We’ve won artist of the year, live band of the year, album of the month and all kinds of stuff… but until we win a Prog Award, I won’t be that impressed!” quips Dobber Beverly, founder of Southern soulful proggers Oceans Of Slumber.
Prog meets the Texans on a crisp evening at London’s Tufnell Park Dome, ahead of their live show. We are greeted by burly drummer Beverly, and the atmosphere is instantly friendly and candid. Laughs are shared and boozy shenanigans with their current touring companions, Enslaved, are spoken of before new, slightly shy singer Cammie Gilbert makes a discreet entrance to quietly join us.
Oceans Of Slumber originally began in 2011 as a heavy rock band, but it wasn’t long before they embraced their proggier side.
“I became a musician because of David Gilmour,” Beverly explains in his thick Southern drawl. “He is my favourite guitar player. And since I was a kid, I was into the idea of a heavy band, but with beautiful female vocals.”
Beverly’s idea soon came to fruition. After their first vocalist left the band due to personal issues, Oceans Of Slumber were keen to take a new musical leap which coincided, as though by fate, with their introduction to Cammie Gilbert.
“I met Cammie at a benefit we were doing for starving musicians in Houston called Will Play for Food,” explains Beverly. “She was singing in a post-rock band at the time. I thought that bringing a Texan blues and soul vocalist to this type of music would be kind of different, and would also fit us well.”
By adding Gilbert to the melodic equation, Oceans Of Slumber became a multi-facetted prog entity, combining lingering lyrical tones, technical and fast-paced chords and drums together with mesmerising proggy doom. Their geographical location also plays a role in their sound…
“We just do things a little differently to other progressive bands. We are more Southern and bayou-like,” says Beverly. “We love jazz and blues. We love that dirty, burlesque, New Orleans style and swing. There’s a serious and sinister quality to our music.
“Having a female vocalist in our band was the missing piece,” he continues on Gilbert’s arrival to the band. “I think that there is a delicacy to women’s vocals that cannot be recreated by a man. There’s something about the female voice that can lend itself to so much more. We love playing within that dynamic range and in order to do that we need someone who can friskily run along with us.”
Gilbert chimes in: “Before joining I was in a band just for fun. We had only had a few gigs around Houston. Oceans Of Slumber is my first big pursuit and production.”
Naming Aretha Franklin, Shirley Bassey and Ella Fitzgerald as her influences, Gilbert’s voice has a seamlessly effortless power of projection.
“I grew up in a very musical household. My dad was a local jazz musician and music was always in our house. I guess coming across the guys was good timing and serendipitous. At the point I felt like this was something I wanted to pursue seriously, be all about this kind of life and now we are here,” she affirms.
“I knew that when the band changed from the old vocalist to me, people were going to say that it wasn’t as heavy, even though it’s exactly the same music. People see that we are a female fronted band and they immediately think that I am going to be singing symphonic vocals and I definitely do not sing like that [laughs]! For us, progressive music is expansiveness of storytelling. The death metal and more violent side to our music is Oceans’ alter-ego.”
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Oceans Of Slumber’s second album, Winter, marks a new musical start with Gilbert’s emotional and elegant vocals in the foreground. The previous EP, Blue was released beforehand to bid the band some strengthening time.
“Obviously we love a vast array of music and we also like the way that we hear it too,” says Beverly. “Winter was already finished and we had an idea to put together Blue so that we could stretch out and give ourselves some time, stay busy and not be chomping at the bit.
“When Cammie joined, she recorded Winter and prepped for an entire EP in the space of about three months. She came in and did everything to prepare to perform these songs, then tracked the entire Winter album. This was incredibly telling of her work ethic, which is awesome, because that is the way that we work too.”
The latest album is an emotional rollercoaster of heavy doom and grandiose soundscapes. Gilbert’s vocals are a mystical driving force for the catchy melodies, notably in the song Sunlight, where it acts almost as a siren’s call from the rocks.
Their cover of Nights In White Satin is an effective variation from the Moody Blues original, with pounding drums in all the right places, reinforcing its status as a tender prog anthem.
“We are music fans, first and foremost. We have no qualms reinterpreting songs that were formative in our appreciation of music and what we do here,” says Beverly.
The album offers soft instrumental bridges between tracks, Suffer The Last Bridge sparks up the album’s tone into a groovy blend of traditional death metal guitar riffs and a catchy chorus, while Lullaby soothes us into a sense of tranquillity and wonder.
There is a meandering theme of love, loss and personal struggle throughout the album, as demonstrated in lyrics such as: ‘I can’t feel. There’s no light/ Nothing left, this world has grown cold/ There’s no light. No love around me/ You and I were never meant to be.’ But it’s not all doom and gloom, more an examination of reality.
“There is no need to look for a theme in what we do because life is fucking beautiful and terrible at the same time, and we absolutely live by that,” explains Beverly.
“Most of what existence is, is your interaction with other people,” continues Gilbert thoughtfully. “Across our album Winter, it is a personal evolution of grand romanticism. It’s about the deconstruction of someone, the highs and lows and their perception of themselves and of others. It’s about being hopeful and loving or self-destructive. It’s easy to bend our lyrics into something more concrete and about relationships, but on the outside, the ideas are meant to be much grander and expansive than that.”
“What about life is not romanticised in any kind of way?” adds Beverly. “It’s like a grand idea of over-importance and then a realisation of none. You could say that it’s about a relationship, but that relationship could be either with life or a person-to -person thing.”
Ocean Of Slumber’s skillful writing process correlates with their aptitude as live performers, as Beverly explains.
“We work more off of the instantaneous rather than concrete ideas. In fact when we play live, we deviate from the record constantly because we believe that songs are in a constant state of evolution. Just because a song has been recorded, we only look at that as a place and time.”
It’s a mix of Pink Floyd and doom rock t-shirts in the audience that greets Oceans when they hit the small stage tonight, and all are engrossed in their blend of mellow melodies and more direct blast beats. With a set built around this year’s Winter the atmosphere is powerful and romantic; the kind of showing that will guarantee you that second date. The crowd are hooked and the band do not disappoint. They claim they’d not planned to play their cover of Nights In White Satin, but when they do, it goes down a storm.
Gilbert’s shyness in person transforms into total dominance on stage, as the rest of the group follow her powerful vocal lead. It’s also important to Oceans Of Slumber to retain a sacred connexion with the crowd throughout – they’re fond of playing fan requests and improvising.
“We went to Euroblast knowing that we were going to be a dark horse amongst all of the progressive djent bands,” explains Beverly, “so we decided to play all of our moody songs rather than playing the kind of stuff that they have been hearing all day. When we got outside, people were teary-eyed and saying that the gig was an emotional experience for them. That is exactly the kind of connection that we want.”
The band are already working on the next two albums, and say that fans can expect to be pleasantly surprised.
“The next album is going to be a bit more technical because have frames of songs already written and that is how it has turned out,” says Beverly. “It is a grand concept album that might have to be split into two albums. We have some guest vocalists and some really big surprises to look forward to.”
Winter is out now on Century Media. See www.oceansofslumber.com for more information.