Words by Tommy Johnson
In the late 1980’s, a handful of teenagers residing in Hersey, Pennsylvania signed onto Sire Records. Collectively known as The Ocean Blue, the band’s self-titled album catapulted the foursome to widespread acclaim; modern rock/college radio stations along with MTV airplay highlighted hits “Between Something and Nothing” and “Drifting, Falling.”
Since departing from Sire Records in the 90s, the band has continued touring and recording. The Ocean Blue’s latest album Kings and Queens / Knaves and Thieves highlights the band’s refocused vision of their atmospheric new wave sound that made their fanbase fall in love with them.
OffShelf: Kings and Queens / Knaves and Thieves is the first release in over six years. What would say was the main reason to have a lengthy break between albums?
David Schelzel: We weren’t taking a break so much as taking a lot of time to write, record, refine. We don’t really set aside a few months to devote ourselves exclusively to recording like we did years ago with the major label releases. Writing and recording happen in real-time along with the rest of our lives. And in general, we work at a slow pace and take our time trying to get things just right.
OS: Coming from a relatively small town of Hershey, Pennsylvania, how did you handle all the well-deserved acclaim in the early years of the band?
DS: We didn’t think too much about it or dwell on the attention. And we really didn’t fully appreciate how rare our success was. We were just focused on making music, and in a sense thought everything was as it should be. We probably benefited from being young and naive, and being from a small town and continuing to live there throughout the early years. People were never that impressed with us at home anyway. [laughs]
OS: The new album was released on Korda Records, a Minneapolis-based cooperative label you helped launch. How did you get involved in the beginning?
DS: Korda is a label that we started with friends in Minneapolis around 2013. All musicians. The website talks a little more about it and it’s definitely worth checking out.
OS: You at one point were in a band that was led by producer Butch Vig. What did you take away from being bandmates with him that you still utilize today in your own work?
DS: I am still in that band, 5 Billion in Diamonds, and we are working on a new record I am happy to say! Butch is a truly great human, and an amazing musician and producer. The biggest thing I’ve learned from him is how much care and attention you need to give to vocals. Personally, he’s really helped me to push myself a little further as a singer, and I think that helped our new The Ocean Blue record a lot.
OS: The band has been around for many years. What would say has been the key component to such longevity?
DS: Friendship. I really like the guys I make music with. They are all super creative and talented, but mostly great friends.
OS: What were some of your fondest memories during the early stages of the band?
DS: Being on Sire Records was truly amazing. To make our first record for the label that so many bands I loved were a part of, was just wow for a teenage band.
OS: What was the goal the band wanted to achieve during the writing/recording process for Kings and Queens / Knaves and Thieves?
DS: I’m not sure I had a clear goal per se, other than to make a cohesive album that reflected where we are now as a band, but that still fit into what the band has always been. As an album, I think it captures well where I’m at in 2019, through a band I’ve been making records with since 1989.
It took about three years with a few bumps along the way and delays last year… I think we were pretty occupied with our last record in 2013-2015 and then with reissues of our Sire vinyl. Most of the writing and recording for Kings and Queens / Knaves and Thieves happened in 2016-2018.
OS: Looking at those reissues, has the writing process changed over the years? Or has it been consistent?
DS: I think it’s actually been pretty consistent since Cerulean, our second record. The first record I wrote in high school and hammered out the songs with the guys in rehearsals in Bobby’s basement. But after that, I wrote and worked things out as part of the recording process. That’s been mostly working in my home studio or the band’s space, and later taking those pretty complete demos into the big studio. Now, we have essentially the equivalent of the big studio in our homes, so from inception to completion we are in the same environment.
OS: Being around for as long as it has, the band has influenced many musicians around the world. Have you ever given yourself a minute to ponder that?
DS: I think what I ponder more and what moves me the most at this point in my life is the influence we’ve had on people that like our music. It blows me away to hear from people that come to our shows or send us notes about how much our music has meant to them and been a part of their lives. To ponder that my music has impacted others, like the music I love has impacted mine, is extraordinary.
OS: It may be silly to ask, but what is the band looking to do that it hasn’t already done yet?
DS: Work with Brian Eno? Realistically, I think we’d like to play some shows in faraway countries where the data tells us we have fans.
OS: What would you tell that teenager who just got a record deal today?
DS: Find some older folks to speak into your life who have been down that path. Be true to your youthful ideals as you get older. Get some good help from people who understand the business and who understand you.