The Ocean Blue may not immediately pop in your mind when reflecting on the ‘80s and ‘90s, but when you listen to “Between Something and Nothing,” “Drifting, Falling,” “Ballerina Out of Control,” or “Mercury,” you will say, “Oh yeah! I love them!”
The Ocean Blue was excellent then, and they are fantastic now… and headed our way.
Formed in Hershey, PA in 1986, The Ocean Blue features founding members David Schelzel and Bobby Mittan, along with Oed Ronne and Peter Anderson.
It did not take long for the band to find success as their sophomore album “Cerulean” found its way to alternative radio nationwide.
They recently released a new video for “Denmark,” the lead single from 1999’s “Davy Jones Locker,” which has just been remastered and made available on vinyl for the first time. Throw in a fall tour and The Ocean Blue has plenty to offer in 2023. Thankfully David Schelzel was able to take a break long enough to catch us up.
Traci: David I am impressed that you and co-founding member Bobby have known each other since you were teens!
David: Yeah, junior high school, to be precise.
Traci: Who knew this thing you put together as teens, you’d still be doing in your adult years!
David: I know. It’s a marvel, but given the fact, especially with Bobby, that I’ve known him for so long – and even Oed and Peter I’ve known for over 20 years and are best friends – it really makes it a beautiful thing.
Traci: What was that like – as youngsters – the first time one of your songs got on the radio? Were you guys together?
David: The first time I can remember hearing us on the radio, we were on our way to Boston to play a show. I don’t even know if the first record was out, but the single was out, and the people at the label were saying, “Oh, these radio stations are starting to play you.” So we were trying to dial them in, and I think it was a radio station out of Providence, Rhode Island, that was playing us. They played The B-52s, then they played the Pixies, and then they played us, and we were like, “Whoa!” And we’re all in the van together, just sort of taking the moment in. It was pretty great!
Traci: You guys had successful albums and then took a break for more than a decade. You do most of the songwriting, and I know you did some other projects, but in that time, did you just have so much stuff stored up that you were like, “I have to let all of this out!”
David: Kind of. For me, songwriting is a part of life, so I’m always thinking about music and writing things here and there, and it’s not so much like it gets pent up in me, and then I need to let it out. It’s more I kind of get it out when I can, and then I sit back and say, “Oh, wow, there’s a body of work here that kind of sounds like an album.” Or maybe I need to just start collecting these things. It’s more like gardening; I have to go out there and weed and tend to it, and then all of a sudden you realize you’ve got something. Particularly with the record we put it out in 2013, “Ultramarine.” It took me a while to realize, I’ve got a record done now and I should bring it in for a landing and make sure it’s happening.
Traci: What is your songwriting process, or do you have multiple?
David: It’s just kind of a natural part of life for me, so I don’t overthink it. Inspiration comes anytime, anyplace, and I think that there’s a part of it that’s inspiration and just as natural and organic, and then there’s a part of it that’s work. Just today, I was sitting down with a guitar, and some things came to me, and I wrote them down, but I’ll have to revisit that at some point and see if there’s something there that will actually make a song lyrically or musically. There have been times in my life where I’ve had very specific ideas that I want to work out and then other times where it’s completely random.
Traci: You just re-released “Davy Jones Locker.” What can you tell us about that?
David: “Davy Jones Locker” is a very different record for us. It kind of sits between our years that we were on major labels in the time where we started to just be on an independent label and be our own thing. And we actually wrote and worked on most of it when we were still on a major label and trying to figure out if we were going to do a second record for that label. And the songs are a little more experimental all over the map, like what I would normally say are kind of outtake songs, but there’s something interesting there, and that felt like a record as we went into the 2000s. So we put it out by ourselves and then on an indie label, and it was the only record we’ve done that had never come out on vinyl. So that’s one of the things we really wanted to do this year, is revisit that record. It was out of print. It sold out of all the copies we had and wanted to put it on vinyl. So we did some remastering and kind of relooking at that record and thought, “Well, let’s do that and let’s do some shows in connection with that.” So that’s what we’re doing this fall.
Traci: I always wonder how artists know when an album is “done” or if they continue to want to “fix” things. Were there any songs on “Davy Jones” that you tweaked or changed? Or were you happy with everything and left it as is?
David: Well, interesting you should ask because when I first went back to revisit “Davy Jones” for this release, I was very dissatisfied with what I heard and thought we needed to do a pretty significant, maybe even need to remix this record, because it sounded so not good to me. But as I talked about it with the guys and we listened to it more, and I talked about it with friends and a few fans, it was like, well, it is what it is and we really shouldn’t mess with it too much.
