The world of music is ever changing.
What’s hot today is ice cold tomorrow and vice versa. However there are certain individuals, groups and labels that stay the course and remain true to their visions. Inner Ocean is one such constant. Valuing genuine connections, authentic artistry and aspiring to consistently push the envelope, Inner Ocean are stalwarts of the Lo-Fi, Beats and Ambient scene. Through label heads Cory and Mike, Inner Ocean has been a key component in pushing the community to the next level. Fostering new talent whilst also remaining transparent and open to ideas. We had the chance to speak with the pair about the label’s origins, their musical ethos and what’s on the horizon.
Let’s start off with from the very beginning. Where did the idea for the Inner Ocean come from?
Cory: The idea for the label came from my own experiences as an artist releasing on indie labels. There was just some things that I was not super keen on and then I just thought about it and was like, ‘oh, I should just do my own label!’ That way I feel like maybe I can work with artists and have a better idea of what other artists might want or look for.
Sure. So how did Mike get involved with the whole thing?
Mike: I was actually working on another label called Close to Modern which is also based in Calgary and we’d all become friends. Cory had been friends with my partner too. That was a local-oriented label and faded over time but me and Cory remained friends and I was lucky enough that he asked me to come on board because he’s got more than a handful going on already! So, it’s been about one year of doing it full time with him now.
Oh, wow. That’s a big year.
M: Yeah it’s a really good year, man.
C: I did it all by myself for the first five years.
So it’s kind of a six-year trajectory from inception to now?
C: Yeah. Obviously, six years ago when I started the label, what was in my mind and what was going to happen is not at all what has happened. But I really made it my goal to be flexible and adaptable with all artists because everybody has a different idea of what they want to achieve. I really try to work with everybody on the level that they want. Also, things always turn out different than you think but in my experience the things you end up doing are things that you never would have thought you will do. That is amazing and you’re just like, ‘Oh, this is sweet!'
Could you sum up Inner Ocean’s ethos? What do you guys stand for as a musical entity?
C: I would say that with everything that we do, we’re always trying to think about how can we can: A, create genuine connections with people, both with the artist directly but also expand the art to connect to a grander community of people. And B, we’re really trying to work with good people. We put a lot of effort into keeping things positive and neutral because the music industry can get a little bit…
It can get a little cutthroat?
C: Yeah, exactly. There can be some sort of competitive vibe? We really try to not go that route and just be real and authentic, which was the core thing that I thought was lacking having worked with some other companies.
What do you think Inner Ocean’s voice or role within the community is? Or would you say it was just an extension of that trying to keep things very positive and transparent?
C: Well, I’ll say this. I started the label as a purely Ambient label and for the first two years I just did that. I happened upon Lo-Fi music almost by chance. Back then bsd.u sent me music. I’d never heard it before and I just really liked it. Everything followed from that. I think as we move forward we’re constantly thinking about new things to do, new musical directions and working with new people whilst at the same time we’re really trying to build these long-term working relationships with artists.
You must get thousands of submissions a day. How do you decide on which artist or projects are suitable for Inner Ocean to put out? What’s your process with releases or signing up artists to drop albums?
M: Well, yeah, we definitely get a lot of submissions and we do our best to listen to every single thing that comes in. There’s a lot of good stuff out there from dudes coming from nothing basically. I think, honestly, the way we sit in our office right now has a lot to do with how we pick. Our desks are facing each other so when we plug in a demo, we’re literally both listening. I'm seeing Cory’s reaction, Cory’s seeing my reaction and if we can catch a general vibe off of that, like if we’re both really vibing on something, then it’s no question. I know I have a leaning towards jazzier sounds. Like real drunken beats type stuff and Cory’s coming from a different place. I think when we can really line up on something that we agree is good, then there’s no questions left to be asked about it.
I really like that. It’s cool just to imagine you guys going through it as a team.
C:To further that point. Lately, we’ve been having a harder and harder time selecting because people are sending us so much good stuff that we want to say yes to everything but we just can't. I’m trying to figure out this balance of, okay, I got to say no to this one just because we don't have the time. Also, we want to do everything justice, like we want to make sure that we can fully put our resources behind people. But, yeah it’s getting harder and harder because people are sending us so much good stuff. I’ll say, too, within the Lo-Fi community in general, we’ve been having people send us stuff that really shows a lot of progression from that sound.
M: Yeah, I think the driving force behind many artists is curiosity and experimentation at all times. That’s where you see how Spotify and playlist-ing has sort of changed the approach for a good bulk of people because people can start making some money on this now. When you’re taking a little bit of a risk in your sound, you’re not guaranteeing yourself some playlist spots and that’s the unfortunate toss up. If you don't necessarily fit in the cookie cutter, there’s a good chance you’re not catching those playlists but if you are strictly in that cookie cutter image, it becomes boring and stagnant.
Yeah, I totally agree with you. I think as much as the monetisation of beats has been really good for building the community, I also think there is a general feeling that we need to do more. Generally, that’s quite healthy for the a community though because we’ve got the benefit of the internet whereas past scenes didn’t. The scene will modify for the art whereas, before, the art had to modify for the scene.
