Australian band Ocean Alley just arrived in the U.S. for a string of West Coast shows in support of its new album, Low Altitude Living. Beloved back home, the psychedelic surf rock band has sold out shows all across their country and hopes to do the same here. Guitarist Mitchell Galbraith sat down to talk about the new record, how the band manages to tour America in the COVID-19 age and whether the stereotype of all Australians being chill is actually true.
After all, after arriving in SoCal, one of the first things the band did was go for a swim at the beach in Ventura.
“This is our fourth time [in the U.S.]. It’s always fun when we come over here,” Galbraith said. “We’ve been itching to get back to the West Coast for a while now.”
The band members, who grew up inspired by the likes of Pink Floyd, Bob Marley and blues artists like Stevie Ray Vaughan, spent the core of the pandemic writing separately before getting back together to work on Low Altitude Living at a studio north of Sydney. Fans seeing the band before the album is out Friday can still catch new songs like “Home,” “Touch Back Down” and “Deepest Darkness.”
RIFF: Where does the album name, Low Altitude Living, come from?
Mitchell Galbraith: The name is a reference to coastal living, and a bit of a metaphor for how we go about writing music, just trying to go with the flow. We spent the last two years working on the songs. There are a handful that didn’t make it onto the record, but most of the ones we started with, we ended up finishing and put them all together in a way everyone can enjoy, hopefully.
How would you say it compares to your previous work?
We’re just more experienced now, and we’re better writers and better players. It’s a bit more concise, but I would say it’s still got a good mix of heavy songs and positive storytelling. So yeah, it’s a classic Ocean Alley record, I would say, with a bit more bit of a progression to it.
A lot of bands from overseas have had to postpone or cancel tours because they couldn’t make the numbers work. With six members, how are you able to make the numbers work?
We’ve had to pare back some of the crew to make it work. We’ve been lucky enough to sort of just find a really good bunch of guys who are really talented at what they do, teching and managing us on the road and it’s a relatively small crew. So there’s 10 of us in total on the tour bus. I think it’s definitely not as lucrative as it was a couple of years ago, but we’ve been so pleased to sell the tickets out that we have so far.
We sold out in San Luis Obispo, San Diego and Anaheim, and so I think if you can manage to play the right rooms and sell enough tickets, then you can just kinda scrape by. Our management team back home has had to work way harder than they normally have to to accommodate everything and plans always changing the last minute. It’s a bit of a nightmare for them, but I think we’ve just been lucky.
Is there a supportive culture in Australia with all the bands there?
Yeah, I think so; there’s just not as much competition as there is here, because there’s not as many people fighting for a slot like here in America. Locally, there’s a pretty good culture around small garage groups and kids trying to break through, playing pubs and clubs and stuff. We’re actually touring with Le Shiv, and we grew up with them in our hometown, so it’s quite cool to be driving all over America with them and playing music together.
How are you able connect with U.S. listeners?
Well, that’s the amazing thing about the way music breaks down all those distance barriers. You don’t need to show up to the show or buy a physical copy of the record, [although] a lot of people still do these days, which is kind of crazy. But people can find us online, or people will say, “My friend had you on a playlist.” So, eventually, when we come round to play, and they’ve managed to come out to a show, hopefully we’ve impressed them by the end of the night.
It can be tricky to travel with instruments, airlines are always breaking people’s guitars in transit.
Galbraith: Yeah, we haven’t had a guitar break yet, so I am sure we’re due up and there’s one coming around the bend, because we can’t be this lucky forever. When that happens, I’ll just hang the broken guitar up on the wall, and we’ll laugh about it one day.
It seems like you guys have a really chill attitude. Is that part of what people find appealing about the band?
Yeah, I think Americans think that of all Australians; that we’re just chill. I think it’s kind of true, actually. We’re pretty laidback. We try to live and play in the moment and not take it all too seriously and just enjoy ourselves.