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Ben Harris-Hayes (Oceanica)

Interview with Ben Harris-Hayes from Oceanica
by Dave "That Metal Guy" Campbell at 29 September 2019, 4:14 AM

Hello, Ben, and greetings from Metal Temple! Dave “That Metal Guy” Campbell is talking today with Ben Harris-Hayes, the sole composer and mastermind behind his newest musical project OCEANICA.

Ben, how did you get started in music in general? Was Enochian Theory your first real band? How did they come together?

Hi, Dave. Thanks for giving me the chance to do this and an even bigger thank you for you excellent review of the OCEANICA album! Well, I started playing drums when I was 7 in school and was in a few bands doing that up until I was 13-14. I then got into playing guitar, as well as still drumming for bands and just started writing my own material; nothing amazing I'd say but I was prolific in that I had (and still have) large folders full of songs with chord charts, tabs, etc.

From my early teens, I always enjoyed writing fully arranged songs; purely because I had the ability to do so, even if the songs were simplistic back then…and because I taught myself, I just had my own weird style of writing and from an early age I unconsciously wrote quite 'proggy' songs.
I always liked weird feels and timings, even if I didn't truly understand the musicology aspects then.

I'd also demo tons of tracks on gnarly old Tascam and Fostex 4 track recorders, which was always fun…so, I got into recording in my early teens too. My first real band, and my first paid gig as a professional musician was with some old school friends when I was 16, I believe. We had a tight little grunge/rock band that used to gig a lot in our local area and we used to play bars/pubs; even though we were legally too young to drink alcohol! (But that never stopped us!) After I left my countryside home town to move  350 miles to a big city when I was 19; I joined a technical extreme metal band called IN THIS DEFIANCE as bassist/vocalist a few years after moving.

We were the fastest, hardest, blastbeat-driven  thing in the city at the time and I believe there's still some videos online somewhere. We got support slots with Devin Townsend's Strapping Young Lad project (amongst other bigger bands); which was a dream come true for 24 year old me, as I was a huge fan of his work. After 2-3 years of not really working as hard as we could have; I joined a band looking for a vocalist…which would become ENOCHIAN THEORY.

I guess I was sort of done with playing super technical metal and wanted to 'sing' properly in a band and also explore other musical avenues…plus I was really getting into keyboards/synths and that really started shaping the direction that ENOCHIAN THEORY would move in.
And the rest, as they say, is history!

What do you feel is your strongest suit, so to speak? Singing, playing instruments, or composing music in general? What is the biggest challenge for you?

Well, honestly, I've always seen myself as a "jack of all trades, master of none". I've never really felt like I was stunning at any instrument; but on the flip side of that self-deprication; I could walk into any project or band I dabbled with and meaningfully contribute…or in most instances, take over! I'd say self-belief at times is the biggest challenge. I feel I have this weird 'Imposter Syndrome' and that everything I've actually achieved is just a weird joke and not real…which I guess I know isn't true; but the mind is a weird thing to deal with sometimes.

I also flit between interests, in terms of what I enjoy doing. For example, I spent 3-4 years indulging in electronica and, dare I say it, dance music…as I've always been a fan of beats and those styles of music; especially Drum'n'Bass and ambient electro. I also dabbled with sound design and score writing for film, which is always a great thing to do because you have to really engage a different process in terms of writing music and being aware of what works. And then, I realised I missed singing a lot; so that inspired me to get my behind in gear once more I the Prog realm and do something I could sing to again…hence OCEANICA!…and I realised I've skillfully avoided answering your question directly!

Let’s talk about the new album “OneDark.” For me, most of the lyrical content was positive…about overcoming obstacles and pushing through, and seeing life for what it is…love. Is this what you were trying to get across?

I think I am a very lucky man. Despite all my attempts to seemingly sabotage my existence with paranoia, selfishness and addiction; I've gained the love of a wonderful person…and in return, found how to love and accept things for what they are. I also feel that with age comes a certain je ne sais quoi, and a lot of the things I held onto that caused me hurt or fueled my negativity have been accepted or destroyed. If I can't beat them, then I'll work around them! So, yeah, I'd say that me finally being able to accept it's ok to be happy, that being happy is not a bad thing and that accepting your own abilities, limitations and just being yourself, is perfectly ok! I have nothing to prove to anyone and the only validation I need is my own. I also feel that being able to truly say I love something is so freeing…and that positivity is indeed what I was trying to convey with 'OneDark', because that's how I now feel daily.

