Beginning with the independence that came about from Being As An Ocean’s 2017 album, Waiting For The Morning To Come, the Californian post-hardcore band was no longer beholden to some of the perceived restraints of a record label. They were free to explore styles and themes in music as they pleased. What manifested from that album is their recently released concept record, Proxy: An A.N.I.M.O. Story. With a background of a world ravaged by a nuclear apocalypse, the album tells the story of being broken down to your very core and having to start over again.
The album itself merges the band’s harder rock roots with a more electronic sound that runs concurrently throughout. Sometimes it takes over entirely, pushing the band in new territories. Proxy: An A.N.I.M.O. Story only scratches a precipice of creativity that the band has begun to tap into. In my conversation with rhythm guitarist/clean vocalist Michael McGough, he expresses the band’s excitement with the concept record and where they can go moving forward.
Proxy is a very ambitious album and it’s meant to take you on a journey all the way through. You guys considered your 2017 album, Waiting for Morning to Come to be a landmark album because you did it with no label structure and put it out on your own. How did you keep that ambition going into this concept record?
Waiting for Morning to Come was definitely a self-discovery record. I think to have the freedom without a label not breathing down our neck, but there is a bit of added pressure there, I guess. Not having that to worry about gives you time to really flesh out ideas. So when we were writing Waiting for Morning to Come, we had the freedom to do it in different locations. Not just the producing, but the actual writing, too. We did some of it in Paris, some of it at my house in England and did some of it here in California.
It was a self-reflection record in terms of what do we really care about? What do we really want to write about? What how personal can we make this record? How much more deeper can we dig into that not just what’s on the surface, but everything that’s underneath? I feel like we kind of took that the ammunition from the success with that record, how well it came out, and how proud we were was with it. We then picked up Madden, the management and they were like, “you gotta keep riding with this. Both this thought and writing process.” We went straight back into the studio did “Alone,” “Know My Name,” and “Bulletproof,” which ended up becoming the re-added singles of the deluxe release of Waiting for Morning to Come.
I think that we kind of discovered how our writing style felt more natural and comfortable for us. We all sit in the room, not feel pressured to do a thing, and have that kind of creative control all to ourselves. So, it kind of helped pave the way when it came to writing Proxy. It gave us the freedom to be like, “let’s not be afraid to push boundaries, push ourselves, and push everything in whichever way direction we want”. If we found an instrument that sounds creepy or cool, then yeah, why not? Let’s just put it in if it sounds great and we love it.
It was just taking influence from creative control. We personally had to create something that stands out when you listen to a Being As An Ocean discography.
It kind of goes into what I wanted to get over of the overall theme in this album. I know Joel [Quartuccio] has touched on it. There’s a theme present that touches on as you get older and the things that kind of beat you down. They pile up and take most of the ambition and hopefulness out of you. The album calls on a fit of self-empowering anger, especially as you deeper into the album. The anger that dismisses what is put upon you. Looking at these bad times as seasons, basically. To you, personally, what does the album mean?
I feel like it’s definitely a reflection of where we are all mentally. We’ve been through some so much as a band. Some great stuff and there were times where the easiest thing in the world would have just been, “why don’t we just give up?” Something doesn’t feel right. Without sounding too crass, it was definitely our inner strength. We’re not afraid to go in and push boundaries. We’re not afraid to make a change in what we’re doing try and shake things up a bit within ourselves.
It’s something that we’re super proud of because it’s a record made up predominantly of all these sci-fi themes. If you really dive into the lyrics, it’s a very personal record that represents all of us as individuals. To me, personally, it is an album of self-reflection. The themes of some of the songs, in particular, are very personal songs to Joel, myself, Tyler, and Ralph. Everyone just has their own kind of personal message. In a weird way, we all kind of connected closer as friends and as a band in that sense. It’s kind of like our “fuck you” album without saying “fuck you” to people, you know?
With a track like “Play Pretend,” it’s a mix between your guitars and electronics. The album tries to strike a balance between riffs and more electronic laden songs. As a guitarist and the band and composing the music, how do you approach that?
As you know, basically, from a musical composition standpoint, because this album is very ambitious, musically, as well as lyrically.
I think we try to reflect through the music, potentially, some riffs and guitar work, you want to show the emotion of whatever the theme of the song. “Play Pretend” has an aggressive opening riff. It’s the introduction to this new image of Being As An Ocean. “We’re done. we’re done taking shit. Now, we’re not taking shit anymore.” Let’s show a bit of aggression. We like the idea of people seeing it live or hearing it for the first time and being like “oh okay, that’s cool. they mean business. They’re not fucking around anymore.”
