Oceanography’s debut LP Collier Canyon is an expansive, shimmering collection of lyric-driven indie rock that draws touchstones from the auditory life of a music obsessive. Named after a winding road in the hills outside of the northern California suburb where primary member Brian Kelly grew up, Collier Canyon is both immediately familiar and imminently rewarding. Plaintive and driving, the record will resonate deeply with anyone that cut their sonic teeth making mixtapes on the bedroom floor.
Kelly got his start when he swiped a guitar from his sister as a pre-teen. He played guitar in a few college bar bands, doing well enough to land opening slots for the likes of Vinyl, Karl Denson, and Bernie Worrell on runs up the coast. A post-collegiate relocation to New York lead to a melodic revelation at the altars of Damien Jurado, The Rapture, Dismemberment Plan, Destroyer, and their ilk. Kelly soon after formed a band with friends and started playing shows at vaunted haunts Piano’s and Pete’s Candy Store.
Then a family illness drew him back west. He started performing as Oceanography and recorded an EP titled EP1 with Pete Parada (Offspring) on drums. Then he got a gig at a local alt weekly and started dating a co-worker, who happened to also be a pretty solid drummer. Together they recorded and released a second EP, Parachutes of Plenty.
Then everything started falling apart, over and over again. Which, oddly, is how Collier Canyon came together. “I had planned on moving to LA, but then everything took a turn for the worst,” Kelly says. “First, I was laid off from my job. Then me and my girlfriend (and bandmate) broke up. So instead, in my mid-30s, I moved back in with my mom.”
This unplanned rehousing had the benefit of allowing Kelly time to work on his record, but there was an issue. He had to find a drummer. This proved to be difficult. “In the process I endured many empty promises, a death threat, and an unexpected bleeding head wound that was dressed on a stranger’s couch in Berkeley,” says Kelly. In an effort to keep the project moving, Kelly recorded the bulk of the record to a click track while searching for a modest, non-homicidal bandmate.
On a scouting trip to Los Angeles he met Brock Bowers, and the connection was immediate. They rehearsed for a week and then headed to Origami Lounge in Chico, CA to track drums. Kelly recruited Jason Quever (Papercuts) to mix the record. Yet, Kelly couldn’t listen with fresh ears. “Jason kept telling me, ‘this sounds great.’ But I could only reference my rough mixes,” says Kelly. “At one point he turned to me and said, ‘you have demo-itus. It’s a thing, and you have it.’ So, I took the mixes and sat on them.”
In the meantime, Kelly had started playing shows with drummer (and bloody-couch haver) Peter Labberton. Kelly relayed his struggles with self-doubt, and Labberton asked to give mixing a go. So, he did – and it sounded great. Demo-itus still rears its questioning head on occasion... “To this day there are some songs Jason mixed that I really love,” relates Kelly, “but I bled on Peter’s couch, and sometimes you just need to call it a day.”
A testament to perseverance in the face of life’s infinite parade of frustrations, Kelly has captured the flickering sense of yearning that imbues modern existence. More than just thought-provoking entertainment, Collier Canyon carries the torch for a strain of ambitious, guitar-driven indie rock that has been sorely missed in the past decade.