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Finding Lost Ocean
The Dr BLT Rock n Role Model Interview
Hosted by psychologist, Dr Bruce L. Thiessen, aka Dr BLT
I thought I had lost Lost Ocean, or, at least, my interview with the band. As it turns out, the date and time I thought I had nailed down for the interview was still a little up in the air. Since I am the most forgetful person that I know, I'll give the band, and not myself, the benefit of the doubt for the communication break-down.
It was Friday, November 9, 2007. Bakersfield, the band's hometown, was in the midst of an Indian summer and it was a beautiful, sunny morning.
I found (or, perhaps more accurately, rediscovered) Lost Ocean while I was doing a public rehearsal for my forthcoming Christmas CD release party in front of Rubio's Bar and Grill, right next to Starbucks, where the band meets regularly, and where I hang out every morning to eat, drink, and jam before heading off to my day job.
Jeff, the laid-back-looking front man with the thick, long bangs I haven't been able to sport since my first year in college, approached me between songs. I set down my guitar just long enough to reestablish the informal interview agreement.
We decided that since the band generally arrives a little later on Friday mornings than I do, (about the time I generally have to leave for my day job), we would do the interview a piece at a time----kind of the way Johnny Cash builds his Cadillac in "One Piece at a Time." A few moments later, I was right there, sitting on the floor with my tape recorder, engaged in this highly anticipated interview with Lost Ocean:
Dr. BLT: Why don't we start by having you guys introduce yourselves and tell us a little bit about each of your respective roles in the band.
Jeff: My name is Jeff Gray, and I play guitar and sing.
Skylar: I'm Skylar, and I play piano/keyboards.
Dr. BLT: Okay, I'd like to ask you this, Sklyar: What was it that initially brought you all together as a band?
Skylar: We got together as a collaboration-------A few of us, me, Bret and Chris, were already in a band before. We actually recorded a demo with Jeff. We connected on a lot of ideas, and we ended up writing new music together and we started working together from there.
Dr BLT: Jeff, when did you get the feeling that people were really connecting with your music? At what point did you feel you had that momentum going?
Jeff: When we first started, we kind of just locked ourselves away and recorded our own album. We wrote a lot of music and started sharing it with some friends. We were getting a real strong reaction from it compared to other projects each of us had been involved with in the past.
A few months later we were talking to the A&R of a small EMI company called Credential and he liked it as well, so we got to have some phone meetings with them, and then met up with them in L.A., and, they're based out of Nashville, but he came to L.A. for another project he was working with. We really got to connect with him, and we were able to see that not only our friends and people in Bakersfield were liking our music, but some professional people were liking it as well. We loved it too. I think it's the first project that we were all really loving.
Dr. BLT: Thanks, Jeff. Skylar, I'll direct this one to you. What inspires you, and what gives you energy as a band?
Skylar: Coffee. I guess that's why we're doing this interview at Starbucks. But no, really, I think there's a genuine connection between the four of us when we write, and we haven't been able to experience that with anyone else. Like, just yesterday, when we were writing a new demo, and, honestly, it came out of nowhere. It started out with just a drum beat, and then, the music just kind of happened by itself, and that's one of the best ways that we write our material. Random inspiration from inside.
Dr. BLT: It sounds exciting, like a spontaneous, creative process. You can start with almost nothing and take it to a whole different level. Speaking of a spontaneous, creative process, who does your artwork?
Jeff: Well, the guy's name is J.C. Bailey. He's based out of Nashville. He's with a band called Paper Route, it's kind of a digital band, and it's interesting to us. We just feel very blessed to work with him. He pretty much just works with the people who have a sound that he likes. He felt inspired to work on this cover (Lost Ocean self-titled CD), after hearing one of our songs, a song called "Just Glide." He also worked on the cover for our EP, called Night to Life. He's incredible at what he does.
Dr. BLT: I don't know if this is what he was going for, but when I look at the little people hanging from the dandelion, representing dandelion seeds, it's almost like they're all together, they're going round and round, but they are really tiny. To me, it's kind of like a statement involving human beings thinking that we're really important, when, in fact, in the grand scheme of things, in a sense, we're really insignificant.
