I recently heard an album that absolutely gripped me, that I couldn’t stop talking about, even to people who probably couldn’t have cared less. It came into my life at exactly the right time – I was finalising my personal top five albums of the year, and still had one slot open with tentative ideas of what to fill it with, but nothing jumping out at me. And then I heard Our Oceans’ fabulous second album, While Time Disappears, and knew I had to look no further.
Brimming with emotion portrayed through wistful vocal lines and heartwrenching lyricism, sweet guitar solos, stellar yet never overbearing drumming, pristine bass playing, and the odd catchy riff, While Time Disappears is 50 minutes of proggy goodness. It encompasses light and dark, bittersweet sorrow and all-consuming rage, contentment and turmoil, all while remaining cohesive and never becoming confusing, overbearing, or tedious. It shifts seamlessly from jazz fusion to prog rock ballad styles to the verge of metal without ever breaking character.
While Time Disappears is not perfect, to me – you can check out my review of it here, I won’t go into as much detail in this feature. It is very, very good, though, and quite possibly the best thing I’ve heard this year. As soon as I heard it, I knew I wanted to know more about it, and the band that created it, and I was lucky enough to get the chance to get in contact with singer/guitarist Tymon Kruidenier and ask him a few questions. You might recognise Kruidenier not only from Dutch death metal band Exivious, but also from his work with Cynic.
Our Oceans was initially intended to be a collaboration between Kruidenier and singer Noora Häkkinen, with Kruidenier writing the music and Häkkinen adding vocal melodies and lyrics. This was a good opportunity for Kruidenier to record a more singer/songwriter style album, something he’d been wanting to explore for a while. The pair chose a band, consisting of Exivious members Robin Zielhorst (bass) and Michel Nienhuis (guitar), and drummer Jasper Barendregt. When asked how they chose the name, Kruidenier explains:
‘It came from a dream that Noora had. She was dreaming she was standing at the shoreline somewhere, looking out over the sea, and she heard some divine voice from above say something like ‘Our Oceans are always…’, I forget the rest. But once she told me that I said to her: Our Oceans, that’s actually a cool name for our project!’
The freshly named and assembled band set to work writing and recording the instrumentals for their debut album, and, as they were about to complete it, Häkkinen started working on the vocal parts. It soon became clear that there were some creative differences between Häkkinen and Kruidenier, and they decided it would be best to part ways. Kruidenier recalls, ‘there we were, having recorded a full album, but not having a singer to finish it.’ After ‘a lot of thinking and soul-searching the days after this happened,’ Kruidenier decided to step up to the plate and give singing a go himself.
The timing was more or less ideal; Kruidenier explains that he ‘got interested in singing around six months before this happened and was practicing daily. On top of that, all the songs I wrote for our debut were based on very personal themes. So it made sense for me to be the vocalist.’ Kruidenier admits, ‘it was a scary decision and I didn’t feel ready at all,’ but has also found that, in hindsight, it was one of the best things that ever happened to him, and that now, singing is one of the most important things in his life.
With all of this in mind, Kruidenier states that ‘in a way, the first Our Oceans record was a series of happy accidents’. Intended as a ‘one-off side project,’ Kruidenier, Nienhuis and Barendregt didn’t plan anything in too much detail and ‘went along for the ride’. This changed with the completion of the album, though; Kruidenier explains that ‘once the album was finished and I had experienced what it was like to write such different music and to write lyrics and to sing, there was simply no way back to being a guitar player only in my old band Exivious.’ He made the decision to quit Exivious and focus solely on Our Oceans, which included rethinking the band’s lineup and direction. This heralded a significant change in the band’s sound – where their self-titled debut had a consistently ‘very dreamy and ethereal quality’ that Kruidenier found ‘nice for one album.’ He found they ‘needed a broader palette of sounds, vibes, styles, and emotions to choose from.’
