Interview: Oceans of Slumber

Ahead of Oceans Of Slumber’s new self-titled album release, we caught up with the formidable lead vocalist Cammie Gilbert about life in lockdown, Black Lives Matter and what it means to be a powerful role model in the metal genre.

Interview: Oceans of Slumber

By Catie Allwright

Sep 5, 2020 10:00

“Music, family and the dogs. That’s what everything revolves around”, Gilbert says. She has been living a wholesome life with her partner and the band’s drummer, Dobber Beverly, in Texas. During lockdown, the family have taken up gardening and home-schooling, teaching the dogs new tricks and interacting with fans online. With planned tours cancelled until further notice, Gilbert has been filming birthday and wedding videos for fans and loves adding special touches to whatever they are doing.

Of course, this online engagement has taken on another dimension when it comes to the Black Lives Matter movement, which has rightfully held so much of the cultural spotlight over the past few months due to tragic events in the United States. Gilbert has taken this time to learn about history and politics in order to feel well-informed and well-read in order to use her voice thoughtfully for good, and to inspire positive action. Naturally, this desire also crosses over into Oceans Of Slumber and their collective attitude.

“We’re a very deep band, we take on a lot of serious issues and we write serious music. We wanted to come out of the gate with the aggression, the angst and the emotions we’ve been feeling wrapped up. I wanted it to represent how I feel about society, how I feel about the things going on around me and how they’ve influenced me as an artist, writer and person.”

Interview: Oceans of Slumber

When Beverly approached Gilbert about writing the album, the brief was ‘you’re a black woman in the South, write about how that feels. Write about these historical things that have taken place, these elements of society and the psychological things you see manifest around you’. Although the album was finished months ago, what Gilbert finds interesting is how much the elements that were put into the album have found a timeliness to what’s going on now. “For people in the black community, your blackness is always an element to how you feel about yourself and how other people feel about you.”

Gilbert’s hope is that Oceans Of Slumber’s new songs find a home, providing catharsis from the troubling emotions that people may be feeling. “Music is a very good therapy. It’s not just about having songs that people like, it’s about songs that people feel they need and that help them”. There are so many ways you can be made to feel like an ‘other’ – whether it’s the colour of your skin or within the alternative genre. ‘Oceans Of Slumber’ takes these internalised, often deeply personal issues, making them something that everyone can relate to.

With a new lineup of band members, Oceans Of Slumber is a fresh start and their “most confident arrangement of sound”. Gilbert explains how they have now found their stride, combining the pieces they most enjoy from previous albums and that people connect with the most. In remaking themselves, they haven’t transformed into something new but have stayed true to what the band stands for at its core.

“This album definitely has a lot of strong energy. It’s very grandiose, atmospheric, incredibly heavy both lyrically and instrumentally. We’ve spanned the whole range of our influences – there’s black metal, death metal, melodic vocals, harsh vocals and a lot of soul. The album is a well-constructed, progressive take on modern metal and soul fusion.”

Interview: Oceans of Slumber

Having been recognised among “Ten of Metal’s Most Powerful Vocalists”, Gilbert has a huge and soulful voice – both literally and figuratively. This is especially impressive due to the stark lack of diversity in metal when it comes to both race and sex. When reflecting on this, Gilbert says, “Being among the first of anything can be a difficult experience. I take this position very seriously and appreciate that I have been put in a role model position. I’m not trying to please everyone, it’s about being true to myself and the image that I portray. Being authentic in everything that I do means a lot to me”.

Being a black woman in the entertainment industry carries a lot of weight and expectation. “I have to take all of that in, digest it and balance it out to find the ideals that I want to hold and those that I don’t care for – that are biased or stereotypical. I have to make them my own and be the most honest person I can be.”

For Gilbert, it’s important that we speak about the uniqueness of different experiences – of women, people of colour and other groups of society, to make them feel more included and welcome in alternative music. Pretending that something isn’t a problem, that it doesn’t exist, or having the mindset of ‘we’re all the same’ isn’t helpful as there are variables that make up who people are.

To aspiring women of colour, Gilbert says: “Hone your craft. Work on being the best and don’t set short-sighted markers for yourself. Don’t undercut what you think you can achieve based on being a woman or a person of colour. I was told that black people don’t headbang and black people don’t listen to metal. Other people’s definition of what you can do almost never matters”.

‘Oceans Of Slumber’ is out on September 4th, with four singles (‘A Return to the Earth Below’, ‘The Adorned Fathomless Creation’ and ‘The Colors of Grace’) already released.