Dobber Beverly: “Recording this record in New York with Joel was the most amazing eye-opening experience which I’d ever had, making music in my life. Joel has become a really good friend.”
Met voorgaande albums heeft Oceans Of Slumber zeker krediet en respect opgebouwd. De eigenzinnige mix van progressieve wulpsheid, een achterliggende doom dreiging en de aparte stem van Cammie Gilbert deed ons zeer begeesterd luisteren naar de verhalen uit het Amerikaanse broeierige nest Texas in het zuidwesten van de VS. Blijkbaar is het Amerikaanse koppel nog naar elkaar toegegroeid op het vijfde album ‘Starlight And Ash’. Mooi, maar wel heel kalm, vandaar dat we een uur praatten met de bezieler van dit alles: Beverly Dobber.
Vera Matthijssens Ι 1 augustus 2022
Congratulations with the new album, but it surprised me by being so much calmer…
Well, we are getting older, right? (laughs) If I try to write music, it speaks to me and it is from the heart and it is going to be what it is. I have learned more and more how to separate the elements. If I want to do extreme metal stuff, then I do it in an extreme metal band. In Oceans Of Slumber I have to centre and focus on the most powerful element of our band and that is Cammie, our singer and my wife.
Or was it maybe the quiet isolation of the pandemic that made you think of things and calmer, reconsidering things?
No. Oceans Of Slumber as a whole has been doing this a little bit on every record. On ‘Winter’ we had ‘Turpentine’, ‘Lullaby’ and a couple of things. On ‘The Banished Heart’ we had ‘No Colors, No Light’ and on the last record we had ‘The Colors Of Grace’ and ‘To The Sea’. They have always been there, we just matured that much more and that is just where we are. There are still a couple of hints to metal here and there, at the end of the song ‘Red Forest Roads’ for instance and ‘Just A Day’ is an incredibly heavy song. It is just different now. The realms in which we look and how I look to all the stuff have totally changed. And if you are not going through changes, what would that be, if you are putting out the same record for fifteen years? That would mean there is something wrong with us. Then you are stuck in a loop and to me, that’s what a lot of bands do. If they plough through the same things over and over again, that means that there was potentially a mad medical problem in somebody’s life that they were never able to figure out and they stay working on it.
It demands courage to change I think, some bands might see their band as a good working formula…
It is obviously different for everybody. I guess the best way to sum it all up, is that I am still looking. I am still trying to find where it is, where it’s at… maybe I am more reflective on what it is that I want and do, it is seasonal. I feel different every day, what’s that going to do with music for a person like me?
You label your music new Southern gothic. Is that your idea or something the record label came up with?
We came up with it. It is a literary reference first and foremost. If we were storytellers, that is going to be something very literary. So authors and dark Americana just go hand in hand. I have been pretty heavy into Cormac McCarthy and Harry Crews and Kurt Vonnegut and all that stuff as I grew up. The Truman Capote type of things: dark stories for dark times.
There should be a centralized theme on the album. I think your coastal environment and the place where you live have a huge influence on what you create?
Of course. There is a lot of mystique around it and it feels dark and powerful and playful at the same time. The Gulf coast has a crazy history and Galveston Island was considered to be the Ellis Island of the South. So we have an incredible immigration close to where we live, throughout the taming and making of the America’s as we see it now. And then also all the terrible dark history of what the Gulf Coast is with the slave parade and with war and anything else. The Gulf Coast is my home and plays a large part in describing human nature. And of course it is tying all the things that make us what we are.
Is it still such a rough place to live?
No, not really. I mean, you can go out and find a rough place pretty easily, but for the most part I think the Internet and technology has tamed most everything. It is not like it used to be in the nineties.
If I think of Texas, I don’t think of mystery. You know the history better, where does this mysterious side come from?
As far as mystique concerns, it is the mystique of voodoo down here. Voodoo being the spiritual realm, witchcraft and so on. If you go to places like New Orleans and all throughout the Louisiana Coast, it is a kind of vibe around a voodoo queen and things like that. It is like the playful nature of spiritualism in all of its forms. That is the other part of us, the things we like.
Nature, is that another source of inspiration for you to write music?
Yes, I grew up at the country side and unfortunately had to move to the city. I do now like the city whatsoever, but nature and country boy type things are all things that I can gravitate towards. Cammie and I we spend as much time out at my family’s country place as we can. Too many mixed everything. Too many people, too many opinions, too many ways of thinking, directionless, in the city everybody’s trying to make their own way, that can cloud or can get too loud whenever you are trying to make your own way.