What are your favorite songs on the album and why?

Well, from a "Damn! That's fun to play!" perspective; 'All The Cool Kidz R Doin' It' is a fun song to play because it's just silly rhythmical metal. On a more emotional level, 'Overcome' still hits me in the feels because of what it means to me and where I was, mentally, when I wrote it. 'Got A Feeling' is a pop song about depression /addiction and I love the resolve to that, because I wanted to write the most upbeat 'prog pop' song I could about those subjects! I guess I like all the tracks of 'OneDark' in their own individual way, because they all have their own meaning…and I'd say that overall, the album is a triumph of not giving up when I wanted to pack it all in numerous times!

I guess I'm amazed at times that I managed to finish an album; let alone finishing the 3 albums in this cycle of releases…so, that's a huge positive and I have realise that it was a hell of a feat to do when I think about it.

What did you mean in the song “Start from the Start” when you said “and it’s a dying art…the subtlety of conversation?

I guess I'm saying that it's hard to have an honest conversation, for the most part. There's always some barrier or defence mechanism that people put up, and just sometimes through all the fluff, jokes and nonsense; I just want to have a real heart-to-heart. I also feel it's far too easy to be something you're not in a conversation. Political agenda, religious agenda, sexual agenda, financial agenda and personal agenda…all have bearing on the words that leave our mouths. I know I'm guilty of it and will easily hide behind jokes/inappropriate humour; so I'm not saying I'm some beacon of virtue…but I just wish sometimes that it wasn't so hard to speak freely and openly.

Additionally, there is always someone who will get 'offended' over the slightest thing…and it all seems to be a powderpuff response just incite guilt. And I also don't mean going around baring your pain and ills in everyone's faces, but just being able to be honest enough with yourself to be honest with others…but it's difficult.

What exactly was the lyrical theme behind the song “8?” It seems there is a story here for sure if you don’t mind me asking.

Without revealing too much…I allowed something to adversely affect my entire life and always believed it was my fault somehow…even though I now know it was not. I allowed that way of thinking to be a justification for all the s**tty things I've done and for being the cause of my addictions over the years…which was not how to handle that particular demon. I've beaten that demon now, but I guess I needed closure on it…and I get that by writing a song, singing about it and all that other cathartic processes that help in these instances.

“The Oblivion Tree” is a beautiful, yet simple track. What message were you trying to get across here in this song, which has more instrumental passages than vocals.

I guess I realised towards the end of the writing phase that 'OneDark' was very wordy and lyric based overall; which isn't a bad thing, but I felt that on this track just freestyling some music and letting it meander of its own volition was a good thing to do…and it came together nicely I feel. It's also alluding to the direction of the 3rd album, 'ThreeGrey', in the sense it's more 'soundtrack'-based. There's a tie-in with a fantastic looking video that I've had done to go with this track, which will be released to help promote the album.

The director REALLY nailed a visual that links with my feelings on the track and I adore those moments where two people that have never met in person can create a collective piece of art that transcends such things. I'd say that overall it's about knowing that you deserve to love and be loved…even if you spend a lifetime waiting to accept that.

I can only imagine the time and effort it took to compose this new album. Can you take us through a few moments of frustration and triumph along the way?

Well, it took some 7 years of starts, deleting entire albums and other nonsense! Ha ha. I started OCEANICA years back and had a couple of E.P's ready to go…but I let that negative voice in my head win too many times. So, the triumph was letting go and just putting something out there. I finally realised that only a handful of people will ever hear it and that it simply doesn't matter. I had to do this, first and foremost, for myself…and that's what I remembered was the point of me doing music.

What bands did you listen to growing up? What ones had the biggest influence on you as a songwriter?

I genuinely love so many styles of music that they've all had a huge bearing on what I write and what comes out… depending on what project I'm writing for. I grew up with grunge and metal, then found love for electronic based music…and then got into classical arranging…and I guess that all ended up in my songs with ENOCHIAN THEORY, MASSIVE DYNAMIC and my other output.

I still love the craziness of extreme metal, as there's something deliciously primal about blastbeats and triplets. I hit the original death and black metal scene when it all kicked off and I still dig all those bands from that era; plus the next wave and it's  variations (swedish dodsmetal, etc)
So, my love of that style will probably be something I always dig. Archspire and Alkaloid are my favourite newer bands that took the death metal template and ran screaming into the abyss with it!

