Growth, grunge and going against the grain: How Ocean Grove became an “antidote to the mundane”

As Melbourne shapeshifters Ocean Grove prepare to release third album Up In The Air Forever, vocalist Dale Tanner reflects on the band’s unexpected journey…

Growth, grunge and going against the grain: How Ocean Grove became an “antidote to the mundane”
Mischa Pearlman
Michelle Grace Hunder

Sometimes, one single decision can have a huge impact on your life. It doesn’t even have to be one you make yourself – it can be made for you. That’s something Dale Tanner learned early on in life. Having been raised in what he calls “sort of a rough neighborhood” in Melbourne, the Ocean Grove frontman got the opportunity to join a private high school. Even though he didn’t know anybody there, he took the chance. Not only was one of the first friends he made Luke Holmes, with whom he started Ocean Grove in 2010, but the whole experience shaped the kind of person that Dale would become.

“Coming from a slum-ish area,” he begins, “and then having that contrast of going to a private high school that was in sort of a rich area – even as a young boy that was already sort of an angle where I was like, ‘Okay, I’m like this outcast.’ And by the time Year 12 came around, I was school captain. That was such a pivotal example for me of how you can take something that would seemingly throw you off-track, and shift from being like, ‘I don’t know anyone, the next six years are going to suck, I can’t wait to get out of here,’ to, ‘Hang on! What impact can I actually make? How much can I grow from this experience?’”

All these years later, it’s an attitude that remains at the forefront of Dale’s approach to both life and all things Ocean Grove; he and his band constantly seek to go against the grain, while also trying to make the best of any obstacles that may spring up along the way. One such instance was when Luke, who had been Ocean Grove’s lead singer, left the band in 2019, some two years after the release of debut album The Rhapsody Tapes. And so, for its follow-up, 2020’s Flip Phone Fantasy, Dale took the reins and stepped up as frontman. As a result, their sound shifted, from nu-metal / metalcore-inspired blasts of noise to something a bit more out of the box.

And for third album Up In The Air Forever, the band – now a trio completed by Sam Bassal and Twiggy Hunter – have fully embraced that ability to shapeshift, altering their sound again to incorporate some more grungy and, in places, more sunny, summery, Oasis-esque vibes (just listen to lead single Silver Lining). Interestingly, as much as it’s a departure in sound, it makes perfect sense. These songs both take off from where that last record left off, but also enjoy a sharp left turn. Which, really, is business as usual. Because with this band, you have to expect the unexpected.

“That’s been our nature for so long now,” grins Dale. “It’s almost a thing that kind of plays through our minds in every step of Ocean Grove: ‘What direction do we want to take it?’ Every album release has been as unexpected for us as it has been for our fans, you know? We’re sort of in this ride with them, because we don’t even know where it’s heading. But that's fun. Ocean Grove has always built its name on experimentation, so in a way, everything feels like it’s changed, but at the same time it feels like we're so much more honed in on the original vision of Ocean Grove as it’s always been.”

A big part of that vision is set out in the band’s Odd World Manifesto and their own self-styled genre of odd world music that was inspired by it. Essentially a philosophical treatise mixed with a declaration of intent and a guide to life (“We would rather fade into obscurity and die out than live prosperously in a pigeonhole of mediocrity,” announces one sentence. “Take the opportunity to embrace people of different creeds and cultures, there are so many stories that can be shared and the world is a weird and wonderful place,” reads another), the band have truly followed their own commandments. Having heard from fans that their music has positively affected people has caused them to double down on this record.

“I want the message to be heard loud and clear,” says Dale, “that it’s about always seeking out the antithesis. It’s always about experimenting with that status quo. That’s a massive message of this album. Don’t get complacent. Don’t just sit in and be content with the norm. The greatest ideas and the inventions and art all come from someone sitting there sitting there being like, ‘How can we do this in a different way?’ And I love it.”

That ideology and mindset is illustrated by the album’s carton cover art. Made by Garbage Pail Kids artist Brent Engstrom, it shows a huge shoe – the Oddworld 3000 – crashing through the (fourth) wall of the Odd World universe to reveal a planet in flames as the band march angrily towards whoever’s looking at them. It’s a visual representation of the effect they want this record to have on people. Oddly, for all its deep symbolism, the whole shoe thing was kind of inspired by something a bit more basic – the 2003 sports comedy, Like Mike.

“It looks as though it’s this sort of omniscient tyrant kind of shoe that’s coming down and trying to squish us,” laughs Dale. “Whether that’s representing corporate interests or the government or CCTV or the pandemic or just these powers of oppression that anyone may be feeling. And then whether we’re breaking out of, or heading back into, the Odd World is up to interpretation. But the idea of the shoe is a play on the thing in Like Mike, where if you wear them they’ll make you actually jump higher and run faster. Except with these, the act of putting them on means you’re going against the grain – they represent anarchy and antithesis to the norm. And if that empowers you to go on your way and take on these norms or hurdles and rise above them, that's the message that we wanted to convey. It’s an antidote to the mundane.

“We just want people to hear these songs and feel uplifted,” he concludes, “and like they can conquer any situation to embrace their individuality.”

Up In The Air Forever is released April 22 via UNFD

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