Progressive rock - tainted by the excesses of Yes, Emerson, Lake And Palmer and even Genesis - can be a dirty form of rock 'n' roll nomenclature. For Tadhg Neal, guitarist and vocalists with Melbourne psychedelic prog band The Ovals, it's not a term to be ashamed of.
"The whole basic definition tends to be more related to metal," Neal says. "The music is more classical - it has movements. With our music we're very careful about note selection. Our keyboardist did classical piano - but I'm just trained in the desert" Neal deadpans.
The Ovals formed around seven years ago, the product of an initial musical partnership between Neal and keyboardist and vocalist Dave Kalkman. "I started jamming with Dave on keyboards in a shed devoted to the cultivation of dried flowers," Neal says. Neal and Kalkman had grown up together, though Neal admits it took a while for the musical relationship to be consummated. "We had an on and off relationship when we were growing up," Neal says. "His father used to make us fight against each other."
The Ovals' earliest incarnation was playing "punk rock - a lit bit Who-ish" before the band's first bass player was dismissed and the band revisited its chosen musical style. In time, The Ovals veered toward the band's current psychedelic aesthetic. In 2009 The Ovals issued their debut release, Innerspace. They released their follow-up, the Into The Eyes Of Those Who Sleep EP, recently.
The title of the new EP reflects The Ovals' indulgence in philosophical observations as the source for the band's music. "The title comes from a Nietzsche quotation," Neal explains. "We always like to start with a general philosophical idea because putting meaning into our songs is very important. At the moment, we're preoccupied with Nietzschean ideas - we really like the concept of taking a philosophical idea and putting it into a song," Neal says.
Not surprisingly, The Ovals are content to explore the structure and content of the band's songs when the live opportunity presents. "There's a different energy in a live performance," Neal says. "The songs we've written are carefully structured, and we certainly try and get that across when we're playing live." Visuals are another important aspect of The Ovals' live aesthetic. "Our manager does a lot of the lights for us, and the visual projections," Neal says. "Sometimes you can get stoned and listen to music and you can pick your personality apart. We like the idea of doing that live," he says.
But within any prog psycho outfit lies the potential for head-up-the-fundament self-indulgence. At what point does exploration mutate into self-indulgence? "It's in the music that's made," Neal says. "We don't think our music is self-indulgent or pretentious. I suppose you can never really get rid of pretension completely, but we're certainly not being arrogant." Neal says The Ovals are still enjoying their journey of musical exploration. "We're all really into Kraut rock at the moment," he says. "We're interested in grooves and throwing sonic landscapes over the top of them. We always want to grow - we want to keep growing as a band and we want to write songs that are scarily good," Neal says.
Neal's description of the band's philosophical position invokes the Nietzschean philosophical reference point at the core of Into The Eyes Of Those Who Sleep. "If The Ovals are anything, we're the sheep away from the woods," Neal says. "We know where the food is, and we're happy to leave it others to eat."
THE OVALS are launching Into The Eyes Of Those Who Sleep at Cherry Bar this Friday March 25 and will be returning to Melbourne in April for a show at Ding Dong Lounge on Friday April 22.