Jeff: Yeah, I think that's how he was looking at it.
Dr. BLT: Well, as you guys may know, I'm a psychologist. So, I'm always interested in understanding how different personalities work together. What are some of the different personalities within your band, and how do you make it all work, with the personality differences and all.
Skylar: The one thing we always realize, when we're on the road, is that we're four guys, and with four guys, there's always going to be four different personalities. You kind of just have to learn when to just back off and let someone else take over. Otherwise, if you're always the one having to be in control, people are going to be unhappy. You kind of learn when you're wrong, or when you should just not say anything, and it just ends up working.
Dr. BLT: Now, as far as subject matter is concerned, I've been listening to your CD, and there seems to be a wide range of subjects that are addressed and it all seems very personal. What are some of the subjects that you guys write about?
Jeff: Well, I'm a fairly young lyric writer, but I really enjoyed writing the lyrics on this album. We wrote "Still Life" and "You Are" together as a group. And Vast fits into this too. It's like what you were saying about the album cover, how small we are in the grand scheme of things. It's that personal realization and the journey, growing up and realizing that fact, and how, knowing that, can help you, in the grand scheme of things in your life.
"Everything Is" is a song that was written right around the time I was getting married. It was me, looking at a lot of relationships and marriages that fail because of a so-called "lack of passion." It's about realizing that love is a decision that you make, taking that, and deciding to keep the passion alive and to do things about it, so that was a fun lyric for me to write as well.
Other lyrics are really abstract, and we just had a really good time. Our intention was just to spark some images in the listener's head and let them go somewhere with it on a journey of their own.
Dr. BLT: I was listening to "Believe" the other day, and it seemed to be dealing with a relationship, and the song spoke of beauty and innocence. It also mentions belief and the notion of having been deceived. Does that song have to do with a relationship?
Jeff: Actually no, and that's one of the reasons I like it. It sounds like it's talking about a relationship when it is really just addressing a daily struggle with temptation and just issues in your life. It talks about something beautiful as opposed to deception where you're kind of giving into things and then you sort of hit rock bottom. That's where the chorus is going and then the bridge just takes you back to focus on beauty.
Dr BLT: I noticed in listening to your CD that you seem to be influenced by the Beatles, yet it's like something old meeting something new, like the Beatles and the Strokes for example. I hate to compare you, because you are your own band, but I experience it as the past meeting the present meeting the future.
I'm just curious as to what you feel your influences have been.
Jeff: Well, that's a tremendous compliment, really, because I think that's always been in all of our subconscious minds----the Beatles, their long history, and their diversity, but they've always had this certain charm, and I think we've always had that, in the back of our minds as we write music and stuff. Yeah, that's been an influence for all of us, and its nice to hear that that could kind of transcend and push towards the future. That's really cool to hear. But, recently, a favorite album of all of ours is In Rainbows by Radiohead. They've kind of shaken up the industry in kind of an interesting way. It has some people talking and some people frustrated, but we just love the record. That's the sound we like, and we like a lot of indie music as well. But, yeah, the Beatles are at the core of it, and Radiohead's another one right up there.
Dr BLT: It's kind of getting challenging, making a living as a musician, Radiohead took a risk, and a lot of people kind of just took advantage of it, and took the CD for free. How do you feel about the way that music is going these days, you know, with less people buying CDs and more folks buying individual mp3s. How do you feel about the future, and how do you hope to make a living at this? You guys are getting really well known, but its even difficult for well-known artists to make a living these days.
Jeff: Yeah, that's something we're always looking at. A lot of artists are realizing that there is more potential to make money with "live" performances." But iTunes is a really popular thing, and me and Sky were talking the other day about how 2007 was such a huge year for music---the evolution of how people get music and how artists still get paid. The truth is, as it is right now, iTunes pays a fair wage to the artists for the songs, so, if that continues, that's okay.
