Though they emit some geometrical tendencies, The End of the Ocean does not play math-rock. But in order to introduce them, a little arithmetic is necessary. According to the popular streaming music service Spotify, for an upstart band such as End of the Ocean, “the average ‘per-stream’ payout” is anywhere between “$0.006 and $0.0084.” Seems like a worthless endeavor, right? That is until something catches fire. As of writing this, their single “Worth Anything Ever Wished For” had nearly 2.9 million plays. If Spotify’s promise holds, and of course my math’s correct, that’s around $20,000. Quite a chunk of change in an age when “getting paid” is a luxury for independent musicians. That’s likely less than most Columbus groups rack up in a lifetime.
Make no mistake. This isn’t the story of a band selling-out. Far from it.
The End of the Ocean were more than humble about their good fortune when I spoke to three of them via a Google Hangout. Before we even talk about their music, the process, and their eventual success, they immediately address the difficulty of expressing exactly what they do and how they do it.
“This will probably be the most awkward interview you’ll ever [be given],” says guitarist Kevin Shannon, “cause we are awkward people.”
They understand the uphill battle for recognition when you’re an instrumental post-rock band. In Columbus it’s never been the norm—save the now lamented echoes of Brainbow—and besides Explosions in the Sky (whom are best known for the incidental score on Friday Night Lights), there are few household names nationally. For The End of the Ocean, the anonymity of a vocal-less expanse is freeing.
“The goal has always been to not have lyrics,” says Shannon. “It’s a cool challenge, for me at least, to try and convey emotion by purely playing music. With our last album [2011’s Pacific/Atlantic] we definitely tried to make it a concept. It follows a storyline, but it might be hard for someone outside of the band to understand. We also go out of our way to leave songs open-ended. We try to let the listener to decide where they want to take it.”
Ambiguity is what drives their latest release, the In Excelsis EP. Though a narrative seems present in the linear path of the guitar lines, the mammoth ebb and flow of distortion, ethereal keyboards, and ambient noise that surrounds them paints a vivid otherworld—be it a country road at twilight or a space walk in the stars. It’s wholly interpretative music, a choose-your-own-adventure sound that’s bigger than words.
Since they’ve been scattered around the country—bassist Bryan Yost lives in Seattle with wife and keyboardist Tara, guitarists Trish Chisholm in Detroit, Josh Qualls in Kentucky, while Shannon and drummer Wes Jackson make their home here—for the last couple of years, technology is what keeps them connected. “Crappy cell phone recordings” tossed back and forth have them flush with new ideas and songs. The money is simply making things easier. It has allowed for lengthy tours, increased studio time, and later this summer, a trip to Belgium to play Dunk! Festival, a global celebration of all things post-rock. It’s allowed them all to return to The End of the Ocean’s base in Columbus.
In that homecoming, the band is now set on living up to the streaming hype of the past year, recording their new album and concentrating on a summer of shows—as the stage is where most of their energy generates.
“There’s a lot more pressure for this album,” says Shannon. “We now have to live up to the Spotify thing. I’m nervous that the last album is going to be our best work and anything we do next is not going to match up. I don’t want it to be too polished or to lose our heart. But I doubt that will happen.”