“Kids are taking over the world in new ways now, fighting for the future in a way I can seriously get behind,” Alex Story tells What We Seee. “Look at Greta Thunberg and the youth climate movement. Adults need to be more scared — and get out of the way.” It’s impressive that in the midst of launching and promoting a new venture, Story is simultaneously pointing the direction and the credit elsewhere — but that level of awareness echos what fans will immediately see in his music. Story, an experienced electronic music producer, has launched the exciting new project Frightful Ocean. His powerful first video, Little Wave, showcases his talent while also embracing and deferring to larger themes.
“As the lyrics in Little Wave build, I love the glory of kids fighting back by standing up as strong, brilliant people, casting shadows on the adults who’d beaten down on them, yet my role here feels more like a supporter than a survivor,” he explains. It’s a perspective gathered through years in the industry — and one that serves him well as he embarks on this new project.
Starting Solo Felt Right
Despite finding a successful career in a competitive field, Story felt a niggling sense that something was lacking. “I left a career as a touring producer in the electronic music game to pursue my artistry in a music scene that felt more ‘me’,” he says. “Spending my weekends nursing a warm Red Stripe backstage in a lasered-out nightclub whose foundations were shaking with an eternally pounding kick drum, waiting for the promoter to drive me back to the hotel, got to be soul-destroying. The thought of reapproaching it all with a guitar in my hand seduced me away from it.”
And though there were opportunities elsewhere within music, it wasn’t until he embarked on a solo project with Frightful Ocean that things really fell into place. “For the next few years, I indulged in other things I’d always wanted to, like composing for screen and sound design, playing with a band. I was considering investing my time into learning to mix better, then suddenly was like – wait, I left that old life to continue as an artist. What the hell am I doing? I was working too hard on other people’s projects, as rewarding as that can be sometimes. Starting solo felt right — for the foreseeable, I’m doing most of the instruments you can hear, except for the rhythm section.”
Simplicity And Complexity
With this creative control, Story has been able to explore and create in a way that feels — and sounds — authentic, blurring lines of genre. With electronic edges, acoustic sentiments, and flashes of the future, it’s a well-rounded, deep sound that is immediately engaging. “I’ve always been driven by music that flirts with boundaries,” he explains. “Before I got sucked into the free party scene, I was on a steady diet of Hendrix, Corgan and Reznor, as well as acoustic stuff like Nick Drake. Their most career-defining works have been kaleidoscopes of colours and textures, journeys into contrast.”
While some attempts to cross boundaries can feel mish-mashed or conflicted, the sound Story has found for Frightful Ocean resonates as cohesive and natural. “Genre purism is alien to me,” he says. “…I’m not planning on reinventing the wheel, but the thought of playing single-genre music is like walking into a huge gelateria and ordering a single scoop of vanilla. My ongoing discipline is learning to get back to basics when I need to. Achieving the contrast I yearn for means mastering both simplicity and complexity, and I’m very prone to the latter.”
A Mile-High Shadow
Beyond the music itself, the artistic vision behind the Little Wave video is stunning, as is the execution. The sound came first and the theme quickly followed. “Songs usually start with a visual for me,” he explains. “Little Wave came to life like that — I was picking out the two opening chords, back and forth, and they just felt so lonely. My mind’s eye projected a solitary crest of wave, slopping dolefully in the doldrums, all dirty greys and faded aquas. As the verse came together, I saw that wave growing in size and force, and loved the idea of it eventually casting a mile-high shadow over the beaches and cities on dry land… I felt moved by the idea of the wave being a kid who hadn’t had the privilege of being believed in, the confidence of having been valued, who’d been shielded from the day yet had found the strength to take on the whole world. I was taken by the glory and triumph, a fleet of tidal waves beating back.”
Inspired by real-life experiences of knowing a child stuck in a toxic household, Story became driven by the idea of that child fighting back — which became the focal point of the video. “The thought bloomed into a fully-fledged martial arts sequence and I got Mark on the phone,” he says. “I’ve actually been working with Mark for years, doing music for his films, and he’d started working with Steven Chatterton. In 2018 I did the music score for Dorothy’s Theory, their film starring Zazie Hayhurst, cast as a young girl who’d lost her dad. Their work together is totally focused on making empowering films about kids, and they build ongoing artistic relationships with those they work with. When I expressed my idea for a kid and a martial arts sequence, Zazie’s name went straight on the table.” With Zazie taking the centre stage, Story does very much cast himself in the support role — and that dynamic and surge of empowerment work to great effect.
The story, the song, and tackling themes much larger than the traditional love story fare — with this project and vision Story has created something that people are connecting deeply with. “I’m not going to tell you I had a tough upbringing,” he says. “My parents always were, and continue to be, inspiring to the max. So I was moved and unprepared when I saw people crying in the audience when I started playing the song at gigs. Speaking to people about it, I’m reminded of the urgency with which we as adults should cast our gaze back at our own childhoods with compassion. Good upbringing or no, it’s a mean world to come up in sometimes.” But in a mean world, Story’s music and Frightful Ocean are injecting some light — emboldening listeners and fans with a genre-bending sound that’s invested in life’s bigger stories.