IT’S ironic that Sydney band Ocean Alley have become a recent favourite of youth-oriented radio station triple j.
While the public broadcaster these days appears obsessed with electronic music, the psych-rock reggae-fusion six-piece have their foundations in the glories of the past. In the celebration of classic rock.
“[Our influences are] Dire Straits, Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix,” says Ocean Alley rhythm guitarist Mitch Galbraith.
“Basically all the bands that [commercial station] Triple M is flogging.”
These retro stylings have done nothing to hamper the impact and popularity of their music.
Ocean Alley’s second album Chiaroscuro was released last week and is a stunning collection of ebbing and flowing tracks; full of slinky bass riffs, epic harmonies and soaring guitar solos.
It’s a mix-mash of Bob Marley, Pink Floyd, Steely Dan and modern psych-rock heroes King Gizzard & The Wizard Lizard.
Ocean Alley have been playing together since 2011 when they formed in a northern beaches shed, but the past six months has seen their popularity explode.
Their hazy single The Comedown, about the Sunday morning after an epic Saturday night, cracked No.48 on the triple j Hottest 100 and the follow-up Confidence is possibly the sleaziest great song you’ll hear this year.
It has led to sell-out shows at the Enmore Theatre and Brisbane’s The Tivoli.
“We knew we were on to something when we were writing that one,” Galbraith says of Confidence. “It was different to a lot of our stuff we’d done up to that point. It felt cool for us.”
The Comedown and Confidence have achieved the one thing missing from Ocean Alley’s arsenal – a radio-friendly single.
Their debut album Lost Tropics (2016) and EPs Yellow Mellow (2013) and In Purple (2015) failed to attract mainstream attention, but Ocean Alley slowly expanded their fan base through their explosive live performances.
“We were hoping the radio stations would pick up on that [Lost Tropics], but it was bit of a long shot in hindsight after writing this latest record,” Galbraith says.
“It seems like the songwriting has matured definitely. It’s bit of a cliche, but it has.
“This is definitely the breakthrough album. There wasn’t much of that feeling when we wrote the last one.”
Galbraith, his brother and keyboardist Lach and singer-guitarist Baden Donegal were school friends before meeting Nic Blom (bass) and former Warners Bay High student Angus Goodwin (lead guitar) through surfing.
The group’s shared love of surfing and Stevie Ray Vaughan’s song Tin Pan Alley led to the name Ocean Alley.
Drummer Tom O’Brien joined later when he was still 17, which forced the other members to smuggle him into licensed venues in Sydney for gigs.
From day one the communal writing approach has been essential to Ocean Alley’s loose and spacious sound. All of their material is written within jam sessions.
“It’s the only way we write,” Galbraith says. “We get in a room, normally in a living room or somewhere that sounds really shit, get in a circle and turn up all the amps.
“Someone will bring an idea to the table and we’ll all flow off that. We’ve been playing music together at least once a week for six years now, so it’s a case of being really experienced as a group and knowing where your mates are going to go.
“We like keeping it natural and flowing like that, similar to a lot of our influences, the classic rock we grew up on.”
Visual art has also become synonymous with Ocean Alley. Galbraith studied a Bachelor of Fine Arts majoring in photography and sculpture, before the band’s European touring commitments forced him to quit.
However, his interest in art has been maintained through their album’s name, Chiaroscuro, which refers to an Italian Renaissance art movement which used strong tonal contrasts between light and dark.
“When we did the first few songs there was a theme that there was this lighter feel and a darker feel,” he says.
“Once that presented itself we thought it was a cool idea and we ran with that in writing the rest of the songs.
“We wanted to be a bit creative, and on a second note, we used a term that comes from visual art to make a connection between music and visual art.
“The fact is that music can create a visual landscape in someone’s mind’s eye. It makes us sound smart and not like surf bums.”
There will be little time for these “surf bums” to laze around Sydney’s northern beaches in the coming months.
Following their national tour, Ocean Alley head to North America for the first time to play 30 shows in 39 days from May before tackling Europe for a second time.
Ocean Alley play Groovin’ The Moo at Maitland Showground on April 28.