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Imperfect Divinity: An Exclusive Interview With OCEANS OF SLUMBER

By The Hermanator, Contributor
Tuesday, August 4, 2020 @ 10:56 AM

"When it comes to being a female, there is a sense that no matter the band or the song, there are people out there that just cannot make the vocals fit to their vision of what makes a good “Heavy Metal” song."

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At the end of June, I got on the phone and talked to members of the band OCEANS OF SLUMBER. The band had just released some videos to highlight their upcoming self-titled album to be released in September through Century Media. I realize that these are truly crazy times. But as crazy as these times can be it is still important to try and do what we can to keep music happening and vibrant in 2020. Bands are having a hard time staying afloat with an inability to play live to an audience. It is now critical for bands to talk to people like KNAC.COM to allow them the opportunity to get new music out to the public so that an audience can still recognize that music is still being created even in these hard times.

OCEANS OF SLUMBER is a progressive Heavy Metal band with styles that compare to OPETH, PARADISE LOST, KATATONIA and even MY DYING BRIDE, and there is plenty of excitement on their upcoming release. I managed to talk with drummer Dobber Beverly, sometimes keyboardist and producer for the album, as well as lead vocalist Cammie Gilbert. I reached out to them from their home in Houston. I discussed several topics and produced the following for all to read. Enjoy!

KNAC.COM: So, let’s go ahead and do this. It has been a long time since I last spoke with the band so let’s find out a little of the progress the band has made in the last few years. OCEANS OF SLUMBER has had to overcome many an obstacle to get where it is now. Let us look at some of the changes that have taken place since Aetherial was released to the signing of the band to Century Media.

BEVERLY: What kind of order do you want? Where do you want me to begin?

KNAC.COM: Well, there is a sense of order that this band has always seemed to follow. Can you give us a little insight into that process that has taken you into the creation of this new album? I know there have been changes in members. There have been life events that have dramatically affected the band. How have these changes helped to forge and create the new music that is OCEANS OF SLUMBER?

BEVERLY: Well in the beginning of the band, we were a group of people that had come from different styles and had different experiences in how they created music. There was of course the typical mayhem that I think all bands undergo as they first start out. With Aetherial, the songs were sort of developed by Ronnie. He basically broke down the multiple voice approach with a little heavier emphasis on a heavy lead vocal track. He had always been into more heavy kind of metal and such, so that was the style he brought to the table. With that album we all had fun recording, it was disjointed yet you could still hear some of the influences that each member brought to the album. You can still hear some of those early influence like PANTERA, DEFTONES and others that I mean were early influences on all of us. I would say it was very representative of who we were at that moment. Then when we recorded WinterCammie Gilbert came in. It seemed a very logical progression in the change. It was something I must admit, I kind of had wanted and had imagined the band going in this new direction. Looking into a female vocalist had been shot down by members of the band at first. But when the opportunity for change happened, I think the guys adapted and made things click very well. The problem was short lived.

KNAC.COM: Cammie, how did this opportunity first come down your way? How did the band first approach you for an audition, and how did you know this was it?

GILBERT: I had seen the band perform several times, so I was very familiar. At the time my jam room was next to theirs, so it was quite easy for me to just go over there and see what was going on with the band. I have to say it was indeed just a perfect opportunity how things came about.

BEVERLY: We had played a show together. During that time, I was thinking that it was awful to have the singer of the band just not do the songs justice the way they had been developed. And so we had asked her, “Hey you want to come and maybe jam a little and see what happens?” We thought maybe she would just sit in and see what the feel of the songs would do. When we knew that Ronnie was gone, bringing in Cammie became a no brainer. We all kind of knew from the start that was it. I mean we just could feel it. In my head I could hear the vocals work beautifully. The third record we were all running on edge. The Banished Heart, a lot of problems suddenly developed. It seemed we lost focus. Personal problems seemed to get in the way of recording. It seemed that the participation just was not where it could have been. Even with that, we managed to go in and record the album in a very short amount of time. Then one of the guys lost his willl to be in the band. We lost our guitarist, and in a sense that created more of an edge in what we were facing. Even with that I still say we created a very strong and solid album. Very proud of what we put down. Things had come together very well based on all of our experiences. It was dark but that was, in essence, what we were going through. Then I think business wise, that had a major factor on more changes that took place with the band. Now if you look at the band, I will say, we are more determined than ever. So here we are.

