“I always feel like it could end tomorrow,” a very hungover, yet convivial, Mike Vennart tells me in a hotel bar somewhere in London. You can’t blame the Oceansize frontman’s doubts about the future; this is a band with a 12 year history of standing by the sidelines watching other bands receive all the plaudits, their own efforts passing incredulous disc jockeys and festival promoters by almost unheard.
“It used to play on my mind a lot, and I used to get very jealous and angry,” Vennart admits. “I’d see the Reading line-up, and every year we’d never be on it. It’s all politics. It’s having the right agent, the right contacts, and the right fucking people blowing smoke on your balls.” But Vennart’s angst has mellowed in his older years, a sign of maturity that has influenced latest release Self Preserved While the Bodies Float Up.
It’s just as well the jealously has eased; Self Preserved is another ambitious album from Oceansize, and as the singer readily admits: “We just can’t write fucking hit singles.” Hardly likely to see your band emblazoned on the cover of NME and dominating national radio airwaves, is it? But even touring with Biffy Clyro – Vennart has spent the past six months playing guitar on the band’s all-conquering tour of the festival circuit – hasn’t reinvigorated his anger.
“I’ve been playing to fucking thousands of people every night, and whilst nobody’s really looking at me, there’s plenty of times during the Biffy set where I just get to stand still and watch it. But Oceansize is different; it’s my music, and this is just me helping something that’s already fucking amazing sound a bit better.”
Self Preserved is a more considered album than the band’s previous efforts, and compared to 2007’s Frames it oozes confidence and consistency. Vennart claims this wasn’t a conscious decision – “you can’t think about what people might want” – but there’s an undeniable sense that maturity permeated every aspect of the band’s songwriting for the fourth album. Where Frames was a complex beast, sometimes unnecessarily so, Self Preserved treads much more refined ground.
“Some of that stuff [on Frames] was just so fucking hard to play, and I’m very aware of music becoming too complicated just for the sake of it. I think you can lose a lot of soul and character if you’re just relying on chops,” Vennart says. “But every song [on Self Preserved] is pretty concise – it starts, it makes its specific point and then it stops.”
There are dark themes at work within Self Preserved, embodied in the album’s morbid title and noir artwork. Bands do die, and Vennart has no trouble in admitting that he’s coming to terms with Oceansize’s mortality. “It’s recognising the axe has been falling on us for 12 years, because it’s hard to do. At any given point any one of the guys in the band could quit and that would be it. I don’t think we could get another facelift and keep replacing people.”
He says “another facelift” because in 2005 founding bassist Jon Hollis departed the band, a decision which left Vennart scathing in later interviews that the band was “fucked”. But with the recruitment of Steve Hodgson (also of Kong, and now Future of the Left) he looks towards future years with some optimism.
“We were worried because we had chemistry with Jon. But when Steven came in the atmosphere in the band dramatically changed because he’s just fucking hilarious and there’s no bullshit with him at all.” Self Preserved saw Hodgson expanding his role within the band, no longer filling Hollis’s boots, but throwing them away altogether and replacing them with a brand new pair. “He shits music,” says Vennart of Hodgson. “He’s just fucking fearless. If I have a riff, or even a full song I’ll sit on it for about three months before I play it to anybody. Steven just fires it out, he’s so unafraid. Without putting too fine a point on it I feel very, very lucky that Jon left.”
Self Preserved is the first full length the band has recorded at their own rat-infested Manchester studio, “a blessing and a curse” according to Vennart. The band would write “a new song every day”, never actually finishing anything, a problem that grew so frustrating for label Superball Music that they “slapped us on the wrist and said: ‘Look, what’s the point in us signing you if you’re not going to make any records?’”
Compounding the issue was the band’s intricate attention to detail. Something in Vennart seems to seethe as he explains the dedication he imbues into the lyrics he writes. “I’m very aware of touching on some fucking white boy emo, whiny, fucking middle class sounding, fucking existential angsty shite – I’m very aware of getting caught up in that fucking infantile shite,” he froths, stirring from his relatively genial hungover state.
Vennart appears to have a shockingly honest approach to the band, an attitude fermented after 12 years watching friends bands soar into the spotlight. 12 years ago “our aspirations were to make albums – we didn’t know how many we were ever going to make – and to go out and tour,” says Vennart. “That was the dream and we tick those boxes every year, so to a large extent we’ve already done everything we ever wanted to do.”
It seems that after all these years of feeling like they should be at the top Vennart is coming to terms with just making some of the UK’s best undiscovered treasures. So what if they’re not asked to attend the big events? “Just because we don’t get invited to certain parties doesn’t mean we can’t have our own fucking party,” Vennart teases.
Originally published at The Line of Best Fit.