Ocean Alley: “We’re definitely conscious of trying to give each other space”

Ocean Alley
(Image credit: The Sauce)

Just in time for summer, Ocean Alley have returned with their fourth studio album, Low Altitude Living. Named in tribute to the sandy shores they call home, the album offers some of the Sydney sextet’s most soulful and swaggering tunes yet, proving them undefeated as the kings of cruise-rock. Before they hit the road for the world tour to end all world tours, Australian Guitar cracked a couple of verbal tinnies with lead guitarist Angus Goodwin.

How did you want this record to really embrace what Ocean Alley is in 2022?
I guess we just went in the direction that felt right for us. Over the whole of COVID, we were spending a lot of time at home and around where we live, and the record kind of revolves around that, I guess – just the feeling of being at home, that’s pretty much what inspired it.

Especially with this album coming together in the time that it did, being able to really embrace that flow state and spend a little more time just living with the songs, did you find yourself experimenting with many new techniques or playing styles?
Yeah, I mean, having so much time not touring, you’re doing a lot more practice at home and trying to work out new things. I was spending a lot of time on YouTube, learning licks from guitarists that I like and trying to work on some new techniques. It’s fun to put them into the new songs. [It’s] something different, more challenging.

Who were some of those guitarists you were influenced by?
Just a few YouTube guitarists like Mateus Asato and Tyler Bryant; that blues-rock lead guitar sort of stuff.

I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that this record has some of your best guitar work. Like on ‘Parking Fines’, the way that real buzzy lead part gels with that wailing lick, it’s like the musical equivalent of taking your first sip of coffee in the morning. Where did that song come from?
I think Baden had that one – he’d written that at home, and then we all got together, and we kind of put all our own parts on it. I just played slide on that, and I felt like that kind of worked. There’s three guitars, so a lot of the time, if it’s feeling like it’s quite busy with guitars, I’ll go to slide to kind of add something different.

Is it a bit of a balancing act to like make sure you’re not overcrowding a track when you’ve got three guitarists in the band?
Yeah, you’ve just got to work it out and fit in where it fits, I guess. We’re definitely conscious of trying to give each other space and play things that complement each other’s guitars.

So right after ‘Parking Fines’, we’ve got ‘Changes’, which is a total 180 from what we’ve come to expect from Ocean Alley. What was it like to momentarily become a ‘90s grunge band for that song?
That was really fun. It’s definitely completely different to anything we’ve ever done before. But I mean, it’s exciting to play different sorts of genres. And it’s not that we were really going for that – it just kind of evolved that way, I guess. You have one lick that sounds that sort of way, and you follow it down that road and it kind of evolves into a whole track, which sounds completely different to what we usually do. 

Is it a gratifying exercise, for you, to explore those sounds and ideas that you normally wouldn’t?
Yeah, it’s nice to explore those sounds. I guess it allows you to play differently as a guitarist, if you’re playing those different sorts of genres. I got to do a solo at the end of that track, which was a lot of fun, but I wouldn’t really be able to do that on a lot of our other songs.

Are you exited to rip that solo live?
Yeah! I mean, I’ll probably have to go back and relearn it – I haven’t really played it since I did it, but yeah, nah, for sure. I’m excited to play all of these new songs live!

The other song I wanted to vibe on is ‘Snake Eyes’, because I feel like that real cruisy, almost sort of reggae groove, with the wah stealing the spotlight there – it’s definitely a highlight. What can you tell me about that one?
That was another one of Baden’s ideas. We had an Airbnb where we met up for a week and wrote a bunch of the songs, and that was one of them. And yeah, once again, we just went down that road with it once we had that chord progression. It’s nice to just try and write something different. I think diversity is what we were going for on this album – maybe not completely intentionally, but yeah, by the end, it felt like all the tracks were quite different.

What kind of guitars were jamming up a storm on for this record?
The majority of it was done on my ‘60s reissue Strat. And then on the heavier ones, for things like ‘Changes’, I was using my Gibson SG. And then I’ve just got a Tele that’s set up for slide, so all the slide songs were done with that. 

What is it about that Strat that just makes your heart skip a beat?
I don’t know. For a lot of the albums we’ve done, I’ve kind of mixed up my guitars – it almost makes you play a bit differently. I played on my Les Paul a lot on the previous albums, but I just love the sound of a Strat, so I wanted to use it a lot for this record.

What about in the way of pedals and effects?
The other boys have much more complicated rigs. I pretty much just use an analog delay, a chorus and a compressor. I’ll use a wah occasionally, too. I guess I just strive to have a nice, clean sound with a good bit of delay and chorus.

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Ellie Robinson
Editor-at-Large, Australian Guitar Magazine

Ellie Robinson is an Australian writer, editor and dog enthusiast with a keen ear for pop-rock and a keen tongue for actual Pop Rocks. Her bylines include music rag staples like NME, BLUNT, Mixdown and, of course, Australian Guitar (where she also serves as Editor-at-Large), but also less expected fare like TV Soap and Snowboarding Australia. Her go-to guitar is a Fender Player Tele, which, controversially, she only picked up after she'd joined the team at Australian Guitar. Before then, Ellie was a keyboardist – thankfully, the AG crew helped her see the light…