Album Walkthrough: Ocean Grove break down their new record, Flip Phone Fantasy
On the Melbourne band's latest record, nostalgia for the passing of the millennium finds itself a home amongst chaotic, quick-paced hard rock.
Header image by Sam Wong.
Ocean Grove occupies a strange space within Australia's 'hard rock' world, for the lack of better genre descriptor. Their 2017 The Rhapsody Tapes record was one that ushered the Melbourne-based group into the national spotlight, utilising a distinctive brand of genre-bending rock that didn't feel too confrontational for those unaccustomed to the chaotic nature characteristic to heavier rock sounds, largely through intertwining it with sounds you'd often find a far distance from heavier rock and metal: Thunderdome's Running Touch-responsible infusion of soft-humming, Gorillaz-esque alt-rock; Intimate Alien's RATM-reminiscent rap-rock; Stratosphere Love's dark and cathartic emo-rock.
As a result, they didn't seem to fit in with the rest of the acts branded as the future of Australia's rock world (not that they needed to be placed alongside them, generally speaking). At festivals, their crowd was a unique blend of instantly-apparent hard-rock fans and those that were drawn in by Ocean Grove's genre versatility, and their tendency to embrace the ruckus expected of a group like Ocean Grove without the assertive, almost confronting aggression of it. Furthermore, the group had a clear vision behind not just the record they were releasing, but the whole band itself - something that's difficult to find from groups sharing their debut album, and especially so in a genre where many bands form just to create an outlet for cathartic relief.
It should be no surprise then, that Ocean Grove's long-awaited latest record Flip Phone Fantasy keeps this continuing. It's a tightly-packed collection of tracks that centre on retrofuturism and bringing nostalgia forward into the current-day climate, capturing moments and objects significant to the turn of the millennium - the iconic, stickered flip phone that takes centre frame on the album's cover art, for example - and twists them with a modern edge through fiery, guitar-driven anarchy that'll leave you with whiplash thanks to its quick-firing pace.
SUNNY, for example, opens with a clapping verse that feels plucked from a late-90s Weezer classic - it makes sense hearing that its initial title was an ode to the infamous, 2000s-defining American Pie series - and twists it into a charging explosion of Ocean Grove's characteristic pulse. GUYS FROM THE GORD, meanwhile, wields a drum'n'bass percussion section you'd find amongst the discography of late-90s electronic icons The Prodigy, while SWAY's hip-hop-esque pace could find itself backing a Snoop Dogg anthem amongst his early work.
Either way, regardless of the track and the time frame it seemingly takes ahold of, it's clear that Flip Phone Fantasy is authentically Ocean Grove. Much like their debut album, Flip Phone Fantasy takes sounds typically nonadjacent from punchy alt-rock and somehow intertwines it together - as mentioned, GUYS FROM THE GORD and SWAY both heavily include influences in electronic and hip-hop - capturing a unique, and incredibly authentic approach to free-spirited songwriting that Ocean Grove have become known for over the last few years particularly.
This quality - this free-spirited, true-to-self recording - is something that's become distinctive to Ocean Grove, and it's a difficult thing to find. In a streaming-dominated age, bands are often encouraged to mould into the sounds that define popular playlists, as they are quickly becoming the largest source of plays and, as a result, royalty revenue. However, you get the sense that Flip Phone Fantasy doesn't take this into consideration at all; it's strange and weird and out-of-the-box in a way that doesn't water down what people have come for, and for a band only on their second album, that's a difficult feat to achieve.
"Rather than an album that streamlines in one direction of genre, Flip Phone Fantasy has the capacity to be someone’s very own mixtape from start to finish, but more importantly, it offers enough diversity that individual songs should find their way into the playlists of rock listeners and hip-hop listeners alike," says the band's Dale Tanner on the record, in a quote that encapsulates the record perfectly. It's strong-armed and focused enough to be a clear, concise listen from start-to-finish, but - much like The Rhapsody Tapes - there are a few curveballs thrown in there for those seeking a reason to fall in the love with the charismatic, sound-defying group.
