STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
@brianbingaman on Twitter
Wearing their love for Echo & The Bunnymen and The Smiths on their sleeves, MTV viewers were surprised to learn The Ocean Blue were from Hershey, Pa., and not England.
That’s why the melodic, dreamy-atmospheric rock band made a point of prominently featuring their hometown in the video for the song “Drifting, Falling” from their 1989 debut album, “The Ocean Blue.”
“We were proud of where we grew up, all around Hershey. It’s a beautiful place to grow up,” said Ocean Blue singer, guitarist and founding member David Schelzel. “Music is a universal thing that transcends geography.”
Twenty-six years later, they’re back on the road, but doing something they’ve never done — performing concerts of “The Ocean Blue,” and its 1991 follow-up, “Cerulean,” in their entirety, including a Nov. 20 show in Philadelphia at World Cafe Live. “It was one of my favorite venues that we (performed at) last year. The sound is great,” said Schelzel.
“Sort of sheepish about the nostalgia thing,” because the band continues to make new music, Schelzel remembered how satisfying it was seeing Echo & The Bunnymen’s “Ocean Rain” show 10 years ago, and Peter Hook’s more recent Joy Division and New Order album shows, and decided the time had come to focus on all the early songs that made fans fall in love with the band in the first place.
Schelzel — who fronts a lineup of The Ocean Blue with Oed Ronne on guitar and keyboards, bassist and founding member Bobby Mittan, and Peter Anderson on drums — said that the band has never played the songs “A Familiar Face” or “Hurricane Amore” live. “Rehearsals have been a total blast,” said Schelzel, who practices copyright and trademark law in Minnesota when he’s not making music.
“Cerulean”’s opening track, “Breezing Up,” took some work to get down. “We’re really, really proud of that (song) because it’s just a complicated meter, and brushes on drums don’t always translate live,” he said.
There’s even been a recent vinyl re-issue of those first two Ocean Blue albums, as well as their third, 1993’s “Beneath the Rhythm and Sound.” Because vinyl was phased out altogether in the early ‘90s, this is the first time “Cerulean” or “Beneath the Rhythm and Sound” have ever seen release in the vinyl format. Based on the test pressings he received, Schelzel gave the LPs a thumbs up, calling the sound “way better” than CD or cassette. “We had to go back and find the (recording) masters, so that was super fun. Warner Bros. did a great job of preserving them,” he said, adding that because there were some vinyl copies made of “The Ocean Blue” when it was originally released, nothing needed to be done to those masters for that particular re-issue.
Even before the phone interview with Schelzel took place, it had been announced that a Nov. 21 “First Two Albums in Concert” date in Washington D.C. had sold out. The day after that comes a hometown show Nov. 22 at Lancaster’s Chameleon Club. “They’re a real supporter for local music,” Schelzel said, noting that the band signed their first record deal after Sire Records’ Seymour Stein came to the Chameleon Club to see them.
With a chuckle, he remembered playing the Hershey High School prom one year in the ‘80s. Besides the Chameleon Club, Schelzel said, the only other spot for local music in central Pennsylvania at that time was a now-closed club in Harrisburg called The Metron.
Taking a hiatus in the mid-’90s — during an unstable period of record label mergers and shake-ups, and after original member Steve Lau announced he was leaving the band to pursue a different career in the music business — The Ocean Blue were coaxed back together in the early 2000s by an EMI Records executive who was a fan.
A few years later, Schelzel helped form the artist cooperative label Korda Records, which has in its stable of artists fellow Pennsylvania natives The Innocence Mission. “When you’re an independent artist, you don’t have people calling you up and demanding the next record. Five years ago, I was working on a record that just wasn’t getting done. We needed an accountability group to get things done,” he said.
New music from The Ocean Blue is due out next year. Stay up to date at www.theoceanblue.com, www.facebook.com/TheOceanBlueMusic and on Twitter @theoceanblue.