OCEANICA: Maintaining Self-Belief

Ben Harris-Hayes

Ben Harris-Hayes is a name that is well-known within the progressive rock/metal scene. As a part of Enochian Theory, Ben put out three studio albums between 2006 and 2012. His most recent progressive rock project is called Oceanica, and its debut album entitled ‘OneDark‘ was launched in October last year via Progressive Gears.

In a new interview for Prog Sphere, Ben speaks about this new project, the album, songwriting, and more.

Describe the musical frameworks your debut album OneDark explores.

I’d say that OneDark is a metal and rock record, but likes to trip-out into ambient/electronica realms, because I am a sucker for sound design and making things MORE than they are. I love recording sounds from various environments and putting them into songs to tell a story; either was they are or manipulated to create a different sonic vibe. It’s heavily guitar-based for sure, which was something of a bit of a ‘return’ for me because I’d spent the preceding years working heavily on non-guitar based music. So, getting my ‘guitar on’ once more was great fun!

Initially, I didn’t really have a plan, as such, for OneDark, other than to satisfy my desire to complete an EP of music that I had written, recorded and performed myself. The key aspect that I wanted achieve was to do everything myself… Playing every instrument and handling the production. But as I went along I realised that I had a LOT of music that I had written over the preceding 7-8 years and that wanted to get out because I love writing different styles/genres/using different instruments, so that led me down a wormhole of turning one EP into a plan for three EP’s… Which then became 3 albums!

So, OneDark is the first of 3 albums of progressive music and chiefly explores my love of rock/metal.

Overall, I just wanted to write something that meant a lot to me, personally, and that sort of picked up where my work with Enochian Theory left off.

Oceanica - OneDark

How do the diverse, complex rhythmic and global musical influences serve the storylines of the record?

The over-arcing ‘story‘, if you will, is that life is tough, challenging and will cause you a lot of hurt but ultimately for me, it is a wonderful experience. I spent a lot of time stuck in the dark and through it all I came out the other side into the light, or rather the realisation that I am alive and that I have a good life. And more so that if I felt good about myself and believed in myself, then I felt a lot better overall, which in turn made me more enjoyable to be around. I feel it was a confidence thing and that because I had dragged myself out of somewhat long-term depression, I wanted to impart that onto a record. I’m not saying it’s always sunshine and rainbows. It’s not… But I feel that having belief in yourself and loving yourself in a positive emotional way, is the way forward for me personally. As mentioned, I just wanted to write something I was proud of and put the things I have learnt over the years into a record written and performed solely by myself. I love a LOT of different music and although OneDark is primarily a guitar-based record, there are a lot of little touches; even in the guitar riffs that come from my explorations of music from all over the world.

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced and lessons learned during the creative process for OneDark?

Maintaining belief in myself through the process was the toughest. Everyone has bright and dark days. It was very hard to be singing about positive things when I was having a ‘grey day’. But listening back, getting emotional about what I had done and smiling through my tears was so cleansing. I had some 3-4 other EP’s written, starting back in 2012 that I ended up deleting/not releasing because I didn’t believe in what I did/felt it wasn’t good enough. I constantly battled with myself about whether it was all good enough to release, but the tipping point came when I finally took the plunge and contacted a few labels about putting something out via them. Once I had signed a contract, I knew I had no way of backing out and that pushed me forward positively.

I also feel that stepping away from ‘rock’ music and exploring other things for a few years allowed me to come back to the Oceanica project with more gusto and allowed me to get it done.

Have you managed to make any new discoveries as the time passed during the creative process? Do you think that at some point of that process your writing approach changed drastically?

I would say that working in different genres and with other artists allowed me to step outside of my own head and my own perceived methods of what music should be. Take my work with Enochian Theory, as a key example. That project had its sound and way of doing things, which was what made it work wonderfully. Working on my Massive Dynamic project is another example and it allowed me to fulfil my need to write music I love hearing, and also to learn a lot about production and other ways of writing.

Finally, scoring for film/TV projects shifted my mindset once more, or rather, added to my painters palette because I had to write for what I was seeing in the visual and what that visual provoked in my emotionally, rather than writing a straight song or in a song format. The chance to work on  other projects/working with paying clients on other things in recent years, thusly delving into a myriad of other musical styles/genres was the perfect tonic and a great way to develop as a songwriter and musician.

To be honest, and this always makes some followers of my career go “Whhhhhaaaattt?” But I have always rarely listened to Prog music as a whole, despite my apparent participation in the scene. I always felt there was so much great music out there that can influence me, that remaining stuck in one genre was not healthy. Plus if you do that then you’re always going to have people say “Oh, that sounds like X band,” whereas I am proud to say that I sound like me.

At least that us what people who have followed my career say about this first Oceanica record. I wouldn’t say my approach has changed at all really. It has always been a personal thing for me, an itch that needs scratching. And I have to itch that scratch first and foremost. If I tried too hard to be something I not, then I know that those people who have followed me since day zero would sniff it out a mile away and I would lose their trust.

