The ‘F’ word

Dancing to a different tune is made easy by The Fucking Ocean

WHO’S EFFIN’ WHO?<br> Members of The Fucking Ocean get cozy on the love seat. The band is John Nguyen (standing left), Matt Swagler (far right) and Marcella Gries (seated middle)

Members of The Fucking Ocean get cozy on the love seat. The band is John Nguyen (standing left), Matt Swagler (far right) and Marcella Gries (seated middle)

Courtesy of The Fucking Ocean

While driving home one night after practice, the members of a San Francisco quartet were brainstorming band names when a Velvet Underground song came on the radio. “How about The Foggy Notion?” said Elias Spiliotis in his thick Greek accent. “The Fucking Ocean?” Matt Swagler asked.

The band with the impossible-to-forget name has been called a “musical volleyball team,” as every member takes turns on each instrument throughout live sets. Varying who plays which instrument makes pegging The Fucking Ocean hard to do.

“We like to break up the sound by switching instruments. That way we don’t take ourselves too seriously as the lead singer or the lead guitarist,” explains Swagler. “We write the songs together and when we are playing on different instruments we don’t have the same songwriting tendencies. It makes it more interesting for us and the audience.”

On the band’s debut record, Le Main Rouge, angular guitar and bass riffs wrap around churning drums while male/female howling overlap in short blasts that get your feet tapping and your head bopping. The band’s energy will get you to dance, but there is a bit of a deeper social consciousness to the lyrics.

“The art we make won’t change the world,” Swagler admits. “But [making music] is a way to engage people about ideas that might not otherwise enter discussion and to vent about what is going on.”

The Fucking Ocean’s debut was created by Spiliotis, Swagler, John Nguyen and Marcella Gries (Spiliotis had to forgo continuing with the band as it distracted from his research in cellular biology at Stanford). The album has a fresh new sound while recalling post-punk- and no-wave-era bands of previous decades like Minor Threat, Minutemen, DNA, Mars and Gang of Four, as well as current bands Antelope and Black Eyes.

The members are intelligent, too. Nguyen completed medical school at Stanford just last week and will start his residency in July. He shows up to practice straight from the hospital after days of no sleep. Swagler has two jobs, organizing housing for low-income families by day and by night political protests and meetings for the International Socialists Organization.

Gries seems to be the member who lives out the Bay Area rocker lifestyle—she’s an artist who designs band album and poster art as well as a booker for the popular Scottish beer hall Edinburgh Castle in San Francisco’s Polk District.

Managing to take a couple of weeks off from work, the three members of The Fucking Ocean will be touring to support their album, and just for the fun of it. Their tour will take them up the West Coast to Seattle. From there they’ll fly to the East Coast and play New York City, D.C., Philadelphia and Boston. Gries and Swagler were happy to ruminate about how excited they are to return to Chico, where The Fucking Ocean played to rave reviews at a daytime performance for the Palais Idéal music festival in October 2006.

Their all-ages show here is sure to be a fun and sweaty night. And like the Velvet Underground did for thousands of budding musicians, Swagler hopes that “the audience will leave wanting to start their own band.”

Gries said the band’s last performance in Chico left an impression on the members of The Fucking Ocean.

“Ever since we first played in Chico we’ve wanted to only play in college towns,” Gries said. “When we see the crowd in a college town dancing around and amped on the music, it makes us more excited to play.”