Ozean were a bay area California band from the early 1990’s. As bands like RIDE, Slowdive, Lush, and My Bloody Valentine began coming to prominence in the British scene, bands like Ozean took notice state-side and were highly influenced. Ozean has just recently resurfaced with a long lost three song EP having been found. Their Cocteau Twin-esque dreaminess and their overall shoegaze sound make them an early pioneer in the genre on the North American continent along with bands such as Orange. Eric Shea and Lisa Baer, members of Ozean, were kind enough to answer some of my questions. Included in the interview is also Michael Padilla who originally recorded the demo tracks.
Hello Eric and Lisa. Thanks for agreeing to do this interview. I guess this is going to be sort of a way back machine sort of experience for the both of you. How about we start with introductions from both of you and a bit about how you got started playing music?
Eric: I guess I started messing around with guitar in 3rd grade. My parents put one under the Christmas tree. By that account, I should be a much better guitarist than I am. After messing around in various garages, I think my first real band was Valeria in 1990. We were really into a lot of baggy Madchester stuff. But we were also into more sonic minded bands like RIDE and Pale Saints.
Lisa: I always loved music, but never thought I could sing. I was deeply offended when I was placed in the Alto section of the school choir, because I thought I should be soprano. As far as musical instruments, I chose to play the flute for school band and I never got “Mary Had a Little Lamb” quite right and my teacher was not a very patient guy. He grabbed my rented flute and threw it on the ground. So that was kinda the end of my musical career until I hooked up with Ozean.
So, how did Ozean form and what was the sort of ethos and energy like at the beginning?
E: I was at a RIDE and Lush show in 1991 where a guy named Mark Baldwin gave me a flyer that said he and another guy were looking for a guitarist and singer into bands like Slowdive, Cocteau Twins, RIDE, The Byrds, Pale Saints…what initially impressed me (aside from their good taste in music) was that all the band names were done in the proper fonts. And the design of the flyer was really well done. That was Mike Prosenko. He’s also an amazing graphic artist. So I called Mike’s number shortly after. We talked music and the next day I was knocking on his door with my Rickenbacker in hand. We spent the next few days writing and recording music. The chemistry between us was very instant and very natural. But we knew that we needed a female singer. The music coming out of us was too pretty for a guy’s voice. So we would just ask random women at cool shows if they would be into trying to sing with us. We met a few really talented people, but if I’m remembering correctly, I think Mike met Lisa somewhat randomly. He told me he had met someone and he liked her style and he liked her speaking voice so he asked her if she’d be into trying to sing with us. Then when I met Lisa, we got along instantly – as if we’d been friends for a while. Plus she knew some people that I knew from the local mod/scooter scene. Mike’s instinct was right – she was a perfect fit.
L: I was into Latin jazz like Astrud Gilberto and Gabor Szabo, and loved Cocteau Twins, Jesus and Mary Chain, MBV, and The Cure and The Beach Boys but I had never heard of shoegaze. I was DJing at this club called Ajax Lounge in downtown San Jose and Mike Prosenko approached me while I was on my break and asked me if I could sing and I laughed and said no, and I forgot the entire incident until a few months later when he showed up at my work and asked me again about singing. I didn’t have anything to do that night after work so I decided to hang out with him and after a couple of beers I ended up making a few noises into a microphone. As far as Eric…I had actually seen him around before and had been introduced to him but I don’t think he remembers! Maybe that is why he felt we had been friends for a while. All joking aside, Eric and I got along instantly and he’s such an easygoing person I honestly can’t remember ever being mad or frustrated with him, he’s just a super cool guy. Mark was always great too. He’s greatly missed.
You talk on your bandcamp description about being into Slowdive, Cocteau Twins, Ride, Lush, etc. At the time in North America, those were some obscure bands minus maybe the Cocteau Twins given KROQ’s prominence in bringing those sorts of bands over here in Los Angeles. How did you all get to know these bands and what was it like in the early days experiencing their music? Sort of give us a sense of the scene as you remember it.
E: Back then all my music info came from friends and UK music magazines. I remember seeing a guy at a club wearing denim flares and a homemade Stone Roses T-shirt. He had a Tim Burgess haircut so I just walked right up to him, introduced myself and started talking music. That’s just how it was. This was before the internet. Everybody else at the time was into grunge and Primus and bands that involved wearing cargo shorts on stage. So if you saw someone who even looked like they were into what you were into, you just made a point to go up and meet them. Tower Records was a big source of information too. I used to frequent their magazine rack once or twice a week, just to read about what new music was coming out of England. Having come from an anglophile (mod) background, bands like The Stone Roses and Primal Scream just seemed like the next step forward. But it was the bands like RIDE, Slowdive and MBV that really grabbed me. They were doing things with guitars that I’d never heard before and I wanted to make those sounds and add my own sounds to that blueprint.