KNAC.COM: After Winter some of the band had been living in some of the hardest hit areas where Hurricane Harvey made its mark. Do you think that made an impact and was that an additional strain on the members of the band? How did it affect the music going forward?

GILBERT: We were in the middle of recording when the hurricane hit. We were pretty displaced. Lots of water everywhere and I mean everywhere. Our house was under water. I think that put more strain on everyone than anything else we may have been going through. We go into the studio and we all were just recovering from loss. More than anything it took away focus and I think that’s when we began to question the very fabric of the band.

BEVERLY: Cammie and I used to live in my old house. We indeed were stressed. From that stress we funneled that energy into creating what I think is some wonderful music.

KNAC.COM: In the new album, is there still some of that stress that may have carried over? Or do you think that the chemistry of the band has gotten stronger and been able to overcome those past obstacles?

BEVERLY: I don’t think our past really influenced how we approached the new recording. The new guys came in and it was a fresh approach. They seemed almost honored to even be considered as members of OCEANS OF SLUMBER. I get that sense just from my interactions with the guys. Take Jessie. We had been developing this relationship between us. Of course he had the jitters when he first began but I took that as normal. He then began to throw these ideas for some riffs that he thought would be cool for some new songs. Jessie seemed to take the lead in the song writing in that way. The band had always been a collective of ideas. With him bringing in theses riffs, it gave uis all a new way to take a hold of them and add our little touch to this. The addition of these new ears gave attention to detail more pronounced and so I think it made for some stronger songs. Going into this process there is a certain skill level, a certain professionalism that was refreshing in this new lineup. We were able to take a moment, add a few strokes of genius and the outcome was just brilliant.

KNAC.COM: When you say Jessie, you are referencing Jessie Santos? Would you say he approached this recording without fear, without being intimidated? I mean you have a reputation of being one of the best drummers in Houston. How do you think he was able to get over his initial fear to be able to work with you? Here he is coming in new, not knowing how you work or even your approach to music, how was he so confident to just bring those riffs to you like he did?

BEVERLY: When he first came to me he may have a bit of that apprehension, but by the third practice you could tell that fear was gone. We met up and played and I mean he was in total control. Somebody like Jessie is special. He plays from the heart and he plays what I call being real. He is always evolving and constantly working on his instrument. I think that is what we have in common. He has this certain pedigree that he brings his skills and adds this determination that is just wonderful.

KNAC.COM: How about Matt, Matt Aleman? I have heard cuts from the new album and he gives the songs this wonderful undertone. How was his approach into the songs and the recording process?

BEVERLY: Matt was just a guy that basically took the approach that he would take the songs and slowly study them so he could add his little touch. Half the keyboards on the album were recorded by Matt. He has this process of learning from us and slowly integrating his sounds into the songs. Before these recordings, I don’t think Matt had ever considered the approach that Metal music had feelings. I think he might have avoided considering that in his approach to metal. But after we began playing tracks, you could see it in his face. I maen at one point I thought he was going to break down and cry. I really don’t think he had ever approached the idea that in music, and in metal, you could play with feeling. This was something new to him, and he embraced it. You could hear it in the tracks.

KNAC.COM: Talking emotion, that is one thing that the band has always been able to extract from your audience and your performance. The band is really great at capturing emotion and bringing it out in song. How hard is it for the band to make that connection with the audience and be able to see that emotion?

GILBERT: You know it’s just not something we work at. When I first joined the band, the live performances were just not something that I even thought about trying to bring out emotion. It just seemed to come out naturally. When we write music, the emotion is there. I just never really thought it would cross over into the audience the way it does. I mean it is beautiful to see from the stage, but it just was never expected. If you listen to The Banished Heart, there are plenty of songs on that album that are full of emotion. It’s a wonderful mechanism of what we do and a great representation of us as a band. I mean there are a lot of tears in those songs. I kind of joke about it sometimes, but the emotion is unescapable. It is indeed wonderful to see that interaction between the audience and the band. And for me personally there is also a chemistry that is just there. All I can say is that it makes for a wonderful performance.

BEVERLY: I think it comes down to our personalities. It is a reflection of our experiences and how we bring it to a performance. I think we came to realize at some point that if we made music that came from the heart, at some point those songs would affect someone out there somehow. I think that makes for more memorable performances and I think we have been lucky in finding that skill set. I hope we can continue to make that kind of impact making “Heart Metal”.

