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Ocean Waves Interview: “The Jamaican musicians wanted to live in the moment”

Reggae? Funk? R&B? Hip Hop? Ocean Waves Productions may be best known for alternative rock, but their new project is crossing musical and cultural boundaries. Shaun Ponsonby talks to Carlo Variola about the Ocean Waves Band.

Ocean Waves Productions have built a reputation over the last few years by signing a plethora of alternative rock bands; The Sneaky Nixons, The Shipbuilders, Jimmy & The Revolvers. All classically Liverpool acts.

But their latest project is pushing the boundaries of what the label are known for.

The Ocean Waves Band is ambitious to say the least.

The idea is simple; Ocean Waves will collaborate with a series of producers and artists across a myriad of genres, but focussing on reggae, funk, R&B and old school hip hop, hoping to cross musical and cultural borders.

The first of these collaborations is available now, and saw Ocean Waves travel to Jamaica to record with local reggae artists. Aside from proving the project’s grand aspirations, it gives the song, It’s Like, a level of authenticity that is rare among British-produced reggae.

We spoke to Ocean Waves Productions’ Carlo Variola about this exciting new project.

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Planet Slop: Tell us a little bit about the concept behind the Ocean Waves Band.

Carlo Variola: Ocean Waves Band is an idea I have for years, almost since I moved to Liverpool about seven years ago. Not being originally from here I just needed to meet the right people in town to develop this project and now apparently that moment arrived.

The idea is to make music composed and produced by my label, Ocean Waves Productions, and call different musicians to be part of it. Every song has a different story and on this project each song can involve different kind of musicians. Ocean Waves Band is a project with no rigid musical or geographical borders. A song can be produced in Liverpool, in Hamburg or in Negril (Jamaica), like our first release, It’s Like. We will mainly focus on reggae, funk, R&B and old school hip-hop but the doors are opened for other styles too if the right occasion comes at the door. The reason of Ocean Waves Band comes from the fact that after years of working with different artists as a producer I want to start back on doing exactly what I want about composing and producing music. But also from the passion I have for exploring different cultures and so different musical styles.

PS: Who is in the Ocean Waves Band long-term?

CV: The core of Ocean Waves Band are two producers, one it’s me and the other Lloyd Massett from Toxteth, Liverpool. We decide together the style of music we want to work at, who to work with and where. He also plays bass and I play rhythm guitar. We both compose music so in this project we both write but also let open space to other composers we like and want to work and collaborate with us. Lloyd is a very inspiring person and has a very interesting musical background. He played bass with many Liverpool local bands but also in the rest of U.K., Europe, U.S.A. and Dubai too. He played together with legends like The Last Poets, Pete Wylie, Andy McIusky, Lee Mavers, Ian Brodie, collaborated with some of the Massive Attack and with numerous up and coming young artists on Wyclef  Jean label at Platinum Studios in New York City to name a few.

PS: You began the project with It’s Like with local reggae artists in Jamaica. Why did you choose to begin the project with a reggae tune?

CV: I grew up listening to reggae music since I was a little child. In the early 80’s my parents went to Jamaica and they came back with vinyls from Peter Tosh, Bob Marley and also those Jamaican children from Birmingham, Musical Youth. They were children like I was that time and they were singing that happy colourful music. Reggae music made me feel good and happy when I was a child and that sensation is still strong in me.

PS: How did you select the artists that you worked with for the track?

CV: It happened I was in Jamaica for ten days and after three or four days of pure relaxation, the idea of recording some reggae with local artists came into my mind and I started to get very excited about it. So I started to ask around about reggae artists and studios in Negril and I met Garfield Williamson (DJ Swallow), Jah Wayne and their crew. So basically asking people on the street and attending a couple of gigs, this how I met the musicians there. Then when I came back to Liverpool I decided I wanted to empower the recordings and add real drums, real trumpets and a rhythm guitar part. So Lloyd called a drummer he knew from Manchester, Danny Ward, I called Liverpool Jazz legend Martin Smith to play the trumpet parts and I recorded the rhythm guitar myself.

PS: How exciting was it to record the song in Jamaica?

CV: It was an amazing experience also because it all happened so fast. I met Garfield Williamson once and two days after we were in this tiny studio in Negril called Lazeme with other musicians that were called by him. Nobody knew what was going to happen so they asked me if I had an idea for a song. I told them yes that I had an idea. I had an acoustic guitar with me, because I always travel with one whenever I can. Outside the studio I played them the idea and showed them the chords with the acoustic guitar and suggested them the bass-line that was in my head already. They really liked it immediately and showed enthusiasm for what I played so we went inside the studio and after four hours we had a song composed, arranged and recorded. No thinking just feeling, that was a great experience. The musicians were all well trained so it wasn’t difficult for Garfield to compose the vocal line and the lyrics and for the others to arrange the keys, drum-beat and play the bass part.

PS: Did you learn anything about the music and culture from working with the local artists?

CV: I only stayed in Jamaica for ten days and only in Negril so what I had it was just a taste. I really want to go back there because I love reggae music and that is the pulsating hearth of reggae. But maybe yes I can say I learnt one thing. I had the impression that the Jamaican musicians I worked with did not want plan things too much at all, they just wanted to play, feel it, live the moment and record it. So not thinking too much about a song structure, this chord is better than this. None of that. Their approach to music is incredibly instinctive and visceral so not talking about how the music should be made but just play it and feel it. Be totally absorbed in the music. And I liked that. Obviously you also need to know how to play before!

PS: Can you clue us in to any of the other collaborations you have coming up?

CV: Sure, the second release for Ocean Waves Band will be a tune called Warning and that was composed and arranged by Lloyd in Toxteth. When I heard the demo I immediately liked it and thought about adding real drums in the studio. So in the same session we added elements to It’s Like we recorded drums for Warning too. Martin Smith was there and we told him to have a go over the tune. He never listened to the tune before but after recording three improvisation takes we had an interesting trumpet part that we decided to add to the tune. The tune would be nearly ready but at the moment we can’t release it because we can’t find the singer for months. Apparently Sugar bumped in Lloyd‘s home studio once, sung the part and disappeared until now! Despite the fact we all like his voice and performance on the tune we may have to find another singer for this song. We can’t really release something without the singer having listen to it. Anyway we all hope Sugar is fine somewhere having a great time.

PS: Do you plan to do any live shows with the Ocean Waves Band?

CV: Yes I do, when the times will be ready and will have enough songs, we will start to perform at The Ocean Waves Productions events. After seven years in Liverpool I can say that now I know good musicians which are also good people to realise this project. I strongly believe that having the right people around, respectful people is as essential as having good musicians around. There is no good record without a good atmosphere in the studio and there is no right atmosphere in the studio without the right people.

It’s Like is available for download and streaming now.

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