Ionei Heckenberg – Ocean Sleeper ‘Cautiously Optimistic Of The Future’

One Australian act who are unsurprisingly well and truly on the rise within the Australian heavy music scene is none other than Victoria’s very own Ocean Sleeper. Upon the release of their long-awaited debut album Don’t Leave Me This Way (our review here), we grabbed guitarist/vocalist Ionei Heckenberg for a chat about the album and what the band’s plans for the future are…

Congratulations on becoming Triple J Unearthed’s feature artist a couple of weeks ago. How does it feel to have your music heard by such a vast listenership?

It was so rad! The response we got from the Triple J listeners was crazy. Every time one of our songs was played on the radio station we could see that around four-hundred to six-hundred people would use the app Shazam to find the details of the song. The crazy thing was just how many people out there liked our music but have never heard of Ocean Sleeper before.

What can we find you doing when you aren’t writing or recording?

Well, my job is writing and recording. I write for other bands and also record other bands so pretty much my whole life is just recording and writing music. It is definitely my dream job, so I am stoked that I can do it.

Do you ever find that you draw inspiration from other bands that you work with and incorporate that into what you do with Ocean Sleeper?

Not so much. From time to time, I will draw inspiration from the music I listen to in my spare time. I listen to a lot of pop and indie rock, so bands like The 1975 or the works of music producers such as Max Martin. I love listening to musicians who are really good at hooks and songwriting in general, and that is where I usually draw my inspiration from. There is also the music I grew up on, such as Underoath that seems to find its way in there.

Congratulations on the release of your debut album Don’t Leave Me This Way. How did the writing process for this album differ from your Six Feet Down EP?

So for the EP, we decided early on in the band’s career what type of sound we wanted to create. It was myself, guitarist Stan and vocalist Karl that wrote them all together, which was a steady process. For the album, all songs except for one or two were written by myself and Stan instrumentally. So I would write a lot of material late at night, then I would send it over to Stan and ask him to fill certain gaps. Other times Stan would come to my house, and we would write together. It was a little bit different this time because it was just us two, which was good because it meant that Stan and I could hang out a lot, which is what we really did.

There were times where all we did was look at memes on the internet for the entire writing session. In general with writing the album though, we weren’t trying to write something super heavy, or super-soft or anything of a sort, we were just trying to write music, and we tried to write an album that would allow us to do whatever we want after its release. We didn’t want people saying “Ocean Sleeper is just a heavy band” or “Ocean Sleeper is just a melodic metalcore band”. We want to be able to do whatever we want to do without ever losing fans.

When I spoke with you guys at UNIFY Gathering earlier this year, you were telling me that you had this album fully completed, but you were waiting for the right time to release it. Why did you pick the time you did to release the album?

The team we have behind us thought that it would be the best time to release the album when we did to give the singles we released a bit of breathing room. If we had of pushed for an earlier release a lot of our singles would have been pushed closer together. Initially, our song ‘Killing Me’ was supposed to be released further away from the album but it’s just how things lined up, we had to release the song one week before the album was released. In an ideal world, we would have probably released it a month or so earlier.

Was the anticipation of having your debut album completely finished, ready for release and wanting to show your new music to fans, but having to wait so long hard to sit with?

It was so hard! We had the final mixed album since around June last year. It has been incredibly challenging to have to hold on to this thing that we are very proud of and not being able to show anyone. We showed a few mates of ours and the only way we would let them listen to the album was by showing them in person; we didn’t want to send anything out to people because we didn’t want to risk the album being leaked. We have been listening to it for so long we are now over the moon that everyone can now enjoy it with us.

Lyrically the album includes details of personal struggles and topics of that nature, why do you think it is important to share these experiences in your music for fans to hear?

I think it is super important that artists are able to express themselves however they want. It’s good for us because we like expressing ourselves that way, it doesn’t mean if an artist doesn’t express themselves to a certain extent that they are any less. For Ocean Sleeper, it’s great because we can sing about things that we wouldn’t usually talk about and then we will have people message us saying “I’ve felt like that before and it has helped me to be able to relate to you” or “these lyrics helped me get through such and such”. It is great to be able to see that connection with music fans that listen to our music. I’m very stoked that people can connect with our music the way that they do.

Ocean Sleeper has already made their overseas debut when you played at a festival in Taiwan. Having now released your debut album is it a goal of yours to continue to engage further in foreign markets?

