Get with NVDES: the laptop punk musical brainchild and art collective of LA-based producer, curator, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist, Josh Ocean. The project is a breath of fresh air, embodying a spirit of self-expression and discovery, and is just the type of authentically unrepressed, genre-defying band we need in our lives. The musical product is a collection of escapist digital post-punk pop songs that burst with imagination, infectious melodies, cheeky lyrics, and truly unique production elements. It spans the rock/pop spectrum, embracing surf vibes, gritty effected acoustic guitars, layered with tropical house elements, dynamic vocals, and quirky beats. Further enhancing the project is the aesthetic, which centers upon a recurring neon cantaloupe, intriguing audiences and, as Josh explains, serves as a symbol of the NVDES world beyond just the music. We had the privilege of sitting down (literally on the floor) with Josh in his vibrant living room, a place that he calls ‘Vibe City Utah,’ - an environment just as magical as those he creates in his songs. Sprawled on his white shag rug we dove in deep talking about the project, the debut LA live show, while listening to drum and bass records.. Basically our ideal afternoon in a nutshell.
NVDES started out as an anonymous project, and we were captivated at first listen, finding ourselves desperate to know who the man behind the neon cantaloupe was. Josh, formerly of pop electronic band Ghost Beach, moved to LA via NYC about a year and a half ago. Starting fresh, the anonymity in the project was important for him to create and collaborate with people without any prior affiliations of his musical past. His creative process is unorthodox, very punk in attitude and approach, and strives to preserve the rawness of initial ideas, translating and evolving them into a final product that boasts unadulterated fun combined with his apparent musical proficiency. His songs proudly contain early freestyle vocal ideas that were recorded on an iPhone or built through Snapchat, untuned ukuleles and guitars, and musical feedback from random Uber drivers.
“So much of what NVDES is about is self-discovery and experimentation, so I wanted to be able to experiment and collaborate with people in a way that didn’t have judgments or any preconceptions attached to it. In Ghost Beach, I’m a singer, and people knew my voice as a certain type of thing and I wanted to do something totally different from that. It was really important for my head to be able to do lots of different things.”
“Lately I’ve been really obsessed with guitar production, it’s one of my favorite things. I always want to make guitars sound super shitty but in an awesome way, that’s why I always use this thing [points to guitar] because it’s never in tune. A lot of times everything is completely out of tune, I don’t tune vocals, it’s super DIY. Which I think is what I’m craving from music today. I mean, I like everything like everybody else does, but I don’t want to make that. I don’t feel like I can contribute anything that hasn’t been done already.”
The project’s aesthetic cohesiveness keeps fans constantly engaged beyond just the music. Josh tells us that in his mind, the recurring cantaloupe represents a world where his songs, Vibe City Utah, and NVDES co-exist. The room we sat in was complete with colorful artwork, rare guitars, a floating smiley face balloon swaying to the record player, and a rad cactus named Utah, and it compelled us to acknowledge that the environment in which the music is made, provides the same feeling as the way in which it sounds. Sitting in the center of where the songs come to life made everything about this mysteriously amazing project make a little more sense.
“I want all of my songs to just feel like some sort of experience, like, in the world of this rug. I know that sounds really weird, haha but I feel like this room and all the songs exist in this world. And as the cantaloupe keeps opening up, it’s like you’re being more revealed into this environment, if that makes sense.”
The cantaloupe is ubiquitous, from the album artwork, to the PC Music-involved music video for ‘Fela,’ (directed by Sam Lyon) to the art installations displayed at the debut live show. The most recent iteration is a beautifully saturated sliced-up melon starring as the artwork for his new demo ‘Can You Not.’ The song, unlike others we’ve heard, is a look into Josh’s demoing process and preserves unpolished rough scratch vocals and bouncy guitars, allowing the listener to create their own experience. This demo is also the closest thing you’ll hear to experiencing the live show, which we were privileged to experience last week at their debut appearance at Resident in DTLA. The bar, strewn with cantaloupes, served a specialty melon cocktail (‘Nvdity’), complemented by sculptures and colorful visuals infiltrating the venue, the room buzzing from the excitement and energy from both the band and audience.
“I’m really excited for the live show. I think the live show is the ultimate experience of [the project], it’s very much a punk show, and different in a lot of ways. It’s very off the cuff, not really structured, and very free. I’ll also have Sean [Van Vleet] and Madi [Diaz], my two main collaborators, up there with me.”
The live show did not disappoint and had us smiling the entire time. Josh accompanied by singer-percussionist Sean Van Vleet, and singer-guitarist Madi Diaz, have infectious musical chemistry and have recreated the recorded songs flawlessly into an energetic and immersive DIY-feeling show, while maintaining enough pop sensibilities to get the entire dance floor singing along. Performing bangers such as “The Other Side,” which Josh explains is about a girl who used to dress him up in some of her clothes before they would hook up, and “Don’t Fvck Your Neighbor,” about getting high and going on Tinder, the charismatic live show has us already craving another.
