Interview: Ocean Alley (AUS) on Lonely Diamond, secret recipes and the luxury of time

Ocean Alley have cemented themselves as a pillar within the Australian music scene. From taking out the inaugural top spot on triple j‘s Hottest 100 in 2019 to being a festival fixture across the country, it’s quite clear that us Australians quite simply cannot get enough.

And thankfully not only do Ocean Alley hear this demand, but they’ve done something about it: they’ve released their third studio album, Lonely Diamond. This body of work is not a far cry from the sound we’ve previously heard, only now with a more noticeable Western influence. Despite a jam-packed 2019, the six members managed to find time to hone in and flesh out this collection further than their previous works, creating a more thoughtful creation.

We caught up with guitarist Mitch Galbraith ahead of its release to discuss reinvention, band dynamics and of course, who is the best cook.

Hey Mitch, where are you right now?

I’m at home, in Sydney’s Northern Beaches.

Nice! Is it your choice to get stuck with these interviews? Were you self-nominated or does the group nominate you for these?

Yeah, I’m the one that says the least amount of stupid things, so I don’t know, maybe. I’m helping out the blokes, they get a couple of days off.

The least loose cannon, hey. How’s iso been treating you?

Not bad. I mean, we haven’t been doing much, but yeah, just hanging out at home, playing music, surfing a little.

Sounds relaxing. I guess it was a much-needed break off the back of last year because it sounds like 2019 was just back-to-back, hectic for you guys.

Yeah, totally. We were keen to break, but it’s getting a bit boring now, we’d love to get back on the road already.

No doubt! Just to list off a couple of what you’ve been up to, you sold out 30 headline shows, you got nominated for ARIA Song of the Year, played major festivals like Reading and Leeds, Sziget, Splendour… What was the highlight? That all sounds massive.

I think the highlight was just all of it. It was the fact that all those tours that we did, were pretty successful. And everything went smoothly. No one got arrested, nothing got stolen and people showed up to the gig.

That’s always nice when there are people there… How many days off did you guys have last year? Particularly in your YouTube diaries, you say, “We had one day in between starting this tour and finishing this writing session.”

Yeah, yeah. We just ended up going from the airport, back home to wash our clothes and pack a bag and the next day go in the studio. We did that a few times. And then leaving the studio to go to New Zealand and do a weekend of shows, stuff like that.

And you even have managed to write a full album in between all of your appearances. Insane.

It was kinda good because we could escape from the studio for a bit and play the old stuff and come back to it with fresh ears. So it was helpful in the end. It’s helped us slow down and take a bit of a macro-view of what we were doing. And some of the songs, we rewrote a lot of the sections, then we came back to it.

I wanted to ask you about that because I guess, in that sense, you had more time to write Lonely Diamond. And like you said, you were able to demo and rewrite these songs more than you have in the past. Is that a blessing or a curse to have the luxury of time?

In our case, it would be a blessing because yeah, it’s too easy for us to get stuck in one way of doing things. And it’s hard to break away from one direction of thought, sometimes. So if you give it time and you don’t think about it for a while and you come back, that’s a tried and tested method of keeping stuff fresh and all of that.

Yeah, reinvention. That must be hard when you’re facing a new album and you’re like, “All right, guys, let’s do something new. Let’s do something fresh,” but it’s so much easier to say than do.

We thought it was more just a bit of a carry on from what we were doing last time, but with a bit more thought put into it. We don’t want to have set goals that are too unattainable or too far away, too uncomfortable, from what we’ve been doing previously.

Having listened to Lonely Diamond it’s definitely, obviously in the same vein as the Ocean Alley but it’s almost as though Ocean Alley went to a Tarantino film and was asked to score it and release it in an album form. I really love the Western twang you’ve got going on in this album.

Yeah, that was probably included in the latter stages of writing. It’s just our way of putting a different sound on there. And some of the songs that we’d already written, were written a year ago, all locked off. So, I think there is just a natural variation across the record.

Did you come into a lot of that Spaghetti Western culture when you were touring the States last year?

A little bit. I think we just liked the aesthetic, when we’re jamming and playing together. We like to write in that style and we don’t stop jingling and jangling around on the guitars. It’s pretty fun and intuitive for us to play like that.

I wanted to ask you about the band, because obviously you’d have a lot of FaceTime with your bandmates. And after nine years, there’d surely be frustrations but you guys are also best of friends, I’d imagine.

Yeah, yeah. It makes it easier, I think, when it comes to being creative, because we understand, we all have the same goal in mind. So it’s very democratic. And that way we get quite interesting result out of it, if each head’s working on the same problem equally.

