We’re always on the prowl for new music and the newest band to come across our radar is Velvet Ocean from up north in Oulu. With their debut coming out on Friday, Purposes and Promises, we sent them some questions to get to know them a bit more! Riitu and Jake took a few moments to tell us about their music.
Before we get started, can you tell us a bit about yourselves? What is your background, how did you meet, and of course, how did you choose the band name?
Velvet Ocean is a melodic metal band with seven members, from Oulu, northern Finland. The band started a couple of years ago as a co-writing project of singer Riitu and guitarist Jake. Right from the start the plan was to make a full-length metal album. After the song-writing started to flow, we started asking people to record in the studio. In recent years we have now ossified the live band with players none of whom we actually knew beforehand. We just basically started asking people in the Oulu area whether they would know people who would be interested to play this kind of music. The band name is actually from some lyrics Jake had written before the whole line reading, “Sinking in velvet ocean of time.” Velvet Ocean, we think, describes our music well: the mysterious “ocean” being sometimes calm and beautiful but sometimes rougher.
Is there a “creative mastermind” in the band at all, or do you work collaboratively when you write?
Riitu has the main responsibility for the artistic decisions but of course we are hoping for other people to contribute writing and arranging the songs as well. Because of how the project started, the songs in the debut album are written entirely by Riitu and Jake. Marco Sneck (Poisonblack etc) was a big help in visioning our sound and style and Harri Österman also made a great contribution to the cello arrangements.
From a musical perspective, what tends to come first, the music or the lyrics? Do you write songs with a theme or story in mind, or do you find yourselves more attracted to melodies, with lyrics coming after?
Riitu: For me a line of melody usually comes first. These are usually provoked by some particular state of mind. There are periods when ideas pop up quite frequently but other times I might not be able to come up with anything. It varies a lot. Sometimes I have woken up in the middle of the night and have had to hum a melody quietly to my phone, not to wake up anybody. When I have a melody ready I don’t necessarily start writing lyrics for that particular melody but I might have some lyrics ready beforehand which I then adjust a little bit to suit the song.
Jake: I think Riitu’s writing is basically pretty intuitive. I think she kind of knows what she’s doing and also what she wants in the song. My writing is perhaps the opposite. I would rather describe it as a process of trial and error. It’s perhaps easiest for me to first come up with some initial idea. It might be a guitar or piano riff or maybe a set of chords. Then I start varying and expanding the initial thing. At this stage I usually have no idea what the song will be like when it’s ready. Then I just combine the different ideas into some kind of structure and start thinking about the vocal melodies. Oftentimes Riitu also steps in at this stage. My lyrics writing is usually just putting my thoughts on a paper in no particular order or rhythm. After that I start combining different lines that work together and fill in the gaps.
How did you discover metal music, and what drew you to it? Who are some of the fundamental bands that shaped you?
Riitu: As a teenager Metallica was actually the first metal band I found very interesting. I also remember listening to Stratovarius and also To/Die/For’s cover of the song, “In the Heat of the Night”; I remember having it on repeat. A little later I found Evanescence and also bands like Within Temptation, Amorphis, Dream Theater, and many others. In metal music I like the heaviness of sounds but also the melancholy in melodies, chords, and lyrics. Still, I have taken a lot of influences from outside metal music as well.
Jake: The first metal band I started to listen was Helloween on a cassette tape I copied from my cousin’s vinyl. Other bands I really liked in those days were Guns N’ Roses, Led Zeppelin, Rainbow, Rage Against the Machine and Dream Theater, as well as guitar heroes like Steve Vai and Joe Satriani. I did, however, have a pretty versatile taste in music from hip hop and rap to classical and jazz. I never actually considered the music genre so much the main thing in my musical taste but I always liked good songs and melodies and also some level of virtuosity. In metal music I like the energy and attitude and also the rough sound and the moods changing from sad and melancholic to explosive aggressiveness.
You told Tuonela MagazineTuonela Magazine that the title of Purposes and Promises is about finding a purpose, as well as promising yourselves to create this album, if I understood correctly. With that purpose found and promise achieved, do you think a second album will be a similar process, or do you think it will be a whole new experience?
