Opening Victoria Warehouse’s main stage on the final day of Radar Festival was Where Oceans Burn, a metalcore outfit started in Manchester, and consisting of members close to my heart. Where Oceans Burn saw immediate success with their first release, Hollow Heart, back in 2019. This was largely due to the focus they placed on quality and social media promotion. The track had a professionally shot music video on day one, and elements of it were recorded at the beloved Middle Farm Studios (known for Architects, Royal Blood). This was followed up by two more singles, Shadow // Self and The Only Home We Know, which have also amassed over one million Spotify streams between them.
I have followed Where Oceans Burn since before they even formally started. In my mind, they have always been the ones to look up to – both excellent technical musicians and savvy at navigating the promotional aspects of music. Lead guitarist Ben Charleston (who I consider to be the project manager) has poured his heart and soul (and bank account) into the band. Along with Ross Coey, rhythm guitarist and clean vocalist, Ben sat down with Courtney and I to discuss their recent news – Ross’s departure from the band, as well as going in-depth on the technical aspects of their live sound and gear.
Ross Leaving, George Joining, and Working Remotely
With regards to lineup changes, can we expect anything big to change sound-wise?
Ben: “Not drastic enough in terms of songwriting. I don’t think there’ll be any changes in terms of instrumentation or that kind of thing. It will mostly be vocal style, I think. Which is cool – obviously we’re embracing it. I think it’ll probably be something people will pick up on, but I don’t think whether one is better than the other is something that people will be able to argue – it’s just a different style of singing.”
Ross: “One aspect of the line-up is changing, but in terms of guitar, it’s probably going to end up sounding better because they won’t be using the Line 6 POD anymore, George has got better equipment than I have currently. So, the guitars will sound better and the vocals will be on par but different sonically.”
Ben: “Obviously, everyone has a different voice. If I was to start trying to sing, it would not sound the same. It would sound bad, for starters (laughs), but everyone sounds a bit different. And he’s also got a bit of a different style, but you can expect all the hooks and stuff – everything people enjoy about our singing. We’re very much keeping that end of it, so if anyone has any worries about it – cast it out, you know?”
George is based down south, right? Tell me about why you’ve decided to go with someone who’s so fuckin’ far away!
Ben: “So, over the years, watching how some bands have developed – one example is Stray From The Path – the drummer, Craig, lives in the UK – Scotland, I think. And the rest of his band are all American. He flies over there. When you’re at the level that we are aiming for, bouncing in and playing a show like this, being able to pull up to a pre-production session and not be going over your own parts and fixing that aspect of it; when you’re using that session as a refresher of playing it live, you can prepare individually and in advance and then rehearse together in that pre-production session.”
“A lot of people have heard about our decision to go with George even though it hasn’t been announced, and they’re like, ‘Woah, I can’t believe you’ve gone with someone from the other end of the country.’ It doesn’t matter – as long as he’s there for when we need him, it’s not going to affect it.”
Ross: “Logistically it’s not that big of a deal because you can always send tracks across digitally.”
Ben: “The internet does in fact exist. Facetime is also a thing.”
So how does that translate to writing? Is it different not being in a room with everyone?
Ben: “The record we’re sat on at the minute was written through COVID lockdown. Instrumentally, me and Ozzy (our drummer) would hop on Facetime. We’d have worked on ideas in our own time and then we’d talk about what we wanted to do with them and send them between us. I’d be pulling audio from sessions into Logic projects while he’s sat on Facetime in front of the speakers, and we’d listen back to it. We’re already a remote band, we’re not a band that meets up and does a lot of stuff in person. I think we only actually met up to do any of the writing when vocals became a thing, and then we’d do vocal pre-production sessions.”
And you’re talking about earlier on in Where Oceans Burn’s life, right?
Ben: “Yes, so it’s not really a transition for us. The distance isn’t really factored into it. Just because he’s further away doesn’t mean his internet connection is going to be worse than people that live close. He’s not playing like, 8-bit quality live video!”
“We’ve yet to have a session where we’re all involved, though. We’ve got some new stuff in the works whilst we’re finishing off the record that we’re sat on, but we’ve not brought it into a collaboration yet.”
With your genre in mind and your equipment and logistical processes, you’re obviously quite a forward-thinking band. You’re in a forward-thinking scene anyway, stylistically, but then the technology that comes into it is interesting, affecting the way you write and rehearse.
Ben: “The reason we chose George was down to his passion for music. It’s one thing that we wanted to retain. The process of the record we have done has been quite long and drawn out because of outside work, and it’s had a bit of a negative effect on us as a band, which is a bit of a downer. So seeing someone be so passionate about music and being involved in music in any capacity was, for me, one of the big factors in why we took him over someone who might have lived closer. That’s a big deal for us.”
