Q&A: The Oceans in the Streets’ Joe Liska

Photos courtesy of Joe Liska

One of the best parts of this gig is discovering new local music that may have slipped by a radar that’s constantly showing more and more blips. Thankfully, sometimes, those blips get all up in your face, drop a cut like The Oceans in the Streets’ “Effective Immediately” and shakes you to attention with some fist pumping rock that kicks you back to the days when you’d blast the newest Big Shiny Tunes until mom pounded on the ceiling with a mop to cease the cacophony. At the edges of rock wattage there’s a mom with a mop and that’s how you know you’re doing it right!

The Oceans in the Streets is the so hot off the presses it’s still smoking project of Ottawa musician Joe Liska. Right now it’s just the one track but it’s the kind of tune you want to make your opening statement with. Start with the exclamation point! Recorded in his bedroom and remotely with the help of drummer (and comedian?) Masseeh Radfar, the tune is a deep gash into what made 90s indie rock awesome. You know, there’s some 80s glam in there too without the big hair. So….slice it up, dish it out and gorge on guitar solos, blazing drums and try not to mosh into your girlfriend's cat as “Effective Immediately” commands you to smash around your room. (Sorry Sugo!)

Liska and I chat up the first offering from The Oceans in the Streets, Hunter S. Thompson and acid trips right here…right now:

Ottawa Life: Your website talks about how you have always dreamed about sharing your music with the world. What were some of the things that inspired you to first want to be a musician?

Joe Liska: Growing up I was always in awe of the inspiration music could create in a person. The energy that can be created, the rush of endorphins. It can change your mood, push you through plateaus, be your ally. I always thought that it would be an honour to stir up those emotions in others. If you have a capability, you should share it.

The very first show I ever saw was Edgefest Ottawa in '98 or '99, I can’t remember. It was my first time crowd surfing and I did it so that I could get closer to the stage. The whole time I was there, all I could think was that I wanted to be the one on stage blowing away the crowds in front of me.

I think you just touched on it but how would you describe the music that influences your own sound?

I would say there are three primary influences to my sound. The first is Nirvana. The gritty guitars, passionate vocals, and hook melodies were what launched me towards making music in the first place. The second is punk / pop punk bands. The Offspring, AFI and Blink 182 had a pretty big influence on the drums. I really enjoy the punk style of drumming and I believe we’ve incorporated elements of punk, metal and hardcore into the backbone of this track. The final influences would have to be Metallica and Iron Maiden. Particularly the harmonizing guitars. From the first time I heard the breakdown in "Master of Puppets" I was hooked. In this track they’ve taken a backseat and act more as support to the vocals in the chorus

The Oceans in the Streets is an awesome name. How did you come up with it?

Back in my early 20's I was on acid sitting on a hill near what is now the Kanata Centrum. The paranoia was setting in. I was observing the clear cutting, and construction of all the new buildings. What is now a Best Buy, Baton Rouge etc. The clouds were playing tricks on me but I noticed I could control the hallucinations if I focused. Of course I had my guitar with me. There’s more to the songs but the refrain that I couldn’t get out of my head (to this day) was, “The lost horizon helps me see, while pride decides, so helplessly. There’s commotion in the skies, but I fear the oceans in the streets.” I liked the imagery that it conveyed and the multiple contexts that it could be used in. The original context was referencing the influx of people that were about to be introduced to what was previously wildlife but it can be applicable to so much. Revolutionary movements or protests. Military action or martial law. The literal definition of a cataclysmic event. I felt that it was both powerful and forceful while also halving a calming totality.

I see you also sporting a quote online from one of my biggest influences, Hunter S. Thompson. What do you think you need to have in your suitcase of experiences to, at the end of it all, look back to say “Wow! What a ride!”