L: Yeah pretty much ditto on what Eric says. I was also into the mod scene and rode around on a ’67 Lambretta and went to a lot of shows. I’d go to Berkeley or San Francisco at least once a month and spend all day at Rough Trade or Amoeba Records and chat with whoever wanted to talk. It was really different back then. I would buy most of my music based on the name of the band or the artwork. That’s how I discovered MBV I thought their name and album art was interesting so I bought it. Sometimes it was a bad decision but I’d end up trading it to a friend and pick up a gem from them. I’d also order albums off the fliers tucked into album sleeves, so I bought a lot of stuff from 4AD records.
So, how long did Ozean last? What were the early years like and how long did it take to get Lisa and Mark on board?
E: Maybe just over a year? Mark was never really on board full-time. He was a great musician and everyone wanted to play with him. He was involved in a good handful of other projects. We were lucky to get him when we could. So honestly, maybe Ozean was never fully formed. We only played one live show as I remember it – by then with a completely different rhythm section at a place where the sound was just horrible. In hindsight, we were just more interested in recording music than playing live shows. Four-tracking in Mike’s bedroom became the norm for us. But I really wanted to play live and turn up my amp.
L: I had terrible stage fright and social anxiety so I’m grateful that we stuck to working on music in bedrooms mostly!
When you went into the studio to record the three demo songs we have now, were there other tracks that you all had written by that time? Were you performing full sets live? Were there ever any plans to put out a full length?
E: I do wish we played live more. But I don’t remember if we ever talked about putting out a full length or if we had other songs by then. I think we might have been following (what we thought was) the trajectory of our influences back then. And that meant you wrote songs, picked the best ones, recorded a demo, shopped it around, got a deal, recorded an EP, toured the EP, wrote an album, recorded the album and toured the album. So our mindset may have been more focused on just trying to record the best demos we could. Then when Slowdive first came to town, Mike and I went to Sacramento to see them play at The Cattle Club. We met Neil after the show and drank beers and talked about music. We gave him a copy of our demo at some point and then kind of forgot about it. Then a few months later I got a message on my answering machine from Rachel. She said that she’d heard the demo and wanted to give it to Alan McGee. Admittedly, by then I was getting more into Teenage Fanclub and Big Star. I was looking for a way out of Ozean. I just wanted to write catchy rock ‘n’ roll songs. Ozean was slowly dissolving at this time as well, so I just went with the flow and started playing with other bands. But we still kept in touch with Neil and Rachel. I think Mike put Rachel in touch with Mark Kozelek for his John Denver tribute. And then I worked with Rachel on getting her to record a version of the song “If” for a Bread tribute album I produced with Dylan from Badman: Friends And Lovers: Songs Of Bread.
L: I moved to the Los Angeles area so that sort of put an end to my contribution to Ozean. Mike came down there and we recorded two original songs and a cover of JAMC “On the Wall.” Mark had just recently passed away and I had lost touch with Eric until we reconnected on Facebook back in like 2008. I was never a musician so I cannot say that I had any particular opinion as far as the direction we were going. I always felt very shy and self-conscious about my voice and hoped they’d find a better singer!
How did you all write songs? Was it a collaborative effort or were there sort of a leader or leaders in the band that brought music to the table for the rest to shape afterwards?
E: Both – I came to Mike with “Porcelain” and I think he wrote “Fall” or “Scenic” and I know we collaborated on some other songs and ideas. Mike was really good at coming up with changes and as I remember it, Lisa had a knack for collaborating on melodies and lyrics with Mike. I don’t remember anyone taking the roll of a leader, though Mike was great at producing everything that hit tape.
L: I enjoyed working on melodies and of course I’d give an opinion on whether or not I thought something sounded good. I really loved Eric’s “Porcelain.” Of course I switched the muse to a “he” instead of “she” but that was all Eric. Great song. I came up with some vocal feats in “Scenic” that I ended up regretting, which I will answer with the next question.
Ok, let’s talk about going into the studio with Michael Padilla and what you remember about that event. Michael, what do you remember, if anything, about recording Ozean? What do you, Eric and Lisa, remember about the experience?