If there are too many mice they start to fight and eat each other…
Do you see this – musically – as a new chapter?
(thinks) It depends. For me not. The majority of all the stuff is from my brain anyway, so it makes whole sense to me. For the lame and for the consumer it is depending on where you showed up. If somebody bought our last record, and that was the first time they heard us, they might say: ‘oh you guys are changed’, it is like walking in on a conversation that has been going on ad trying to have an opinion on that conversation. So there is a lot of catching up to do for some people, but for me personally absolutely not. This is just another day in a life and the record is what came out. That’s it.
I remember with the previous album, the complete line-up was changed except you and Cammie, but those guys remained I notice, so it works well in the band I guess?
It does. One of the things about having a band and then having a vision for what it is that we are haunting or what she is haunting, is sort of realizing that we… well, the former band with the original line-up, there were three to four separate egos. It clashed because there was a need – which made sense – for not just play the stuff. There was a need of everybody to have a voice in what was happening, but what that was doing, was taking away where the song was going to go, where the record was going to go, where we were putting into account what was going to happen with Cammie and what her place was in it. With the old line-up there was a lot more to do with the band and on the display of the band Cammie was the singer in the band. That is just short-sighted, it was to me. So we clashed about that and the new band is one of those things where we have committed people to the craft and what it is that we are trying to do, but in all honestly, if at any point in time, anyone is unhappy to do it, they should say. It makes sense, at the end of the day everybody wants to create their thing and they want their vision. So I understand whenever a band mate says like: ‘hey, this does not suit my merit any longer and I got to go’. In the media they think there is a problem, the people are hard to deal with, but that’s not true. Whenever you have to deal with any amount of collective unified thoughts, there’s going to be problems. That does not mean that there is anger or hatred or any kind of that shit. It just means that things do not work out sometimes. Being in a band is incredibly hard and it is hard on people and it is hard whenever they are not doing what you want to do. At any point in time back in the day Oceans Of Slumber could have been broken up on my part or on Cammie’s part. We are stable for now. Our keyboard player, our synth player – I did all the piano work – Mat, a good friend of mine, who is a band member in two other bands of me, Malignant Altar and Necrofier, recognized our need for an actual piano player and he has taken a step back and we are now about to introduce our new piano/synth guru to join the band and takes his place. And that’s how it works. We are an old school type of band. We are not going to use click tracks, we are not going to use backing tracks. We play everything and we need people that can play everything and that is just how it works. He is awesome. So now we have a new pianist who is also a synthesizer guy and he can handle both duties very well. In the past I remember jumping to the piano out of context of the band and we would have to make compositional changes to accommodate that, which is cool, because if you just want to see the record played in its entirety live, without any personality, we are not the band for you (laughs). I grew up wanting live versions of songs, because I wanted to see the artist’s soul that day or night. Most people above a certain age think that way. If a song is amazing on the album, then what could be better? That’s how I kind of look at it. If we play a show and Cammie puts her day, or her week or her year in the live performance, then it is going to be magical and that is what we are looking for. Words and music are the last hold out for magic existing and that is what we are trying to stay with.
Maybe some words about the influences on this record. You mention Nick Cave and that is a great artist. Which artists or songs can we see as important current influence for you?
Oh goodness… We are changing so much. It is bizarre. For me, over the last passed years I have been listening to tons of bands. Madrugada. Lots of old stuff that I used to listen to. Suffocation… these are all constant influences. Something recent, over the past two years, an artist I have been listening to is VAST. Incredible mixed genre, everything. I have been listening to a lot of Björk for the past 25 years. I love Björk, my daughter loves her, so I listen a lot to Björk. Few years ago I got real heavy into Igorrr, Susan Sanford, things that have little to do with and everything to do with the music I write now. There are some sections in the song ‘Just A Day’ on violin and a voice going over it by Carla Kihlstedt, one of my favourite musicians. I am very happy to have her playing on the record. She is also playing the violin solo on ‘House Of The Rising Sun’. There is a song by George Jones, an old country guy. I grew up 100% with country. All country and soul/doowop music when I was a kid. It is a song called ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today’ and ‘Just A Day’ is my kind of tribute like song. ‘Just A Day’ is roughly my version of what that is. Obviously it is not a country song, but it has the same vibe.
Can we say that there is a kind of concept in the lyrics?
