It was recently announced that Oceansize‘s EP Home & Minor will see a limited re-release as part of Record Store Day. As such, I was able to pick Mike Vennart‘s brain about the release.

Ez: What does Home & Minor mean to you?

Mike: It’s a controversial moment in the catalogue. When I think of Oceansize I think of different eras, and every era had its own vibe and sense of either foreboding or of panic, or of ambition, or of impending doom. Home & Minor was a kind of strange neutrality.

With the money that we got from letting a mobile phone company use one of our songs, we decided to buy a bunch of studio gear so that we could spend the advance for the next record with a view to making [our] records ourselves. Home & Minor was a test run to see if we could make records away from the pros.

We took over a practice room and we built a room within the room, carpeted the walls – rock wall, you know, multi-layered the walls; Deadened this room to fucking death, so it was painfully loud. Next door we converted a toilet into a control room. As a matter of fact, someone in the band wanted to call the place toilet studios but I refused to allow that to happen because I figured the reviews would just write themselves.

So we had this quite utopian layout. It was far from perfect; it was very dirty; there were rats everywhere. There was fucking woodworm eating the guitars. Someone three floors up had left a tap on over the weekend so the whole place stank of damp, but it was our place and we could go in there and just make stuff all the time.

Ez: Within those conditions, how did it come to be that something so – as I think you or the band collectively described as your “acoustic record” – How did such prettiness emerge from such filth?

Mike: Before we were even signed we talked about making an EP or a special mini-album, or something less precious, where we wouldn’t have to rely on the big dynamics, the big riffs and the drama that we were kinda basing ourselves on, and I always liked that idea because we did things on the first album like “Rinsed”, or on the second album, passages on “Ornament…” and stuff like that. It was like “It’d be great if we did an EP where shit didn’t jump out at you and didn’t give you jump-starts and it wasn’t all about big big energy, and it could be something quite settled and quite user-friendly.”

When the record company at the time asked for an EP, I was like “We’ll let’s do that. We’ve always talked about doing it.” I imagined it to be kind of a yin to the Music for Nurses yang. Music for Nurses is the most metallic thing we ever did, so I was like “Let’s do the opposite to that”. Some guys in the band were absolutely cool with it; some were not due to their interests, and their hunger was quite hard to satisfy, but we did it and it turned out okay, I think.

Ez: A lot of it goes for those lighter, less full on melodies and energy. Eventually you were able to get everyone in because I think you’ve said before, or at least strongly implied, Oceansize was a stringently democratic band.

Mike: To an extent, yeah.

Ez: When actually getting into the process of recording, were you guys still jamming on ideas, or was this a transitional period at that point?

Mike: First of all – I’m gonna use the Radiohead analogy here – we were democratic like the UN, but I was America. I’ll just leave that there.

At this point we were still jamming a little bit, but there was definitely the overarching feeling that we’d done the jamming thing to death on the previous three albums; in particular, Frames was made entirely from jamming. Every single riff on that record – as far as I’m concerned – every single passage of music was made by jamming, except for some stuff I wrote on “The Frame”.

When it came to working on the next thing, it felt like we’d done that to fucking death, but nevertheless; no.

I think “Legal Teens” was kind of a leftover from Frames, and I just really liked it. I thought it was really unique [and] we’d never done anything like it. Mark’s beat was so different, and just the way the chords came about; I was like “This is really interesting and different for us”. I remember it was called “Flashlight” ’cause it sounded to me like the guitars and bass were just these twinkling lights going on and off. I just loved it.

I think stuff like “Getting Where Water Cannot” was pieced together. It was simply not possible to play live as an ensemble because Mark’s drum part was so insanely complicated. I remember seeing the page of drum edits, and each edit was a different colour, and it was like a huge mosaic of bursting colour.

Ez: “Getting Where Water Cannot” is, I think, the most overtly mathy track on it, and it still holds that gentleness and cleanness the rest of the tracks do.

There’s a sort of cinematicness to [Home & Minor], and sort of like a spaghetti western-type feel that comes through on some of the tracks; especially on “The Strand”.

Mike: I can hear that on “The Strand”, especially with those fake trumpets, and… well there’s a cat at the end of it. That’s not especially spaghetti western. Clint Eastwood didn’t have any cats.

It’s quite an eclectic record and I think it is unique in the canon of Oceansize. There’s nothing like it. I have mixed feelings toward it. I’ve had to listen to it twice in the last ten years. It was always a record I’m a bit scared of revisiting. I don’t think it’s anybody’s favourite. It was just an experiment and I was kind of a bit scared of listening back to it, but when I did, I thought it was really good, and I didn’t remember a lot of stuff on it.

As I get older, my memory is just fading, which is kind of good in a way. I spent so long in this band being really, really, really scared; Being really self-conscious; Being really obsessive about everything to do with the band, that when it broke up, it was like a strange thing where I couldn’t let go of it for like five years. Now that I have let go of it, it’s all just washing away, which is good and bad.

Ez: Having mixed feelings – it’s difficult not to, considering what is known about the history of Oceansize. But the tracks – even though you consider it eclectic – they sit together really well. I think – and forgive me if I’m speaking out of hand – they sit well in a way that Frames does, but also in a way that perhaps Everyone Into Position should.

