There’s a crack in the world /
And we’re all hanging on, hanging on /
Trying not to fall through the void /
Sometimes there’s only so much you can do
So starts the lead single “A Crack in the World” off Oceanator’s debut LP, Things I Never Said. When I first heard these words in late June of 2020, it felt a little too real — yeah, the world really does feel like it’s falling apart. Between a viral pandemic, a growing state of repression, and mass unemployment, a “crack in the world” feels like the understatement of the century. That’s the magic of Oceanator’s music – it’s always relevant, always relatable, and always a bop.
Oceanator is the rock project of singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and DIY extraordinaire Elise Okusami. While 500 miles of turnpikes (and a viral pandemic) kept us from meeting in person, we couldn’t help but scream over the phone with excitement for Things I Never Said and Plastic Miracles, Elise’s new label. After 5 months of fear, it feels deeply refreshing to speak on what’s out there to get excited about. We also had to laugh about tour mishaps and dream about where’s next once touring is possible again.
Slumber: So I spend way too much time on Twitter –
Elise Okusami: Ugh! So do I.
Slumber: Ha! It’s cool to see on Twitter that you’ve got all these plans this month for the release, like a Release Month kind of thing. I have to ask, if COVID wasn’t a thing, what would your dream release party look like?
Elise: Well I had all these plans, I wanted to do like a release show at Baby’s All Right because I like that venue, it’s the right size, the sound’s good, the people who work there are super nice, so I wanted to do a show there with two other local bands who are my favorites if we could get them to play, or even someone who was on tour. Remember when touring happened? And then I also wanted to have a fun in-person listening party at my friend’s bar that he owns, and I could DJ for the night, and we’d all listen to the record throughout and have, like, a fun hang. A fun event where’d we’d all get together and share. That would be ideal. I’d been thinking about other things, too, but those all got killed in March.
Slumber: Ugh, those make me ache for all the good times. My day job is in event management.
Elise: So’s mine!
Slumber: Wow! Awesome! I plan street fairs.
Elise: Cool! I plan restaurants going to street fairs and festivals, like our pop-ups.
Slumber: That’s so cool! We rely so much on restaurant pop-ups to make our events fun. Let’s just commiserate on that for a second.
Elise: I know, right! I had all these jobs lined up and then like, tour lined up and all these events planned, and now I have no jobs. I had like many, many jobs and now zero.
Slumber: I read that you wrote “A Crack in the World” and “I Would Find You” way before COVID, but they resonate so strongly with the pandemic. What have you been spinning the most during quarantine that’s resonating in a new way?
Elise: I’ve been going back to a lot of stuff I listened to as a kid and that’s super comforting. So I’ve been listening to a lot of 90s rock, and just kind of really doubling down on my love of all that stuff that was coming out when I was just learning to play guitar, and then just listening to everyone’s new stuff and all the new records they’re putting out, doing the best I can to enjoy all of it.
Slumber: Something that initially drew me to Things I Never Said, other than the fantastic singles, is the album artwork. I love the bright colors and color-blocking. What colors do you associate with this record?
Elise: I would say teal is the main color of the record, I don’t know why, but when we finished recording that’s what I thought in my head. A big teal field. The orange complemented it well. I feel the record’s very teal with blacks and greys, overall it’s an optimistic record, which is why the album artwork is so bright even with the themes occasionally being dark. Teal mostly, teensy bit of orange, and the pink and the yellow and Carl, he did the layout and everything. If you like color-blocking, wait until you see the insert. Very cool, and Carl did that. I’m pretty stoked about the art, it came out like I thought it would in my head but even better.
Slumber: Speaking of cool colors, I loved the picture on your Instagram of you with the Five Boroughs Summer Ale that matched the cover. What kind of beer is Oceanator and what does it taste like?
Elise: Oh wow, I guess, hm… I’ve been going on a non-alcoholic beer kick recently. I tweeted about it and got a lot of recommendations. But I’d say that it’s like a good, sort of hazy, New England-style IPA that’s just a little bit fruity and not too bitter.
“It would be cool just to see another culture and music scene that I don’t know that much about.”
Slumber: I love that, it sounds super refreshing. As Oceanator and as a touring musician, you’ve toured with some really awesome folks. In your dream tour, where would you wanna go?
