We caught up with frontman and Biffy Clyro touring guitarist Mike Vennart ahead of the band’s headline UK tour. rushonrock: Four albums in do you feel more or less comfortable about the future of Oceansize?
Mike Vennart: I don’t really think about it like that at all. I suppose I’ve always felt as if everything could come crashing down around us at any time and none of us can really believe we’re still here! We don’t feel smug but we do feel incredibly lucky. A lot of bands bigger than us back in the day didn’t stick it out for whatever reason. But I think the underlying reason Oceansize is still here is that we’re in music for all of the right reasons. In the end it’s not about making money or being successful. We’ve always just wanted to make some records and go on tour and that’s what most bands are driven by at the start. But when I play guitar for Biffy Clyro at the Mercury Music Awards I suppose that’s the other side of the world and it’s a real glimpse of the ‘music business’ as such.
rushonrock: But around the time of your second record (2005’s Everyone Into Position) there seemed to be a push for commercialism – are those days over?
MV: People talk about one song on that album and I’m not going to talk about it now! But the rest of that record is brilliant and I truly believe it’s one of our best albums.
rushonrock: There’s a heavy sound underpinning Self Preserved… but is that intentional or just a symptom of where the band is right now?
MV: I don’t necessarily listen to more heavy music these days – in fact I listen to far less heavy music. And as a band we never discuss what direction we may or may not take from album to album – we just write and see what the result is. We did feel as if we really needed to kick some arse on this album and even before we started recording it, it became obvious that Part Cardiac should open things up. But it’s a very anti-commercial record and as a band we always tend to react against what’s going on around us. We just threw all sorts of shit into the practice room and waited to see what we came up with. We all listen to very different stuff and if you know Gambler’s solo work or the Kong music it becomes clear that we all approach Oceansize from different angles.
rushonrock: After 12 years in the business where do Oceansize hope and expect to pick up new fans from?
MV: I’ve absolutely no idea! There’s no theory behind our fan base and we’ve never attracted a certain age group. We don’t necessarily attract really young kids who read the NME but we do attract everyone from later teens to ancient granddads who like their prog rock.
rushonrock: Since you brought up the subject of prog rock is that the genre you feel part of?
MV: I knew I shouldn’t have mentioned that word ‘prog’. I’ve no idea if we’re part of that scene and I certainly don’t listen to what you would call prog rock. I don’t feel like we’ve ever been part of any scene. The kind of bands I like and the bands I feel we have something in common with – well, we probably don’t have anything in common with them at all! But I don’t listen to 70s prog. I don’t listen to it at all. I like a couple of Pink Floyd albums but in my opinion prog is just a catch-all term for anything NME doesn’t cover. I listen to bands like Rolo Tomassi and Vessels and these bands make very different music but are they prog? What is prog? I don’t have a clue but we’re not it.
rushonrock: Would you say the music business is cruel or kind?
MV: It really depends what you goals are. I think if your only concern is making music, experiencing the thrill of having your own music played and playing that music on tour then you’ll have a great time. But if your ultimate goal is to get into the Top 10 and attain all the trappings of fame associated with that then you’ll have a shit time. If you feel that if you’re not a charting artist then you’re not a success it’s not going to be great. How many people are actually going to make a Top 10 record? And of those who do, how many can sustain that success? I don’t have a clue what’s popular any more but I heard Iron Maiden topped the album charts. That meant something because they actually name checked us on their new record! They came to see us and then they used our name on one of the songs – that’s when the music business can be very kind and that’s what we’re in it for!
rushonrock: You’re on the road with Oceansize for two months solid – is such a long tour a real challenge?
MV: It’s the longest tour our agent has ever booked. We play the UK and then head into Europe and it is a bit daunting. But on the upside we’re going to a lot of different places and a lot of places we’ve never been to. I must admit it’s a bit freaky playing so many shows and as you get older you do appreciate being at home a lot more. I’ve been out on the road with Biffy Clyro so much this year that when I do get home my ears are still ringing but I suppose I’m a bit more acclimatised to life on the road before the Oceansize tour starts. Basically we’ll be touring the UK in a van and that’s going to be a bit of a change from touring with Biffy – stuff with that band’s on a different level!
rushonrock: Do you embark on such a major tour with any particular hopes or fears?
MV: My only fear is equipment failure. It’s the only thing I dread and every so often it catches us out. It drives me to distraction when we have to stop the show because something’s not working but I suppose that’s one of the pitfalls of being in a touring band. It’s not a good time to write when you’re on the road and Oceansize will be lucky to get a single riff out of the next two months! Basically it’s all about survival on the road. If you’re lucky you’ll be staying overnight in a travel lodge and the next day you’ll get on the bus feeling hungover from the night before. You’ll try to get some more sleep in the van which never happens and then you’ll roll into the next town or city a few hours before the show. You’ll do the soundcheck and then half an hour before the show you’ll do some warm-ups and you’ll start to feel magic again. You’ll do the show then have a few beers, get to bed late and it’ll start all over again. The cumulative effect of being on tour for a long time can be frightening…
rushonrock: You’ve just performed at the Mercury Awards with Biffy but what’s your view on the event?
MV: Well in almost 20 years the first whiff of a detuned riff came courtesy of Biffy and that says it all. I like The XX – I think it’s a great record but we all knew beforehand they were going to win and we all knew that Biffy Clyro weren’t going to win. Sometimes there’s a wild card but never really wild enough. It’s a night of music. But I’d rather not comment beyond that.