Australian indie rock has gone through a period of renaissance as of late. Once dominated by the sounds of angular, repetitive guitar riffs and subtle vocal performances, the scene has taken a turn for the more bold and brash.
Ocean Alley are beacons of Australian independent music – in every aspect. Hustling for years as a local gang of virtuosic instrumentalists, Ocean Alley left their dub-drenched mark on the clubs and pubs of rural beach towns Australia wide. In the span of a few trailblazing years, the band have since captured the hearts and imaginations of music fans hungry for eclectic authenticity and psychedelic fun.
In a world of social media hype-train identities who revel in their flash-in-the-pan popularity, Ocean Alley have founded their success the old-fashioned way – touring until your fingers bleed, honing your songwriting craft until you strike gold and gathering a legion of committed faithfuls along the way who are willing to stick out the ride.
2018 has been the band’s most rewarding year yet – a hit album, a J award nomination and sold out shows around the world, Ocean Alley have proven that it may be a long way to the top, but the journey reaps incredible rewards.
Part One: The hard yards
Hailing from Sydney’s Northern Beaches, the band began tinkering away in a humble backyard shed. Slogging through a slew of classic rock covers – Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd and The Rolling Stones – Ocean Alley cooked up a gooey fusion of reggae, alt and rock.
18 months after, venues like Sydney’s Mona Vale Hotel, The World Bar and Manly’s Moonshine bar became their very own stomping ground. They’re a far cry from the festival main stages and theatres the band have recently become acquainted with, but they proved to be the perfect setting to showcase their first ever EP Yellow Mellow, released in 2013.
Listen: Ocean Alley’s ‘Yellow Mellow’
“Our ‘Yellow Mellow’ EP was the first time our recorded music entered the public sphere. It was an exciting and completely new experience for all of us,” said guitarist Mitch Galbraith, pondering upon the recording process for the EP.
“I think we were pleasantly surprised with what we managed to create with our little experience and equipment. I remember we started renting a small warehouse just around the corner from where we lived to rehearse in and just hang out. It was next to a mechanic who got pretty pissed off with all of us and our friends who were always there making noise and getting in his way.
This space was where we wrote most of those songs, including ‘Yellow Mellow’. It was an amazing stopover point on our garage band journey. It gave us a place to be creative and gave us important time together to practice and write music. It was a place where the Ocean Alley vibe or ‘flavour’ was firmly established.”
Yellow Mellow is a hazy, adolescent journey and seeps in its funky passages and groovy overtones – it was the perfect collection of tunes to debut in sweaty, sticky bars and clubs to their bubbling fanbase. Its title track has since amassed over 10 million streams since its extremely humble beginning – the first of many successes for the band.
Taking their dizzying live show around the country multiple times in 2014, 2015 saw the release of their second EP In Purple, spawning two singles – ‘Space Goat’ and ‘Muddy Water’.
‘Space Goat’ managed to nab the band their first ever play on triple j, played in the wee hours of the morning in early February 2015.
triple j is a hallmark for all Aussie music fans, and for Ocean Alley, it was no different. However, the band always had hard work at the forefront of their minds.
“triple j is the radio station we listen to satisfy our hunger for new music and when we first created music and decided to share it with other people it was a platform that we wanted to get our stuff on to because of its affiliation with young and upcoming musicians.”
“We didn’t want to have ‘triple j playback’ as a singular goal as we believed making music for this sole purpose wouldn’t be as wholesome as doing it for ourselves, but if we could do that and get airplay, then that was the ideal scenario. In saying this, the first time we heard ourselves on the radio was a great feeling. It helps to validate your music making process and gives you encouragement to keep writing and performing.”
The In Purple EP marked their first of many collaborations with producer Callum Howell, who the band still work with to this day in the studio and on the road. It further cemented the band’s presence as a unique entity in the scene, with a killer aesthetic to boot.
Watch: Ocean Alley’s ‘Space Goat’
In April 2015, the band embarked on their biggest tour to date – their eight date ‘Space Goat’ tour, taking to the stage of Sydney’s Metro Lair to a sold-out audience. If that wasn’t enough to solidify their hype, the band sold out an 18+ show that night at Sydney’s Brighton Up Bar after the Metro Lair show.