Here, in our latest album walkthrough, Ocean Grove's Sam Bassal walks us through the record one song at a time, opening up about the creation and themes of the album one song at a time. Dive into it while you spin into the record below:
Superstar was the first song I started writing for the new album post The Rhapsody Tapes being released in 2017. This was pretty much instrumentally completed back in 2018 however was actually the last song to be finished once the album recording was wrapped up in September last year! Personally, I love that it's one of the only songs on the record without a clean sung big chorus but it's equally one of the catchier choruses amongst the twelve tracks. With the overall high energy and bounce (a key OG ingredient) - it was always going to be the opening track of the record.
Fun fact: the opening “hello” was recorded by our friend Slayyyter while she was in an Uber somewhere in LA.
Very early in the process, we continually brought up the fact we wanted a short, fast and aggressive lil’ punk number on a record. At this point, Twiggy had officially been in the band for a few months and had shown me an old demo he had lying around - after one listen I was hooked on the vocals and knew it needed to be on the record. I had him send me just the demo vocals solo’d and I wrote the whole song instrumentally just to his vocal! (The final vocal take is actually that same demo recording).
Fun fact: At the 0:57 mark you can hear a collection of dog barks placed under the riff courtesy of my recently deceased good boy Rusty. (R.I.P)
This song was definitely one of the most revisited songs on this record. We tore this track and its structure to shreds too many times to count - however, completely necessary to turn it into the monster that lives today! I think it ties a lot of our different styles and sounds into one song and is a great middle point I believe.
Fun fact: Twiggy and I wrote the chorus + bridge to this song one afternoon while jamming before he was even in the band! We were just hanging out in his Yarraville home when I picked up a guitar, he started singing and the rest was history! The rough demo vocals we laid down on the spot that day made the final take.
The fastest Ocean Grove song ever made. I was sitting in my studio one night about halfway through the writing process for the album and had this earworm stuck in my head - it was my brain flashing back to a video Twiggy had shown me of a lil’ trap beat he had made in LA with his mate Felly containing the infamous “but outside it looks Sunny” line. I had Twiggy send me a recording of himself singing the chorus and I wrote almost 90% of the song within those two hours. I laid down a scratch vocal for the verses, Dale & Twiggy came in the next day, wrote lyrics to the gibberish I sang the night before and the summer anthem was born.
Fun fact: The early demo name for this song was American Pie. For some reason, I wanted a song on the album that you could picture being played during the opening scene of your favourite C-grade 2000’s comedy and with that guitar and vocal start - I think it was spot on!
THOUSAND GOLDEN PEOPLE
The title/idea behind this song actually came from a very early demo back in 2018 which was an EDM interlude Running Touch had put together. I tried adding some guitars to it to roughen things up, however that didn’t work out and I wasn’t really vibing where it was heading. Dale was persistent I try and find a use for that main sample you hear at the start even if the song was completely different to that early demo - and that’s what we did! This track came about at a time where we were kind of lacking in the “heavy” department and we needed to balance the record out with some more girth. Once I had that main riff down the song pretty much wrote itself from there and I’m really happy with how we were able to display Dale’s incredible vocal range throughout the track.
Fun fact: The main riff goes HARD, bang ya head.
GUYS FROM THE GORD
For a week in 2018, the band went to our guitarist Matt’s holiday house in Sorrento for our first ever attempt at a “writing camp” in which not one single riff or idea was written - until Running Touch walked in with his MacBook and one broken speaker. Dinner was being made and everyone had shut off but RT who decided to start a fresh idea. I’d say within about 30 minutes he had the skeleton containing the majority of the gold that we now refer to as Guys From The Gord. For about a year I was asking RT for a bounce of that “sick 30-second EDM idea” he made on that shitty writing camp to no avail until maybe early 2019 - I was gifted a bounce and started to turn an idea into a fully-fledged song! The missing piece of the puzzle was the vocals and I’m glad we got to collaborate with Luke on this track, he has an incredible skill when it comes to writing lyrics and vocal flow for this style of music.
Fun Fact: The name of this song is the exact title RT gave it when he saved the initial Ableton session in 2018… so we kept it.
It was about 2AM or 3AM and after a really long day in the studio when I think Dale finally built up the courage to present a chorus idea to me (I can be a bit of a hard ass when it comes to OG’s music as our producer and main songwriter) - but I’m so glad he did. It was one of those moments where he just sang a version of what we now know as the chorus and I picked up my guitar and just played the first thing that felt right. I think we both looked at each other and realised we had just created something special. I think Shimmer showcases a sound that was eventually going to be explored by OG at some point, its musical backbone is definitely the style of writing that comes most naturally to me and Dale’s voice sounds at its absolute best in this track. I think this is one of the songs on the record that I’m most proud of and its emotion has definitely brought me to tears many times just thinking about the process of recording the album and how the final product turned out.