Is it quite diplomatic when it comes to throwing in suggestions or are there some people who hold on to their ideas more than others?

No, I think everyone’s quite comfortable when it comes to what they give, what they contribute to the band when it comes to writing. And it’s just about getting the room and going with the flow and working it out together, like we’ve always done. We’re just getting better and better at it, so, that’s good.

Hell yeah, that’s so good. Is the band, as it currently stands, the original members from the nine years ago? Were there any more members that dropped off in the original days or were there people who came in later?

No, it’s the original members. There was a guy that was drumming, one of our friends, who was just sitting on the drum kit bashing away, in the early days, when we were in the shed. But we found a young friend who was a really good drummer and he’d been drumming for a lot longer than this other guy, so he just jumped on the kit. But it’s the original nine members from the first music that we released, for sure.

What were you guys doing on the side of Ocean Alley when it was just starting up? 

There are a couple of carpenters working in the warehouse, that stuff. Upholstery. And just kicking around really, doing day jobs.

Would those skills come in handy on the road at all?

Not really. Not really on the road. I suppose if we ever had to do some running repairs to the set, then a few of us are quite handy with the tools. So maybe, we can knock up some set props and some stage props on the fly.

Ocean Alley building their own set… Have you got any plans for your decade anniversary next year?

Well, hopefully we can be back doing some shows but we haven’t started planning that far ahead, we’ve as you can imagine, got a bit of a backlog of things to do. Something will happen, for sure.

When you created Lonely Diamond, you created it and recorded it in Byron and Grove Studios. Who was the most distracting band member throughout the recording process?

The drummer, Tommy [O’Brien], liked to sleep in late but I don’t think that was necessarily distracting. Baden [Donegal] can be pretty distracting with his jams, when he starts just interrupting the session and jangling away on his guitar. But, I think we’re all equally disruptive and interruptive. I don’t know, we just have so much and don’t take it too seriously. So there’s never any hard feelings when we’re in a room together playing music, I don’t think.

That’s important. You were also staying in a house together, who’s the best cook?

I’m the best cook, by far.

Yeah, what’s the signature dish?

I love to cook a mean pasta sauce. And I know everyone’s been getting involved in the cooking. Lachy [Galbraith], the keyboardist, makes a cracking hot chicken recipe.

What’s the secret ingredient?

Love.

That worked well for your band to have a signature ‘Hot Chicken’ recipe. That could be a really good social media campaign to get people to guess the secret ingredient in Lach’s hot chicken recipe.

He can even do a cooking show or something like that.

Oh, hell yeah. Like an Instagram Live cooking show?

Yeah, now you’re talking.

I‘d be so into that. All right, what’s one unreleased song from Lonely Diamond, that you’re most excited for your fans to hear?

‘All Worn Out’, probably. I think it’s just the one that stands out on the record the most, when you listen to it all in full. So I think when you finish that final song and you’re thinking back to what you’ve just heard, that’s one that stands out quite a lot. It’s just a bit of a flip on the album, it comes from somewhere else, so I think people will engage with that quite well.

And how are you going to celebrate the release?

Well, we can’t. We might try get down to the pub. But it’s a bit different circumstances. So it’s going to be a weak one, we probably never, no one from our generation or generation before, has to make music in this kind of environment. But we’re just keen to see what everyone thinks and we hope they’ll enjoy it.

You’ve got a very loyal fan base, if Laneway Festival in Sydney had anything to show for that, everyone stuck out the rain just for Ocean Alley, then flocked home.

Yeah, that was a pretty special night, hey?

Yeah, that was tumultuous, but well worth it! Mitch, thank you so much for chatting with me and congrats on the new album. It’s awesome.

Lonely Diamond is out now.

Head to Ocean Alley‘s website to stream and keep up to date with their upcoming tour. 

OCEAN ALLEY
AUSTRALIAN TOUR 2021

with Psychedelic Porn Crumpets & Dulcie
Tickets on sale now from oceanalley.com.au

Saturday 6 February – Hordern Pavilion, Sydney  SOLD OUT
Sunday 7 February – Hordern Pavilion, Sydney
Friday 12 February – Fortitude Music Hall, Brisbane  SOLD OUT
Saturday 13 February – Fortitude Music Hall, Brisbane
Friday 5 March – Fremantle Arts Centre, Perth
Friday 12 March – Thebarton Theatre, Adelaide
Wednesday 24 March – Melbourne Arena, Melbourne

Presented by triple j, Lonely Lands Agency & UNIFIED Music Group 

Photo credit: The Sauce / Kane Lehanneur

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