M:Yes, that’s a good point actually. That’s a good way of putting it. I agree.
This is why I still think groups like Inner Ocean and your contemporaries are so important because you can be an incubator to build creativity and artistry.
M: Right. We’ve actually talked about this. There’s that element of Bruce Lee. Be like water.
M: You pour water into the cup, it becomes the cup. If you’re malleable and you’re adaptable but you’re staying true to what excites you then you can't necessarily steer wrong.
I think you’re totally right because you follow your own inner ocean. I love that little explanation on the site where you explain where the name came from and the connection to nature. Why do you think nature and this type of music are so intrinsically entwined?
C:I think that any environment that you are immersed in will shape your sound or shape your art. When I named the label Inner Ocean, it was like directly thinking about Ambient music, but it was also meant as philosophical inward sort of thing. Now, six years later, I think it still works for anything we’ve put out. I don't think it really matters but in terms of the link (at least for me because I grew up here) I’ve always spent lots of time in nature and we have lots of it in Canada. As soon as you leave the city, there’s nothing but thousands of kilometres of open space, mountains and prairies. I always think about those things. I also took geography in university so that probably contributes haha.
M: I think with the rise of Lo-Fi in the last few years as well, you can see it as a direct reaction to the world as it is right now as well. The world is burning at the moment, right? and I think when times are good there is sort of room for external stimulation. If things are good with the world you’re going to get this really amped up (maybe angry) tense music that speaks to you because that’s the balance that goes on in the soul. However with the world being the way it is currently, that the balance we seek is going to come from an external force that calms the mind. That pleases us but doesn’t demand too much of us because that’s exactly what the world is doing right now. So in that way nature fits perfectly with the music.
Yeah I totally agree.
M: I think we see ourselves as removed from nature instead of part of it and that’s not true at all.
No, definitely, it’s not true. This kind of music naturally aligns with that way of thinking. It’s laid back and you are encouraged to look inwardly for a second or at least let your mind wander. It’s not too demanding of your attention but in good way.
M: That’s true because that leaves some space in your mind to explore your own thoughts as opposed to having it constantly bombarded with things demanding attention. You can take something that might be as simple as (if you want to go back to the original Lo-Fi sound) a piano loop, a very basic drum pattern and that itself can maybe set you free and create some space in your mind to explore your own thoughts. To explore your own mind.
I wanted to talk about the BLESS series. It’s become a real feature in the calendar now. Where did the idea come from? And, again, how do you decide what makes it on there?
C: I came up with the idea around a time were there was a lot going on in the world. There was the war happening in Syria but there was also that pipeline stuff happening in North Dakota. I don’t know, I'm always thinking of ways to give back and it kind of dawned on me in a random moment that it would be sweet if we just dedicated one album out of the year and just donate everything from it. It can just be this nice ongoing project where we can utilise everybody’s talents towards something that’s outside ourselves and can hopefully do some good in the world.
Yeah I see. It fits in well in think.
C: On the flip side, it’s not without its criticisms, too. We have definitely been criticised for it being way too long or whatever. Some people might think that we’re pushing quantity over quality. Because of its huge track-list, some think we’re just trying to be the biggest beat tape or whatever. However we’re always trying to give as much of a platform as we can, to as many people as we can, in a realistic way. The BLESS project is, in my eyes, a perfect way to be able to include all these people that we can’t put out a full album for during the year. We get all these submissions and I often tell people, ‘Okay, well we have these compilations coming up or we do BLESS in the summertime that you can contribute to.’ Anybody can submit to that. We listen to them all and choose based on what we think will fit together. Plus, when you have that many people behind one project, then you can really get the word out. People feel proud that they have a song on there, which is really cool. So you get this sort of natural promotion. I don’t want to say viral but you know what I mean?
C: And because that project is all towards a good cause, I only see it as kind of a win-win for everybody involved.
M: It’s a project of inclusivity, right?
C: Yeah, exactly.
M: I think that when money starts getting involved in anything, you see exclusivity rise. So to take our biggest project of the year and just donate all the money from it; you’ve removed that exclusivity from the equation. Now you’re just dealing with inclusivity. I feel like every artist, not only the ones that we’ve included but also the ones that we’ve turned down, should feel proud of the work they’re doing. I mean, man, if there was the ability to hand your tracks over to labels like this when I started making beats myself; that would be insane. I think that it takes such courage for people to display their work because you’re putting a piece of yourself in the line for critique.
Yeah. I agree.
M: So even the ones who maybe didn’t get on the beat tape, are always encouraged to submit again. Like always submit again because I respect anybody who’s putting their self out there for other ears to take in.
I think the beautiful thing about BLESS from an outside perspective is that at some point in year, I can just see this excitement building. That up-swell of energy and interconnectivity in the community is just so nice to see.
M: It’s nice to hear from your perspective too! I guess it’s hard for us because we’re so deep in it. When we’re putting it together our focus is just, okay, we got to get through all these tracks. It’s very organisational. It’s nice if on the outside, everyone’s getting really excited about it. It’s nice to hear.