Josh pledges that his forthcoming EP, titled “Life With Lobsters” due for release later this year, will also embrace the same punk attitude, if not more so than what we’ve heard thus far.
“I would say it’s definitely more punk and pushing the aesthetic that I’ve already started to create. I think I push certain sounds to a new level, while maintaining a lot of what I’ve already been doing, and just dialing it in a little bit more. It’s fun, it’s the most fun songs that I’ve made thus far. And people seem to think that this stuff is fun, but I think the new stuff is even more fun, and very loose. One of the songs was completely done in a day, and my next single that Sam is doing the video for was done in 40 minutes.”
Moral of the story - don’t sleep on NVDES and eat more cantaloupe.
What brought you to LA from NY?
J: I’m a surfer, I grew up on the beach, and I was just so sick of the city. This is more my lifestyle, it’s hard to live like this in NY. And because NY is so expensive, and everything’s so fast paced, I’d never get to the beach. Here is just the perfect balance of being able to go to the beach, and make music. It’s perfect.
When you’re writing music, what are you writing about?
J: That’s an interesting question. There are storylines that are related to real-life things in every song. But I try and push more visual cues with the lyrics. So like, ‘Fela’ is a great example because that song is just about going to this bar, El Condor over here. I love that place, it’s my favorite. And Sean and I would just get fucking wasted during the day and like, be thinking about our project and music industry bullshit. But if you listen to the words it’s like, ‘...pretty girl, horse on the ceiling, lemon girl, keep repeating, dinosaur dreaming…’ all that are just references to stuff around here [in Silverlake]. Like, you see the girl horse painting, or you think of a margarita, or you think of Dinosaur Coffee… so it’s just the little things.
How did the ‘Fela’ video come about?
J: The video is the start of the sadness and melancholy of the cantaloupe, haha, literally. So the director, the guy that does all the visuals, he does videos for a lot of PC Music stuff. So I saw one of his videos and I was like, ‘I fucking love this dude.’ I’m really inspired by PC Music, even with these songs, it doesn’t sound like I’m inspired by them but I totally am. I emailed him when I had a demo for ‘Fela’ and was just like, ‘yo, are you interested in doing a video for this?’ Now we have this rhythm where I’ll write this story, and send it to him, and he’ll make it, basically. So what I’m going to start doing with him is a continuation of the storylines. So the next video is going to pick up where that video leaves off, so it’s going to start with the cantaloupe crying, and then it’s going to… well, I’m not going to tell you, haha but the EP is called “Life With Lobsters” and it’s going to be relating to that. So yeah, that’s how the video came together, and with whatever videos I do with him, it’s going to be a continuation.
*Listens to drum and bass records* I want to hear this in a proper venue.
J: Me too.
We’ve actually been going to some cool, random warehouse parties lately and the more I go to them, the more I’m really into it, haha. And it’s not even really about the partying, I just like the environment and the music. We love dancing.J: I need to start going to more of those, that’s what I was doing a ton of in Europe. I would go to a ton of those clubs, but because I like surfing… you can’t exist in both worlds. You can’t wake up early and try to be healthy, and then go to fucking raves. It’s really, really, really hard. I’ve been trying really hard to be healthy, but I’ve been having a hard time.
What are you listening to lately?J: I spend so much time making music that I don’t like listening to too much stuff. I’ve been listening to this band Luna a lot lately, they’re a late 90’s early 2000’s kind of shoegazey, pop band. I listen to a lot of gypsy jazz stuff and a lot of instrumental music. I’ve been listening to The Radio Dept., that’s probably the most structured thing that I’ve been listening to, but everything else is just electronic stuff. I’ve also just been focusing so much on recording this EP.
Yeah, per craft, this seems to be the case.
J: Yeah, it’s a weird thing, if you’re making music you’re not really listening to it. Like, obviously there’s a lot of stuff that you hear and it inspires you, but it’s weird. I have been listening to music more in the past month that I have consistently… a lot of times when I go surfing I’ll listen to podcasts, but like, lately I’ve just been listening to music, Brazilian stuff, I love that. And other worldly kind of stuff, like tapes from Africa, but just purely to listen to guitar sounds and stuff.
Where do you like to hang out in LA?
J: El Condor is my favorite place to go and have a margarita. ‘Fela’ is about that place, I also do parties there every once in awhile called Fela Fridays. I’ll definitely let you know about the next one, you guys could even do a DJ set sometime.
We would love to!
J: Only drum and bass records, though, haha.