Ocean Grove: Dale Tanner Asks ‘Are You With Us Or Not?’

I recently had the chance to (metaphorically) sit down with Ocean Grove’s new frontman, Dale Tanner; not to be confused with Ocean Grove’s bassist, Dale Tanner. With the “Ask For The Anthem” single launch around the corner at the time, we had plenty to talk about including future plans plus the challenges and excitement that go along with it.

The last time we heard from Ocean Grove was at UNIFY Festival 2019, where singer Luke Holmes and guitarist Jimmy Hall played their last live set with the Melbourne act. Of the momentous farewell Dale shares “When we came out of that show, we had such a great high, we all just hugged each other. It was 3am that night and we were still huddled around in camp chairs having a beer, chatting and laughing. We were blessed with the opportunity to go about the departure in such a celebratory way.”

While fortunate that their lineup change had good terms behind it, it is a sad matter of how things got to that point, and Dale opened up about this, saying “Everything you hear in regard to the test that is touring, the mental and physical test, is true. Sitting on a bus to sleep, missing family and friends, especially on important occasions, financially stability; they all add up. You’ve got yourself a scale where you have those things (on one side) and then the love and passion for playing music (on the other). The moment that scale tips over and you start seeing a compromise for happiness and mental health, that’s when you have to reevaluate.

“That’s what it came to for the guys and it was a shock for us when we found out, but it was like first and foremost, being such close friends: ‘This is very sad news and I’m shocked about it, but I need to support what’s right for you. All the business and the band comes after … the band will work out.’”

Coming out of the UNIFY send off, I wondered how the vibe was now that the dust had settled, and what we might look forward to with the future of Ocean Grove. Dale discussed the ever-propelling momentum of being a creative, reminding us that these are the boys who light fires:

“There’s no slowing down from this point moving forward.
The fire is well and truly burning bright.”

Seeming to take a high level perspective on the line-up change (and maybe life in general), Dale shares “You can’t always look at every single thing that happens to you as a backstep or something that limits you. You’ve got to look at every choice you or your mates make as an opportunity to learn and grow. It’s an opportunity to look at things from outside the box or a different angle.”

The Skinny Six are now the skinny five, following the announcement of Twiggy Hunter now stepping into The Oddworld with Dale taking on the responsibility of band frontman. We talked around the opportunity ahead and what it meant for him to fill the shoes of one of his closest friends. “The concept of – doing the opposite of picking up an instrument actually! – putting down a bass and being a frontman is very exciting. If I’m honest it probably would have been twelve months ago, definitely before Luke had said to me that he was thinking of leaving, that I was having serious thoughts of wanting to start a second project and giving a frontman spot a go. It’s not the way I imagined and hoped for, but it seems like it was meant to be.”

I poked into this frontman urge further, finding out that much like his peers, Dale shares an interest in the ever-dwindling anonymity that a creative with his platform is provided. Akin to the message on upcoming tour mates Hands Like Houses’ latest release -Anon., we shared a few thoughts over the importance of loneliness and self-expression. “It is an interesting thought, isn’t it?” Dale mused. “We actually got the opportunity to play “Ask For The Anthem” over the PA system at UNIFY throughout that weekend. Obviously, no one knew what band it was, but it was a really interesting insight to see how people would react to the song given the lack of context. You know, were they dancing? Were they bopping along? Head banging? Were they even paying attention? The idea of being anonymous in a band is interesting, and it’s become more and more at the forefront of all kinds of art; that pressure of being in a public world. It’s almost like loneliness is now making a comeback.”

Jack: “I am so happy for you being a frontman but I’m a little sad you won’t be up there twanging and pulling faces while playing the bass anymore. You always did strike me as the ultimate performer. It comes down to your outfits, performance and mannerisms.”

Dale: “The point that came across my mind, and a few other people’s minds. Although it was mixed emotions, obviously they were very happy for me but at the same time there was that bummer of ‘I’m gonna miss you up there.’ I don’t even know how to take that.“

Jack: “Like ‘Am I just an object to you?’”

Dale: “’I must’ve been filling some hole in your life with me playing bass.’”

While on the topic of Dale’s outfits and various performances, I thought it would be an appropriate time to touch on the personas displayed on stage. I was curious how they were coordinated and what we’d be seeing as live audiences this fashion season. “Yeah I think I’ve started to finesse a little bit more. Instead of it being one thing and making it work, I approach my outfits now with a more holistic approach and envision it all before I venture out and try to find it.”

Drawing the comparison to David Bowie, I let Dale know that I’ve always attributed different characters to his outfits (as I’m sure lots of fans have). It made me poke about what stories may be behind them. “Well what I wanted to touch on with one of these last two outfits -the one with the purple fringe that I wore when we played Download and also Japan- funnily enough was made entirely by Twiggy. So, there’s a little insight into how Twiggy has been in the picture long before this all went down.”

“I went to a few shops and picked out a few items. I gave it all to him and he pulled it together over a few days, did all the painting on it and it ended up being a masterpiece. He did such a good job on that I said ‘you’re gonna have to try the next one; your opinion is now even more heavily weighted’. So, the one I have now, the one I wore to UNIFY-“

Jack: “Is this the one from the Tony Hawk’s video?”

