It’s been a bittersweet summer for Ocean Alley. The Australian surf rock band, known for their genre-fusing songs and energetic concerts, was about to embark on a massive North American tour before the pandemic hit. Their third LP, Lonely Diamond, hit shelves and streaming services on June 19th. Despite the current lapse in live music, Ocean Alley is still celebrating a huge moment in their nearly decade-long career—they’ve evolved from playing dive bars and house parties to selling out shows all over the world. Their new record is introspective, warm, and inspired by the American West, marking a shift away from their reggae influences. It’s no wonder that fans love their laidback, high-on-life music.
The band consists of singer Baden Donegal, guitarists Angus Goodwin and Mitch Galbraith, drummer Tom O’Brien, keyboardist Lach Galbraith, and bassist Nic Blom. Watching their making-of YouTube doc, “Creating the Diamond,” you get the sense that the six of them couldn’t be more at home in the studio together. These guys riff off each other with ease, building infectious rhythms as they joke around. By inviting their fans into the recording booth, they’ve created a sense of community around their process in a way that few other bands have.
Ocean Alley sat down to talk with Lithium about Lonely Diamond, their writing process, and their experiences on tour.
Your YouTube series, “Constructing the Diamond”, gives us a glimpse into your songwriting process. What does the perfect day in the studio look like? Do you start with the melody or the lyrics?
Our perfect day is probably a late start, to be honest. We like to move at our own pace and we just kind of hang out and get stuff done. We tend to move between little jam sessions and recording to keep it fresh all day. We rarely start with lyrics—most of the time, it’s music first.
How did you go about expanding your sound on Lonely Diamond?
We experimented with a bit of a Western vibe in some of the tracks, but apart from that, we felt we kept it in line with what we’d done previously, whilst expanding further on soundscapes and themes. There was mostly a conscious effort to make sure we kept it sounding natural to ensure that we could replicate all the parts with instruments on stage.
It’s been seven years since the release of your debut EP, Yellow Mellow. What would you say now to your 2013 selves?
We’d tell ourselves to just keep plugging away and keep having fun and enjoying it. Not to take life or music too seriously.
Where do you see yourselves as a band seven years from now?
Hopefully, we’ll still be recording and performing music together. If we could keep punching out records and progressing our live show, that would be the dream. We feel that we have so much more to do with this, and it’s what we are devoted to.
On April 17th, you dropped a tour documentary. What were the most rewarding and most difficult aspects of touring 12 countries in 87 days?
Visiting new places and meeting new people is the best part. When you see crowds from overseas, especially, singing your songs back to you while you play, that’s what it’s all about. It’s so rewarding and just makes you want to do better. Of course, it’s a shit fight living on a bus and traveling together, but we love that too and wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.
What is the strangest experience you’ve had on tour?
We had Mick Fanning up on stage dancing and singing our cover of “Baby Come Back” with Baden at a show in Bali. I think he and some other surfers were hanging around there and crashed the party.
On your new single, “Hot Chicken,” there’s a lot of psychedelic, serpentine imagery—what’s the story behind this song?
It’s a song about temptation and desire. Nothing at all to do with chicken, but we like a bit of nonsense. It was a bit of a throwaway jam created when we had to pass the time and interrupt our recording sessions, but we liked the groove so much that we made it a song. The punchy rhythm suits the ominous story behind it, and we had a lot of fun recording this one, too.
Is there a left-of-field song on Lonely Diamond your fans won’t expect?
There’s a pretty downtempo slow jam in there that Lach wrote on the keys, and it pulls at the heartstrings a bit. There are two guests on this track, too, that accompany us and add to the mood. Lara King plays cello and Will Morrissey’s on the saxophone.
Finally, how are you going to celebrate the release of Lonely Diamond during lockdown?
We’ve got something special for everyone we’ve been working on during lockdown that will be released after the record drops. It’s awesome that we’ve had an opportunity to create something as close to a live experience as we can right now. It won’t be perfect, but, hopefully, we can all celebrate together in spirit.
You can stream Lonely Diamond on Spotify and Apple Music.
By MJ Brown
Image credit: The Sauce