Breathing Underwater

A passionate conversation with Being as an Ocean frontman Joel Quartuccio

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Being as an Ocean’s frontman Joel Quartuccio is a humble guy that happens to be in a band with a few believers, though none of them ever intended on being marketed to the Christian community. He loves the fans who read between the lines, the ones who grasp the undertones in his lyrics. But at the end of the day, he just wants true love and unity to shine though. In three short years, the band has seen the positive and negative effects a Christian market can do to a young kid, and the most positive wake he wants to leave — something he’s seen a number of frontmen before him ignore — is to be a light in the dark world.

You guys came out with a record at the beginning of the month, and it is doing surprisingly well, better than your first record on the label. You guys have been a band for about three years, but you’re already on a label with two records under your belt. How does that all happen?
It took some patience (laughs). We’ve been playing music as a group for about a decade. I turned 23 two days ago, so we’ve been playing music together since I was 13 years old. We’ve been in multiple bands together. “Being as an Ocean” was us finally coming to an adult chapter of our lives, saying, “What music do we want to be playing for the next few years?” We formed it quietly amongst ourselves, pretty much, writing material and then recording it in the summer of 2011, only to hold on to Dear God until November 2012. It was a huge, huge waiting game, and knowing that we had the core to support all of it, patiently staying on the road helps.

Why wait a full two years between albums? Some punk and hardcore bands are starting to come out with a record every year.
We wanted to make sure that every single note was intentional. Do you know what I mean? Make sure we were putting our heart and our soul into every single bit of music we wrote. Not just writing something we all thought was cool and then being like, “That’s OK, we’ll go along with that.”

We wanted to have all the time in the world to be freely creative. I think that showed through in the way we chose to record and write this album, too. We spent a month secluded in a cabin near our home here and wrote the album, compiling all the stuff we’d been working, on in solitude. Then, once we were able to get into the studio, we felt extremely prepared. We didn’t feel rushed at all. We felt that we could produce a product that was 100 percent us and not 70 percent us with 30 percent production time.

You guys went to Nashville and recorded with Brian Hood and now you guys go even further east to Atlanta. Why did you guys choose record at Glow in the Dark this time around?
The major difference — and why we decided to make Glow in the Dark our recording home even though it’s all the way across the nation — is because Matt McClellan treated our music and us, as people, with the utmost of time and care.

We loved the work (Brian Hood) did for us, but we didn’t think that it was 100 percent us. … Having our hands on this album and being able to live in studio made a world of difference.

What are you guys as a band?
Honestly, we’ve tried not to hold too tightly to anything, remind ourselves that we get each other as musicians because we have been working together for so long. Even with the new guys — Connor, our new drummer, and Michael, our new guitarist and singer — they meshed together right away.

We’re loosely post-hardcore band with influences out the wazoo. We have to check ourselves to not make anything too out there. That sound with Matt McClellan — the Glow in the Dark sound, it’s pretty recognizable — we’ve respected and loved through so many bands for years. To finally be at that place where we have the opportunity to produce something on that level, we sprang at it.

You guys were in the studio at the same time that Josh Scogin was recording some ’68 stuff.
(Laughs) I love Josh so much.

That must have been interesting getting to see his process in recording his new project. How was watching him record and then going in to track this album?
It was incredible. It was surreal. I have a (former Scogin band) Chariot tattoo on my arm because I love that band so much. It took every ounce of me not to be a fanboy the first time I shook his hand. Got it out of the way early. So I don’t have to fool myself, I showed him my tattoo and said, “I love your band. I’ve always looked up to you for a long time.” In his typical humble fashion, he chuckled about it. It was a dream come true for me in more ways than one.

We were simultaneously making music that was pretty different from each other, but Josh did come into our studio once in a while throughout the day when he was bored or needed time to break. We’d hang out, goof around, watch YouTube videos. … One of my used-to-be idols, now I consider my friend. I’d come downstairs for a cup of coffee in the morning and there he’d be, sitting at the dining table, have a cup of coffee with Josh and talk a little bit. It was all really special, cool experience.

He’s knowledgeable about everything in our humble music scene. We were all able to glean a lot of knowledge from him.

You guys came in at 57 on Billboard’s Top 200. You peaked at number nine on the indie charts. How did that feel, get ting over that sophomore slump with ease?
I looked at those numbers and I chuckled to myself because I was somewhat in disbelief. … I wholly believe that’s because we put ourselves into the music and people can recognize that. Holding that in mind was the biggest thing for us. At the end of the day, they’re numbers on a screen. They do mean something, but in normal, average, everyday life, they’re not much else. The thing that matters is the listeners’ connections as people to the band, and that’s what’s remained intact.

What is next for you guys? You have a record with a great feedback, wonderful numbers. You have a tour in Australia. What are your plans for the rest of the summer?
We’re flying straight from Australia to Europe to start a chain of festivals and one-off shows. A lot of those shows will consist bands like Hundredth, Letlive, Stick to Your Guns… There are a few bands we’ve played with before that we’re going to be able to see in a different setting. We get to play with Of Mice and Men, Crossfade. We’ve played with Of Mice and Men before in Lancaster when we were first starting out. It’s a cool thing to play with them again in Italy for a festival.

What does this album mean for you, going in as a lyricist and pouring all these emotions and ideas that are in your head?
I say this a lot: It was being honest with myself to write things I’m not necessarily OK with or comfortable with at the time of writing, but to know that writing has always been my way to cope. It’s always been extremely cathartic for me. To remain honest and writing the things that scare me about myself while being introspective, I think that’s what people latch on to. I think that’s what people are able to sense in our music. We’re all extremely into it and sincere.