It is 100% a concept. When we started piecing stuff together and tried to build a story around this, we started talking about the fact that I wanted to explore the childhood traumas that all of us had endured in the band, mainly my own and Cammie’s, but then the other guys in the band also had stories to add. So the concept of the album is children, eventually children are grown up and inhabitants of this town. Some of the stories, like ‘Red Forest Roads’, ‘The Waters Rising’ or ‘The Shipbuilder’s Son’ has to do with a child and the life that they had lived and the things that they had seen. Some songs are focused on an individual story or event and other songs are focused on generalisation. Some would focus on the face and some would focus on the town. The concept is what a child, what a young person, what an adult would become, what has been… something that we touched automatically but this was the first time that we put it in a concept all the way through.
That even has potential for a movie or a series…
Yes, everything I write from my point of views is really as a movie. I visualize it first and what would it do when singing and that becomes the music fortunately. A song like ‘The Lighthouse’ is a good example; the guy/company of the video did a spectacular job in bringing the idea to life.
It is very mysterious. Is it linked with religion or more with that voodoo you mentioned?
Both and neither. The album cover has, what seems like an elemental aspect. So there is this woman embracing the child and behind the woman and child is the lighthouse and the lighthouse is the centre of the record and so is the love and affection and nourishing of mother and child. The lighthouse is a beacon of safety and hope. It shines its light and it leads ships away and it leads ships home. Simultaneously are those two figures separate or the same? Is the lighthouse also the centralized world of seeking safety and love or is the lighthouse bringing other people to safety and love? The concept of the record is incredible deep. The sad thing about it is that I cannot dictate or send a disclaimer to every person to read and look up the stuff, so they can interpret it how they want to, but at the end of the day we are making the record ourselves. We write the music, we do everything, the record label hasn’t any saying in anything we do whatsoever, so these things are ours. We do what it is that we want to do. So these deep conceptual ideas artistically are us being artistic.
You are a welcome artist to dig deeper into…
Well, when someone makes a record – or a piece of art – from a place like this, generally people gravitate towards trying to understand it, because you feel like something else is going on. I know that this is powerful, I know that this means something. Scott Kelly from Neurosis did an interview a while back with Revolver and he talked about the things behind the record ‘Through Silver In Blood’, one of my favourite records of all time, and in this interview, that he did a year or two ago, he said something about a rumour situation and something I had been waiting and wanting to know since 1994/1995. It was important for me, but it did not mean much to anyone else. Only people like me, who’d followed and really believed in, felt something on that album. In things like that, you don’t really get an opportunity to really get inside the person’s head. It is not like sheet music or classical music. The composer had written what to say and how to say it. These days, since everything is based upon interpretation, the need for interaction is for everybody to be cynical about everything. We are trying to remove that need and we are trying to replace that with thinking, creating deep empathetic music and respect for us.
Joel Hamilton was the producer. He has his studio in Brooklyn, New York, so that meant a lot of travelling for you. What about this experience and how did you end up there?
At the beginning of the cycle, we started talking about making a new record and the record label said: ‘Yes, but let us go for something higher’. The guy in the US had a list of names and tried to give me ideas for other producers, but none of them turned out being the one to work with us, fortunately. Then he asked my list I wanted to work with and I said a few and Joe Hamilton came out of three suggestions, but he also is like a musician’s musician. Fortunately he heard what we were doing and he said he wanted to be part of this record. We got the budget and we flew to New York and we stayed there for a month. Way old school style, we wrote the record and that was finished. We just wanted to track everything. It took 22 days I think, start to finish. It was the most amazing eye-opening experience which I’d ever had, making music in my life. Joel has become a really good friend. He is actually flying to town tonight, to come and see my death metal band play and tomorrow night see the show in Houston. It is surreal, honestly.
Wow that’s not only going to the studio, but a whole adventure with Joel.
I am actually going back to New York at the end of July to record a new Necrofier record with Joel. We are going to do a big studio big budget black metal record and I think it is probably going to flip the entire American black metal world on its ears, because the record is incredible and it is going to sound incredible. Necrofier has already a record out on Season Of Mist and it is doing well; we just toured with Danzig.
What happened in the Spring of ‘21?
‘The Spring Of 21’ and ‘Just A Day’ are linked together. When I started writing ‘Just A Day’, a really good friend of mine – a kind of mother figure where I work and stuff that I do – got diagnosed with cancer. I started processing what it was, because she had kidney cancer before and that came back and it was way worse this time. We were pretty close and in order for me to start letting it out, I started writing ‘Just A Day’. It is a song about looking in the mirror throughout the process of kidney therapy. When I was younger I had a friend who died at brain cancer. He said that the best days in his life were when people didn’t remind him that he was dying of brain cancer. He said: ‘I don’t want people to call me and talk about it and being sad, I am realizing that I am dying. I want to talk about normal shit. I want to do normal stuff until I die.’ And thus the concept of ‘Just A Day’ was this: a powerful mood to let this whole thing out. So the band comes in. that is kind of what it was. My vision was her, looking in the mirror and realizing that there was a duality of her existence, that she was dying and she had to comfort people constantly about her death. So it is a very heavy song. We moved things around a little bit, because it was way too hard of a subject matter to incorporate to the record. And then our bass player’s grandmother had passed away and he hadn’t seen her in ten years. And two of my really good friends where I grew up playing music with in Houston died of covid-19 complications. The way things work is that I sat down and started working out the Spring of ’21, it is forever linked to these people who were lost in a few months and then I had finished writing the song, this piece of music, I played it a couple of times in the studio in a dark room and that’s the end of it.