Absolutely! We are really hoping on playing some shows either in Europe or the USA before mid to next year. Hopefully, things will line up, and we can make that happen, I am pretty optimistic about it, but with music, I find it is always best to remain cautiously optimistic because things can change so fast.

Ocean Sleeper gained a lot of traction in Australia with the release of the Six Feet Down EP, considering that when you went to write and record the album was there much pressure to be able to back that up?

The main pressure I noticed personally was trying to top ‘Six Feet Down’ with ‘Worthless – No Purpose’. Writing ‘Worthless – No Purpose’ was super hard because ‘Six Feet Down’ went incredibly well to the point where I felt as if I had nothing left to write. That was the hardest I have worked on a hook or a chorus before. With this album, we knew exactly how good we wanted the songs to sound and set ourselves a level to achieve. We just pushed ourselves to make something that would stand up with the best. Vocally and lyrically for the album, Karl and I wrote the majority of the music when we went to record the album, which gave us a very short timeline to work with. I remember a few times where I had to write two songs in one night so I could record them the next day. It was very hectic.

What is your least favourite song on the album and why?

It is either ‘Awful Thoughts’ or ‘Save Me’. The only reason I say ‘Save Me’ is because it is the oldest song, I actually love the song and think it is fantastic, it’s just that it has been out for so long and we have listened to it for so long. I like every song on the album but originally ‘Awful Thoughts’ was my least favourite but the more I listen to the record, and the more I listen to that song the more I like it and the harder it is to choose something that I don’t like. The only reason I can say either of those two is because I had a pre-conceived idea that I didn’t like them.

In celebration of the album’s release, you have an upcoming tour planned which begins this week — looking past those tour dates what is in the works for Ocean Sleeper?

The main thing we are trying to focus on now is playing shows and getting some good tours under our belt. We have already started writing new music; that process is already well underway. For now, though we just want to tour heaps. We want to head overseas to tour in the next year because we have done a few laps around Australia and we are definitely keen on doing more regional runs as well, but we can only do it at most, four times a year. There is a lot of dead time between that, so the main focus is to go overseas, improve as a band then bring that back to Australia for local fans to enjoy.

The last time you headlined Northcote Social Club in Melbourne was for the ‘Worthless – No Purpose’ release show. From memory, the venue was half-filled. Now, a little over eighteen months down the track, you have sold-out that venue. This must be a sign that you are doing something right. Is it surreal to watch your development as a band while your fan base grows?

We are so stoked that the Melbourne leg of the tour has sold out! I have had tonnes of people message me saying “hey man, the show is sold out, I can’t get tickets. How do I get in?” I have had to tell all of those people that I’m not able to help them out, I have just had to give the advice “maybe buy a ticket before it sells out next time”. It has been fun and rad to gain that sort of traction and response. The last headline show we played was at The Evelyn Hotel in Melbourne, and that went great, but we didn’t sell that out. That venue, however, is huge; it holds around 450 people. We are really stoked to be able to sell-out the Northcote Social club, and I can’t wait to play the album live to a sold-out crowd finally.

Your song ‘Six Feet Down’ from you’re debut EP of the same name is famous for its sing-alongs at live shows. As you begin to phase out old material and play newer songs, is there a new song you are hoping gets that sort of attention at upcoming shows?

Yes, I’m anticipating ‘Light In My Dark’ to have just as much of an impact in a live setting. That’s the biggest sing-along for me. We have played that song live since the start of the year, and we have had people sing along to that song before it came out, when they had only heard it before at shows. Getting that kind of response from a song they could have only heard once or twice before is crazy. We are pretty certain that it is going to be a great sing-along song.

Interview by Adam Rice @adamrice1994 


Ocean Sleeper – Don’t Leave Me This Way Album Launch Tour
With Stepson

Thursday 21st November @ Rocket Bar, Adelaide
W/ Days of Deceit + Valhalla + The Daily Chase

Friday 22nd November @ Northcote Social Club, Melbourne – SOLD OUT
W/ Letters to Amara + Outloved

Friday 29th November @ The Burdekin Hotel, Sydney
W/ Sienna Skies + Isotopes

Saturday 30th November @ Crowbar, Brisbane
W/ Shorelines + Days Like These

Tickets Here

About Adam 'Ricey' Rice (134 Articles)
A young music enthusiast who dives into a world created by an artist then returns to reality to express what he experienced in writing.