Elise: Oh gosh, there’s so many places! There’s so many places I wanna go. I really wanna tour Australia, and pop over to New Zealand while we’re on the other side of the world because it just seems really cool. I’ve been to New Zealand before and I had the best time, it was really beautiful and I wanna go back. And then I also wanna tour Japan, I’ve had a few friends who’ve done that now and they all spoke so highly of it. Seems cool, I’ve never been. They said that the crowds are super into it, and I love that because it’s just so much more fun. You know, if the crowd gets into it, then you get more into it, and they get more into it.
It would be cool just to see another culture and music scene that I don’t know that much about. I think that’ll be really rad. Those would probably be my top two, I’d say. But at this point, like, anywhere! I would tour literally anywhere right now.
Slumber: What’ve been some unusual venues/destinations you’ve seen so far?
Elise: Gosh, I feel like I’m blanking. We’ve definitely played in some weird places. There was one show, I can’t remember who I was touring with, but we had to wait to load in until a furry convention was over. It was right before the show, and we had too much stuff, so had to wait for that to be over, which was kind of funny. Bunch of great houses, but that’s not unusual for them to be really awesome.
“We’ve definitely played in some weird places. There was one show, I can’t remember who I was touring with, but we had to wait to load in until a furry convention was over.”
Slumber: When you’re not on tour, you’re based in Brooklyn usually?
Slumber: Since COVID’s got me hunkered down in my house, I’ve re-discovered my neighborhood, the good things and bad things and everything in between. Is there anything new or interesting you’ve discovered about your neighborhood?
Elise: The main new thing I’ve discovered is just how many flowers there are. If I walk a little bit south of my building, it becomes this historic district with a lot of really pretty rowhouses and some even bigger houses from when it was all mansions and farms like 100 years ago or whatever. So it’s really pretty down there, really beautiful architecture, a lot of people have these yards that they plant a ton of flowers in and take care of, so I take walks down there and take polaroids I send with letters I write to my friends like “Hello, here’s what I did today! Here’s a snapshot of my neighborhood since you can’t visit,” so mostly that. And then, I’ve walked by a bunch of places that I didn’t know existed but are closed, so I’ll have to check them out sometime.
Slumber: I feel that. In my neighborhood, there’s all these fancy restaurants where I could never get a reservation until this. I’ll walk out and I’ll get some fancy bolognese!
“Playing other people’s songs is awesome, and playing your own songs is awesome, but they’re two very different experiences I think. I love them both, but I’m glad now that I get to split my time doing both.”
Slumber: So, do you feel like your processes and goals have changed in the five years since the first Oceanator show?
Elise: How did you know it’s five years?
Elise: Oh! I’ve been thinking about how I need to start a spreadsheet of all the shows I’ve ever played. But yeah, at the time I was playing for a lot of other people, and that’s fun and I still love doing that, but I hadn’t been performing any of my own songs for a while and I have stuff that’s been adding up. I had songs and I just wanted to play them! So I thought I was just gonna do this fun thing in between playing with other people and it just started taking up more and more of my time, which is awesome.
Now, it’s kind of the main music project I do which is just really cool, amazing, and really fun for me. Both things are great — playing other people’s songs is awesome, and playing your own songs is awesome, but they’re two very different experiences I think. I love them both, but I’m glad now that I get to split my time doing both. Oceanator’s definitely a bigger focus than I’d expected. I’m happy about it.
Slumber: So I’m always a big fan of when artists start their own labels, and Plastic Miracles — your first compilation really came out swinging with good tunes. What are you excited for with the label?
Elise: Oh! So many things. I have set the dates for three of four releases for the fall. One of them is Sonny Falls, who we’ve already started with. The other three are people who I haven’t announced yet who I’m very stoked about. We’ve been talking about this since January. Everyone’s stuff got delayed, with respect to what people could finish and do and mentally finish and do. I’m really excited for those to come out, I think they’re really great, and I think people will love them. I can’t wait to start talking about them. We’re gonna do another compilation in, I think, December is the plan, so that’s gonna be fun, I’m gonna start working on that soon.
Eventually, I want the label to be able to do pop-up parties, maybe twice a year, where we have a couple labels coming and some other makers/artists, and someone does a food pop-up and we have bands and it’s outside and it’s just a fun day party with the community. Maybe people are tabling for orgs, too. That was part of the original idea to start the label and launch with that, but then the pandemic. I launched it anyway. That’s something I definitely wanna do when we can do big stuff again.
