by Rob van Alstyne
Unbeknownst to all but a few, David Schelzel, the frontman for early ’90s modern-rock chart toppers The Ocean Blue, has been lurking in our midst for years. The man behind such jangle-heavy hits as “Between Something and Nothing,” “Ballerina Out of Control” and “Sublime” has quietly been making his home in Minneapolis since 2000.
Download an mp3 of The Ocean Blue’s song Ticket to Wyoming.
One would think that the presence of a guy who sold hundreds of thousands of records,
garnered countless favorable Smiths comparisons in the national press and had
videos in regular rotation on MTV’s “120 Minutes” wouldn’t
go unnoticed by the Twin Cities scene. But it helps that Schelzel’s been
keeping a low profile and rarely gigging out. All of which should change now that
the Ocean Blue are releasing their first record since Schelzel’s move, the
six-song Waterworks EP.
of our lives have never been sort of one-dimensional and solely music-oriented,”
explains Schelzel via telephone of the long gap between 1999’s Davey
Jones’ Locker and the new EP.
“We were signed to a major label pretty much out of high school, but it
wasn’t as if that was all we ever did. I still went to college and everything.
I think living a life that’s not just one-dimensional ‘music, music,
music’ results in creating more interesting music anyway. I think that’s
one of the things I like so much about my musician friends in Minneapolis, there’s
just more going on in their lives than their bands and the recordings they’re
working on. One of the biggest reasons that we haven’t put out anything
for so long is that I took the time to pursue an advanced degree and Oed [Ronne,
the group’s other guitarist and sometime songwriter] was busy pursuing other
things. We just didn’t have as much time to focus on music. The other thing
that held us back was that it took us a long time to get out of our contract with
Polygram. It was kind of a bad situation where we were caught in this weird never-land
of not really being dropped, but also not being allowed to proceed with releasing
records elsewhere and it took us a long time to finally put out Davey Jones’,
and by then I was in the middle of school and couldn’t really go out and
With school now behind him, Schelzel seems intent to refocusing his efforts on
the Ocean Blue’s music and that sense of purpose is evident throughout Waterworks.
Featuring longtime members Ronne and bassist Bobby Mittan, along with new drummer
and Minneapolis music man about town Peter Anderson (known to rock the skins for
Kraig Johnson & the Program and the Olympic Hopefuls amongst others), the
reinvigorated quartet simultaneously provides both a coherent take on the sound
of the Ocean Blue’s past (the taut and bouncy “Sunshower” would
have fit on any of their earlier releases) and branches out into new terrain (the
spacey wordless outro of “The Northern Jetstream” suggests a decidedly
more psychedelic take on ’60s pop than the Ocean Blue are known for).
Whether shoegazing their way through the dreamy soundscape of Schelzel’s
“Pedestrian,” awash in warm keyboards and effects-laden guitars, or
grooving on the romantic semi-Western swing of Ronne’s “Ticket to
Wyoming,” the Ocean Blue prove throughout Waterworks’ six tracks
that they’ve got more than enough creative gas left in the tank even 17
years on from their original incarnation as a high school band in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
This is the kind of expertly played and immediately enjoyable classy pop cocktail
guaranteed to appeal to fans of the Legendary Jim Ruiz Group and Orange Peels
(both of whose frontmen, coincidentally, guest on the EP).
Clearly the move to Minneapolis and its readily accessible community of like-minded
musicians has agreed with Schelzel’s music making. “I would still
write songs if I lived all alone,” claims Schelzel when I ask if he feels
the Minneapolis music scene has influenced his newer work. “When I was in
Pennsylvania I lived in a house in this really out-of-the-way little community
and it was a very isolated feeling, and I wrote about two albums worth of the
Ocean Blue’s material living there. But one of the things I love about living
in Minneapolis is that there’s such a great music scene and I have such
great friends who are musicians here. Peter [Anderson’s] one, but Brian
[Tighe] and Allison [LaBonne] from the Owls, Jim Ruiz, these are all great friends
of mine. So it’s nice for me to get to have that here and experience it
in a different way because I’m still sort of an outsider and didn’t
get my start making music here. It’s a real cool thing to go out and see
a great show every other week and know that half the people on stage are your
friends. I think it has made doing music a lot more fun and easy, just knowing
people personally who are currently making great music. There was a period there
in the late ’90s where there wasn’t a lot of music currently happening
that excited me, which isn’t the case now. There’s a lot more artists
I really like currently and the musical landscape appears to be shifting towards
stuff I find interesting again. I think it’s a good time and I’m really
excited to kind of be getting back into the fray right now by releasing something
and doing shows again.”
Things are looking up once again for the Ocean Blue, who five years ago printed
up just a thousand copies of Davey Jones’ Locker for sale through
their website after numerous record label problems. The band is currently putting
the finishing touches on a full-length record for 2005, even as its members are
spread throughout the country (Schelzel and Anderson in Minneapolis, Ronne in
Chicago and Mittan holding down the fort in Pennsylvania). At this point it remains
to be seen whether the record will be self-released, on an indie or back in the
world of major labels (some of which have already expressed interest).
Schelzel speaks with the equanimity of someone who’s experienced the ups
and downs of the record industry and is still around to talk about. “I loved
being on Sire records and part of the Warner Brothers empire during its heyday
for so many years—that was great,” admits Schelzel when asked to reflect
on his group’s past. “Being at Polygram was OK, getting out of it
was kind of messy. Being an indie-band has been great because it’s freed
us from a lot of pressures. For me what was tough was always the pressure of ‘hey
it would be great if you could write another hit.’ It was the kind of situation
where it was like ‘yeah, we’ll give you $500,000 to make this record,
now we just need you to go out and sell 500,000 records!’ That’s a
lot of pressure, or it was for me at least—and I don’t miss that.
It’s really good for us being independent right now, it doesn’t mean
we’re selling hundreds of thousands of records with each release, but it
does mean we’re making the kind of records we want to make and it fits in
with who we are in our lives.” ||
The Ocean Blue play on Thu., Sept. 23, at the Fineline
Music Cafe with The Owls. 8 p.m. 21+. $12. 318 First Ave. N., Mpls. 612-338-8100.
Check out The Ocean Blue on their official
Download an mp3 of The Ocean Blue’s song Ticket to Wyoming.