“Pulling this off was a great feeling and spurred us on to keep touring in the early days. These are two well known venues on two very well know streets in Sydney City, Oxford and George street and, even though the city is about an hour away from where we live now and grew up it was thanks to many of our first fans from around home that we were able to sell out these two shows.
I think this night was the culmination of our hard work touring around small venues in Sydney for a few years prior and was a special time for both us and the fans that had been there from the start.”
Part Two: All aboard the (well-deserved) hype train
By now, festivals were starting to call the band’s name – Party In The Paddock, Mountain Sounds and Party In The Park gave Ocean Alley their first taste of the festival life. By early 2016, they’d ticked venues like the Oxford Art Factory off their touring bucket list, toured with the likes of Blueberry Circuit and The Ruminaters and were about to take their sound across international waters to New Zealand for the first time.
As always, the band knew that although the initial ground had been made, it was time to step up their game when it came to conquering festival stages.
“We felt like we deserved to graduate after so many years plugging away and playing all the venues that we did, but you have to earn your opportunity. When we did finally make it to a festival stage, we realised very quickly that we would have to adapt our live show and focus on our showmanship onstage. There was more ground to cover onstage (literally), and so many more people looking back at us that we had to impress”
“It feels quite natural and easier now but it was definitely in the back of our minds a lot more back then. Festival sets soon became our favourite type of shows and continue to be major highlights for us and hopefully our fans too.
Playing outside during the day when the sun is in your eyes and you can’t see a thing is a small downside to playing festivals but the feeling of support backstage from other artists and the opportunity to play to huge crowds is why we love it so much.”
Lost Tropics was released in May – the band’s first ever full-length album. First single, ‘Holiday’ saw their sound taken to the next level with sleek production and even more summery sheen. Despite the album’s laid-back veneer, the band recalled the recording process to have been quite difficult.
“To be honest in hindsight it was very rushed and a huge learning curve. We made sure to improve how we went about it all on our follow up ‘Chiaroscuro’. We booked two consecutive weeks at Jungle Studios in Sydney for ‘Lost Tropics’ and then went about writing a dozen songs to go on the record.”
“We had initial ideas for a few but most of it was written in the two months leading up to the session we already had booked. The fact we had the sessions already booked really pushed us to get the writing done in time and possibly that didn’t allow us enough time to sit on our new material and get it really polished.
That being said we were very stoked with the end result and enjoyed the process immensely. Our positive experience with it just gave us a stronger itch to follow it up with another and to explore a slightly different way of creating a record which I think we successfully did in the end.”
Its music video, filmed by their long-time collaborators The Sauce (Tyler Bell), another Northern Beaches native, compiled snippets from their tour journeys. It encompasses the vibe Ocean Alley exude entirely – grabbing life’s pleasures and joys and living it to its most full, a trait they took into their hectic touring schedule and intensive recording sessions.
Since Australia and New Zealand had been conquered, it was time Europe got a taste of Ocean Alley – a massively bold and brave move for the band.
Watch: Ocean Alley’s ‘Stitch Up Diary’ Tour Doco
“The Europe tour was huge for us. It opened our eyes to the vast, almost endless types of music and music tastes around the world. It was a slap to the face and put us straight back in our place. In that way and looking back on it now it kept us grounded and ensured we didn’t get ahead of ourselves.”
The band took Tyler Bell on the road to chronicle the 30 date adventure, that saw the band storm through France, Italy, Germany and more.
“It was a sold out gig on the first night, so that was good for the spirits,” humbly notes keyboardist Lachlan in the doco.
Having not yet even cracked solid triple j play yet, the success of their monolithic European tour is proof of the power of a cracking live show and incredible artistic vision. From the clubs of Sydney’s northern beaches to Amsterdam’s red light district, Ocean Alley’s chemistry is one built on the grounds of hard work and genuine love of music.
“If we weren’t already certain we wanted to do this as a career before, then after our first big international tour in Europe there was no doubt about it amongst us all. The thing we liked most was how fast paced it was.
