Houston’s own Oceans of Slumber breathe new life into a multitude of genres with the fury of metal guitars and guttural growls alongside smooth, clean singing with pop power, R&B rhythm, soul, blues and a little bit of midnight voodoo charm.
“It’s hot in Texas” says vocalist/lyricist Cammie Gilbert, who grew up schooled in diverse influences. “My dad was a local musician,” she recalls. “Early ‘80s and ‘90s, blues, gospel and traditional rock is where I found my voice.” Anita Baker, Luther Vandross, Layne Staley, Courtney Love and Chris Cornell are parts of the extended, unique family she grew up on.
Both parents were in the choir, with Gilbert’s father directing. “They didn’t make me stand and sing do re-mi. I heard their voices and their kind of perfection. Seeing how my dad would do verses, I inadvertently I grew up with some formal training.”
Gilbert made waves joining in 2014, bringing the voice that would define their current sound. She and guitarists Alexander Lucian and Jessie Santos, bassist Semir Ozerkan, keyboardist Mat V. Aleman and drummer Dobber Beverly create the sea of sound.
Their song lengths shadow Opeth in duration and style, “The length is discovered after we’re done when I get the demo,” Gilbert says. “It happens organically. It’s a very metal quality to have lengthier songs. They’re a bit more of a journey and experience.”
The songs are finished when her voice fits in perfectly with the music with no conflict and the amount of energy she wants conveyed. Their foundation is death metal with elements of doom and black metal, cascading through genres. The stages of grief were chosen themes for the new self-titled record, morphing into personal experiences at different stages people could identify with, transitioning to society’s own stages of grief. “My goal with any song is to help validate people’s emotions.” Gilbert wants them to have a healthy outlet through music to deal with daily life experiences, whether used as an emotional anchor, safety net or inspirational boost.
Gilbert is keeping track of what’s happening in the world. “I write constantly. It’s my first love, my first artistic expression in what I love to do. I think it’s the most healthy way, that and crying a lot.”
She has a love/hate relationship with the term female-fronted. “It’s a qualifier,” she states. “It’s necessary but I could easily argue it’s not. I wonder how many people are like, ‘female fronting vocals’ or ‘male fronting vocals’ and see how many people cared.” She suggests doing a pie chart with female fronted stickers to measure percentage. “It means as much to me as any barcode on something you’d buy.”Gilbert says looks and attire often dictate perception, wardrobe dictates genre and sub-genre sometimes. “I think appearance-wise some people wouldn’t know what to do with us and be more apprehensive to explore our music.”
She doesn’t let YouTube hecklers and haters affect her. “I don’t include them in my experiences as an artist in metal. Some of the most racist things directed toward me are from YouTube. That’s something in the digital experience, not the real world.”
Vocally she’d compare herself with Evergrey and Katatonia. “I think Tommy’s an incredible soulful metal singer but also has the growling.”A lot of clean-singing vocalists get attributed to pop. “There are so many genres and styles of clean singing that are not pop,” she reminds. “I don’t think we inherently sound pop.” They’ve got blues, soul, gospel, jazz, even country inflections in the blood.
They picked Type O Negative’s Wolf Moon as the closing cover on the new record. “We’re huge Type O fans. We’ve been doing it live for a couple tours. It’s a very romantic song.” They thought it was brilliant, cheeky placement with a woman covering the song, although capturing and matching Peter Steele’s range and power would be daunting for anyone. “I try to sing as deep as I could. I’ve never heard a voice like Steele’s. It was fun to try and learn it.”
They gave similar treatment to Candlemass on Solitude on the Blue record. “That’s our ode to doom. I could do them justice for a fan base that would be familiar.”
Other new tracks include the Morbid Angel flavor of The Adorned Fathomless Creation. A Return to the Earth Below has more atmospheric smoothed out accents. “We wanted to be a bit reflective, more mellowed out.”
Fans like her snarl and bite but especially her growl. “A lot of people want me to growl, I think growling and distorted vocals are iconically metal. People appreciate the contrast we have and understand our style and atmosphere we create.” Her voice brings a quiet storm to the mic and ears. She agrees it sounds fresh but they’re doing something different as a whole. “It’s nice to be well-received.” Beau blues and voodoo adds to the flavor, depth and ambiance, “The style had a tremendous influence on me and the artists that came from that way.” For better or worse she blames the heat as a positive and negative contributor to the sound.
Going back to ‘18s The Banished Heart, things got a lil’ spooky on The Decay of Disregard video shoot. “Yes, very witchy, that album was about being haunted internally by tormenting situations in a relationship” she explains. “We wanted to bring out that Southern voodoo black witch vibe.” The title track had an Evanescence/Nightwish groove. “There’s a definite leaning towards those, I can see that for sure.”
Gilbert thinks 2020 will bring the best out of musicians in forced quarantine and a tidal wave of genuine emotion and excitement when touring resumes. She misses the audience, explaining “That’s all I think about. I don’t know if people know how much I miss them and want to be back on stage.” It’s about almost touching other people during the experience and being in the crowd watching as a collective, moshing, crowd surfing all the things that make a concert what it is.
To date they’ve toured the UK, Germany, Czech Republic, France and Hungary including playing Epica’s 1000th show. “Our biggest gigs have been around the UK. We’re super anxious to get to South America.” They’ve covered 30 states so far. They’ve toured with Opeth, Jinjer, Evergey, My Dying Bride and Candlemass.
On their first show in Ohio she had an emotional family reunion. “My dad was born in Ohio. We had a tour, two years ago on his birthday. I got to see my half-sister. It was very emotional but awesome.”
They’ve had a couple pits at shows during heavy songs and there’s die hards that’ll mosh to anything. Gilbert hasn’t stage dived… yet. “We went to Maryland Deathfest. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was terrifying and amazing. Someone broke an arm. People were back flipping into the speakers. It was complete abandonment of personal safety. The place was crawling, the roof was moving. It was insane.” Her voice tends to control people’s emotions. “We make a lot of people cry at shows. The first note people are on the floor in the fetal position crying. Big, huge, sweaty guys at shows cry, like slobbering cry, just emotional.” She loves meeting criers and non-criers at shows. “Pictures, signing, it’s about real contact to me and what the songs mean to them. There’s nothing like it. People coming to experience music you create means a tremendous amount to me.”
They’ve been cat called and yelled at during quiet parts of songs. “If you saw our band in person, in stature, someone would break someone’s neck if they got out of line or popped off and got out of hand,” she warns. “We’re not a band to mess with.” I’m from South Texas. I can handle myself.” A group of skinheads came to their table in Budapest. “They said we love your voice and we’re so touched by your music. They were so sweet. My voice can heal racism. It was fun.” The n-word’s never been used in her presence. “They wouldn’t make it far with my band. Our love for the music and other bands comes across.”
They listen to a few songs from each band they play with to prep. “As a metal head you take pride in knowing something about the band you’re about to see.”
They have a new video coming, and while they’re not sure what 2021 or ’22 looks like they’ll be working on new music and might have a new record to put out soon. Their newest video The Colors of Grace was done with Mick Moss from Antimatter and is an ode to the isolation and social distancing affecting everyone.
Fans might be surprised when not singing or growling into a mic Gilbert listens to Disney soundtracks (the darker parts of Fantasia we assume); and some old school country with a sprinkling of Jerry Reed.
To the Sea will be the next single and is Gilbert’s favorite new song. Oceans of Slumber will drop September 4.
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