Jake: As this was our first album I think the process was a bit different and there was originally some level of uncertainty whether we could get the result that we hoped for. Now I think we have kind of proven that we can, so I don’t think this will be an issue anymore. Therefore, it kind of feels easier to start working with the second one. Now we can take the best things from the first album and develop our style into the direction that we want to; on the other hand it might also be more difficult because now you have some expectations so it’s important to try to maintain the same effortless attitude.
Riitu: I think the next album will be a whole different experience. Now we have a much better understanding of how things should be done so there isn’t that much need for experimenting. Of course there will also be more pressure but I’m already eagerly waiting to get my hands on the new material. We definitely know that there is still room for development as well. The promise of course has to be sealed once again.
Conceptually, you spoke about how the album is meant to be more hopeful and not too glum. Do you think it’s important to include hope in music, or are you generally positive people?
Jake: I think it’s important to include hope in life for sure. Music is, however, fictional so it can be whatever the artist wants. Some people make metal that is very angry, aggressive, or hopeless and that’s fine. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are like that in their real lives, or maybe they are. I think positvity is above all a matter of personality and maybe to some extent a decision. I have always found myself pretty positive but in the dark winter time I sometimes find myself lacking a little bit of energy and also thinking deeper.
Riitu: Normally I’m pretty pessimistic. The winter affects me a lot but on the other hand it’s probably the best time to make new music. I’ve actually noticed that positive thinking is actually important in getting things done and I also think that during the album making I have become a bit more positive. I think it’s very difficult for some people to maintain positivity in the winter time here and you really have to dredge that up from somewhere. I’ve heard it’s especially a problem for people that move here from warmer countries that they have lots of difficulties adapting to the different seasons.
You happen to have a cellist in your line-up. What do you think that extra element adds to the music that makes it necessary for Velvet Ocean’s sound, if anything?
Riitu: The acoustic cello definitely brings a particular atmosphere and sensitivity to certain songs. I think it fits our music extremely well and also sounds fantastic live. The unique interpretation and expressiveness that the player brings to the instrument by physically playing it is something that cannot be exactly reproduced by any other means.
What has it been like starting out in the industry in this ever-changing time? Do you think the struggles are the same as 5, 10, 20 years ago, or are they totally different than what you might have expected?
Jake: I think the basic problems have always been the same: How to make great songs and how to get people listen to them. The first thing is about talent and the other thing is about marketing. Only through enough visibility is it possible for people to make the decision about whether they like your stuff or not. If nobody has heard your music, how could they know whether they like it or not? Change, on the other hand, is normal and those who adapt fast are the ones that will cope best. Today it’s easier than ever before to publish your music but at the same time, there is more competition than ever before so you just have to do things as well as you can, work hard, and believe in what you’re doing.
Riitu: Somehow I think the problems are similar. However it does sometimes feel as though it’s difficult to be original because it kind of feels like almost everything has been tried and done already. The way we sought our style was that we didn’t really restrict ourselves at all but just tried all sorts of ideas and styles, no matter how crazy they sounded at first. We also tried not to think at all about what kind of music we are supposed to be doing but made the decisions very intuitively. Just made the choice we thought would sound better. The social media presence and stuff takes a lot of time but that’s the work you need to do to make yourself closer to your audience. There are also a lot of possibilities there and it makes it much easier to find people you can work together with, etc.
What are your plans for 2020? Do you have any shows lined up, for example?
We have booked a couple of gigs already:
28 March at Seurahuone in Kokkola
4 April at Toppila Klubi in Oulu
30 May at Grande in Rovaniemi
7 August at Toppila Klubi’s Metalliperjantai in Oulu
However there is still a lot of room in the schedule and we actually hope that through the publishing of the album on February 7th, 2020, we will be able to get people enthusiastic about our music and more demand for gigs too. We hope someday we will be able to play everywhere! We also think that we need to find more partners in the music business to be able to develop our thing further. For example, an outside producer might be very interesting to work with.
Any last words for our readers, or anything you’d like to mention that I didn’t ask about?
Please come check out our gigs! We promise it will be worth it! We also have a lot of extra material in our gigs that’s not included in the album. Do check out our album, too! There are cool individual songs in it but listening through the whole thing, we think, is yet another interesting experience! There are different styles of songs and we think many people can find their favorite. Thank you so much for the interview!