Fun fact: For a brief minute Twiggy’s line “And I will watch the light as you Shimmer, I will watch you fall” was ALMOST made the chorus but we decided that simply calling the song Shimmer painted a great visual to the overall listening experience of the song and was a better choice.
Baby Cobra is straight from the brain of Twiggy Hunter. I remember hearing this for the first time and it instantly made me feel emotionally attached - especially once I was filled in with the backstory and meaning behind the song. I knew that I needed this on the record as a moment of calm, a moment to catch your breath in between the madness that is 80% of the album. Personally, my job here was to take Twiggy’s bare-bones demo and really do my best to help give it just that little bit of magic that it needed to take the listener to another place and I believe we were able to accomplish that.
Fun fact: This song was recorded live in one take. Twiggy on an acoustic & I played the electric guitar. At 3:07 you can hear Dale clapping from the couch just next to us after we nailed the performance. We had to leave that in!
ASK FOR THE ANTHEM
This song takes the cake for the longest we’ve ever spent on an OG song. We literally had so many different versions of this song, the chorus lyrics, song structures, main riffs, everything! Considering we worked on this track mainly as the old line up and were getting ready to drop this under the new line up, the song really did come about at a time filled with scenery changes, uncertainty and a desire to keep our band alive - but for those reasons, I will always hold this song as such an important moment in the Ocean Grove story. AFTA became the most successful track we’d ever put out and really helped push us into new territories with constant radio rotation and even frequent TV play (Let me tell ya… having your song played before the footy is a mood).
Fun fact: This song was intentionally made to sound as radio as possible. I wanted to deliver the song justice without worrying about any form of production rules/band clichés of the world we come from. I didn’t even record drums on the track because it took away from the pop vibe. Live, however, we roughen it up and make it hard.
Very much like the writing of The Rhapsody Tapes, I would be in my studio and every so often I’d receive a little 1min idea from Running Touch and that would either spark a song or help leave his mark on the body of work we were creating. SWAY is a product of the latter. Flip Phone Fantasy was set out to bring the mixtape feel to the modern ‘album’ and why not do that justice by adding an interlude that could have been straight from a 2000’s hip hop mixtape? Despite the short run times, I always hold great importance to the interludes that are on our records as they really just showcase a big part of the Ocean Grove experience.
Fun fact: This is the only song on the record that features Running Touch’s vocals solely.
JUNKIE$ was always going to be the single to follow up from Ask For The Anthem and it was interesting to write the song especially lyrically while being able to see the reception from releasing AFTA. We definitely wanted to use this song as a call out to our true fans and our not so true fans. I still love hearing this song all for that big main riff and the breakdown riff, it’s a big pump up that I love to play live - gets me every time! I look back at the writing process of this song with great memories as this was the first time we’d ever sat down to communally write lyrics for an OG song instead of maybe one or two people.
Fun fact: This was the first time Dale had ever rapped or attempted any style of gritty vocal apart from his usual clean singing. We spent a lot of time working out what his range and sweet spot were for using his voice in this new style.
Freaks is another one of the songs that came from that same batch of music started in the early months of 2018. I had received the opening passage of a soft clean guitar from Running Touch one evening, added some extra layers and sent it back. He came back to me with a scratch vocal that has remained in our heads ever since the day we heard it. It was one of those situations that we realised we were quite far away from having a new album ready to go however this song was always going to be on it, even if we hadn’t worked on it for months and forgotten about its very existence
For me, this song was the obvious choice to close out Flip Phone Fantasy as it makes me reminisce and puts a bittersweet end to the journey you set out upon 11 tracks earlier. I know lyrically it really embodies something OG is passionate about and has always touched on which is the fact that we are all human and we are all equal.
Fun fact: I recorded and wrote the rest of the song in a hotel room in Weed, California on our first-ever US tour in January 2018 and tracked the guitars in 25 mins on whichever guitar was easier to grab out of the trailer in -10 degree weather.
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