E: Mike and I really loved what Michael Padilla and his band Bliss were doing (they later became Dora Flood). His recordings were (and still are) great. I remember thinking that he knows how to make music that sounds like the records we listened to. So hitting him up to record our demo just made the most sense. If you listen to his more recent projects like Soft Bombs or Michael And The Machines, it’s really amazing and inspiring to hear how he has grown musically.
L: I remember having to excuse myself a few times to cry quietly alone because the line “I am dying too” in our song Scenic is all one breath and I swear it took like 100 takes, or at least that’s what it felt like. But Michael Padilla was patient and super nice so it was just me beating myself up. I can laugh about it now.
MP: I remember the connection between Lisa and Mike as I think they were dating at the time. I remember her being encouraged with “eyegazing” by Mike as she seemed shy about singing. I just put my head down so as to not interrupt this process and thought “whatever they are doing, this is working”.
I wanted to talk about the specific tracks and if you both can remember writing the songs together? I particularly would like to ask about my favorite track of the three, “Scenic.” Can you all remember writing it and what inspired its composition and lyrics?
E: I think that Mike and Lisa wrote that one in his bedroom studio. He wrote most of it, if I’m remembering correctly. I may have added a few things here and there on guitar. You’ll have to ask Lisa about the lyrics. I do remember this – when it was mixed it came out better than I could have ever imagined it. And that’s when I knew that I just wanted to keep recording and playing music for as long as possible.
L: Thank you for the compliments…as I said…wow I really set myself up for a challenge on that one. As far as the lyrics, I was kind of religious at the time but questioning all of it so mostly my lyrics were about being somewhere else and wondering what was going to happen when the world ended.
So, let’s fast forward to today. How were the tracks found and what prompted their re-release? What sort of condition were they in before Tim got them?
E: Back in February I programmed a mixtape and wrote a blog for work about shoegazing: http://blog.pandora.com/us/your-bloody-valentine-shoegaze-love-songs/
While writing it, I remembered that I had a photo of Ozean that Kylee [of Loquat fame] took of us. So I dug it up and used it for the blog piece and talked a little about Ozean. After the blog made the rounds, someone found our old demo and sent me a digital rip of it. So I put it up on Sweet Chariot’s Soundcloud page and linked to it in the comments section of the blog. Then someone put it up on YouTube and things just kind of took off from there. I had no idea that it was going to snowball like this, but I’m really thankful that it has. None of us have the original DAT, so I knew that Tim could get the best sound from what we had.
L: Yup. That’s what happened and it was so priceless to hear it again. I had not heard those songs in over 20 years.
How did Tim Green get involved? He did an amazing job at making these tracks sound professional and up to date.
E: I’ve recorded a few projects with Tim and he’s really got the Midas touch. He knows more about music than pretty much anyone else I’m friends with, so I trusted him to give it the appropriate mastering.
So, what are the plans for these tracks? Talk a bit about releasing them on a physical media and what we all should expect.
E: We’ll be doing a limited cassette reissue on UK label Lavender Sweep Records. And then we’ll be pressing limited vinyl in 2017. We’re using the Bandcamp download purchases to fund this. I’ve put out my own music before, so I’m totally prepared to do it again, but I’m also thinking about trying to work with another indie label for this – with two active bands, an awesome marriage and a full-time job at Pandora, I just think Ozean could use some proper help. I’d love to work with a savvy label on releasing and promoting the vinyl pressing. Tim has already mastered it for vinyl and it already sounds like a record.
L: I am going to leave this in Eric’s capable hands since he’s still rockin’ on and knows the business and our friendship has endured over the years. I know he will make the right decisions in regards to getting our music out there for everyone to enjoy.
Thanks so much for spending time answering my questions Eric, Lisa, and Michael. I have one last question. Can you all talk about your current endeavors, if any, in music? What are all of you up to in your own musical lives?
E: Thank you, Jason! 2017 is going to be a busy year for me, musically. I’m working on my second full-length album with Hot Lunch. I’m also just wrapping up recording my second studio album with Sweet Chariot. We’re also reissuing my old band Parchman Farm on vinyl and of course trying to get Ozean pressed on 12” 45 rpm wax!
L: Well I have a teenage son who has a truly incredible voice so since I set him up with voice lessons, I take them too so that he knows I’m not just a parent who is telling him to do stuff that I don’t do. So I take voice lessons. As far as music for sharing with the world…I am going to Nashville in late Spring to do a project in studio. I’ve had several offers to do vocals but this is the first one that has really caught my attention. It’s new and different and I believe truly in the musician that’s creating it. I’d tell you more but you’ll have to wait until it’s released!
Support the vinyl release of Ozean’s EP by going to their bandcamp page and purchasing a copy of their digital album.