No matter if I am exploring the deepest depths of my depression or the highest highs of my mania, it will always be true to me. One thing that has changed over the years is that I have, I guess, gotten better at what I do and that I can write/score for multiple instruments now, as well now having the confidence to say “F**k it… I will do whatever I want!”

Another key developing tool was undertaking a lot of travelling in recent years definitely opened my eyes more to the sheer abundance of non-rock instruments and other fun stuff out there that can widen my painters palette immeasurably.

What types of change do you feel this music can initiate?

One key change (bah dum tssshhh! Music jokes!), was personally, I regained my confidence in myself and regained that “It truly does not matter as long as you enjoy the process” attitude to enjoying my art again. Somewhere along the line in recent years I lost that, so it’s been a pleasure to reacquaint with that old friend.

Secondly, I have had a number of people reach out to me and say that what I do helps them. I cannot ask for a better endorsement or review that that. I have to use my music to work through my own s**t first and foremost, but if it helps other people then that is incredible. I’ve only ever wanted to relate to others and I guess I found a medium that I can express myself without filter or worry that people can understand and more so, take for themselves and make their own.

One person had one of my lyrics from OneDark tattooed on their being as a reminder to never let life get them down again. And THAT is incredible. That meant a lot to me. So much so that I genuinely made me cry with joy! I am a sensitive soul deep down and that ‘sharing’ was so powerful, and as I have said, the BEST kind of review I could ever get.

I get quite a few messages of support and other reaching out for support. I will always reply to anyone who reaches out to me. We’re all human and should act like that.

Do you tend to follow any pre-defined patterns when composing a piece?

I wouldn’t say I do. Being the smug multi-instrumentalist schmuck I am, I suck at both the guitar and drums. [laughs] Jokes aside, I can grab a variety of instruments and start anywhere really. Some songs start from a guitar, or perhaps me mucking about with a synth sound or piano. Sometimes it comes from a drum pattern I am jamming out. Sometimes I will write the orchestral aspects first and then build guitar into it. Sometimes I will hum a riff or vocal pattern in the shower and then it all unfolds from that.

I have this ability, you might say, to already be scoring the full range of instruments very quickly in my head after I come up with something that I like. My head is a very noisy place at the best of times but when I focus it from the maelstrom of disorganised thoughts into a cohesive force then I can, at least for me, create something I enjoy. I see it as a weird gift and that’s the sheer pleasure of being to explore what I want in my own time, and I am thankful for that.

What non-musical entities and ideas have an impact on your music?

Life chucks such a variety of reasons for self-expression at me that can very much influence song by veering down so many avenues. I can hear a song unfolding in my head from anything such as hearing the wind in the trees, a squeaky door closing, walking through a crowd… It doesn’t take much for my mind to write something!

The obvious themes of literature, film, TV and whatnot are other influences. I get a LOT of influence from reading, as I love a good book. The tactile feel of a book has always been a pleasure and I sometimes like to score out music for the scenes I am reading in my head….which then sometimes just become songs.

There are very few things I will avoid discussing in my music, but it has to be for the right reason. I tend to work from an emotional viewpoint and it has to make me feel.

What advice or philosophy might you impart to other musicians, be it in forms of creativity, technical stuff, the business side of it, or anything else?

I could write an essay on this question, but I’ll try to surmise my thoughts! The key thing is to be honest with yourself and what you want to achieve…and STICK to your guns. You want to learn to play an instruments, then get on it. Stop making excuses and dedicate some time! Maybe then you want to form a band and play live, make it happen one way another. Think about how you’d achieve that!

Maybe you have written some songs and want to record them. Do it. Learn how to do it yourself or approach someone else to help you! Do what you need to scratch that next itch that comes along. There is, for me, NO better feeling than working on something and hearing that idea come to fruition. The outpouring of relief can be so very incredible.

Pushing yourself to do things that you might not have done initially is always interesting, but as long as you are true to yourself, then you cannot go wrong. Anyone else’s opinion is subjective and you shouldn’t take things to heart. After all, you cannot please everyone and neither should you try. As the cool kids say… “You do you”.

Make mistakes and learn from them. It is inevitable that you will…and rest assured that because you do make a mistake, it is NOT the end of days. As long as you do not keep making the same mistake because you are doing the same process, then you are developing as  a person.

Finally, live your best life and love every moment, for the present is a gift. Everything else is a bonus, my friends.

Thank you for letting me babble and for the great questions, Niko.

I really enjoyed being made to think during an interview for a change!

OneDark is out now via Progressive Gears; order it from Bandcamp here. Follow Oceanica on Facebook.

Nikola Savić is a prog enthusiast, blogger and author, in addition to being the founder of Prog Sphere, Progify, ProgLyrics and the ongoing Progstravaganza compilation series.

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