He continued: The more I started to try out different things and work through, it just came to the conclusion to just leave it alone. The remastering we did really only tried to address and improve some sonic things and get it in a space that worked for vinyl. I think it sounds a lot better, but it doesn’t sound different, which was tricky because there’s a lot of things that bothered me about the record, but I’m at a point now where, particularly as we’ve played some of it, it’s been good to revisit it and I’m kind of okay with it. I think it sounds good.
Traci: I know a year or two ago, record pressing was behind due to supply issues. Has that caught up or is it still kind of delayed?
David: It’s a lot better than it was a couple of years ago. I think there was a lot of pent up demand going into the pandemic and then the pandemic made it even more so. I think we’ve worked through that in the supply chains a lot better now. I know for the stuff we’ve had to repress, the turnaround time is now two to three months, and it was over a year at one point. So, that’s really changed for the better.
Traci: “Kings and Queens” came out in 2019, so COVID got in the way of touring in support of that record, but with “Davy Jones” being “new,” are you playing through that or a more standard setlist with a mixture of songs?
David: In sort of the modern era – the last 10 years or so – when we play shows, we try to pick up songs from every record, but we lean more heavily on maybe if it’s a new record like “Ultramarine” or “Davy” or “Kings and Queens, Knaves and Thieves,” we’ll do more songs from that new record. We’re doing more songs from “Davy Jones” than we would normally do, but it’s a pretty wide variety of songs and we always play the most popular songs; we can tell what our popular songs are, so we always try to play all of those.
Traci: Several of the shows are sold out and some moving to bigger venues, so that’s got to be pretty amazing, a good feeling.
David: Correct on both counts. Yeah, amazing and feels good. It’s pretty incredible to me too, because we don’t have big machinery behind us anymore. I mean, when you’re on [a big label], you’ve got this massive infrastructure behind you, right? Promoting and distributing, getting you on radio, getting you on Conan O’Brien. We don’t have that; we’ve got a PR firm, but we do most of the things on our own, and so it’s remarkable to me, and I think it’s just a testament to the fine people that have been following us for decades and the relationships we established early on when we were on those. We feel so fortunate and are so grateful for the fact that we will play a sold-out show in San Francisco or San Diego, and hopefully soon Ventura. But, yeah, it’s great, and it feels like the right balance, too, because we’re not playing massive arenas or anything like that, but we’re playing to people that want to hear the music.
Traci: Do you have a go-to snack when you’re on tour?
David: We do! For years, one of my childhood friends – again, this theme of friends in the band – a guy I’ve known since junior high does our lights and is one of our crew people. He makes these amazing protein bars, and I don’t even know what’s in them, but it’s what we always have when we hit the road. He gives each of us these four bars that were obviously cut out of some kind of cookie sheet thing in a Ziploc bag, and we could pretty much live off of those things for the run. We usually do three or four dates and that would sustain us. A little bit like Frodo and Sam going through with the Lembas bread, to use a “Lord of the Rings” reference.
Traci: Anything else going on that you’re allowed to talk about?
David: Well, I mean, I can talk about whatever I want! (laughing)
Traci: Well, any new music or things that are not secret!
David: We’re working on a new record; when it’s done and out remains to be seen. I’m excited about that, but it’s a slow process for us now. We don’t have a major label that’s like, “Oh, you’ve got to deliver this in Q 2025” or something. But I’m optimistic that we’ll get that done within the year, and then it’s just a matter of timing as to when it comes out.
Traci: Several of the newer bands that I’m following release a new song when they have it; they skip doing the album thing. Maybe they’ll put out an EP later. Is that something that interests you – releasing songs as you have them?
David: Yeah, I love that, too, but I’m still a fan of the album as an art form. I mean, I love songs too. but what really defines musical experiences for me is the album. A collection of songs that relate to each other, create a vibe, create an atmosphere. That’s what I really love myself, and that’s what I try to do with The Ocean Blue.
Traci: This question is really the most important question of this entire interview.
David: Oh, my, I’m scared.
Traci: If you’re going to have to fight an animal, what is the biggest animal you think you could take?
David: Well, I have a hard enough time dealing with my cat, so I don’t know. I’m constantly battling the squirrels in my yard. It’d have to be pretty small. That’s tough. Maybe a kitten. I think I could handle a kitten. (laughing)
Thank you so much to David Schelzel for taking time to talk – on the day before his birthday! – and getting us caught up on The Ocean Blue. They will tour the US through November with a stop in Ventura at Ventura Music Hall on November 15th, and a sold-out show in San Diego on November 16th at Casbah. Snag tickets to Ventura while you can!