Radiohead did take a risk, and we'll see how that all pans out, to see if more people will jump onto that bandwagon. What they're doing is asking people to place a value on what music in their lives. Like, what is this really worth to you? Do you want artists to continue to make music? We've been in that struggle at times. We're going to try and get creative in terms of how to do that, because we do want to make a living at this. We want to do this for years for people and that's what we're passionate about.
Yeah, that is very difficult, we're just trying to think outside the box on how to make a living at it.
Dr BLT: Bret, let me direct this one to you. I don't know if you're involved in the writing process, but, to what extent does the band draw from the personal experiences of band members?
Bret: Well, we did a lot more group collaboration on the writing earlier. We try to write songs that people can relate to, that also have depth. It's probably too abstract for most people to find any depth in it, but if people figure it out, then there's a reward to it.
Dr BLT: How about you two (Skylar and Jeff), how would you answer that?
Skylar: Well, I would say that we don't really rely on too many cliché subject matters. We're not trying to toot our own horn or say that we're above that or anything, but we try to come up with something creative other than just a love song, not that there's anything wrong with that, but we try to make sure that our subject matter is wide, so that its not just like, "Okay, let's try another love song." or, "Let's write a song about being sad."
Dr. BLT: That sounds like something that psychologists do with the Rorschalk or inkblot test, where you show people ink blots and they project their own experiences onto it.
Okay, this is a question that I'm going to ask you, Skylar. How do you balance being totally free to create with expectations that others have of you----fans, record producers, people in the industry, and the like?
Skylar: I think we've been lucky enough where us being free is what people want, for the most part. I mean there's always going to be some sort of expectations, but what's cool about Lost Ocean is that we all kind of have our own specific personalities, and we each have our instruments or whatever we're contributing to the music, and, to us, that is being free. Being able to get into that character on stage, that's our way of expressing what you're talking about. Plus, people are really liking it, and responding to it very well.
Dr BLT: This is a question that the band Cake put up on their website in a poll based on a statement I made in their music video for "Short Skirt/Long Jacket" in which I identified the song as being therapeutic. They asked their fans, to state the degree to which they found music, in general, to be therapeutic. And that's what I'm asking you right now.
To what extent do you find music to be therapeutic, both for the artist and for the listener?
Jeff: It's such an important part of everyone's life. I know of very few people that don't have some kind of music going while they're driving. People have an opportunity to kind of create a soundtrack to their lives. Emotionally, they're connecting with it. Whatever music their choosing to listen to, they are identifying with who they are. So music is kind of helping people define, at least their image of themselves.
We get a lot of messages and emails from people about how our music has been therapeutic for them. It's gotten them through rough times, and that's so great to hear. We really love what we do and we really love people to be touched by it. You don't really think about it until you actually speak to people about it.
Dr. BLT: I'm going to throw this one out to either one of you. This is not meant to go to your heads or anything, but I think everybody would agree that you're the biggest band since Korn to come out of this area. But I noticed that there's a real contrast between what Korn does and what you seem to be doing. I mean, both bands are really creative, but their music is more chaotic and contains hostility, whereas you're music, while intense, is also melodic and seems to not involve that level of hostility. Why do you think this is the case?
Bret: Before this band, the four of us, and two other guys, were in another band. I won't name the name, cause it wasn't very good. And it was pretty heavy. There were two practices when those other guys weren't there, and we wrote some songs that just kind of happened naturally. These were more creative songs, and the other songs we tried to do in that heavy band were generic and it really wasn't what we were into.
It didn't really work and, even though that was the trend at the time, and still is, we realized it really wasn't our forte. We do listen to some of that stuff, like, Jeff's actually a really big Korn fan, but I think there's a difference between what you listen to sometimes, and what you want to do.
What we're doing right now is the common thread between the four of us.
Dr BLT: I guess when I think about Korn, I think about chaos. I mean, I think about create chaos, but its chaos just the same, and I'm wondering if maybe there just isn't as much chaos going on with you as with the members of their band. When I hear your music, I hear more of a harmony---more of a togetherness. Could that possibly be because maybe your lives are not as chaotic?
