"We didn’t realise that we had been going through the valley of death." - Being As An Ocean guitarist Tyler Ross.
Being As An Ocean are set to release their brand new album 'PROXY: An A.N.I.M.O. Story' - a sci-fi themed concept record from the mind of frontman Joel Quartuccio.
To say that it's an ambitious project is an understatement - so we caught up with vocalist and frontman Joel Quartuccio and guitarist Tyler Ross to get the story behind 'Proxy'.
So what was the process for you, going from the release of ‘Waiting For Morning To Come’ to the creation of this record?
Says Joel: "‘Waiting For Morning To Come’ was a big landmark for us, because it was a time when we were being really resolute in wanting to take our destiny by the reins. What it did - and I would encourage any band who is in the same situation where you are feeling a bit of push and pull on the industry side of things - was helped us to realise that we needed to double down on ourselves. That’s what ‘Waiting For Morning To Come’ was for us - it was us saying ‘no, we are going to take this precious thing back and own it ourselves’. That was definitely a pre-cursor for the attitude that we have developed in the last year and a half. We are going to believe in the things we’ve done so far that have come naturally and that we love, knowing that they are the things that people latched on to within the earlier records. So leading up to the making of ‘Proxy', the general consensus between the four of us was not holding back. It was facing this head on and writing exactly what we felt needed to come on."
Tyler: "We didn’t realise that we had been going through the valley of death. Like, we released ‘Waiting For Morning To Come’ with no label, no advertising, no magazines, no budgets, nothing at all. We just sent out a tweet saying ‘here’s the album, go and have fun'. So when it came to 'Proxy', it all kind of dawned on us. It’s amazing that we had even made it to this point. If the fans weren’t so dedicated and we weren’t so sure about what we wanted to do then we may not have made it through all of this. We made it through it stronger than ever."
How did you go about developing the story this album tells, and subsequently the music that serves as a backdrop to it?
Tyler: "We had a band when we were kids, and that band had a concept album of the same scope as this one. It was a 17-song album that we made when we were 17 years old. It had a story, and every single song was a different genre. What I’m trying to say is that this sort of thing is in our blood. The fans may see ‘Dear G-d’ as the beginning of this band, but it isn’t the beginning of the story for me and Joel and Ralphie, and then later finding Michael. The album had this huge scope, but because we were kids it didn’t go anywhere. So let’s fast-forward 11 years to now: I was the one who originally said to Joel ‘can you come up with one of your crazy concepts?’. He writes stories - he wrote a whole book for that record when we were kids. Really, Joel has always been toning it back. When I told him to unleash it on this record because we have the support to pull it off such a huge creative universe, his response was ‘really? I can go this crazy with it?’."
Joel: "Tyler messaged all of us about five or six months before we went into the studio and said that in his mind, the best way moving forward was to make this record deeply conceptual. To flesh out a true skin for it to embody - so I took that and ran with it. I let my imagination go wild. I started writing up this treatment for this whole world and back-story - from something that started out over text messages, to me sitting down in a café one day with all of my notes and pumping this thing out. The first version of this was extremely ambitious - it was in a very big scope. I’m grateful to myself that I took it that way because it is so much easier to self-edit."
Tyler: "I think that Joel has a depth to him that people don’t fully realise yet, they know him on the level of what I like to call an emotional monster - not in the bad sense. I mean the guy in the middle of the pit with 20 guys hanging off his arms, and sweating and bleeding and crying and he is holding them together like glue. That’s an emotional monster. Though to the fans, there is more to Joel’s creativity than you will ever have known. When you dig into his lyrics more you start to realise that, just because his lyrics are so complex. If you go back through all the albums you would probably realise that this guy is a prolific writer."
Joel: "So then I had a story and an arc to the movie that we were just about to start writing the soundtrack to. I brought the concept and the imagery and the characters and everything in and the boys started calling it my ‘dossier’. I handed it out to everybody on the first day in the studio when we hadn’t written a lick of completed music. We had done that on purpose - e wanted to make sure that we were all in the studio at once, which was a unique thing for this album as well with us all being so spread out across the world. This was a conscious effort to make sure that everybody was in the same room for the whole process and all getting on the same wavelength. Every single day was all of us being able to have our piece and our say. I think that’s why it’s turned out to be our best album yet."
Sonically the record dives into styles and sounds that Being As An Ocean of years before would never have dared to attempt. How was it for you coming to terms with the path you found yourselves on?
Joel: "It felt exciting - that was the beauty of it all. This stuff always existed inside of us, so waking up every morning and slowly brushing away and chipping at the outside to what we were all actually feeling and what we saw in our heads - that puzzle-solving element of things was super exciting. The energy in the room was just there. It’s something that some bands will totally understand, and others will not. I know plenty of people who hate the studio because they are trying to wring out their mental sponges. For this album everyone was extremely invigorated because we knew that every single song was going to be different and we didn’t have this pre-concerted notion of ourselves - we just knew that we wanted to make something new. We’ve never had to fight a lack of motivation, ever since the band’s inception we have been passionate about creating music and getting better and developing our skills. I feel like this album is a beautiful culminating of all of that energy."
