Interview with David Schelzel of The Ocean Blue

David Schelzel discusses the importance of Minneapolis to his music, accolades from Butch Vig on his new album, and the frenetic first year of Korda Records.  Interview by Allison LaBonne over Surly beer and hummus plate at Café Maude in Loring Park.

Q: You’ve had a wild ride in the music industry; signing a multi-record deal with Sire while still in high school, recording in London with John Porter (The Smiths, Billy Bragg, Roxy Music), and experiencing all the major label trappings like extensive touring, radio hits, and a string of music videos; one of them filmed in Iceland. After leaving the majors, you moved to Minneapolis to attend U of M law school. You stayed to practice law and settle down to quiet life, while never leaving music behind. How has Minneapolis shaped this chapter of your life in music?

DS: I don’t think The Ocean Blue would have continued if I hadn’t moved here. If I had stayed in Pennsylvania I don’t think I would’ve kept making music. The day I got here in the summer of 1999, I drove into town and I went straight to the birthday party of city council member Nyland. Jim Ruiz, who I knew, was playing his party. It was in south Minneapolis, and that’s when I met Peter Anderson. He was drumming for Jim. We had an immediate connection, he was super positive and a great drummer, excited about making music. He’s been a major factor in keeping me moving forward.

The second thing is the community of artists here was inspiring to me. Meeting you and Brian, we were immediately best friends and soul mates, but also I just loved the music you were doing. There are a lot of people here making great music, and it’s a part of their lives. In places like New York and L.A. it seems kind of manufactured to me. Here we have normal people making music, and it’s in the fabric of their lives, and I love that. And Korda Records is a formalization of that thing. It just took me a long time to get to that point where the band I was a part of was ready to do a full on record and tour again.

Where I was living in Pennsylvania I was very isolated. And here I feel like part of this big little town, or small city of, Minneapolis, and there’s just a lot going on to inspire you. Art, culture, food, buildings, wintertime, lakes, parks. A lot of resources for the musician too. I can duck in to a big studio…the guy who mastered our record is just on the other side of the sculpture garden. I can walk there and get my record mastered. That wouldn’t happen in Pennsylvania.

Q: You and the band recorded Ultramarine on your own, in home studios; and when Butch Vig comes to one of your shows and gives his accolades on your production, I think it’s safe to say you’ve been very successful at DIY recording.

DS: That Butch Vig story is doubly funny because the record he’s most famous for is Nirvana’s Nevermind, which probably single handedly destroyed the format of radio that we were so successful at in the early nineties. So here’s the guy who’s kind of responsible for destroying my major label career complementing me on my record!

But yeah, I really benefitted from all the years of making records in big studios with amazing producers and engineers, and learned the science of it, and the art of it. When the technology became available to do it in your home, I kind of understood the architecture of it all, but I still had to learn how to use it. Universal Audio plug ins helped, because those plug ins are emulations of the hardware that we always used.

Now if they could just make a digital version of John Porter we’d be set! Technology can do really amazing things, but you still need people who know how to use it and wield all those tools in an artful way. Just like you did when people were using the hardware technology. I have more respect for the people I used to work with than I ever have.

Q: Do you feel like you’ve learned anything about the new music industry since starting Korda Records?

DS: Oh yeah. I think this year has been a huge learning experience. In some ways this year was an experiment, to test hypotheses, to see what works and what doesn’t in a real laboratory of the unknown, because nobody really knows what’s going on in the music business. It’s still in such a state of flux. It’s like the music business used to take place on Earth and now we’re on Jupiter, and so all the laws are different. We have to figure out how to do the same thing in a completely different environment. It’s been good to work with indie promoters and indie distributors who are down in the trenches trying to figure it out too, and work with a bunch of other Korda artists who are trying to figure it out at the same time. We all went about making our records in slightly different ways, and releasing them in slightly different ways, and I think we’ve all learned a lot.

Q: What has been the highlight of releasing Ultramarine?

DS: For me it has been connecting with old friends and fans. Jay at the iTunes store, an old fan, was a huge ally, so iTunes support and features were really consequential to people finding out about the record. Our publicist, is an old fan. Even our distributor is a long time fan. So people who already knew about us proved to be really helpful in getting the word out to our old fans and in reaching new fans.

But then also figuring out the new networks, particularly social media, has been interesting. Social media played a huge part in our release. We had some old traditional press, there was an article in USA Today, and something in Associated Press that ran in a lot of different U.S. papers, but frankly I only saw the electronic versions of that. It was all what was being served up on the feeds, the blogs, the Stereogums and Paste Magazines of the world online and all that stuff. So figuring out that piece was really huge too.

See The Ocean Blue live Sat Nov 30 @ The Cedar, as part of Korda 2 Showcase with The Starfolk, Jim Ruiz Four and The Owls.  Ticket available here.