There was one song that I kind of had the idea for. It was a song about a family member that I lost, “See Your Face.” I was writing the lyrics and I was like, “I don’t know how I feel about this.” I was very distraught about what was happening and I tried to portray the emotion I was feeling through the lyrics, the verses, and the softer breakdown bits. Then it was, “wait, I’m actually pissed off about this, too. Let’s put this real heavy, downbeat chorus riff in there and a yelling vocal in the background. We wanted to portray that it’s okay to just let off a bit of steam when you’re feeling super sad.
I know it does sound kind of cheesy when you dissect the actual song, but it was like, “Okay, I’m feeling really excited. I’m going to cry about it for a minute. Then I’m like, you know, I kind of want to punch something.”
It goes into my next question because I feel like “Low Life” and “Demons” are kind of similar. “Low Life” touches on imposter syndrome. The feelings of rejection and wanting to be somebody else. Then when you listen to “Demons” discards all that. I don’t need to be you. I have myself.
I think a very important part of the writing process was not writing anything at all. What was important was actually talking and understanding the meaning and the message behind what we wanted to say and what we were going through personally at the time. One thing I like and I’m not sure if many people have picked up on it, but it was one thing we realized as we were going through the album. Whether it’s percussion wise to the drums, there’s like a marching tone to it. That was a reflection of “just keep going and marching on through it.
I know that it sounds weird saying it out loud. In my head, it makes sense. We’re plowing through full of hardships and all the bullshit. I like to think that it reflects that way through the songs. Especially with “B.O.Y.” Just having the space to face things head-on and all the way through. Don’t let people get the best of you. Your life is yours. You’re in control of everything and your own destiny. We wanted to portray that with a marching theme around it.
You do the clean vocals and yourself and Joel sound great bouncing off of each other. With the slower songs like “Tragedy” and “Skin” how did you both formulate that?
Honestly, a lot of the clean vocals, credit is all due to Joel. He really took the time to kind of understand his capabilities. Not just as a screaming frontman. He has a beautiful voice. Joel has a very cool, almost baritone voice. When he wanted to do a melodic high, almost like a screaming-singly part, he really took time to understand. He took vocal lessons because he wanted to truly understand his capabilities. If that meant, you know, portraying a part of the song differently than just screaming a part., He would go back and be like “well, no, I want that to be a bit more of the emotion to it.” A lot of the credit should go to Joel with the cleans. All I do on every record, I don’t scream or anything, I just do singing. Watching Joel inspired me to push myself more with where we can take it as vocalists.
With my last question, I get a sense that this isn’t’ t the end of the album’s story. With fans were kind of sitting with this now and I don’t want to look too far ahead, but are there any plans to kind of like take this story to other mediums? Perhaps like a short film, novels, or comic book? I think it’d be pretty cool.
Honestly, we were just in a meeting with our management and booking agent team. We were talking about having this product/ brand of Proxy. We’ve got this whole story and theme and there are other mediums that we would absolutely love to explore. I guess not many people are aware but the whole story of A.M.I.N.O. is actually from a novel that Joel wrote set in a post-apocalyptic interest. You know those movies like Blade Runner where the city is torn to pieces and people are just trying to get by and survive? From all of that, there’s gangs, goodies, and baddies. Joe wrote this beautiful novel.
A lot of the themes throughout the album are based upon these characters and stories. There’s definitely been conversations and plans started and put into place to explore, you Short films, comic books, and even a podcast. Just really like things that are kind of out of the ordinary. Other bands have done these cool things and that’s great. This particular story is something that we feel like there’s more to it than just 14 songs on the record. We have way more back story to the characters. I think when people understand the characters, the stories, and each individual plot more, it will make way more sense. People probably have probably already gone, “yeah, I get the album.” I feel like when we start diving into these cool and different ideas we have, maybe it will kind of open a few more avenues to people understanding. An understanding that maybe they wouldn’t have prior when it comes to listening back to the record to individual songs.
So we’re excited right now. We’ve just been writing a few different things recently. Having brainstorming sessions where we’ll sit down with a notebook and just be like, “let’s explore this. okay, this character from this song, what does he look like? What’s his story? and his motive? What’s going on in his life?” We are in the planning stages of different mediums. Maybe it would be like a re-release of the record, but not in terms of just a couple of new songs again. It would be a song is for each character or plot point. So yeah, it’s a very exciting time right now.