Slumber: It’s been really cool to see you and other labels/artists committing to the various orgs I see everybody’s releases are going towards, like the bail fund sweep and City Harvest. The big thing I love about these communities is the commitment to each other.
Elise: Totally! I think that’s super important. Growing up, playing music has always been a community thing. Even though technically I’m in a solo project right now doesn’t mean that I’m just alone. This is still a big community that I’m a part of and hope to stay a part of forever. I think we all need to support each other and support people who need support in whatever fashion. We’re not a little island, we gotta take care of each other.
Slumber: One thought I’ve had, the pandemic has had me way more and I’m catching up on TV and no shows seem to have good intro music anymore. If you could rewrite for any TV show, what would you wanna rewrite?
Elise: Oh no! I remember there being a show that I loved and the intro music made me furious every time. This was, like, before Netflix had the “skip intro” feature. Oh my god, what was it? I’m not a fan of the True Blood opening, but it’s fine. Oh, gosh! This is such a good question and I have the perfect answer but I can’t think of it right now. I’ll tell you my favorite! My favorite opening is Bojack Horseman. I think it sounds awesome. I like the way it changes as the season changes, and towards the end, he’s older. I don’t wanna say too much in case anyone hasn’t seen it. I really hate spoilers. I like that one a lot.
There’s one other, I’m opening my Netflix now to see if it pops up. I hate that Netflix immediately starts making noise now, it’s so annoying. Gosh, it’s not coming up. I don’t like the Shameless one a lot, I’d be down to redo that. But yeah, that Bojack one is awesome, and there’s a SongExploder on it that’s kinda cool.
“Growing up, playing music has always been a community thing. Even though technically I’m in a solo project right now doesn’t mean that I’m just alone. This is still a big community that I’m a part of and hope to stay a part of forever.”
Slumber: Oh I should look for that. I cross-listen when SongExploder is on 99% Invisible.
Elise: Wait, do they do that a lot?
Slumber: Maybe not a lot, but maybe a couple times. I know tUnE-yArDs was featured once and they went through “Water Fountain,” which I adore.
Elise: I love 99% Invisible, Roman Mars is so great.
Slumber: I know! All the urban design and architecture stuff gets me excited. But enough about that! Do you do karaoke?
Elise: I hate karaoke!
Slumber: Oh my gosh. If you have to do karaoke, what do you sing?
Elise: When I’m forced to do karaoke, I always do ‘Maggie May’ by Rod Stewart.
Slumber: Excellent choice.
Elise: It’s fun to sing, I like it, it’s right in my range. I remember singing it once and someone was like, “Oh I thought it’d be a bad choice because he’s a man, but you get it!” and I was like, “Oh?” It’s a great song, it’s fun, I like that mandolin solo. One time I annoyed everyone by doing a song from Jesus Christ Superstar. No one liked it. I did it as a duet with my friend, I was Judas and he was Caifus.
“If the pandemic is overwhelming you, and you’re not having fun making music, just don’t do it right now. You should be doing it because you love it and it brings you joy, and not really for any other reason.”
Slumber: Lastly, what advice do you have for novice DIYers trying to make the most of this pandemic?
Elise: If you’re having a fun time doing it, do it, if the pandemic is overwhelming you, and you’re not having fun making music, just don’t do it right now. You should be doing it because you love it and it brings you joy, and not really for any other reason. But if it is bringing you joy, I’d say just: I’ve been having a good time learning stuff that I don’t usually do and learning other people’s songs just to broaden my music base. And then, if you record something, it doesn’t have to be a whole big release cycle, you can just share it. I think that’s the best way to get started and build an audience.
I know you’re all talking about that guy who said putting out singles is stupid. I don’t think he’s wrong if your goal is to make a bunch of money or whatever, but I do think you should put out art how you wanna put it out, and I think there’s something to be said for having a big-ol’ back catalog of stuff that people can go back to. I think it’s really fun to hear a new song by an artist and be able to listen to more songs after that. If you keep the one single, the experience is shorter. My main piece of advice is just if it’s bringing you joy, just keep doing it. Don’t worry about too-too much about anything else.
Listen to Oceanator’s debut LP, Things I Never Said, out now.