Self-dubbed “loud Americana” outfit Oceanography is set to release its second record, an EP called Parachutes of Plenty, on December 12th, and they’re celebrating the occasion with a show at the Hemlock Tavern the following night. The Oakland-based band is fronted by Brian Kelly (above), a native of Livermore and graduate of Chico State that returned to the East Bay in 2009 following a stint in Brooklyn. Armed with a handful of songs, he recorded and released Oceanography’s eponymous debut EP in 2011, and then headed back into the studio to write and record what would become Parachutes of Plenty, which is an emotionally-gripping five-track record, exhibiting a broad range of influences and sounds, from old school U2 and New Wave to 90s alternative.
Recently, Kelly was kind enough to not only answer a few questions for The Bay Bridged about Oceanography’s new record and record release show, but also to give us a copy of the EP’s second single “Napoleon Holiday”, which you can stream and download below.
In 2009, you moved back home to Oakland after some time in Brooklyn – what spurred the decision to return to the West Coast?
A family member was having some serious health issues (but is fine now). So that was the main catalyst — and the band I was playing in broke up. Plus, I liked the idea of being able to load a bunch of gear into a car and play loud rock shows, as opposed to schlepping a tiny amp on the subway. Then there’s the weather issue. Oakland, on some level, seems to be what Williamsburg was in the early 2000s: creative people making things happen on a DIY level — and hipsters drinking expensive coffee.
Although Oceanography has been described as your “baby,” it’s not truly a solo project, as I understand it. What musicians can we hear on your new EP Parachutes of Plenty, and to what extent did they contribute in terms of songwriting?
There are two other musicians on the EP, Scott Barwick and Kathleen Richards. Scott added some Wurlitzer and Hammond to several tracks and mixed the EP. He mainly contributed to the recording process, not the songwriting. Kathleen on the other hand played an integral role. A few of the songs would’ve just stayed in my notebook if her drumbeats hadn’t revived them. “American Cars” is a good example. It was basically a throwaway song until she approached me with this drumbeat she’d been toying with. She sang the beat to me and I instantly knew it would be perfect for “American Cars”. It had originally been written as a sad bastard ballad, which I hated and had no desire to play in public. Her beat saved the song from the rubbish bin.
Do you intend to continue working with any of them moving forward, and will they be joining you on-stage at the Hemlock next Thursday, when you’re celebrating the official release of Parachutes of Plenty?
It’s hard to say whether or not we’ll continue working together. I admit I’m not the easiest person to work with, but time will tell. For the Hemlock there’ll be a completely different cast of characters. Garrit McGuire will be playing drums. He’s a monster on the kit. Bill Sanders will be on bass and vocals. And Steven Tough will be on keys. But who knows who might pop up on stage.
Why did you choose the Hemlock for your record release show?
The people who work there are laid-back, not pretentious. It’s a great room, intimate but not too small, AND it sounds great in there. PLUS the people who walk into the back room are there to hear music, not get drunk and get laid…or…well…you know what I mean. The stage is in a room separate from the bar. So that’s nice.
The video for the second single off Parachutes of Plenty – a track called “Napoleon Holiday” – premiered recently on Lo-Pie, and we’re running a free download of the single with this interview. Why did you choose the two singles you’ve released so far, “Napoleon Holiday” and “American Cars”?
Wait, did you say FREE? SHIT! I’m never going to recoup my expenses am I? Oh well. To answer your question, the title of the EP is a lyric in “Napoleon Holiday”. So that song seemed to make sense as a single. Also, video accompaniment was a factor and the video ideas I had been toying with only suited those two songs. There’s actually a third video for the last track on the EP, “Drinking Water”. Like the “Napoleon Holiday” vid, it’s also a stop-motion piece that, instead of old magazines, uses screen captures from Google Street View. Hopefully there won’t be any copyright issues with Google.
The EP’s opener is a driving, uplifting track called “Reggie Jackson”. Are you a baseball fan, and what inspired that song?
I’m not actually a baseball fan. The inspiration for the song is a little abstract, and more detached. It references a time when a collection agency was constantly calling me. The agent, who I’d developed a humorous telephone relationship with, used the alias Reggie Jackson, which seemed so contrived. Who knows, it may have been his real name. Either way, at this low point in my life, it seemed funny — the possibility of having this famous baseball player REGGIE JACKSON take time out of his busy schedule to call ME on the phone with genuine concern for my finances. This idea basically kept me from pitying myself into a hole. Me and Reggie Jackson — together fighting debt. So that’s where it started.
Oceanography’s sound has been likened to everything from War-era U2 and Band of Horses to Interpol. What influences do you hear in your music, and what is “loud Americana”?
I can definitely understand those comparisons. I grew up with older sisters who were into New Wave. When I was really young, bands like early U2, New Order, Duran Duran, The Smiths, and Echo and the Bunnymen were on heavy rotation. I can’t say that I really have any influences that I’m conscious of specifically for this project, that is to say that I never sat down and said to myself, “I wanna start writing music that sounds like this or that. So, I’m not sure what influences I hear in my music.
Loud Americana seemed like the best way to describe our sound. While we do share many aspects of the Americana genre, the tonal aspects of that genre didn’t seem to work. I don’t play clean roots/blues guitar all the time. I do play a lot of flat picking a la American hillbilly, but I tend to jostle things tonally with distortion and delay swashes that can be a bit cacophonous. So that’s where the “loud” comes into play.
What’s next for Brian Kelly, and what’s next for Oceanography in the wake of the new EP? Will you tour? Return to the studio?
I’ll continue to write songs and talk people into playing them with me. That’s all I can say for myself. As for Oceanography, we’re currently working on new material for a full-length, some of which we’ll play on Thursday. Recording and touring to come late winter/early spring.