Jeff: Maybe. Everyone has stuff going on in their lives, but I think it's kind of how you deal with it. I think maybe we have a more hopeful outlook on things. So when something bad happens, instead of becoming all filled with rage, we try to remain hopeful. We think maybe this is happening for a reason, or maybe this is something you can grow from. It's kind of just making beautiful things out of bad circumstances.
Dr. BLT: Now I know that some people won't listen to you because they've already got you in a category, that category being "Christian rock." They don't want to open up their minds to the possibility that you don't fit their stereotypical ideas about who you are. Have you confronted that? If so, how do you deal with it?
Jeff: Yeah, that's something we've all been thinking about over the past while and something we've been kind of being learning about where we are all at with all that. We realize that, musically, we made a mainstream album. I mean, we all connect with God and its really the soul of our band. But as far as our fans go, on the whole, they are just as likely to be agnostic or atheistic as they are to be Christians. Maybe in Bakersfield that might be a little bit different.
So we realize that we're making music for the entire world, including non-Christians, and people are going to make different things of it, but really, that's kind of how we feel about it.
Ever since we've understood that about ourselves, things have gone a lot smoother. We certainly wouldn't label ourselves under the Christian rock category, but, we are at Berean Bookstore (a book and record store chain owned and operated by Christians). And our label is connected with an EMI Christian music group. But even they understand now that we are simply a band, making music.
Dr BLT: Well, it looks like we'll be able to wrap this up. I've just got a couple more questions. First of all, what does Thanksgiving and Christmas mean to you?
Jeff: Christmas, in my family, first and foremost, has always been about God, and just remembering Christ's birth. We also try to do that year round. And Thanksgiving promotes an attitude of selflessness. That's what it's always been about for me.
Dr BLT: Bret, how about you?
Bret: Well, I think the holidays all seem to roll up into one---it's a time to give thanks to God. At Thanksgiving and Christmas, I just try to be appreciative, and kind of slow down, and be with family. It should always be a top priority, but things get busy, but I try to slow everything down and have it be about those things.
Dr BLT: And how about you, Skylar?
Skylar: I see it as a big family thing, and I don't exactly over-eat, so it doesn't really affect me that much, but, just what it all represents is what's important to me.
Dr BLT: Okay, the last question has to do with the future. Where do you see yourselves going, at this point? God willing, what have you established for yourselves as a band as you look towards the future?
Bret: It's so hard, because the sky is the limit. In a year from now, we could be broken up, or we could be millionaires, or anything in between. I think in a year, if we just feel like we have a pretty strong team as far as management goes, and that, with the label, they're working with us, then we'll feel like things are working out.
And if we just continue writing for the second album and that goes well, that will give us a lot of stuff to choose from. And I'm hoping we'll just make a lot of fans. It doesn't really matter if a lot of people just buy your CDs and then forget about them. We really just need to have longevity, and to have that support group. So, this next year, we'll be focusing on that and connecting with a lot of people.
Dr BLT: Okay, well I want to just say that I love your music, I love what you're trying to do, and I wish you the very best.
There you have it-----my interview with the biggest band to come out of Bakersfield since Korn, and a band that is poised to make a huge impact on the world with their music---music that is positive, uplifting, intense, creative and, above all---passionately delivered from the bottom of their hearts.
At this point they were late for rehearsal and I was late for my day job, but that didn't stop them from offering me tips on my forthcoming Christmas CD, Certified Gold, Incense and Myrrh.
I had laid down most of the original tracks, but wanted some suggestions on a few standards to include. Jeff suggested "Silent Night," Skylar suggested "Away in a Manger" (done my own way), and Bret suggested "Baby, It's Cold Outside." I don't know if I can pull off that third one in such short notice, but I'm seriously considering including the other tracks.
With the interview in the bag, and a few prospective songs for my new CD, we called it a morning. We left what now has become a famous Starbucks site (not because I perform there but because these cats hang out there every Friday to prepare for their rehearsals). So if you're ever in B-town on a Friday morning cruising down Rosedale Highway just East of Ming, stop by, say hi to the boys, grab an autograph or two and greet me on the way out.
And, BTW, on behalf of myself
and the members of Lost Ocean, I'd like to wish all of you a very Merry
Christmas, and a Happy New Year!