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The Ocean Blue returns for shows, new album

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David Schelzel says the upcoming new album by the Ocean Blue -- their first full-length in nearly 14 years -- sounds a lot like the pop band's first two records. Why? Because he's been listening to a lot of current indie pop -- a good chunk of which sounds a lot like "The Ocean Blue" (1989) and "Cerulean" (1991).

"Stylistically, my headspace right now is more in the music I loved from that time period, and the new music I listen to now sounds more like the music I loved growing up," Schelzel says. "I love the xx, Beach House. I was with a friend one time in a restaurant and she heard Beach House come on. She said, 'Man, that sounds exactly like the Ocean Blue.' I don't necessarily agree with her, but it's funny she said that."

THE OCEAN BLUE
with the Starfolk and Dewi Sant
• 8 p.m. Jan. 13
• Schubas, 3159 N. Southport
• Tickets: $15; (773) 525-2508; schubas.com

Delayed influence, delayed reaction. The harder-rocking edges on "See the Ocean Blue" (1996), the group's finest recording, often were reviewed as the band reacting to post-grunge alt-rock. Schelzel says his headspace then was even further back: "When we did that record, I was so into British rock bands like the Who and Led Zeppelin and the Kinks."

After "See" the bottom dropped out of the music industry, and Schelzel saw the wisdom in retreating to grad school. Now an intellectual property lawyer in Minneapolis, Schelzel keeps the Ocean Blue intermittently afloat. An indie album here ("Davy Jones' Locker," 1999), an EP there (the utterly sublime "Waterworks," 2004), an occasional Christmas song online ("Walking in the Air" last month, Schelzel with Don Peris of the Innocence Mission). Through it all, the guitars chime and the melodies flutter, evincing a heritage rooted deeply in R.E.M., the Smiths and Echo & the Bunnymen.

The Ocean Blue lineup about to tour the new record, tentatively titled "Ultramarine" (originally scheduled for release next week but now pushed back), includes mostly familiar faces to fans: Schelzel (whose mop top these days looks positively Bieberiffic), keyboardist Oed Ronne (a crucially straightforward songwriting foil for Schelzel's dreamier flights), bassist Bobby Mittan and new, Minneapolis-based drummer Peter Anderson.

They've got day jobs, too. Ronne splits his time between Chicago and Portland, Ore.; Mittan still lives in Hershey, Pa., where the band formed.

Ocean Blue songs are recorded now after-hours, in pieces, via email. Thus, even Schelzel refers to the "glacial pace" of the band's recent output.

"We're not on a major label anymore. We don't have a manager anymore. ... When you don't have management and a label clamoring for music, when there are no deadlines, it takes a while longer," he says. "Plus, I'm slow in the studio."

But while the new music may sound familiar, Schelzel marvels at the brave new industry he and the band are re-entering. Both excited and daunted by the challenge of releasing "Ultramarine" on his newly formed label, Korda Records, Schelzel says being a bit more hands-on in the production has juiced his creativity.

"I feel like I'm in experiment mode, like I'm a scrappy start-up in Silicon Valley," he says. "We're figuring out how to do this, how to release music in this climate, and it's completely different than 15 years ago. But everybody I talk to in the music business, they're all telling me the same thing, or they're afraid to tell me: Nobody knows how to do anything anymore, and everybody's trying to figure it out, too. Some of the music business has always been a mystery. There's always been magic involved. How does something become widely known?

"The challenge for us is twofold. We're reconnecting with all the fans we've had over the years -- and we've had a lot -- and we're also connecting with people in the present. I don't want this to be a nostalgia trip for people. I've got friends in their 20s who love the same music I love. I want to reach those people."

In addition to a Korda showcase Saturday in Minneapolis, the Ocean Blue is only playing the Sunday show at Schubas before holing up to iron out business concerns a while longer. Schelzel expects "Ultramarine" to surface in March, followed by an official tour.


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Thomas Conner

Thomas Conner covers pop music for the Chicago Sun-Times. Contact him via e-mail.

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This page contains a single entry by Thomas Conner published on January 9, 2013 8:00 AM.

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