Hershey’s Ocean Blue still keeps gray clouds far away

Alternative band in its third decade of making great music.
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The Ocean Blue

From left, Peter Anderson, Oed Ronne, Bobby Mittan and David Schelzel.

I arrived in central Pennsylvania in June 1991 as a business writer for the York Daily Record.

It was a hot, parched summer, and I lived in a forgettable one-room apartment in a building that I dubbed the Green Monster. But I had a new job that I liked, and on York College’s radio station I found alternative music: For the first time I heard The Ocean Blue; I even won the band’s CD “Cerulean” by answering a trivia question (the answer: potluck).

The Ocean Blue turned out to be from Hershey and became one of my all-time favorites. I saw the band live only once, in Baltimore, 20 years ago this October. But they’ve stayed near to my heart, and in the past year I’ve spent more time listening to and reading about them than I have in a long time.

Last October, I emailed Hershey native Craig Welsh, a graphic designer and one of the best creative minds (see the Goulet Communications logo, for starters) out there. I told Craig that I was puzzled at how little anyone in Hershey knows about The Ocean Blue.

“You’re right,” Craig wrote back. “No one in the region has any real idea of just how big and/or influential The Ocean Blue had been in the early ’90s. They had tracks on compilation CDs of the best new music from around the world. Big indie-scene band and big college following.”

Craig was a classmate of the band’s bassist, Bob Mittan, but he didn’t know him well. Keyboardist Steve Lau was from Palmyra; lead singer David Schelzel went to Central Dauphin.

Yet almost from the beginning, The Ocean Blue’s sound was linked to that of a range of British bands: Echo and the Bunnymen, Cocteau Twins, Psychedelic Furs.

‘Doing something that’s relevant’

The Ocean Blue’s catalog not only stands the test of time but continues to grow. Last year, the band released “Ultramarine,” its first full-length record since 1999, and on Sept. 9 will reissue its 2004 EP “Waterworks” with three additional tracks.

I’m going back and filling in gaps in my Ocean Blue knowledge while embracing the new stuff.

In an interview last year with Popdose, Schelzel said: “We want to reconnect with our old fans, but I don’t want this to be a nostalgia trip — I’m not interested in that. We get asked to play shows all the time where they want us to come back and play the hits and that’s not interesting to me. I’d rather be doing something that’s relevant now.”

I’m looking forward to seeing The Ocean Blue live again in October, at a great venue (despite being in a strip mall) in Vienna, Va., called Jammin’ Java. The band is doing two shows that night.

In the meantime, I’ve curated this mini-concert for your listening (and viewing) pleasure:

“Between Something and Nothing” If you want to compare The Ocean Blue to Echo and the Bunnymen, this might be Exhibit A.

“Drifting, Falling” The other single from the first album, it unmistakably ties the band to Hershey with images of the twin Hershey Cocoa smokestacks and the iconic Chocolate and Cocoa avenue street signs at the beginning to the shot of a tractor approaching the red-roofed Hershey School of Dance at the end.

Schelzel wrote the song when he was in high school. “It was my perspective on how I felt at the time as a young man about to graduate and go into the world and how fast life was changing,” he told Popdose.

“Cerulean” To me, the band’s anthem, being the first one I heard and containing the line, “It’s always ocean blue.” Also: “Blue skies come down on me/Gray clouds are far away.”

“Sublime” With a video shot among “the steaming, geothermal geysers of Iceland,” according to Wikipedia, “Sublime” got Top 40 radio airplay and earned the band an appearance on Conan O’Brien’s first show.

“City Traffic” This was recorded in 1993 for the movie “Naked in New York” but dropped from the soundtrack and never officially released. It was a staple of the band’s live shows, but I had never heard it until this article came out.

“Blow My Mind” The autumn leaves evoke the nature scenes from the “Drifting, Falling” video a quarter-century earlier. However, this one was shot in Minneapolis, where Schelzel is an intellectual property attorney.

 

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