THE OCEAN BLUE
Between Something and Nothing
By Pete Crigler
Ah, VH1 Classic! I still remember it like it was yesterday. The year was 2004 and we had just gotten satellite and I was being introduced to the glorious wonder that was VH1 Classic. One day I was watching and I saw a video unlike any I'd ever seen up to that point. Full of lush colors and beautiful scenery, it was filmed in the fall amid the changing leaves of Hershey, Pennsylvania. The song was beautiful and was one of the coolest tracks I'd heard in a while. Waiting until the end of the video, I learned that the band was The Ocean Blue and the song was called "Drifting/Falling." I was immediately captivated and that's what set me on a quest to listen to as much about this band.
But let's start off with their history: The Ocean Blue formed in Hershey in 1986 by four teenaged friends straight out of high school: David Schelzel on vocals and guitar and also primary songwriter, keyboardist/saxophonist Steve Lau, bassist Bobby Mittan and drummer Rob Minnig. The band started blending new wave flavors with the sound of alternative rock that was currently on the radio and infusing it all with a luscious pop feel that harkened back to late '60's groups like The Association. Playing locally around the area, the band started gaining immediate buzz and by 1988, they were starting to arouse the suspicions of many different major labels. Eventually, they signed a deal with Sire Records which were in the middle of one of their usual signing frenzies. After the ink had dried, the label flew the band over to London to get into the studio with producer Mark Opitz, who was red hot at the point after having just worked with INXS on their most successful record. After laying down the majority of the record with him, Sire hooked them up with the legendary John Porter, where they finished the rest of the record. At that point, Porter was fresh off producing The Smiths, one of the band's biggest influences. With recording complete, the band released their self-titled debut in 1989. The first single "Between Something and Nothing" quickly found a place on the modern rock charts and the band were off and running.
The second single "Drifting, Falling," which was one of two tracks produced by Porter, immediately became a huge hit and the band used the luscious scenery of their hometown to full effect in the video and it quickly went into heavy rotation on MTV. By the end of 1990, the band had sold over 150,000 copies and they had become of Sire's biggest success stories. Flushed with all this success, the band packed up and went into the studio in the woods of Massachusetts to begin work on their follow-up.
What came out in 1991 was Cerulean, one of the most beautiful records I've ever heard, right down to the title and the cover art. By bringing the keyboards heavily into the sound and almost altogether jettisoning the sax, the band were able to fully craft an early '90's pop masterpiece that still sounds as great twenty-two years later as it did when it was first released. Songs like "Ballerina Out of Control," "Mercury" and probably one of the most amazing songs ever heard, "Breezing Up," the band were clearly in control of their sound, so much so that they had taken to producing themselves. Once the album came out, their fanbase immediately took hold and made it their most successful record. They were even able to bring many new fans into their corner and successfully toured America and Europe before settling things down to make a third record.
Going down to Nassau in the Bahamas to hit the studio with producer Kevin Moloney, who is best known, if he's remembered at all, for producing The Judybats and Sinead O'Connor, the band crafted a full on pop record. Titled Beneath the Rhythm and Sound, it came out in 1993 and spawned an immediate hit single in "Sublime." The video scored plenty of plays on MTV with its beautiful scenery and the fact it was filmed amongst geysers in Iceland. This record is good but not as strong as Cerulean; where that album feels like a full-on summer record, Beneath the Rhythm and Sound feels like a winter record, with songs like "Listen It's Gone" and "Ice Skating at Night," one gets the feeling that when listening to the record, it would be best to be sitting by a roaring fire with some hot chocolate beside you.
It was during this point that things began to unravel for the band. Though they'd signed a three album deal with Sire, the band seemed like they were ready to move on as it was felt that Sire hadn't pushed them hard enough to turn them into superstars. After one final release, an EP, Peace and Light that contained a cover of the Smiths' classic, "There is a Light That Never Goes Out," the band and label parted ways in 1994. Around the same time, there were rumblings of discontent as keyboardist Steve Lau had started a producing career, working with bands like Greenberry Woods and others and had also started a record label specializing in dance music, Kinetic that soon acquired distribution from Sire and signed superstar DJ's like Tiesto and BT. Also around this time, he came out of the closet in an article for The Advocate and the band were seemingly not too happy with this because it apparently clashed with their religious views although David Schelzel absolutely refuted this in a 2013 interview with Popdose.