On the flip side, I love electronics and synths. There's so many acts I could list, but we'd be here all day! I'd say Devin Townsend was a guy I always admired from the first time I heard Ocean Machine and I can't help but respect his work ethic and production. But I guess that's a fairly obvious one, as I've always loved the Phil Spector 'wall of sound' approach to music. Lots of layers and subtle bits that people notice months or even years after they first heard a record is always a delight. Meshuggah always blow me away ever since I heard 'Beneath' from D.E.I waaaaaay back. 'Chaosphere' is perhaps my favourite metal album overall, because it's just such a utterly crushing rhythmical work out…and as a drummer, it always appealed to me.
Other acts like Bad Company (the drum n bass act), Blur, Korn, Alice In Chains, Infected Mushroom, Tool, DJ Shadow, Dire Straits, Aphex Twin, Megadeth, At The Gates, Van Morrison, Alan Walker  and Grouplove are always acts that come to mind when I'm asked this question…and I still love digging out stuff I listened to when I was a lot younger sometimes because that stuff rocks.
Honestly, my music collection is huge!

You toured with Enochian Theory, right? Any fun or crazy road stories that you can share with us?

Ha, not really! We weren't really a silly band when it came to practical jokes or anything. We just worked really hard and did a hell of a lot of miles to build what we did…and I'll always be proud of that.

What are some of your hobbies and interests outside of music?

I adore cooking and love eating even more, so it's a perfect relationship! My enjoyment of preparing, cooking and presenting food has always been a particular pleasure…even more so if I'm doing it for other people. Trying different cuisines and ways of creating food is always a joy. I read a lot and adore the feel/smell of a book. Despite my adoration of technology; I never got onboard with Kindle's and such. I appreciate the ease and simplicity of them, but it's the aforementioned enjoyment of holding a book that I love.

I like some sports; not as much as I used to when I was younger…but I can fully get involved in a football match with some friends. And just to be clear to Americans…your 'football' is NOT football. I always chuckle when I hear the term 'Soccer'.

Do you have any musical regrets? Anything you wish you could just do over?

Nah. Regrets are good things to bear in mind, but wholly pointless in the grand scheme of things. You cannot change the past, so why carry that weight? You see the idea of me letting go of things and not holding resentment for anything anymore is that decisions were made and you have to stick by those decisions that you made or were made for you. Also, in my case, I'd never have traveled the world or done a solo album if I didn't change my mindset…which was fuelled by my resolve not to repeat my mistakes.

Sure, I'd like to have worked harder and more prolifically with ENOCHIAN THEORY after the 'Life…And All It Entails' record, because I'm quite sure we could have been doing some great things now; but there were 3 of us all pulling in different directions and you can't drag a band along or use it as your own personal vehicle…at least that was what I felt. If everyone is not on the same page, then it's time to step back and reassess things. And I feel strongly that things happen for the right reasons; even if it's not obvious at the time.

What has been some personal highs and/or lows working in the music industry in general?

Watching ENOCHIAN THEORY grow from a bad grunge/metal band into a epic progressive rock/metal entity that got signed to a label will always be a particular highlight. We worked very hard in those first 8-9 years and the development across that time we were together was great. Releasing records and having people say they love your music, and that it's gotten them through some tough times will always be something that makes me well up.
I've only ever wanted to connect with others and this is seemingly my way to do so…and I'm thankful that I can do that. I feel I've developed into a well rounded musician that can turn his hand to anything and who certainly can deliver when pressed. I'm working on film and TV projects, and I never thought I'd be able to say that.

And finally, realising my personal ambition to release a solo album well, 3 in fact, is my latest proud moment. It's been a journey and the destination has been reached… for now! The lows are numerous, but are merely fuel to allow you to ascend!

What advice would you give to a new band or artist just starting out?

Be true to yourselves and stick to your guns. Don't try to be next Metallica or whatever, because no one needs that. We need new and next-level exciting headliners for the next generation of young musicians to get excited about…and above all, remember that music is supposed to be enjoyable. Sure, work smart and work hard…but remember to enjoy the journey, because it's not the destination that counts in life. Anything good that occurs will be because you stayed true to yourself.


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