Ross: “In terms of longevity, it means he’s more interested in it and he’s more likely to contribute to stuff actively, instead of just being there as and when you need him. It’s a fresh set of ears and a fresh set of hands.”
Ben: “Other than the shows we’ve been playing recently, it’s been a quiet time. If you were to look at what the band was doing online, it’s been quite a quiet period while we’ve been slaving away getting everything sorted. So it’s given us a fresh perspective and fresh energy, which is always welcomed.”
“And the other thing that makes it easier is that, the way we run everything, it’s all digital. So as long as we’ve got the same amp modeller units, we can send presets between the units. I build the setlists and then send it over.”
Playing Live with Backing Tracks and No Amps: Gear Talk
Yeah, I was trying to explain this to Courtney. Could you go into how the live setup works with the amps (or lack thereof) and what the live modules do?
Ben: “So … I’m trying to think of the right way to say it …”
You don’t press pedals to change guitar sounds?
Ross: “It’s all done via MIDI, yeah.”
Ben: “It’s all automated. I deal with a lot of the live production – we don’t normally bring our own sound engineer, but luckily we’ve had our sound engineer, Liam, with us today. For smaller shows we don’t bring people, we use the in-house engineers.”
“A lot of it is failsafe stuff. I’ve already done sessions at my flat where I’ve mixed live stems and made sure that everything is balanced and works in that setting before it gets brought to a venue. You see a lot of bands doing big pre-production sessions where they bring a sound engineer and do all of that through the sound desk. What I’m doing is that but from home – in Logic.”
“Live sound is completely different from studio sound. This year I’ve put a lot of time into redefining our live sound and I think it’s proved pretty successful at the shows we’ve had. Some of the load-ins we’ve had, it’s like drop-and-go. It can get a bit ropey.”
I suppose having everything pre-prepared on presets makes that a lot easier.
Ben: “Yeah, everything’s set. The in-ear mixes we have are all self-contained. I’ve mixed them for everyone individually. I don’t have any of the second guitar in my ears. I also have no vocals.”
Why? That sounds awful (laughs).
Ben: “It’s distracting. If you were to listen to my monitor track, you’d hate it because the metronome is so loud. It’s a full mix of just me.”
That’s the opposite of what I need! Have you practiced so much that you just know where you need to be?
Ben: “It’s that, and it’s practicing against a click-track, as well. We’ve practiced to a point where, if everything was to fail, we’d still be able to put on a good show.”
“Another thing – it’s all done to a grid. If you think about a metronome – when you’re recording or editing guitars or whatever – the preset changes are so accurate as to where they land in the set that if you were to be milliseconds out of time, you’d miss the preset change and you wouldn’t get that note coming in. If you were going from a heavy rhythm guitar tone to a clean tone and you hit that slightly early, you’d hear the change point carry over. You have to be grid-tight. It’s one thing we’ve prided ourselves on. We were backstage while Periphery was sound-checking and their setup is all the same. It’s all automated, so being synced up is a priority for us.”
Ross: “You can literally plug and play, and we all know the material that well that if we couldn’t hear anybody else, as long as we have a click-track, we’d be able to figure out where we are in the song. We’ve done it that many times it’s basically just muscle memory at this point.”
Ben: “Because it’s digital you get a left and a right out of the back of the units. But you don’t record guitar in stereo for this sort of stuff, you have them in mono. So, I’ve got one spare guitar line for each side of the stage in case anything goes wrong.”
“Everything’s our own, so we know it works. We’re not having to rely on any venues’ house equipment, other than a house kit for today. All our mics are our own, all of our gear is our own. But it doesn’t stop me from being nervous as hell on a stage that size thinking, ‘Is the wireless stuff going to hold up?’”
Even in a small room, there are so many things that can go wrong.
Ben: “Oh, definitely.”
I think one of the great things for me to see is hearing you playing The Star & Garter and then playing Victoria Warehouse, and both times it sounds great.
Ben: “That’s the thing – we wanted to be able to play the shittiest of shit venues and still come out of it sounding alright. I think we sounded alright today, but I’m still super self-critical about it. I was listening to a recording of the set while in the car, dropping our gear back to Liverpool…”
Ross: “He’s a great conversationalist.”
Did you record your input?
Ben: “We didn’t. We were going to but didn’t have time, and I won’t do it on our playback Mac because I want to minimalise the CPU usage.”
