Mitch Galbraith, guitarist for the Northern Beaches, Sydney, Australia-based rock ‘n’ roll band, Ocean Alley, remembers the group’s early days. High school best friends, the six-piece would get together in its formative years in backyard toolsheds or family garages to play and write music after school before dinnertime. Galbraith remembers “a lot of sand” in the makeshift rehearsal spaces, which were a mere five-minute walk from the nearby beaches. He also remembers, in one garage, having to move the car out before setting up the gear and doing that again in reverse after practice. Those stories now, though, seem quaint when considering the success Ocean Alley has achieved, which will again be punctuated by the release of the band’s forthcoming LP, Lonely Diamond, out June 19th (pre-order).
“As you can imagine,” Galbraith says, “the garages and sheds out back were not very acoustically sound. It was interesting learning in such a dingy environment.”
The guitarist recalls how, at first, each of the members played loudly – too loudly – almost drowning each other out entirely, which is not uncommon for new bands by any means. But in those confined, cluttered spaces, the band learned nuance, they learned how to play in sync together, they learned where to shine and where to support the person next to them. To date, the group has written three studio LPs, two EPs and toured the world.
“If all six of us are playing together and we’re all on 10,” Galbraith says, “then nothing can stand out. So, it was one of our goals – and it still is one of our goals – to create space in our music for each other, to play as a band.”
For some groups, this diplomatic approach might be hard. Certainly in some bands, one or maybe two people shine while the rest have to play supplementary roles. But for bands like Ocean Alley, where texture and a sonic landscape are prioritized, there is room for levels and for a musical conversation, not a lecture. This balance is bolstered by the strong friendships – indeed, the brotherhoods – that the band members feel and share amongst one another.
“We were best friends all of us before we were in a band,” Galbraith says. “Today, we work, play and live together, which is kind of incredible. The thing that’s great for us as a band, we always have a lot of fun when we’re together. And whenever any difference comes up, we always find a way to come together.”
Galbraith recalls the odd night when a band member might drink a couple too many and his mates might have to calm him down, perhaps a bit forcefully. Maybe even a few punches will be thrown between members – they have been together for nearly 10 years, after all. But by the next morning, all is always forgiven and the ambition to make good music always holds true, collectively.
“We know each other really well,” Galbraith says. “It’s okay if we make a mistake once in a while. But we never let any of those issues – we never give them any life more than they deserve. We have a shared goal of playing this music together and being a band on tour. If anything gets in the way of that, then it’s probably not worth the time.”
Galbraith, who began playing guitar in high school, first acoustic and then eclectic, said he and his band mates would hang out all the time together during that time, as well. Fast friends, they would spend time on the beach during the day, surfing and skating, and play music at night. There was never any pressure to create the Next Great Record so, over time, the band naturally evolved, progressed.
“It was definitely gradual for us,” says Galbraith, whose band has remained independent for the entirety of its career. “It takes time. It doesn’t take one song, most of the time.”
For the band’s forthcoming 12-song LP, Lonely Diamond, Ocean Alley got in the studio and began to day-by-day chip away at the writing and arrangements. But it took time. To write a record, yes, a band must proverbially jump into the deep end. But it takes effort and trial and error to swim your way back to the top. This was the case, too, for Galbraith and company, who eventually found their rhythm. Standouts on the album include the dreamy and sonically smoky “Puesta de Sol” and devilishly raucous, “Hot Chicken.”
“We found our groove by just writing songs,” Galbraith says. “The record and the theme for the record emerged out of that process. It’s the same process we’ve been doing since the early years in the shed. You get together and show your mates any cool ideas you’ve come up with and you stand in a room and you gut it out.”