As a result, both guitarist Nienhuis and drummer Barendregt left the band, leaving bassist Robin Zielhorst with a much larger role to fill. On While Time Disappears, Kruidenier says, ‘you’ll hear Robin use some sounds he never used before to fill up the space left by a second guitarist.’ Further, the new drummer Yuma van Eekelen brought a ‘more urgent and more angular’ approach to the drums on While Time Disappears, which is exactly what Kruidenier was envisioning. While Time Disappears also differs from Our Oceans in sound – Kruidenier explains, ‘we tried to keep the layering to a minimum on this album and maintain a bit more of an honest and dry sound.’
The change in lineup also affected the way the songs on While Time Disappears were written. Kruidenier says that ‘previously I’d finish the majority of the composition process myself before sharing the songs with the rest of the band,’ but drummer van Eekelen was now ‘very much involved from the start with the production and arrangements of the songs.’ The band had ‘many sessions where we’d play around with the ideas to come up with ‘road maps’ as we called them. Storyboards for how to finish the songs’. They intentionally didn’t overproduce these earlier versions to leave room for more ideas later.
While Kruidenier usually starts working on lyrics once all the music is written, he will pick a theme or topic beforehand. This might be as little as ‘a working title and maybe one or two sentences to remind myself what the song is about,’ which then guides the composition process. He keeps the concept in mind during writing, so he usually knows ‘exactly what it is that I want to put into words when it’s time to start shaping the lyrics.’
Once the songs’ road maps were complete, Our Oceans ‘were lucky enough to set up a temporary studio where we could come together with the the of us to hash out the songs,’ a part of the process that Kruidenier particularly enjoyed thanks to the trio’s compatibility both musically and on a personal level. The same studio served as the recording environment for both drums and bass, a space that Our Oceans tried to recreate in the music video for “Unravel”. Kruidenier adds, ‘Obviously our studio didn’t look that cool, but the overall atmosphere felt very much like that.’
Kruidenier recorded guitars in his home studio, though upon completing the recording, found that he’d been using a cable that ‘severely compromised’ his sound, and had to do it all again. Vocal recordings also gave him a bit of grief; his voice was ‘in a really bad condition’ due to a ‘technique issue that I kept stumbling upon but instead of trying to tackle it with patience and reason, I just practiced and practiced and practiced, full steam ahead.’ To add insult to injury, he also contracted laryngitis around this time, setting back the recording considerably. Fortunately, Kruidenier says, ‘once I took some rest to let the laryngitis heal and had the patience to sit with my voice to try and work out the technique issue I was facing, it all resolved itself rather quickly.’ He eventually managed to record all the vocals in less than three hours, and had a lot of fun doing this, though he adds: ‘I do hear myself struggling a bit trying to overcome and navigate this technique issue, but I decided to let it be whatever it had to be, imperfections and all’.
Our Oceans spend a lot of time working on demos, and ‘for most songs, there are a couple of iterations before we’re happy to call it done.’ Recording for the album therefore didn’t start from scratch, and rather became them simply replacing parts in the pre-productions. Kruidenier adds, ‘in some cases we opted to keep the demo recordings because there was no use in trying to recreate something that already sounded the way we intended it to sound.’ Vocals on “The Heart’s Whisper”, and guitars and vocals on “Passing By”, were kept from the original demos, while other songs were left intentionally sparse to leave more creative freedom for the actual album recordings.
While Time Disappears feels very cohesive in its narrative, with most of the songs linked by lyrical as well as musical themes. Kruidenier explains why this might be the case:
‘It’s not like we set out to make a concept album, but it ended up that way a bit anyway. The album basically tells a story of overcoming hardship. The songs are placed in chronological order. The first song, “Unravel”, is an uplifting song about being comfortable in your own skin. After that, the album quickly takes a nosedive into some more melancholic and depressive territory. I don’t like to be too specific about what the songs are about, as they’re based on such personal experiences and I much prefer people giving their own meaning to our songs anyway. But I’m sure everyone would agree that this album is quite loaded emotionally. At the end though, the album takes a more uplifting turn, as did my life in the past year of writing this album. I hope the album will leave people will a feeling of ‘the struggle was worth it’.’