KNAC.COM: Speaking of capturing a moment, how hard has it been on the band not being able to perform right now because of so many shows being canceled because of the Coronavirus. I mean this thing has gutted the music industry. Bands often rely on that chemistry, that interaction with the audience, so how hard has it been not being able to play?

GILBERT: Oh yeah, we indeed miss that interaction. We miss the feel of a live performance. People can sometimes add to making that song special, so it is very hard on everyone not being able to take the stage. You know you work all these hours in a studio recording or just practing with the band. It just adds something extra when you do these songs on stage. So as much as we miss that we have to refocus our actions on what we do. Recording is a must and so we try to focus on that direction. There is just an added motivation to perform these songs when you know someone else will be taking them in.

KNAC.COM: Let’s talk about some of the videos you have made in advance of the album. The first video I took in was for “A Return To The Earth Below”. Who came up with the concept for the video?

BEVERLY: As far as the video concept, everything that we do we approach with purpose. We look to make sure it has a sense of flow. We took the music and then looked at how to make the pieces fit and come together so it would make sense. You know, we were looking to try and make something that looked original and cinematic at the same time. We wanted to make something that our audience could look at it and see movement, could feel and connect with the song. You learn how to piece it together and hope it ends up making sense.

GILBERT: And it needed to be something that is inspiring!

BEVERLY: Yeah, inspiring is a good word. These early tracks felt like we had the ability to put plenty of our own spin, our own history. We felt we could do the recording in such a way as to make it comfortable in mixing the song with the video itself.

KNAC.COM: Cammie, I want to ask you a couple of questions specifically. It is pretty well documented that women in Metal have a harder time getting acceptance versus their male counterparts. There seems to be this bias against having women in a Heavy Metal band. How do you think you have been able to overcome that issue, or better yet, have you ever had an uncomfortable moment from anyone on the stage?

GILBERT: You know I do what I want to do. I’m not doing this for someone else or to conform to someone else’s vision. Obviously, I am aware of the animosity. I realize it is out there. In person you know everyone can be loving, very personal. But you go online, it seems to be so different. When it comes to being a female, there is a sense that no matter the band or the song, there are people out there that just cannot make the vocals fit to their vision of what makes a good “Heavy Metal” song. I mean I am far from being “pop”. I define what I do as “Metal”. But you know sometimes the expectations do not meet the reality of what I do. It can be annoying. I mean yeah, it is sexist! As long as it’s not negative, and as long as people come out to the show to show support, I think we can rise above the expectation. I think we have managed to win over a few hearts.

KNAC.COM: Then there is the issue of what has been on the front pages lately. The issue of Black Lives Matter. The issue of race. The band has put out a video for “Strange Fruit” which is an old Billie Holiday song. It has aspects of race in its tone. I know Dobber you have stated that this was the band’s tribute to Black History month. I mean it has managed to resonate with the times. Do you think that using that song you have managed to put a positive spin on race? I mean I hate to say it but “Heavy Metal” has also had this stigma on not being too friendly when it comes to race. Do you think the band is able to transcend that, not just with that song but also in your mere presence on stage?

GILBERT: I guess I haven’t experienced it live on stage yet, at least not with this band. And not in person. I mean it is obvious that I am a Black person in a band. Maybe people have different expectations and sometimes they can thus act differently around me and the band. I don’t know. It just hasn’t been there in person. But again online, that is so different. In fact one of the first comments after I had joined the band was addressed at me. I mean it was outright racist. I can take critique about my vocals, how you perceive I did on my range on a song you know. Or a critique on how my performance can be viewed from a “technical” aspect. But to say stuff about how I do or do not fit in a band just for being Black, that takes it into that unacceptable area. I am in this band and I know how it can affect it. This is a “Heavy Metal” band. That is the reality. So all I can do is take the positive and just help the band move forward. We have aspects that are very hard and very dark you know. But if you look at bands that sing in say “Black Metal”, you don’t hear the critique as loud about their pagan aspects. It just seems to go unspoken. As a band we are willing to address the issues, we are willing to take the positive and put a spotlight on it. I see the band as a mechanism of what we do, and I just don’t see myself as a,”Black vocalist”. The band came out with “Strange Fruit” because we are not afraid to address the issue. It needs to be addressed. And yeah we dedicated the song to “Black History Month”, but honestly that song should be good on any month. I mean the roots of the band is metal. And so I hope going forward people can hear and see that in the music. I really think we are one kick ass metal band.

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