I am sorry letting you think about this sad time…
Ah come on. We have been around long enough, we can face these things, right? One of the things about getting older, is that you do have to look face to face with mortality and realize that you cannot escape it. It is something you have to deal with. The memories are amazing and I am glad that I had the time that I had with them. It is grounding. When you lose somebody who is super close, you can feel like you float off the planet, but at the same time it let you realize that we are very mortal and we should be trying to do the things that we want and make us feel and enjoy life. The good side of the death is that – if it a palpable death, not something that is overwhelmingly dramatic, which is something completely different – then we can use the memories to get us through the hard times. We want to do good for the death, maybe it makes us better people sometimes, who knows? I hope so.
Did you work before with famous Eliran Kantor for the artwork?
Yes, oh man, this time was incredible to work with him too. It was meant to be very organic. It is the ‘earth’ element of this mother figure. We gave him a basic concept and he had the record. He nailed it 100%. It is the favourite of the art we ever had, even though I loved ‘The Banished Heart’ as well, an incredible cover.
There was a documentary of Andrew Douglas that inspired you. Can you tell something more about that?
You are talking about ‘The search for a wrong-eyed Jesus’? I was looking on Spotify, trying to find interviews and stories of Harry Crews and I found a guy, Otis Gibbs doing podcasts. He had these incredible backlog interviews with all these Americana rock-‘n-roll and country people, behind the scenes of underground people, it was insane. He has written this spot and it was picked up by the BBC sending episodes. It wasn’t so much that it was inspiring, it was just along the lines of what I was already doing. That’s what I am looking for in life: connections with not so much unique individuals, but realizing that we are not alone and every time I come across things like this, I am eager to find out what else they have to say or do. Yes, it is an incredible story, near death, near suicide, of chronical illness and this sort of things and then his father has given him this old guitar. He had written through it and survived, he had written all these songs and these songs were picked up by a big record label. He went to New York, because it was David Burn imprint label that he had and picked his record up and he had this insane encounter with David Burn and from there he started talking about the wrong eyed Jesus, the soul saints and sinners aspect the Americans have and most European people are mostly infatuated with. So he made this documentary and all those British guys came over and chased him around. This is the mystery part, if you are interested in and chasing down American folklore in music and art, then Otis Gibbs podcast is incredible, because it is people who played with Hank Williams, people who played rock-‘n-roll, Elvis’ drummer telling stories, all this incredible behind the scenes information and what the original people did with all the stuff.
What can you tell about the singles and video clips?
The first two singles are ‘The Waters Rising’ and ‘Heart Of Stone’. The third one is ‘The Lighthouse’, but ‘The Lighthouse’ we started deviating from what we have done with the first two singles. ‘The Lighthouse’ leads itself into the next single which is ‘The Hanging Tree’. ‘The Hanging Tree’ was written because of my love for Depeche Mode and Oliver Arnolds. It is like a combination of ‘Heaven’ from Depeche Mode and some country and the overall vibe of Oliver Arnolds. So that is the next single, but that single will tie into ‘The Lighthouse’ and have the same actresses. The song is about tragedy. (silent). Those same things in the same places that mark these tragedies are awful. The experiences they exist continuously and it is like living through in something terrible happening. Some of the events were happening in a house, dramatic and forever haunting, potentially they are ruining a person’s life and somebody else moves into that house and gets along with his life, not knowing the experiences before. It is about living with trauma basically. Sometimes we forget this place is as haunted as you want it to be. It is something that we battle every day, both of us. It is a very personal song.
What are the plans for the near future?
We are going to tour the US a couple of times. We don’t have any plans for Europe at the moment. It is just too complicated. So it has to be very worthwhile, but we’d love to be back overseas soon. I don’t know, it might be a year before we can do that, which is unfortunate, but it must be cool.
I wish you a very nice trip through the US then…
Thank you. We hope it is nice too (chuckles).