That’s fantastic that you enjoy Hunter S. Thompson as well! The man was fascinating. To be honest, I don’t have a particular bucket list. What I do have is a motto I try to live by and it’s served me well so far. When I’m older and looking back on my life, the one thing I never want to say is, “I wish I would have done that”. There's nothing worse than a venture with potential but half hearted effort. Like the lyrics in my song say, "You'll never be remembered cause you started something". In regards to music, if I look back and can’t tell myself “I gave it my all!” I would regret deeply that. It doesn’t matter if I succeed or fail. I lived my life that way I wanted.I believe Hunter S. Thompson summed it up better than I ever could have with that quote. As a side note, my second choice from him is only six words but one of the most poignant sentences I've ever read. "Buy the ticket, take the ride"

Right now you’ve only unleashed one single. Can we assume there’s more tunes in the works to come out soon?

I’m actually testing the waters with this single! I have a lot of material that I can’t wait to get out there but I would like to work with professionals on the next tracks so that they’re the highest quality they can be. I needed a portfolio to bring to the table; statistics, a fan base, radio play, blogs, reviews, interviews etc. That being said, even if that particular goal doesn't come to fruition well…the fire inside that drives me to make music, the unending tunes in my head in the shower….I don't think they're going to stop. I think that in some capacity or another I'll be putting out music for a long time.

So, putting yourself out there with one song is a gamble. Why did you choose “Effective Immediately” as your opening statement?

I’m not sure I would classify it as a gamble, personally. If I had a store I wanted to open I wouldn’t launch 10 and hope for the best, I would open 1, gauge interest, and grow from there! I’m not sure if there’s a right or wrong way to do this but I hope I didn’t pick the wrong one (laughs). If I had an unlimited budget though that would be a different story! There were a lot of factors that went into choosing "Effective Immediately". I needed a song that could capture the listener and sum up The Oceans in the Streets within the first 30 seconds and then build on the foundation with a catchy chorus.

The basis for this song was written many years ago but, while recording with this purpose in mind, I tailored it’s structure to be my introduction. I also thought the lyrics were a great greeting to an audience. I laid out my desires pretty clearly while delivery a direct message about dedicating yourself towards your desires and pursuing them through your highs and lows, with thinly veiled indirect sexual undertones? That's a pretty good summary.

Can you tell me what went into the recording of this first cut?

Everything in this track is actually digital recorded except for the vocals. No studio time whatsoever. The main idea of the song was written years ago but it was fleshed out in full after I got the drum track. The original versions are much much different (laughs). I would say I have about an hours worth of material that was tried and rejected, particularly chorus melodies and harmonized guitar tracks.The bottom line of what went into this track is a lot of hours, a lot of thought, and a lot of hope.

While a lot may start reaching for those stars too early, what would you say are some of your more realistic early goals with your music?

I had three specific realistic goals for this track. While it would be fantastic if they went beyond that I had set these for myself prior to beginning to push the track publicly:

  1. 10,000 plays combined from all sources within 6 months (Spotify, iTunes, Amazon music, Google Play, Soundcloud etc.)
  2. Mainstream Radio airplay on at least 2 stations
  3. Interest from a professional producer, promoter, label 

While I don’t have my sites set on filling stadiums after releasing a single track, I think that achieving these goals indicate that people have a clear interest in my music and that this is a viable endeavor.

You’ve asked for feedback from the public about the single. Have you heard anything that you feel you can use?

I actually received my first review the other day! It was from indienationblog and  it said, "This powerful song has a real mainstream and major feel to it. This reminds me to the kind of rock songs that I grew up listening to.” Your magazine is the first that I’ve approached. My marketing push is just starting now that the single is available on all distribution platforms! I liked what they had to say about the music and can’t wait to hear more!

Ideally, where do you hope to find yourself musically five years down the road?

Ideally? (laughs) Ideally I’m filling stadiums, a household name and cemented as one of the most successful rock musicians of all time. Realistically  though I would be pretty happy if I could justify continuing to make music after enjoying a modicum of success.