Wake up, work, repeat. Life can seem to be a monotonous cycle of bleak days and nights with no time to connect with what truly matters. Australian band, Ocean Alley, uses their talent to bring people down to Earth and connect with what makes them feel alive. “Touch Back Down” on their latest album, Low Altitude Living, emphasizes this need for grounding oneself and finding inner peace. Composed of Lach Galbraith (keyboard, vocals), Angus Goodwin (lead guitar), Baden Donegal (vocals, guitar), Mitch Galbraith (guitar), Nic Blom (bass), and Tom O’brien (drums) Ocean Alley has been uplifting audiences since 2011.
FRONTRUNNER spoke with Lach Galbraith about Ocean Alley’s creative thought process, pre-show rituals, and the progression of their sound through the years.
How did Ocean Alley come to fruition?
We all grew up in the same area of Sydney Northern Beaches, on the east coast of Australia. My brother is actually one of the band members, but the rest of us met hanging out at the beach or at social events. After we’d known each other for a while, we figured out that we could all play instruments. So, a couple of the guys got together and started jamming in our mate’s backyard shed once a week. We didn’t really have the intention of trying to become a band that travels all over the world, we just did it to pass the time. It was kind of an excuse to get away from our parents–because anything was better than doing chores. It was like a little boys club. We played music, rehearsed covers, and kept doing that for a number of years. Then, at one point somebody said, “Oh, I heard you guys are in a band. Would you like to play at my party this weekend?” And we said, “Yeah, sure!”
That was the first time we started presenting ourselves as a band that could do gigs and it really just snowballed from there. We started playing bigger parties, pubs, bars, and clubs. Now we’re flying around the world playing gigs, and I’m really enjoying doing it. But, if you told us that this was going to be the future ten years ago, I wouldn’t have believed you.
How would you describe your sound to someone who’s never heard your music?
That’s an interesting question because people who haven’t heard our music ask us, “Oh, would I like it? What does it sound like?” In response, we say, “We don’t even know how to describe it anymore.”
Back in the day when we started out, we definitely had a more defined genre. We would call ourselves reggae with a bit of rock, but now it’s become its own beast that’s evolved. If I were to describe it, I would say something like alternative rock with psychedelic and roots influence. That’s the closest thing I could think of. But honestly, I’m just as lost as anyone else when I try to describe what the music sounds like.
How do you get yourself and your mates hyped up before a show? Depending on the size of the crowd, is there a difference in your ritual beforehand?
It’s kind of funny because when we play smaller shows, it actually feels more difficult since the audience is closer and more intimate. It can make us a bit nervous because they’re really up in your face. At big shows, I have a little trick to squash the nerves. I just play to the front row. I pretend that there’s only one row of people in front of me, and I just play to that.
In terms of rituals, nothing really changes. Before we get on stage, we’re all in the green room together, laughing, having a bit of fun, keeping the energy high. We don’t do a hand in the circle or a group hug or anything like that. We just try to keep the air light and make ourselves as excited as possible to go out and perform.
You released an album, Low Altitude Living, in 2022. Is there an overarching takeaway you intended for the listener?
With Low Altitude Living, we wanted to show more of ourselves and what we enjoy day to day. The whole concept of the album is to bring the listener down to earth, and just relax, unwind, and enjoy life the way we do. It’s all about staying grounded, and appreciating the little things in life.
In 2018, you guys were placed on the triple j Hottest 100, with your song, “Confidence” at number one. How do you feel this achievement impacted you moving forward?
To give you a bit of context, the triple j Hottest 100 is a huge thing in Australia, and basically everyone listens to it. The day of, we were planning to go to my mate’s place to have some drinks and listen to the countdown. We already knew that we were going to place somewhere, but we had no idea that we were going to be at the top. When the countdown of the Hottest 100 started happening throughout the day, our manager was with us and said, “Now guys, I know this is a really fun day, and we’re all going to have some drinks, but we might get a call from triple j to perform something at their office.”
In the middle of the afternoon, he let us know that we had to go in and do some content for triple j. It was at that point we had suspicion we placed really high on the 100. When they brought us into the studio, they started counting down from five, four, three. Then, they got to second place and it wasn’t us. We just knew instantly, and we said, “Holy shit, I can’t believe it.” It was just one of those disbelief moments.
Moving forward, we just wanted to build off of that as quickly and as strongly as possible. We didn’t really have time to relax and enjoy it. Of course we were enjoying the moment, but we couldn’t help but think “What’s next?” It opened up the door to so many different things for us, and it made us back ourselves as musicians.
Your song “Lapwing” on Low Altitude Living is named after an Australian bird. What was the thought process behind naming this song?
We’ve got all these crazy different animals in Australia, as I’m sure the rest of the world knows. Lapwings look like they’re wearing a mask on their face, and they have this very distinct noise. They can be a bit annoying and a little bit aggressive, but they’re just kind of funny. And so we thought, “Why not? People have done chickens and ibises and magpies for songs. Why don’t we do the lapwing?” I’m not sure why we chose to call the song that because it really has no relevance to the track. I’ve found over the years that when we’ve released albums there’s one or two songs on it with a title that means nothing about the song. In the past, we named a song “Space Goat” because we thought it was funny.
The concept of the actual track “Lapwing” is about trying to find your place and being comfortable with exploring different realms of freedom. Usually Baden’s a bit better at answering questions with the lyrics because he does all the writing, but that’s my concept of the track. As far as the music video, we wanted to let the viewer make the calls and interpret the song in their own way.
How do you avoid creative and physical burnout when you have an extensive touring schedule?
Well, we’re always thinking of ideas, but it’s a little more difficult to conceive creative ideas when you’re on the road. You get in a bit of a rhythm. You’ll play a show, go to sleep, wake up, and do it again. There is a certain sense of regiment and a bit of a military aspect to it for sure. When we’re in this rhythm, it’s hard to flex that creative muscle. However, when we’re at home, that’s when we create ideas because we can be more free. So there’s a bit of a duality.
As an artist, our eyes are always open, ears are always listening. Not necessarily searching for the next idea, but being attentive enough to realize them when they come. Whether you have a notepad and a pen, or record a voice memo, just jotting down the idea helps. It’s just about realizing the good ideas from the bad, grabbing them, and exploring them.
What can we expect from Ocean Alley in the future? Are you guys cooking up anything good right now?
Well, at the moment, we’re in the middle of touring which is quite a busy time for us. But, I will drop a little something. When we end the UK tour and come over to the States, we’ll fix some ideas together and start conceiving what may be another release later this year. I don’t want to say too much, but the cogs are always turning and ideas are always getting thrown around. I think I could safely say that there should be some enjoyable content coming from us within this year.