Meeting new people in a new place on a different stage every night is an incredible way to play music. The only constant was the music I guess as we played the same songs we had been playing at home and because of this we really honed our craft and became better musicians and better band members too.”
They rounded out a massive year with a final Australian tour in celebration of their debut album and quickly got to work on Chiaroscuro.
Part Three: Aussie indie rock domination
Spending the first half of 2017 touring with Tash Sultana, The Cat Empire and appearing at festivals like Groovin The Moo, Ocean Alley dropped ‘The Comedown’ in August as a stand-alone single.
After four years, triple j were on board. The band also received a huge honour for the track – awarded their first ever Hottest 100 entry at #48, an unforgettable moment for any Australian artist.
“We are proud of ‘The Comedown’ and it is a mile marker for us as writers too because the song has such different dynamics to those we had done before. Ever since we started writing, especially as a six-piece with three guitars and keys, we have been aware of how easy it is to lose dynamics if too many parts are played at the same time or don’t compliment each other well enough.”
Up until ‘The Comedown’ and a few others like ‘Happy Sad’ and ‘Confidence’ we had struggled a bit to write and play music that had really structured and thoughtful dynamics. It was probably a product of our ‘garage band’ start but after we got ourselves into the studio and a few pre-production sessions for our latest we were able to create space within our songs and that is the key to making something super listenable we think.
When it got #48 in the Hottest 100 last year we were frothing. The support from our fans and the reception the song got was so encouraging. It’s still one of our favourites to play live and makes it into every set without fail. “
Gearing up for what was a massive 2018, the band embarked on their biggest ever Australian tour to date in September 2017, selling out every single show.
On February 4th 2018, ‘Confidence’ was released, the first single off Chiaroscuro.
Watch: Ocean Alley’s ‘Confidence’
Since its release, the track has been certified Gold in Australia, moving over 35,000 units, surpassing 9 million streams and over 1.5 million video plays. If you’re wanting to take a small gamble, count ‘Confidence’ as a definite for this year’s Hottest 100, with the track clocking up over 136 plays on triple j as of November this year.
Released in March Chiaroscuro, has sold over 10,000 copies and amassed over 20 million streams, debuting at #15 on the ARIA Album Chart and nominated for J Award ‘Australian Album of the Year’.
“We all think that ‘Chiaroscuro’ is our best work to date and the tracks are our favourite to play live. This year spent touring this record overseas and at home in Aus has been exciting and it feels like the final destination of our ‘garage band’ upbringing. It really is the bookend for our growth and development as a band and as musicians since forming the band.”
25,000 tickets were sold to their Chiaroscuro album tour in May this year, with the band taking to the stage of Splendour In The Grass for the first time.
Ocean Alley’s growth has continued to bloom world-wide, heightened in late May with their first ever North American tour in play, taking to Europe and the UK again in September.
“From the beginning, jamming in the shed, to now playing sold out shows all over the world, a total of about 6 years, could seem from the outside that we’ve come a long way but making and performing music together as a band is something we are totally passionate about.
For us, we think we have so much further to go and so much more to create and achieve. If it’s possible, we want to be doing this for the rest of our lives. ‘Chiaroscuro’ was, for us as a band, the end of the beginning and hopefully the start of a long and successful music career for each of us.”
Fairytale-like success stories don’t come often in music anymore – Ocean Alley will go into 2019 with a J Award nomination, 40 million streams across their online catalogue and tens of thousands of tickets sold. With a legion of fans, and a country of music supporters at their fingertips, Ocean Alley are undeniably leading Australia’s next wave of indie rock stardom.
Ocean Alley refuse to rest on their laurels, despite 2018’s many successes, there are still mountains to climb and milestones to conquer.
Early next year, the band will be making their way around the country with Tash Sultana to play some of the country’s most esteemed venues. In June, they’ll be heading back to the States for a massive tour, continuing to build on what they’ve already achieved at home and overseas.
For a band with a work ethic and vision as strong as Ocean Alley’s, the sky is the limit – let’s see where they take 2019.