put the best effort in, do the best songs, and plan the gig: what are we going to do and how, and when the show comes, then we can just let go and do what we do best.
Ben: You’ve got to love the shows, because otherwise what’s the point of this whole thing? Last week [October 10th, 2019] we did a one-off show in Gothenburg, Sweden, opening for CYHRA. We spent a whole night on the boat, which is boring as hell, drove all day straight into sound check, and hour and a half later we played the show, and then the next day, driving 500 km back and then the boat. So if you didn’t like being on stage, why the fuck would you put yourself through 3 days of traveling under those conditions? [laughter] So that’s the focus on the show. We can’t wait to get up there and show these people our music and what we can do.
Oskari: The energy piles up and then you just go [snaps fingers], that’s it.
So tell me a little bit about what to expect from the unreleased songs? Are there any stories or interesting facts about the new material?
Joonas: “Maze of Death” we’ve tried out a few times already at shows and it seems to be working really well. We’re excited to hear what people say about it.
Oskari: It’s more compact now. It’s down to 2½ minutes or something. It’s not straightforward because it has many parts, but I think the energy is more packed and it’s fast-paced all the time with good vocal hooks. And! A gigantic guitar solo!
Do you ever feel like heavy metal lost the classic guitar solo for a while?
Ben: Yeah! There’s a feeling sometimes when you hear a great song, and you think that it would be so much better if there was also great solo in it. It’s 9/10 now, but put a great solo into it and it’s perfect.
Joonas: It’s a part of our DNA anyways. We’re not going to lose that, ever.
When you guys write music, I’m guessing you lean more to the side of music-first, lyrics-later, or would I be wrong?
Joonas: There are ideas for lyrics, or themes. A premise or whatever. Once we have a song down, we might bring an existing idea and start working with it, but usually the first thing is the song.
Ben: Both Joonas and I write a lot separately, even before the music is ready, and have a bunch of ideas lyric-wise. Then we’ll see when we have a new song coming out, who has what and what could fit this music. Talking about specific songs, usually it starts with a riff or two or three, I’ll bring it to the guys, then we’ll start jamming on it and start to see what the vocal melodies could be.
Oskari: I’ve got to say, even the first riff that comes to the room might set the mood and color of the song. That’s what we first tend to feel. What’s the vibe and a bit of what lyric theme could be present.
What mood does this set and what lyrics go with it?
Oskari: Yeah. It’s not like writing lyrics 5 minutes before nailing them in the studio. It comes somewhat together with the riffs sometimes.
Joonas: Some words maybe, and if there’s a full text that was written by me or Ben, it’s never that we take the text as-is. We take the idea and it becomes a mixture of maybe two ideas/texts and then bit by bit we change it until it becomes a totally different thing.
We also touched on the tour with CYHRA recently. Were there any big highlights from those shows?
Ben: Gothenburg for sure.
Joonas: Yeah, Gothenburg.
Ben: We were just so surprised at the turnout. It was our first time in Sweden, nobody knows who we are, so we hoped there would be some people. The place was pretty much as full as it was during CYHRA, so it looked like all of the people who bought a ticket came early to see the opening band as well, which is amazing considering nobody knows who we are. I’m sure part of it was that guys from CYHRA recommended us on their social medias, saying to come early and check us out.
The whole crew and band were such great guys, which is not always the case. Even when the band is cool, sometimes they have some assholes working for them who don’t give a fuck about the opening band. If you think about it, for a tour manager or tech, the opening band is just in the way and doesn’t bring anything to the table. This was the total opposite. They were so welcoming and helpful: “Here’s the merch guy, you can use our drums, this and that, here’s some food for you.”
Joonas: We felt like part of the crew, just one big group. Big thanks to those guys.
My last question then is about a shirt I saw that said “fuck the backing tracks.” Safe to assume that you guys don’t play with backing tracks live?
Ben: That was one of the things during the phone call with Jyri, to start a band that’s great live, I was so tired of hearing all the bands playing to big orchestras in the background or tons of synths. I thought, what about just guitars and bass.. and vocals and drums?
Joonas: Doing it honestly, doing it real.
Ben: Of course it’s a different sound. If you go to see NIGHTWISH, you expect the orchestras, or Rob Zombie needs the electronics. But not every band needs something coming from a laptop. There’s something to be said for the sound of just four or five musicians playing loud instruments and that’s all. What you see on stage is what your ears are giving you.
Well thanks so much for talking to us. Any last words for the readers?
Ben: We’ll plug HoarseFest, December 28th, 2019. It’s our very own festival with a bunch of awesome new bands. We’re going to have clinics, we’ll have a guitar giveaway, we’ll have all kinds of cool stuff there. Also it’s going to be the release party for the EP! On the Rocks, end of December, be there!
Interview by Bear Wiseman