Q&A: an interview with Conversing with Oceans
In light of his brand new 'TRILOGY' EP ,we spoke to the very talented Alex Bondarev about about the things, the people, and the places that have influenced his solo project, Conversing with Oceans and inspire him as a person.
Firstly, how did Conversing with Oceans come about?
I played in a band called A Moment's Worth with my best friends since I was 14. For the most part we wrote and toured with really big anthemic punk & rock songs (and it was an absolute blast!). As I matured though, and my influences were changing, I was coming up with so many songs that just didn't feel quite like A Moment's Worth anymore--they were even more introspective, more reserved, and they were experimenting with new soundscapes and textures. It became apparent at a point that I needed to follow this direction (kind of like hitting a creative "reset" button) and see what would happen. It was terrifying to be honest. But here we are now.
Any meaning behind the band name?
I thought for a while about what the new music I was writing made me feel. I came up with a long list of names and Conversing with Oceans, one my wife had actually suggested, was on it. I kept coming back to it because it was a good visual representation of that feeling the music gave me. I tend to be more introverted and feel most alive when I'm contemplating and quiet my thoughts by a large body of water. I've also lived on different continents and have many different religious and cultural backgrounds in my family. I felt the name kind of connected those those things for me as well. It felt like home.
Following on from that, you were born in Russia but grew up in The Bronx! Do you have any Russian cultural influences?
Hah! Yes - mostly from its literature. I love the writing of Anton Chekhov. His short stories are beautiful, precise portraits of people - very non-judgmental and full of delicate insights. And Dostoyevsky's Brothers Karamazov is one of the most brilliant books ever written. It handles the "big questions" in life with unparalleled eloquence. I know it's lofty but my goal has always been to try to write songs like those guys wrote literature. Oh and Gogol's "The Overcoat" packs such a punch haunts me to this day.
Can you give me a track by track breakdown on the new 'TRILOGY' EP?
Sure! So from the beginning, I wanted this EP to have a very cinematic feel. I think about it almost like a movie that you're watching--but the end chronologically (the first track) is actually the beginning. And it's a love story.
It starts of at the climax of the plot, which is Action (Part 3). In this set of scenes our heroes are attempting their actual escape from "The Center." Though they know it's hella risky, they've made their choice to go for it no matter the cost--life or death. ("'Cause I won't I said. I'll never give you up. If they want me dead, they'll find me in that cold, cold blood.")
In the next track Courage (Part 2) - they're working up that gumption. They want to commit and follow their hearts' calling but they're also scared to death - however, the acknowledgement of that fear actually propels them forward towards taking action. And they borrow that courage from one another ("Do you mind if I lean on you sometimes? Just enough to get me through..").
And in Open (Part 1) - the wild idea to rebel is just born within them. They've awoken to the thought that they can't continue like this and something terrifying is about to happen. They see it as the potential end of their cozy current existence ("I ain't gon' say it but I think it's a disaster"). But they have to get on the same page. They have to work through that resistance first - which keeps repeating in their heads over and over sort of like that outro. That's my favorite part of the EP--when it just breaks apart into that chaos at the end of this song. And if you listen closely, you can hear it fading away into the background. They're moving onto the next chapter..
So, in a sense, this trilogy is a hero's journey. I think it parallels the struggle many of us face in finding and actually pursing our callings. Or, as my family were refugees from Russia to the States, in taking that leap - that perilous escape for a better life.
In 'TRILOGY' you explore new sides to your artistry. How would you say this EP shies away from your previous work for those who are making their introduction to you via this record?
Well, these songs are connected conceptually - so that's the first way. These are also the first songs we've had THE amazing Chris Ragone on guitar, Danny Castro on drums, and John Endico on bass. They brought such a beautiful live energy, chemistry, and their characteristic sounds to this EP. The songs were tracked live with these guys - which was also a first for us (and quite scary as we're so used to overdubbing everything to perfection). That was our producer-engineer Tim O'Sullivan's idea. He also helped to make this EP very different. He gave it a really stylistic layered vibe that also sets it apart from our previous work.
Did you encounter any difficulties tracking and recording LIVE? It adds a real authenticity to your sound. Is that why you chose to make the EP in this way?
Absolutely! We weren't just going for perfection. Tim wanted us to go for feeling. So while a take may have sounded perfect technically to us while tracking, we tossed it if it didn't quite capture that energy, that feel we wanted to have the songs in this way. Sometimes it took 40 or so takes! We have Tim to thank for that tremendous workout. We really connected in this way though. We truly lived these songs while making them.
Imagine you could host a fantasy dinner party and can invite any famous person across time from any profession. Which 5 people would be sitting at your table and what would be on the menu?
Alan Watts, Anthony Bourdain, Ghandi, Jane Austen, and John Lennon. We'd eat a traditional Russian dinner because that's what I'm craving right now.
If you were to do a covers EP, which 4 songs would be on there?
We just released a few covers recently leading up to this EP so I'll double down on that until I'm newly inspired by other songs. They're also all by pop artists but ones that I feel stand out from the rest in this genre.
Mike Posner's "Not That Simple" - he's an artist who's constantly evolving (and I'm loving his spiritual direction and podcast as of late).
Francis and The Lights' "See Her Out" - who I think is one of the greatest and most innovative artists of our generation. I love his mysterious vibe. Also the king of the power of simplicity.
Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game" - because damn, that man can write and croon a song.
And if we had to do a 4th right now I'd probably go with Grace Weber's "More Than Friends", though I could probably never do her songs justice (her voice is absolutely incredible) she's got this female Frank Ocean-esque vibe to her. Look out for her - she's coming up!
You've recently had a baby, are you exposing her to your taste in music and what is she vibing to?
Oh yes! Our place is always filled with music. She's been rocking out Mumford & Sons' recent LP, everything by Tycho, she digs La Bouquet's gorgeous new EP, The Dangerous Summer, Fleetwood Mac, Synapses Firing, Third Eye Blind's self-titled masterpiece, and that new Taylor Swift.
But I feel like she's leaning towards Taylor Swift already these days. Or maybe I am. Okay fine, that's all me.
And lastly, have you got any plans for 2018?
I know for sure I'd like to release a first full-length album. I also know I want to go about this in a very nontraditional route and it's all being worked out. I'd love to invite the listeners to join me in taking a very intimate look at the creative process. I also know I want to work on more projects with my nonprofit partner Elfenworks that help gently nudge this world to be a slightly kinder, more welcoming place.
Other than that, I like being open to the future and seeing where music takes me. So far it's surprised and blown me away every step of the way. It's been a wild ride! And I owe it to the wonderful community and family of support I have around me. THAT inspires me more than anything.
Interview by Karla Harris
'TRILOGY' EP is out now and available via all the usuual platforms, here.