Dale: “That will be the one appearing on the Hands like Houses tour, yep. Bit of a throwback to the green outfit. That’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to reintroduce that familiarity to people so they could get a grasp of what I was doing and it didn’t seem just so random.“

A reoccurring theme for the night presented itself.

Dale: “Going back to the whole anonymity topic. It kinda is like my mask, I put that outfit on and I feel like a superhero or villain.”

Jack: “We don’t get away with that shit as adults!”

Dale: “Yeah exactly! I make faces, I act stupid; That is the most precious forty minutes of my day or my week. I hope that it’s a symbiosis between us and the supporters. That makes us feel like they’re taking something away and thinking that they’ve gotten their money’s worth. I hope they’ve walked away from it feeling challenged and having gained insight into something could learn about or maybe some big questions that they’ve gotten the answer to. Maybe they’ve found inspiration to conquer that or embody it.”

After getting sidetracked with solo performances and outward expression of one’s inner creativity, I thought we should get back to discussing the evening’s events; the lineup announcement and single premiere.

“Twiggy has been in the picture for a couple of years now, the first day we met, we were actually shooting the “Intimate Alien” music video. Bit of trivia for you there. We were shooting the running scenes on Smith Street and Twiggy was living on Smith Street at the time, so Thomo, Thomas Elliott, had met and introduced us to Twiggy at the shoot. We thought this is a pretty interesting guy and immediately felt this kind of magnetic pull towards him.

“He had this aura about him that was like ‘Woah, he’s a powerful individual’. By not even having an interaction with him, we could sense that energy and ever since that moment there’s been an itch. He actually appeared in the video and ever since he has been confidently in the picture. We Just felt like we were close friends from that point, there was no introductory phase. I felt like I could trust him. He was always on the same wavelength with me, about my vision and attitude towards the band. That’s a good thing to inject into the band, someone who has such a good grasp of Ocean Grove.

“Him designing my outfit before he was in the band showed that. I gave that responsibility, for the first time, to someone else and he just nailed it. I thought ‘This guy actually gets me and gets the band’. That was such an exciting feeling when we were sitting down thinking ‘Could Twiggy be the guy we get in?’. Every time we asked the question it was such a no brainer. He was a friend who had been with us through heaps of stuff, we all went up to play Splendour and he just came along to hang out and be a friend.”

[Around 2:38 is where Twiggy shows up!]

I pointed out how this oddball was such a visually correct fit for the band, he seemed like he was born to one day join the boys, we remarked at just how unique he was.

Jack: “His name is fucking Twiggy!”

Dale: “I know! He’s an oddball but at the end of the day I love the guy. I couldn’t be more proud of bringing him into the band as someone I know will represent the legacy going forward. Someone that will bring a performance that will, not only be in line with, but enhance the Ocean Grove live experience.”

Playing alongside his friend Nick Piss, Twiggy has his own band, The Beverly Chills. The two can be labelled as really anything by the sounds of it. Some of the words I’ve seen thrown around are ‘goth’, ‘lo-fi’, ‘hip hop’ and ‘punk’. There appears to be no signs of The Beverly Chills slowing down either. It’s comparable to Running Touch who plays quite a strong role in Ocean Grove, whilst still having a successful solo project.

“It was a huge initiation and not something to be taken lightly. One other thing was definitely time. We had, not only UNIFY, but we were committed to the Hands Like Houses tour, and we were further committed to not letting anyone down while still making it work. We didn’t want to put things on hold for six months, the best thing going forward was to get on the front foot.”

I think some praise is in order for the fact that, no matter how easy an option may have seemed to Ocean Grove, they always took the path that required effort and commitment. After saying farewell to pivotal members, they decided to band together, find a new member and stick to their busy schedule while still putting out new music. I was curious how “Ask For The Anthem” was formed during all of this. Dale shared “It came to that point where it was like ‘what’s gonna be the next?’ We had a single in the midst of all the lineup changes and this song had been in the works for months, if not years. So, you know, if Jimmy and Luke were in the band or not, the song was going out. It’s not like these lineup changes happened before this song.”

That idea to me was so interesting. I would have continued, possibly my whole life, trying to understand this song as a response to everything the band has undergone recently. In reality, the song isn’t that at all, it’s the Ocean Grove we’ve always known burning bright with some new life. Affirming this, Dale shared “We were, well and truly, aware of the direction we were heading long before these changes. The exciting part is that we know this isn’t the only little trick we’ve got in our pockets. Some people might not like the direction we’re heading anymore. It’s definitely only one of many flavours and it’s absolutely not the only taste of releases to come. What better way to do it than in the Ocean Grove style; to do the unexpected again.”