It makes me so nervous seeing that laptop sitting there, knowing that everything is relying on it working. I could see the waveforms in the Logic file from where I was stood in the crowd.
Ben: “I won’t do that on our laptop because I know there’ll be a higher chance of the CPU overloading and crashing, and then you run into all sorts of issues. You carry on playing but your click-tracks have stopped, your backing tracks have stopped, everything goes to shit and you have to restart.”
Ross: “We’ve had it before – not good.”
I think I saw you struggling with it before a show in Satan’s Hollow.
Ross: “More than likely. Everything goes wrong in Satan’s.”
Ben: “I got George, our new guy, at the front of house to video the full set on his phone. Your phone naturally compresses the audio so it gives you a really good representation of what people actually hear in the room. Listening back to it, I could hear everything was alright.”
“Obviously, we don’t get a full representation of it – that’s the downside to the in-ears. We don’t run ambient mics because, normally (laughs), we don’t play venues this size. In a smaller room, you can hear everything a little bit more.”
Ross: “Yeah, because the back of the room is ten feet away from where you’re stood.”
I’ll say, there have been some wonky live mixes this weekend, so you guys have done well to sound as good as you did.
Ben: “We had quite a bit of chance to set up, but there was a curfew for noise”
Ross: “That was for doors opening.”
Ben: “Doors must have opened, and then obviously we can’t do anything loud. So, they said we could run everything on stage – acoustic drums and stuff – but they couldn’t have it blasting through front of house. So we got to check through everything on our end and make sure we were set and that nothing was going to go wrong.”
“That was, to be honest, really nice, because it settled us down a bit. We knew it wasn’t going to go to shit. But we didn’t know how it was going to translate out front. Liam was listening to it with his headphones but it’s hard to gauge, going from headphones to a 3 500 capacity venue.”
And it’s different when the room is more or less full of people, isn’t it? Because you get echo or different levels of dampening.
Ben: “Yeah. The room’s not great for its acoustic treatment but, from what I’ve heard from our mix, I think it did pretty well to hold up against everyone else, you know? Obviously, bands like Ten56, Volumes, and Periphery will wipe the floor with us, but I feel like we’ve held our own being in that slot.”
Ross: “And having your own sound guy who knows what you like makes a big difference.”
Ben: “Yeah, Liam has done our sound a few times.”
Ross: “He usually does Tech-Fest.”
Ben: “Both years we’ve played Tech-Fest, he’s done our sound. The sound in the main room is crazy – it can be a bit hit and miss. It’s a big tin can, basically, so everything is bouncing around everywhere. But Liam’s worked there for that long he knows it like the back of his hand. He absolutely cracked the mix for Borders, and I bounced straight to the back of the room at the end of their set and was like, ‘Liam, can you please do our set?’ And he said he’d love to.”
I think my favourite song that you’ve done is ‘The Only Home We Know’. I like the energy, but I really wanted to talk about the lyrics – they’re obviously quite political, and with your name being Where Oceans Burn which may also have political connotations, is there any chance of us getting more stuff like that?
Ben: “The record we’re sat on is less politically motivated. Manifest is as close as you’re going to get, but you have to really read between the lines. We’re by no means a political band.”
Ross: “As much as I enjoyed writing the lyrics for ‘The Only Home We Know’, I felt it was very direct, which works for politically motivated songs because you want to get the message across as concisely as possible. I mean, me and you, we love Rage Against the Machine …
Ross: “Half the time, their music is just two sections repeated over and over again, and you get exactly what it means. But, especially with the new record, we wanted to challenge ourselves to do things a bit differently – challenge ourselves to be less direct but still convey meaning, and to make it a bit more ambiguous for people so they can attach their own meanings.”
Ben: “Like telling a bit of a story but not directly saying, ‘This is how it starts; this is how it ends.’ If people want to look into it, they can take their own meaning from it – it’s not set in stone. I think it’s quite a cool thing. Not too many people are doing it that way that I’ve seen.”
“‘Dysmorphia’ is about quite a hot topic. Obviously, it talks about body dysmorphia which is a very rife thing that people deal with in this day and age. That’s quite direct, not as direct as ‘The Only Home We Know’. If you really want to understand the new stuff, you’ll have to really read into it and think about it. It’s more … I don’t want to say ‘intellectual’, because that’s not right, (mimics a snobby person) ‘You have to be a higher level of education to fuckin’ understand it.’ You’ll have to put the thought into why certain lyric lines have been chosen over others.”