I'm already looking forward to the next one! This is also a really good series to introduce people to the width and variety in the scene because you’ve got people like STLNDRMS next to bsd.u. To have them side by side in an ongoing project is indicative of how wide-ranging the community is.
M: I think on that same note, I love looking at that playlist and seeing say STLNDRMS and bsd.u right beside someone who maybe has 100 Soundcloud followers, you know? Like someone who we’ve not heard a single track from before but it still fits so cohesively with names like those two.
I wanted to talk a little bit about Drift. Why is now the right time to launch this Ambient sub label?
C: There are a few factors. One being now that Mike works with Inner Ocean, I just have more time free to do it properly. Two, I always like creating new things so to me it sounded fun! Like, yes, I could have just put out Ambient releases on Inner Ocean but I was like, I think it’d be fun to create a whole new name, have a new branding image. Kind of create a whole separate vibe. Also, I think in building Inner Ocean up and doing the day to day running of a label, you can easily get lost in your own world. Drift is a bit of a response to my own needs, if you will. It sounds a little self-centred but…
I know what you mean. It’s kind of scratching an itch.
C:I was feeling just overwhelmed with all this stuff and so I just want to hear some really nice Ambient, Meditation music to heal myself. It’s actually been really cool because now people from the Beat community have been sending me Ambient music and a lot of people have been really intriguing. Creating something totally different that’s not just beats. Which I didn’t actually expect to happen. I was mostly thinking I was going to have to draw on some of my older audience and try to build a bit of a new audience with the more new age-type scene but yeah, it’s been really cool to hear people’s responses and what people have been sending me.
I think it’s an interesting trend that we’re seeing on the back of Beats or Lo-Fi getting to this stage. People aren’t afraid to move into the more experimental stuff.
C:Yeah, for sure.
Do you think that that means that there’s going to be a shift to the opposite side? As in making harder and harsher music?
C:I think we’ll see it pull to all kinds of places. Obviously, I really love Ambient music and that’s something that I push for but like Mike was saying, him and I have different but complementary tastes in music. I always will lean towards the ultra chill, that’s just what I do. Like if I put together a whole compilation and Mike puts together a whole compilation, they’ll be different. For example Futures Volume 5, was put together by Mike alone and that had a totally different vibe than something I would have done on my own, but I think that’s a nice thing. That’s what I admire in other groups or labels (like Stones Throw) they have very iconic albums that they’re famous for but if you actually go into their catalogue and you follow what they do; they really just dance to their own rhythm. They will do whatever they want, whatever is wicked at the time and they’re not afraid to do a complete 180 and throw something completely random in your face. Also, they don’t seem to me to be ultra concerned with releases simply for money. It’s like they’re really concerned about the art of it. While we’re not trying to be Stones Throw, that sort of approach I highly value. We’ll follow any kind of direction as long as we are vibing with it and we’re not afraid to change things up whilst not abandoning where we came from or what we’re currently doing. I think it becomes a much more interesting environment for everyone.
M: It’s fun to experiment with that you know? To play with the idea almost and occasionally throw something in that’s a little bit left field. On the mix that I did for you, the Baechulgi stuff I think is exactly that vibe.
Yeah exactly. I think we’re seeing more and more of labels or groups pushing the boundaries and being unafraid to experiment more. I think Inner Ocean encapsulates that very well.
M: Hopefully! Growing up listening to Gilles Peterson a lot and early Madlib DJ sets where it would go from neo-soul to jazz to a garage tune. I think I was heavily influenced by that sort of DJ. We’re like selectors and I think I connect better with a vibe than, say, a genre or this or that. You get someone like Gilles Peterson laying down a two-hour mix, you’re going to get a wide variety of music played within that. I think that’s super important to keeping the soil fertile.
What can we look forward to next from Inner Ocean? What’s next on the horizon for you guys?
C:It’s a loaded question because we always got lots of tricks up our sleeve haha. I think on the music side, we have a lot of really interesting projects by new people that are doing some really cool stuff. So we have Baechulgi’s album out now. She’s known for doing the standard Lo-Fi beats but then this new album is very different. It’s one of those ones that takes a couple of listens to really dive into it but once it clicks, you’re just like, ‘Oh, fuck, this is sick!’ So we have a lot of that from some new artists. We definitely have some cool stuff coming from artists we’ve been working with too. We have an Oatmello’s EP coming next year that will have a whole animation paired with it that we’re getting custom from an animator in the US. We do have a couple of ultra exciting projects that we’re going to keep secret for now. You will know what I'm referring to when we announce it because it’s going to be sick!
M: Well, just to touch on the releases, another one that was on that mix is Telemakus and that’s one that I'm really excited about. We’re putting the first volume out on December 7th and I think this kid is incredibly talented, man. He’s one we discovered from the BLESS Volume 2 submissions. He’s like 18 years old and he’s a wizard. Outside of music, we’re working on a move into a new space very shortly. We’re going to do our best to make it a hub and a place for artists to come and produce. Like Cory said earlier, I think having that personal connection with people, whether it’d be the listeners or the artists, is super important for enriching everyone’s experience.
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