Despite being so strongly coherent, none of the songs on While Time Disappears sound particularly similar – they’re all extremely distinctive, each with its own character and unique tone. Kruidenier identifies four that stand out, each for different reasons. The first song written for the album, at a time when they were unsure whether it would be under Our Oceans or Exivious, was the opening track, “Unravel”. Kruidenier names this as the song they had the most fun writing, saying, ‘it’s a playful song and it has a lighter theme, which lends itself more to having fun,’ though he adds, ‘truth be told, most songs aren’t ‘fun’ to write, they feel necessary to write, and meaningful, but I wouldn’t call it fun.’
Speaking of fun, though, Kruidenier also mentions one of my personal favourite songs, “Your Night, My Dawn”, as a standout track – based on ‘this funky dance song I made years and years ago, just for fun,’ he knew he always ‘wanted to transform it into a serious piece of music because the main chord progression is just so hauntingly beautiful to me’. I can only agree – it has a fabulous sense of atmosphere, both nostalgic and nightmarish, the perfect twisted ballad in a world of sad prog epics. Kruidendier concludes: ‘You’ll hear it’s definitely the odd song on the album, but I do love how it came out.’
Two of While Time Disappears’ heavier tracks, “Face Them” and “With Hands Torn Open”, mark points of difference on the album, too – while Kruidenier usually comes up with initial ideas for songs, van Eekelen brought the main riff of “Face Them” to the band, resulting in something quite different and exciting. “With Hands Torn Open” sounds ‘like “Unravel”’s brother’ – it’s one Kruidenier suspects will appeal to Exivious fans: ‘It’s heavy, it’s uplifting, it’s catchy and has an extended, very fusion-esque guitar solo in it, of which I’m quite proud.’ Kruidenier explains – ‘I had a big jazz-fusion phase where I became very interested in learning how to improvise on the guitar and how to expand my melodic and harmonic vocabulary.’ Within that style, he states ‘the late great guitarist Allan Holdsworth has probably been the most influential musician in my life,’ adding that through his ‘unique voice on the guitar and he forever changed the way I approach melody and chords.’
Before becoming interested in jazz fusion, Kruidenier and the rest of Our Oceans all came from a metal background, being big fans of bands like Death, but also Debussy, Jon Hopkins, and Foo Fighters. Kruidenier has also always been a big fan of ‘Björk and Radiohead and more song driven artists like that,’ and this only grew once he began singing. He explains how Jeff Buckley specifically only really clicked for him after he started singing, and found that his own voice started sounding a little like Buckley’s. He explains:
‘It’s a curious process to look back on though, because it wasn’t the case that I was a huge fan and wanted to sound like him. I think early on in my vocal training, I just realized that whenever I would use my voice in a way that sounded good and felt healthy, it reminded me of Jeff. I even quite disliked that typical fast vibrato thing he does, but as time went along, I came to love it and my voice started behaving like his in some ways.’
Looking towards the future and with While Time Disappears still hot off the press, Kruidenier mentions that Our Oceans have already started brainstorming their next album. While they all have their own preferences for what they’d like to hear on the new album, Kruidenier feels ‘it’s much more appropriate to let life dictate what our music will sound like.’ Both the previous albums came to be in this way, and to Kruidenier, ‘it’s a core value of what we do’. Because all three members are in better places in their lives now than they have been in previous years, though, he is ‘hoping for a bit of a lighter, more uplifting album.’ He adds, ‘our main goal is to make music that feels emotionally honest.’ While Time Disappears certainly succeeds in this regard, and I’m sure any future releases will, too.
Our Oceans are…
Tymon Kruidenier – vocals/guitar
Robin Zielhorst – bass/vocals
Yuma van Eekelen – drums