Ross: “With ‘The Only Home We Know’, I think it was very much a product of its time when we were still finding our feet and we weren’t trying to write a cohesive record. We were writing whatever we were passionate about, and I wrote that in 2018 or 2019, maybe. I was mad into all my political stuff and I had stuff to say, then. I wanted to vent my frustrations at that time, but especially over COVID lockdown, it became less about what’s happening politically and more of an introspective thing.”
Ben: “One of the other factors is that more people have been involved with the lyric writing process with this than the older stuff. With the new stuff, we get a set of lyrics and then all jump in and rag and reform bits. It’s become a bit of a product of everyone, rather than one person writing it and a couple of bits get changed. ‘Shadow // Self’ and ‘The Only Home We Know’, they were two very different songs because they were written, for the most part, by two different people. These have been a lot more collaborative.
Ross: “It’s a group effort – everyone’s had their own inputs. Maybe, you might see some political stuff, but don’t expect it expressly. It’ll be whatever we want to write – well, saying ‘We’, not me anymore (laughs). It’ll be whatever these guys feel like writing and what’s important to them because you have to have a certain level of integrity and write stuff that means something to you.”
Ben: “A lot of this new material is driven by modern society. There’s a lot of themes in there that are very current within the timeline of when it’s going to end up coming out. Even though it was written a little bit ago, it was written in modern society, and it’s stuff that everyone and their nan can say they’ve experienced or been involved with, to some extent. Everyone can feel some kind of takeaway from it, in one way or another.“
Entering Into a Highly Competitive Scene
Another thing I talk to a lot of people about is the competitiveness of the Manchester music industry. (Ben starts to snigger) But, I feel like with your scene in particular, it’s even more intense because you have so many of these requirements to meet. You need all the gear, you need to be really good players – there’s so much stuff. Where does Where Oceans Burn fit in that, in your minds? And where are you going with it?
Ross: “I suppose, a big thing for us was making the point that we didn’t want to be just another Manchester metalcore band. We just wanted to write music that we enjoyed and we happened to form in Manchester. I think you’ll find that, in a lot of cities, the music scenes can be very insular, so it can be hard to get into the middle of that. If you do prioritise getting into the middle of that scene then you compromise your ability to go elsewhere. You end up doing the same gigs in the same venues all the time, which we never wanted. We wanted the opportunity to go anywhere.”
“It was kind of a lonely come-up, in Manchester.”
Ben: “Yeah, definitely. I don’t want to go into it too much, but there was a lot of tension between us and the local bands that had been around for a while because our first song blew up. They were asking how we were doing it.”
Ross: “A lot of people resented the fact that we came in and released something that did well, while they had been at it for years and hadn’t achieved the same thing.”
Ben: “At our fifth ever show, we opened a sold-out Satan’s for fucking After The Burial. It was an insane show, but it was off the back of us being successful. We’d put graft in for years before even announcing the band that no one would ever see, and a lot of people at the time wouldn’t have known about us, and they just assumed that we’d come in like a takeover. But some people said we’d have to get our backs up about it because it’s their careers as well.”
Ross: “It comes back to the competitiveness you’re talking about. Everybody wants their own success, so learning to co-exist with other bands and adapt that mindset – there’s enough room for everybody. There’s enough air in the room for multiple people to exist, you don’t have to be the one successful band. Everybody can do well.”
Ben: “A lot of it is opportunistic. Some shows, we have been really lucky to get on – like this one. Ash from Radar saw us supporting After The Burial. He’d been watching us for five years, and then hit us up saying, ‘I think you should play Radar’s main stage.’”
“For us to hear, it’s really affirming – for someone with that level of power to put you on a festival like this and tell you that they’ve been watching you since you first came about.”
“For me, Periphery were one of the first modern metal bands I ever watched.”
Ross: “Same, probably, yeah.”
Ben: “And now we’re stood watching them set up, chatting to them. It’s insane. After all the turmoil and stress of starting out and not really feeling like we were backed, it’s a nice thing to sit back and know that we’ve done this ourselves.”
Ross: “It’s nice to look back on the last five years and realise that you’ve actually achieved something tangible and it’s starting to pay off … so anyway! (he mimes walking off and we laugh)”
It’s surreal for me to watch Where Oceans Burn reaping this success. Due to my close connection with them, I can look back on their career and see points in my life where I have had major things happen in my life, too. To be sat with Ross and Ben, two of the first people I met when I came to Manchester in 2017, backstage at such an iconic venue and significant festival was heart-warming in a way I can’t fully express.
Though Ross has now left the band, Where Oceans Burn are ready to enter a new chapter, with a brand-new record nearly ready to be unleashed. If you like their music, follow them on social media for announcements about it.
Photos: Courtney Turner
Where Oceans Burn pages