Tyler: "When we made these expansive, adventurous songs when we were younger, I would put all of these different kinds of sounds in there - back then though it was all a little bit raw and rough round the edges. I feel in a lot of ways this album is me as an artist coming full circle. Once Being As An Ocean took off I never really had any time to do anything but play guitar. I produced ‘Dear G-d’, the first record, and then after that we started going to studios and working with producers and letting them guide the process. I would be mostly writing the songs and playing guitar there.
"Now, if you were to take ‘Proxy’ and smash it open, you would see that each song has at least 200 - 300 tracks. There is a whole story of how these songs came to be hiding in there - it's the process of me finding myself again as a producer. It was such a blast for me to work on and I have never been more proud of something I have done. I was not going to finish this project without it being the absolutely best that it could be - we poured our hearts into this and did absolutely everything that I could. The only option for us if we wanted to make a better album would be to make another album."
What was it like developing the visual side of things?
Joel: "Every one of us has always been super into different forms of media. I’m a clinical binge watcher and I draw a lot of inspiration from visuals. It was more of a challenge that I was excited to meet head on. Getting a taste for this side of things in the ‘Alone’ video, which was such a blast to make. It’s always great when something that is hard doesn’t feel like work at all. We had all talked about how beneficial it would be to see me in a role and being a part of the narrative that I had written not just for the fan but also in terms of pushing myself. Going into the filming for ‘Play Pretend’ there was a lot of competing against my past self and embracing the whole experience. It was so much fun being able to play that character and to get deep into the world that I had first seen inside of my head. Not many people get that opportunity to live both sides. Being able to conceive a villainous character and then subsequently feel the dread of them speaking to me. It’s something I will hold dear to myself for as long as I live.
Tyler: "I’ve know Joel for 14 years and I’m was watching him act like ‘whoa’. He’s not trained in this - nobody taught him how to do this, he just turned up and did it. The emotions that manage to come across his face are absolutely crazy. It was emotional just being on set watching him act - the director would be saying ‘give me grief’ and he would be crying. Like, genuinely crying."
How does it feel looking back on the distance that you have travelled throughout your career to reach a point where you could make an album like this?
Joel: "I think that in the past there were so many things that had to happen within me to reach this point that I was using the music to work out. If I’m honest with myself, I don’t think the Joel of 2015 would have been able to pull this sort of thing out of myself. Simply - I was thinking a lot more inwardly back then through my outlet, music, which I needed to heal and reconcile and understand. Through continuing to stay as genuine as possible within music, and within life on top of that, that’s how I was able to bring myself to this point. Every little decision is a building block, and back then I could only have dreamed of doing something like this. Whether it’s a dream or a goal in mind, with hard work and staying at it, things can bring themselves about - that was a feeling that stuck with me throughout the creation of this whole album."
Tyler: "One thing I have noticed lately through writing, making and producing the album is that getting your head clear is the only game in town. What I mean by that is if your head is right and you’re confident in the music that you want to make, then you can get everything done so quickly - or you can agonise over every detail for a year, and if everyone has their goals aligned then they will be unstoppable. If everyone wants a different thing and nobody really knows what they want, then you start to notice things fragmenting. I will value getting my head straight and figuring things out because if I have that in order then I know that I will absolutely crush it."
How far do you feel like this vision stretches?
Joel: "I sometimes wish that people could observe our band’s group chat, because we constantly pump each other up. It’s not boastful talk - it’s talk that is deeply motivating. Our mantra that we have been pushing into each other’s heads around this record is ‘No Ceiling’. Don’t think about the next thing that we want to achieve because if we just keep on working hard, making good shit and putting ourselves fully out there, then the story is already written - we just have to walk through it. I’m not saying that we are going to meet up with Netflix tomorrow, but we would absolutely consider it - why not? We are going to continue to push ourselves in terms of every single aspect of what this music is. I think that with that drive and that honed-in energy there’s no boundary except the ones that we set for ourselves. The thing is we have resigned to knocking them all down - we aren’t going to put any mental block up that was non-existent in the first place. We aren’t going to let anything get into our heads, because look how far we have made it so far."
Tyler: "‘Proxy’ is the hardest album I have ever worked on. It’s the hardest I have ever worked, the most scared I have been, the most struggle I have had, but at the same time all four of us said the same thing when it was over - ‘when can we go in the studio again?’. Getting over that creative barrier actually opens the door to new ideas for you. We faced our fears in terms of different songs and genres and techniques and structures - there were so many creative fears we jumped over and now we feel the most creativity we have ever felt."
Ultimately, what does Being As An Ocean represent within your life and the person that you are today?
Joel: "It’s my community. We started this band with best friends - we’d known each other and been making music together since we were all 13 years old. So with Being As An Ocean, it is this amazing family that we have built. Doing something you are extremely passionate about with the people you care the most about and care most for you - that whole vibe and energy radiates outwards. It’s felt by the people who listen to us, the people who come and see us play, the people who understand deeply that we all care not just about the music, but for one another. That’s what has made this band one of the biggest things in my life - we’ve all had an opportunity to grow up while making this music. We aren’t afraid to point out each other’s failings and tell each other how to be better people in life, not just in the band. We want to keep on inspiring that sense of cathartic expression for as long as the band is around, which is as long as we are still living."
Being As An Ocean's new album 'PROXY: : An A.N.I.M.O. Story' is set for release Friday, September 13.