Secondly, I think it was a time to prove to ourselves that we could release another full-length and still hold true to what we had made, to take all the things we loved about Dear God and that the fans loved, but find different ways to express that stuff again. Not just lyrically, but instrumentally.

We knew we (couldn’t get) carried away with trying things, although we knew it would be a disservice to ourselves and others if we didn’t try to grow as a band.

Is there anything you wanted to express that you haven’t talked about in an interview yet?
It would be cool to address the spiritual aspect behind the band. There are a lot of people who have only heard the second album. To clarify, we’ve been called a Christian band a lot, but us, as a band, have never deemed ourselves a Christian band. That’s not what we set out to do.

I am a Christian and a couple of members in the band are. With the lyrics, my belief and the way I perceive God shines through. My guys have been extremely generous in letting me say what’s on my heart. I’m indebted to them for that. With all that said, we do very much believe in love and compassion and grace and mercy for ourselves and for others. The only mission this band might have is to not only share the music that we’ve made, but to enjoy the connections we feel with others in a live setting. To enter into a space and come into communion with the people there, brings us all closer, I think. While we’re in that space, we want to show as much love and as much care for the people around us as possible and treating everyone with the love and dignity that they deserve.

You don’t have to be “religious” or you don’t have to have a belief, necessarily, in a god or a greater power to be a good person and to move this world forward in love and compassion and understanding.

What are your thoughts, personally, on bands who actually abuse the industry to market themselves to be able to get into that as it’s an easy way to get money? Like that “South Park” episode where Cartman starts a Christian band because he can get huge.
(Laughs) Faith Plus 1! Part of me really does — this is a strong word — despise that, that part of me that really, really loves the message of Christ. … It’s easy for people to stomach because any conservative mother can go into a Christian bookstore with their kid in tow and just buy a CD they think is going to be OK or morally safe for their kid.

It’s fallible. It can have holes poked through it. At the end of the day, art is extremely personal, especially when it comes to the one who made it. To take that, something that can be so honest and so pure and to have this hidden agenda behind all of it, to sing it to people… I know this is the case for some bands. The band doesn’t even think the crowds they’re singing to will, in their minds, be with them for the rest of eternity.

I know and have been witness to a lot of Christian music, listening to this kind of stuff for 11 years, and seeing Christian bands that are pushing belief. They just come out and say to everyone there that they’re not in, they’re not accepted, they aren’t necessarily loved, their sin is hated. These are all things I’ve heard first-hand when I’m there, in that space.

It puts a sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach because I know that’s something so pure, something that can be so life-changing, if it’s left in its raw form. We know God doesn’t necessarily need us to work His purposes. We’re simply his instruments.

To take something that can be so pure and then make it a selling point is wrong for me. It’s not genuine. It’s counteractive to the ultimate mission these people are trying to accomplish. I have full faith in the Lord to interact in everyone’s lives, individually, at the point and time they need it.

To hear a Christian frontman sound like a WWE superstar in-between songs, giving a speech about how I don’t have to go to Hell — that doesn’t resonate with me. That’s not applicable to me. I don’t see how it could seem real or genuine to anyone else simply because it is so dramatized.

It would help if these kids at these concerts saw the same bands give the same speech every single night while they’re on tour. This is all stuff that’s very, very practiced, very methodical, very rehearsed. All that does not sit well with me. That’s all I have to say on that.

Like Tim Lambesis said recently, there were “one in every 10 Christian bands” they toured were “actually a Christian band.”
There are plenty of bands that don’t call themselves Christian bands that I see act with more love and more compassion for others than I’ve ever seen certain Christian bands live out.

Another thing to throw on top of all that stuff is a personal experience I had recently at a show. There’s a band out now that’s calling themselves a Christian band and marketing themselves as such. I’m not going to say the name of the band, but they recently put out a song talking about the highly touchy subject in the Christian world, homosexuality.

They were talking about…in their lyrics, “Sin is sin. You’re still wrong. You’re still living in it. You’re still living in sin,” condemning it.

To be honest, I’m not OK with that. I consider myself a straight ally. I’m Christian. I know plenty of gay Christians. They can show and experience as much love concerning Christ and his message as anyone else. I’ve seen homosexual couples who were more committed to their relationship and their partnership than the majority of new marriages I’ve seen. I could go on, but to say those things, to bring that message blatantly back into a scene that is so over racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia…

Hardcore and the metal scene have always been about coming together, in solidarity, to forget and to escape the things of this world that divide us. (It) bring us together into a time of community where everyone is there for the same purpose.

They are alienating a certain group of people, who — more than likely, 100 percent sure there is at least one homosexual in the room. That person’s been made to feel completely alienated, and they will never listen to anything you have to say ever again.

In music that is portraying belief, we have to be real and honest about that staging set around us, the world we live in right now, and to come in and completely alienate a certain group of people in a room where everyone is supposed to be accepted? You’ve ruined it. You’ve tainted it. You’ve made it something it was never intended to be — something supposed to be opposite of that. I’m sick of seeing continued ideals of exclusion in the scene and especially in faith-based music. That’s what hurts me the most. There’s no authenticity. You’ve made it worse than church.

Being as an Ocean was posted on June 3, 2014 for HM Magazine and authored by .