Deciding to part ways, the band ended up replacing Lau with a keyboardist/rhythm guitarist who'd been touring with the band during the last tour: Oed Ronne. Hoping to pick up where they'd left off, the band signed a deal with Mercury Records in 1995 and went back to the studio to work on their fourth record. See the Ocean Blue was released in the fall of 1996 with a moderate promotional blitz by Mercury. Sadly, the record wasn't up to the band's seemingly high standards and with no huge singles on the radio or interesting looking videos on MTV, the album disappeared without a trace. Hardly any people seemingly knew the record existed until the album was made available on iTunes. Then without warning, Mercury Records became involved in a corporate merger that saw them having to drop dozens of artists in 1997 and 1998; The Ocean Blue became one such artist and thus began the next chapter in the band's career.
After seemingly dropping off the face of the earth for several years, the band reemerged in 1999 with Davy Jones Locker, a record where everything was completely done by the band, alone. Released on their own label, the band did some light touring in order to get their name back out there but outside of their core fanbase, the record seemingly disappeared without a trace until 2001 when March Records, an offshoot of W.A.R.? (What Are Records?) rereleased the record and managed to garner some more recognition and after releasing a pair of EP's for the label, Ayn and Denmark, the band went underground once more. Somewhere around this time, it was announced that longtime drummer and original member Rob Minnig decided to step down from the throne but the remaining members quickly regrouped and enlisted Peter Anderson to step into the abyss and fill the void.
They continued to tour sporadically, but for the most part they didn't do much but woodshop new songs. Finally in 2004, they released a new EP, Waterworks on W.A.R.? Comprised of quieter, acoustic tracks, the record got some more attention but the band didn't capitalize on it by touring or doing much of anything. So began a pattern that would hold for the next couple of years. Each year, they would play a handful of small shows scattered across the world and then they'd release a Christmas song at the end of every year, usually just David Schelzel covering a standard accompanied by Don Peris of the Innocence Mission.
This was about the time when I started getting into the band, thanks to VH1 Classic and LimeWire. Within a matter of months, I had quickly tracked down the first three records and almost immediately became obsessed with them all. I was one of those fans that liked the classic era and found it a little difficult to get behind some of the newer stuff but I stayed with the band through thick and thin. But overtime, I found myself increasingly frustrated with the lack of real updates on their website or Facebook. But after a while, I had resigned myself that they might be one of these bands that tour around playing the hits and doing nothing else of significance (I'm looking at you Motley Crue and Bad Company!). But sometime towards the end of the first decade of the 21st century, my luck began to change.
In 2010, word began creeping out various social media sites that the band was back in the studio working on new material that could possibly result in a full-length somewhere in the future. Over the next few months, more word emerged that work was progressing very slowly but that they were coming along and plowing through on new material. Finally, about a year and a half later in the fall of 2012, news emerged that made longtime fans very happy.
First off, the band announced they had started their own label with the help of some friends to be dubbed Korda Records. Second, the band stated the first release off the record would be a sampler featuring some of their friends as well as the first new song by the full band in almost ten years. Third, they announced the long-awaited full-length would be released in March, 2013 and would be called Ultramarine.
The album was finally released on March 19th and garnered immediate critical acclaim from new and old fans alike. The album was hailed as a glorious return to form and tracks like "Blow My Mind" and "Sad Night, Where is Morning?" attest to this. The record was also received gloriously by their hardcore fanbase and the new group of fans they'd picked up since their heyday as a result of things like VH1 Classic and YouTube. Almost twenty-five years after the release of their self-titled debut, The Ocean Blue have been able to pretty much pick up where they left off in 1999 with a lot more promotion and attention; it's very rare to find a band that's capable of that in this day and age but these guys have totally pulled it off. Now if they're able to keep it up and keep releasing new material, the sky will be the limit for this masterful group, or so we can hope.
The Ocean Blue in Peru
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