Talking about unsavoury responses, this sort of debunks any comments regarding how Ocean Grove has slipped. The thing to take away from this is that Dale and the boys are excited. Nothing is more thrilling, as a fan, than hearing a band have such a positive energy towards the future. I suggested that if a fan or two isn’t lost in the process, growth doesn’t seem to be happening. It’s healthy to spawn a reaction from people. For a fan to be unhappy means they care enough to feel emotion, be it disappointment or happiness. Dale responded “That’s a statement in itself really. For the most part it’s been really really positive.”  Toward the fans wanting to hang up their Ocean Grove boots, Dale says “Thank you for being a part of our journey so far.”

Having gotten Dale’s thoughts on listener responses, I thought it time to discuss the piece in question, their new single “Ask For The Anthem”. I was curious to know where this would fit in The Oddworld. “Every song and release we do, it’s very intentional for it to be an amalgamation of what has been. We forever want to allow that evolution to happen, naturally and organically, to not push things when they don’t need to be pushed.

“So, with this latest release, there’s some elements there that we’ve never played and toyed with before, however there’s parts that we have. There’s a familiarity we can identify. As a whole, we are very lucky that we have a good grasp of what our Ocean Grove character and sound, and I guess vibe, is. That’s very important from any artist; to be aware of your own art, and aware of how it can be perceived objectively and subjectively. Once you’re aware of what your music is, it allows you to harness it so much more; to give it flavour, to decorate it, give it power and passion. It’s not timid in its message or its intention, it’s very much intentional and that’s what we wanted to do with “Ask For The Anthem”.

“We knew that just by the nature of how well we write music, we didn’t have to worry about it sounding like Ocean Grove. We’ve gotten to the point now where that comes naturally. All we were doing was writing something that challenged us and challenged our fans. We were trying some new things knowing it would sound like Ocean Grove no matter what.”

The faith in oneself to trust your skills of replication, no matter the circumstances, is a huge testament to the passion that the band show in their craft. We talked about how it got to that point and what goes into demonstrating that blind faith. Dale shared “I think that we’re very blessed that Sam produces our music already. That’s a big factor that defines our sound. We also have Running Touch, who’s every much a part of the process as the rest of the band. He’s still a studio member.”

With Sam in the band since 2013, it is always an interesting look into his process. He demonstrates such a clear understanding of the intimacies in music production. It seems to be a reflex to always match the band to a very particular sound, seemingly without effort, but there has to be more to it than that. Now that the band is evolving and morphing, Dale talked about how that affects the recording process. “Being able to go to Sam’s means we’re not under the pressure of: being in a recording studio with someone we don’t know, the stress of time, money or resources. That’s the beauty of it. It cuts out any shred of feeling reserved because of someone you don’t feel comfortable around. We’ve removed that entirely by doing it ourselves. I’m gonna show my real self and I don’t have anyone else getting in the way of that.”

Ocean Grove’s real selves have never appeared to be absent but it’s always reassuring to hear professional creatives experience the same shyness everyone else may. With that in mind, I decided to poke a bit as to what the real selves were trying to say with the single, recognising an undercurrent of tribal lust, but also much more. Dale responded “I think the fun with this track is that, for the first time, I’m really excited that I’d rather not say too much and leave it up to the interpretation of the listeners. I think we have finally been successful in actually writing some lyrics that, in my opinion, are multifaceted if you want them to be.

“Some people may see the song that it just is what it is. Some may see this tribal lust like you described, that cannot be denied. That is a layer to the song and a very intentional layer but beneath that, there are messages. There is a story and a commentary on our society, a commentary on how we interact with one another and the way that we as a whole live in the 21st century.

“The intention is that it was up to the interpretation of the listener. I think once the video comes out, it will give hopefully bit more of an indication into one of the things we’re giving commentary on. If everyone gives it the time and looks close enough, they will hear and see what we were trying to get across.”

Jack: “I’d honestly rather someone allow me to think what I want to think and not discount it than say it means one thing and only that thing.”

Dale: “Exactly, it’s art. Art is subjective. Think what it makes you feel.”

Jack: “I’d prefer you give us the tools to make our own conclusions.”

Dale: “Well that’s the fun man. I definitely have Luke to credit on that approach of not being too in your face or too deliberate lyrically. Never giving it away too much; keeping it on that level where you invite people in enough to keep them intrigued and allow them to do the rest of the work in the way that they like.”

Before ending our conversation, I wanted to give Dale the chance to talk about “Ask For The Anthem” and Ocean Grove how he’d like. He left me with some final comments that I saw fit to conclude the story with.

“This is like the ultimate call to arms, a challenge and test to our fans. It’s like ‘Are you with us or not?’. ‘Do you see the punk lyrics and attitude beneath, what may seemingly be, this over-analysed commercial song?’ That’s what I hope reverberates, we’re still going to be going forward as a band that wants to test the limits; while still being oblivious to the norm and resistant to the authority and the cliché.”

[Photos of Dale Tanner courtesy of Rowan Donohue, Liam Davidson, and Albert Lamontagne.]
Jack Walsh

A fan of music and an even bigger fan of his opinions, Jack Walsh is a resident content creator of Depth Magazine. He is currently studying a Creative Writing degree and hopes to someday be writing for Rolling Stone. [Enjoyed the read? Shout Jack a beer.]

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