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Guest Blog: The Ocean’s Robin Staps on Why He Hates, and Loves, Being in a Band

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Robin Staps - The Ocean

A malfunctioning, crappy van was no match for The Ocean, who made it to their performance at the Summer Breeze festival in Germany this past weekend despite an inordinately horrific sting of bad vehicle luck. And that’s just the beginning: read on to find out what other obstacles the band faced in the name of metal, in the words of band mastermind Robin Staps himself. Here’s a clip from The Ocean’s 2011 performance at Summer Breeze that appears on their Collective Oblivion 3xDVD set, released in 2013. 

Most bands hire a merch seller so that band members won’t have to deal with selling merch. And so do we, usually. Most bands also hire a tour manager, so that they won’t have to discuss who is driving to the hotel when everyone is already drunk after the gig… and so do we, usually.

However, no matter how well you are prepared, sometimes unforeseeable things happen, and you find yourself drowning in a vast, brown sea of shit. And then, when you are closest to drowning in it, all of a sudden a rope comes down from the sky, and you reach for that rope with your last power, carried by your last faint glimmer of hope. You cling to the rope, whatever invisible entity is at the other end of that rope pulls you out of that sea of shit, and all of a sudden you find yourself flying across it, still dripping with shit, but utterly happy that you have escaped your fate. Salvation! For anyone who doesn’t accept this to be a religious experience, it is at the very least invigorating, vital and rejuvenating. Everyone who has gone through it at least once learns to trust life, to become confident that everything will be OK.

This past weekend has been one long, continuous story of nearly drowning in that sea of shit followed by recurring salvation.

Thursday, 11am: 200 km out of Berlin, on the way to Summer Breeze festival, we were having issues with our van. The engine would switch into emergency mode, which basically meant that we couldn’t drive faster than 60 km/h. Only stopping and restarting helped, until it would happen again. At first, it only occurred every 20 minutes or so, but the closer we got to the festival the more frequently it would happen, and during the last two hours of the drive we had to stop every two minutes. It seemed like the closer we got to our destination, the further we were away. In the end, the 500 km drive took us ten hours.

We arrived at Summer Breeze at 19:15, and our stage time was 19:30, eight poor, desperate mouths in an ocean of shit, gasping for air. Out of the van and right onto the stage, no time to eat, drink, think or chill. Within 15 minutes we set up our entire backline, lights and video installation, and somehow — I really don’t know how — we started playing on time. It took me until half way through “The Wish In Dreams” until I realized that we were actually playing a show at Summer Breeze, to thousands of people, at this very moment… it all seemed completely surreal. Triumph.

After the show, at 10pm, we had our first meal and beers of the day. We had emerged from the sea of shit, and to celebrate this, we all got drunk rather quickly. Unfortunately, however, because of the van issues, we had not managed to pick up our hotel keys before the show, and now we were told that it was hopeless to try and get into our hotel at this ungodly hour, as the small countryside place had no 24-hour reception desk. So our only chance was to try and find members of one of the four other bands who were staying at the same place as us. Four bands; a total of 20 band members among 30,000 people at the festival site. No phone numbers, 3am. Right back down into the sea of shit, although drunk now, which made the plunge slightly more bearable.

And so off we walked, back into the VIP area, where everyone was at least as drunk as us. Surprisingly, the very first person we asked turned out to be Alan from Primordial, who happened to be one of those chosen 20 out of 30,000 people staying at the same hotel as us; what an incredible coincidence! More beers to celebrate, and since our van had already been dropped off at the garage where it would hopefully get fixed first thing in the morning, it took us another two hours to get to the hotel, but eventually we had access to our rooms at 5am. Triumph.

At 8:15am the garage called and told us that the van would be fixed by noon. We had another 850 km drive ahead of us for another festival in the UK. Four hours but only 70 km further and four traffic jams later, we realized that it was hopeless to catch the ferry we had booked for 10pm. We called and changed the booking for the last ferry of the day, just after midnight.

There was not much gas left in the tank when we were approaching the ferry port in Calais, France many hours later, and somehow there was not a single gas station for at least 70 km. We should have just exited, but in Vlaanderen there is literally nothing but fields next to the highway. Somewhere just past Oostende, Belgium the engine died. Defeat.

It was raining cats and dogs outside, harsh wind gusts were blowing against the van, and every time a truck passed us from behind we were shaking. It was clearly not a safe place to stop. Paul jumped out and tried to find out where we were so that we could call road assistance while the rest of us were all hating our lives. Paul came back running just five minutes later with another guy and a jerry can with a yellow liquid in it: a Polish truck driver had seen our misery, stopped, and was helping us out with gas! We thanked him on our knees and joined in on a mantra praising his kindness for the next 15 minutes until we arrived at the ferry port, literally five minutes before departure. We made it. Completely unexpected triumph, after all hope had been surrendered.

However, the day wasn’t over just yet. Once we had arrived on UK shores there was no one at the youth hostel where we had booked rooms. The main door was locked, and no one answered the phone. All the knocking and shouting didn’t help; after 14 hours in the van, we were stranded on the lawn in front of the hostel where we had booked and paid for rooms. Defeat.

I had booked a private room through Airbnb nearby because I was going to meet a friend who had already been waiting for me for hours. It was 5 km away. I drove over to use the wifi and her UK phone to call up other hotels in the area, but at 3:30am on a Saturday morning it was utterly hopeless. I called at least ten places, but everything was fully booked. Festival weekend, August… “forget about it” was the tenor.

I got so desperate that I called the police, explained the situation to them, and when they said they were really sorry, but couldn’t help, I asked them to come and kick in the door to that motherfucking YHA hostel for us, otherwise we would do it ourselves. Silence. I hung up before the answer. Total defeat. Dead. Drowned in shit.

Not quite yet! While I was already deeply immersed in brown, and sinking further, I heard my friend’s voice, already quite far away in the distance, muffled through all the shit. She suggested asking the elder lady at whose home we were staying if we could all crash there, at her house. Yeah right. Let’s wake up this lady at 4:30am and ask her if eight other drunk tattooed guys, not smelling all too well after a fourteen hour drive and no showers, could all spontaneously crash in her tiny house! It seemed so absurd, that I just mumbled, “Alright, go for it.” So I was sitting on the stairs, beat, hopeless, sleepless, angry, lost, while my friend woke up the old lady… and after a short moment of hesitation and an incredulous stare, she said, “Of course. Go get your guys!”

Honestly, who would do that? Who would open up their house to a bunch of strangers at 4:30am? I was so impressed that I didn’t really know what to say. Triumph.

I drove back to the hostel to pick up my guys. By that time Loic and two others had already forcefully entered the hostel through an open window on the first floor. They grabbed the first keys they could find at the reception desk, went into a random room, locked the door, smoked a massive joint and set off the fire alarm. No one seemed to care, though: I guess the fire fighters in this country shut off their phones at night as well, just like the hostel people.

Another kind of triumph, and there were only five of us left who had to return to the lady’s small house. When we got back she was already cooking tea for us and had prepared sheets and pillows on her living room floor. Heather I., a living legend.

With the return trip the following day, we spent a total of 33 hours in the van this weekend versus just two hours on stage. It was a weekend that made us question why we are even doing this, but it was also a weekend which left me impressed by the generosity and helpfulness of strangers. When you are most vulnerable, deepest down in the brown, someone is there to help you out. Learn to trust in the rope from the sky. Have I become a believer?

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