Robin Staps Discusses The Ocean's New Album "Anthropocentric"
As a companion to the "Heliocentric" release, The Ocean dropped a new album titled "Anthropocentric" in November of 2010. Dealing with issues like history and science, the two albums work together as a broad critique of blind faith and those who reject evidence that contradicts a preconceived world view.
While taking a break from touring, The Ocean's Robin Staps spoke with me about recording the new album in the mountains of Switzerland, his distaste for the term "Post-Rock," and the band's plans for upcoming tour dates.
xFiruath: The Ocean has been around for about 10 years now, can you give me a rundown of the band’s history so far?
Robin: It’s been a long time. We started out sometime in 2000 or 2001, and I think and “we” would be an exaggeration. I’m the one who started the band and the people who are in the band now weren’t in it then. Basically it was me moving to Berlin with an idea of what I wanted to do and I was looking for people for a long time and discovered a lot of musicians. We started out as The Ocean Collective with lots of changing members. There were classical musicians in and out of the band for awhile. We recorded our first album in 2003 and then went touring a lot. We got signed to Metal Blade at one point and here we are in 2010 with a new lineup that’s been with us for about two years now. Over this time frame the collective has evolved a bit and now the members in the band are fixed. We have the collective of people sort of floating around the core of the band, but the people who play on the studio recordings usually don’t tour with us. But The Ocean in 2010 is a real band I’m quite happy with that.
xFiruath: It seems like no two reviewers can decide what style The Ocean really belongs in. How would you describe the music?
Robin: I really suck at that. I leave it up to the journalists. There’s a little bit of everything in there. We don’t really all come from the same narrow scene. I’m personally a hardcore kid. I grew up listening to lots of old school hardcore in the early ‘90s and got into more noisy abrasive stuff. But that’s just me. Our bass player is totally into ‘70s rock and garage stuff. Our drummer is a lot into jazz and all different kinds of music. We come from all different kinds of construction sites, so to speak. That all kind of has an influence on what we do as a band and the music we write. Most people say it’s metal to some degree, but I wouldn’t say we’re just a metal band. We’ve always had influence from classical music and we’ve had string player on our records. We always have some really calm moments. Our first album “Fogdiver” was entirely instrumental, there were no vocals on it. I guess most people would say somewhere between metal and post-rock, although I think that term is a bit silly. What is there after rock? It’s kind of insinuating that rock is dead or something, which is bullshit. I don’t really like that term, but that’s what people usually say we sound like.
xFiruath: What’s going on with the new album “Anthropocentric?"
Robin: We recorded everything in Swizterland. I’m the only guy who still lives in Berlin. The other four members are actually from Swizterland. We have a studio there and we can take lots of time to do what we really wanted to do, which is really cool. So that’s why we decided to record there. We recorded in a city called La Chaux-de-Fonds, which is in the French part of Switzerland really high up in the mountains. It’s really isolated so there’s nothing to really do there except to play music, basically. That’s why the musicians there are so strikingly good, they are so bored. We recorded “Anthropocentric” in one big session with “Heliocentric,” which came out earlier. Both albums were originally meant to be released together, but then we decided not to do it. We felt we wouldn’t do our own songs justice by releasing too much material at once. People’s attention spans are usually rather short. The vocal recordings were done in 2010 with the mixing and mastering, but all the instrumental recordings were already done in 2009.
xFiruath: The lyrical themes of the new album are centered around a critique of Christianity. What specifically do the lyrics deal with in that theme?
Robin: Both of these albums are a broad scale critique of Christianity from different philosophical angles. Both are going about it from slightly different perspectives. “Heliocentric” goes about it in an historical and chronological way, starting with the original text of the Bible. It goes into Galileo and Copernicus and the discovery that Earth is not actually the center of the universe, which some die hard Christians still proclaim to this day. These discoveries have had an impact on people’s faith and then we conclude with Charles Darwin and his “Origin of Species,” which is really important in this regard. And then Richard Dawkins and his spearhead of modern atheism.
That was “Heliocentric,” but with “Anthropocentric” we’ve gone for a more personal approach. There are three songs on that album that have “The Grand Inquisitor” in the title, which refers to Dostoyevsky's novel The Brothers Karamazov. It’s telling the story of the second story of Christ and he’s being arrested by the Catholic inquisition and sentenced to death. The grand inquisitor is questioning Christ and basically telling him he’s failed in his mission and deprived humanity of salvation. That’s what all these songs are dealing with. It’s about Christianity in the broadest sense, but you have to go into each song to get the meaning of all of them. It makes sense together as a whole.
xFiruath: Have you heard about the Christian group putting out a bunch of billboards and driving around with ads on their cars proclaiming the rapture will occur on May 21st, 2011?
Robin: May 21st? We’ll wait for that day then. I’ll be sitting outside drinking a beer.
xFiruath: I’ve been reading up about the geocentric beliefs still held by Christian groups and it’s pretty crazy to think there are still people today who believe the Earth is flat and is the center of the universe.
Robin: People used to believe that a couple of hundred years ago and that was before the age of enlightenment and the scientific discoveries that have proven that’s not the fact. It’s striking how some people still want to hold these beliefs today just because it’s written in the Bible. Obviously we’re quite beyond that and should really trust rationality and reasoning and modern day science. Still some creationists just refuse to do that.
xFiruath: Where are you guys heading out on tour next?
Robin: We just got back from a big two and half month European tour supporting The Dillinger Escape Plan and right after that we had the Anathema tour. Right now we’re taking a short break. It feels good to sleep in your own bed again after almost three months on the road. We’ll be touring heavily in 2011. The first tour is probably going to take us to the U.S. It’s confirmed but not officially announced, so I don’t have specific details. It will probably be between April and May. We’ll be supporting a really outstanding band and I’m looking forward to that. After that we’ll come back for some U.K. shows. Then it’s festival season, so we’ve got lots of live activity coming up.
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