Mike: Well that’s interesting you should say that because Everyone Into Position has always been this barometer of how eclectic you can get away with being. I always thought it worked really well, whereas Self Preserved, the final album, that was a step too far. The styles are too spread and they don’t hang together well, and that, to this day; it’s a bit of a tightrope and you don’t know which way you’re land or if you’re gonna make it across. I always just scream White Album and go “Fuck it”. None of that shit works together but it’s a fucking great record.

Ez: Let’s talk about your vocal performance. I think it’s noticeable in Oceansize; you did become a bit more daring with what you were willing to do with your vocals. Naturally Home & Minor is much softer. There’s plenty of times where you’re kind of more breathy here. Do you remember how you went into approaching your vocals on this?

Mike: I don’t remember much about what I was thinking. I remember doing it. I remember specifically the vocals on “The Strand”; that there was nowhere quiet enough for me to do what I wanted to do, so I did it at home in the kitchen. At the end you hear cars going past outside, and the cat coming in asking for her dinner. That’s how much gain I had to get on that microphone to get that vocal out, ’cause I was literally whispering.

I don’t know why I decided to do that. It felt like something that would work [as] it’s a really dark song. It’s about my dad. Me and my dad were always falling out. We were at loggerheads most of our time together. We’d go for years without speaking. This particular period, it was me saying “I’m not gonna come crawling back to you. It’s your turn to sort this shit out”, and that was a reoccurring thing with him.

Ez: Focusing on “The Strand” then, in what is perceived as normal Oceansize mode, that probably would’ve gone into a great bit of loud climax, just that kind of emotional release. Considering the subject matter, making the track having a bit more of a crawl to it, do you think that works better for the expressiveness of it?

Mike: I wasn’t there when [the rest of the band] recorded that track. I went on holiday at one point; it was probably that. But there is an interesting thing about the way they recorded the drums. If you listen to them, they were recorded out of phase, it sounds like they’re kind of inside your head.

If it had been on an old record it definitely would have been made to have a great big fucking brassy tart of an ending. There were people in the band who thought that trumpet bit I did with my mouth was a placeholder and that I was gonna get a real horn section in. Then when the record was mastered and they heard that, they were not happy about it.

Ez: *laughs* see I thought it was a Gambler embellishment.

Mike: No, it was me. I did that. Gambler doesn’t fucking sing! He doesn’t talk; never mind fucking sing.

Ez: Let’s touch on the title track. What makes “Home & Minor” the title track of Home & Minor?

Mike: I think with this song and “Legal Teens”, I was trying to bring in a bit of a nostalgic lyric and, with some degree of distance, look back on being an early teen. Previously that period had been something that I didn’t enjoy looking back on because school was such an awful experience for me. When I wrote the words to those particular songs, it reminded me of walking through the fields where I lived out in the countryside at age thirteen.

Every couple of nights I’d walk like a mile-and-a-half to go see my girlfriend, and then I’d walk through a church yard where my sister was buried. I’d go visit her every couple of days. Even though I had no memory of her whatsoever, it was like I had this omnipresent person who I didn’t know, just keeping an eye on stuff.

It felt like it was always summer. I don’t remember doing that walk in the cold, and it’s actually that walk where I learned to sing. I’m from quite a cynical place, so I would never had told anybody I was a singer, but I had hankerings to be a singer. Along that walk is a long stretch of country road with no people around and no traffic, so I could sing at the top of my voice along with my Walkman, listening to Aerosmith, or Marillion, or Pink Floyd and just sing my heart out and nobody would know. I’d be mortified if anybody heard me.

That is the rose-tinted version of what I remember of that period, and those two songs were meant to try and capture that sort of… not quite coming-of-age ’cause I was too young. I was a late developer; I was very immature until I was about twenty-five.

Ez: You said before that you have mixed feelings about the record, but you listened to it kind of recently and you have a better appreciation for it. Do you think with that distance from time…

I imagine there’s probably more than two songs, but at least two songs on here are about “time”, and now you’ve listened to it as an older person than when it was recorded and you’re listening to songs about further back in the past. How do you think it resonates now?

Mike: I don’t know. Writing lyrics in those days was such a chore, and I was very much in the realm of “The songs have to be about something real; about something that had genuinely happened”, and I don’t think it was until I got to The Demon Joke where I’d let the more abstract, stream-of-consciousness go straight onto the page.

In the Oceansize days I spent an awful lot of time sitting in the library, anywhere where there would be no Internet, no weed, no booze, nothing that could distract me, and I’d just sit there with my iPod, or even my MiniDisc player, just listening to the songs and trying to think what they were and what they were about.

Now it’s much easier. I don’t really have a problem with writing lyrics anymore; I quite enjoy it now because you can just deal primarily in phonetics, and quite quickly the subject will suggest itself. But it was always getting that first line, and it drove me insane in Oceansize. I just didn’t know how to do it.

When I hear “Getting Where Water Cannot”, I wish I spent a little more time on the words, but you know what? I spent a fucking long time to get it that good.

So I don’t know how to feel about it. I think records in the past are in the past, and it’s a decent one. I recently had to listen to the first Oceansize album (Effloresce) and that blew my mind. I just don’t remember feeling that confident. I don’t remember feeling that proud of myself, but I’m like “Fucking listen to that, man”.

Chris Sheldon as well, just fucking nailed it on that record. The production is incredible, the performance is incredible. The songs are great. It sounds better now than it did then. Whereas Home & Minor… yeah. Yeah.

*laughs* I don’t know how to sell a record! Oh my God.

Yeah it’s brilliant; It’s fucking great.