Exploring Waves of Love in the Digital Age With Danny Ocean

Photos by Jackie Russo. Styled by Danilo Salazar. Chamarra: The North Face; Jogger: Diego Zuñiga; Tenis: Nike Air Jordan 4 Red Thunder
The Venezuelan singer talks about new album @dannocean, love in the digital age, and the meaning behind his most famous lyric.
Words by E.R. Pulgar. Photos by Jackie Russo.

A trip over the ocean later, Danny Ocean sat in front of me in Mexico City; after two years of Zoom calls, it felt special to meet another caraqueño who lived outside of Venezuela. In 2016, Ocean’s first single “Me Rehúso,” became an anthemic sort of diaspora blues for many young Venezuelan immigrants; the song captures the very real pain of leaving someone behind and the hope that love will transcend border or sea, keeping a last kiss to ourselves because it cannot possibly be the last kiss.

His new album @dannocean deals head-on with love in the digital age. The record’s aesthetics — from the title being stylized as an Instagram handle to the use of emojis in song titles — have everything to do with critiquing, maneuvering, and engaging with all of the ways language and communication have changed us, leaving us both entirely interconnected and as isolated as ever. 

Danny Ocean by Jackie Russo for ILY.
Chamarra: Zara; Sudadera: Nike; Jogger: Diego Zuñiga; Tenis: Nike

Sonically, Danny Ocean goes in every direction, but all tracks are grounded by his undeniable golden voice. This is clear from the album’s opening track “Dicen,” where the trembling strength of his vocals is on full display over the sparse strum of a ukulele. Then, the songs dip into multiple genres, experimenting and stretching his sound across the spectrum of trance house on final track “La naturaleza (freestyle)”, pared-down perreo (“Dorito & Coca-Cola” with Dominican reggaetonera fatale Tokischa), and pop punk that nods toward home (his freewheeling cover of “Rubia Sol Morena Luna” by Venezuelan rock band Caramelos de Cianuro). On this album Danny is, for the most part, concerned with that infinite search for love.

In a cozy studio in Ciudad de México’s San Rafael neighborhood, surrounded by plants and books of photography, with construction noise outside and a crew scattering to prep the shoot, Danny Ocean sat down with ILY to talk about his new album, the way the digital world has messed with how we connect to each other, keeping hope in love, and more.

This interview has been translated, lightly edited, and condensed for clarity purposes.

***

Danny Ocean by Jackie Russo for ILY.
Photography by Jackie Russo for ILY.
Danny Ocean by Jackie Russo for ILY.
Photography by Jackie Russo for ILY.

E.R. Pulgar: My favorite moment of the album is a lyric from “ADO,” where you talk about a lover who knows your favorite ice cream flavor. I thought it was a very tender detail. There are a lot of those on this record — little things, like starting and closing an album on softer, more pared down tracks as is the case with “Dicen” and “La naturaleza (freestyle).” I’m wondering if you consider yourself an artist — and a lover — of details.

Danny Ocean: Do you know that famous church, the one in Barcelona? 

ERP: La Sagrada Familia?

OCEAN: Exactly! La Sagrada Familia is La Sagrada Familia because of the amount of details on it — and it’s not even done being constructed! In the end, life is very much about little details: they give everything away. I would say I’m very much an observant and detail-oriented person in that regard. It’s because of that I think I was like “wow” when I saw that church in Barcelona. It’s one of the most beautiful works of art in the world because of the details Gaudi put into it that made it magnificent. I think details are the most important thing for an artist, knowing what to keep, and what to take away. 

It’s easy to fuck things up in person. 

Danny Ocean

ERP: What details on this record would the casual listener maybe not take note of? You dip into so many different sounds and genres.

OCEAN: It’s a fairly versatile record. Each song tells its own story. A lot of them deal with digital stories for this digital age. Songs about digital love…

ERP: Let’s talk about digital love! It’s a fairly new concept, no? Before, you had to write a letter to your lover who was oceans away and they might not even get it, and now you can reach anyone in seconds. It’s changed the ways we connect to each other. 

OCEAN: And it’s still hard! I wrote “ADO” after speaking to a friend of mine who’s a porn actress — she’s also Venezuelan, actually — and she told me that people are having a lot less sex these days. I was so confused by that. She told me that a lot of people these days prefer digital interactions in a controlled environment. That idea stuck with me for weeks and became the song. It’s about the insecurity we sometimes feel when we’re one-on-one with someone. I guess it would be a small detail, but that to me is very much about digital love. It’s easy to fuck things up in person. 

Danny Ocean by Jackie Russo for ILY.
Photography by Jackie Russo for ILY.

ERP: Isn’t that the beautiful part, though? Taking a risk for a connection and possibly fucking up?

OCEAN: For sure, but there definitely are those people who l prefer being in that space of control in what they say? What they show, who they are. In-person, you come as you are. Sometimes you meet someone and like who you imagine them to be, but it’s completely different in-person. 

ERP: Love is the place in the world with the least control. Thinking about digital love and your music, I also see this recurring theme of yearning, that feeling of loving someone who’s far away. Is yearning necessary to write a good love song?

OCEAN: I think everyone has a different way of expressing themselves and writing, but for me I tend to lean toward…

ERP: Star-crossed love?

OCEAN: But with hope at the end! There’s a word [in Portuguese] — saudade. It’s more or less a feeling of melancholy that comes from remembering something beautiful. I think I like to write in a way that I fall forward instead of backwards. That’s why I think that in my songs I maintain a hope that everything will be okay in the end.

ERP: Speaking of falling forward, how have you changed as an artist and how has your way of creating changed on this record compared to 54 + 1 and”Me Rehuso?”

OCEAN:I think the digital space has formed a huge part of it, but this record is much more collaborative. I made 54 + 1 on my own. For this album I worked with different producers, composers, friends, artists, a photographer friend of mine who helped me ground a lot of concepts. It’s different stories for sure but the record has the same essence as the others. 

ERP: And what is that essence?

OCEAN: That hopeful vision of love. More than anything, I like to write songs about that hope that love brings. 

I’ve always felt better in places where the ocean is nearby. I’ve always seen it as its own universe, a reality totally different to the one we’re accustomed to.

Danny Ocean

ERP: I think a lot about your name…in certain mystic traditions, water is a powerful symbol of emotions and love. In your own work, I’ve thought about your first relation to the sea: the ocean that separates you from Venezuela, that separated you from your girlfriend in “Me Rehuso”… tell me about your relationship to the sea.

OCEAN: I never thought about [the sea] as something romantic, if I’m being honest. I’ve always thought of it as an element of freshness. I’ve always felt better in places where the ocean is nearby. I’ve always seen it as its own universe, a reality totally different to the one we’re accustomed to. It does have that mysticism. I respect the ocean a lot, I can’t be near it without putting my feet in, but it makes me panic. I don’t have a beautiful relationship with it. I think it has something to do with that yearning. It’s my way of loving the ocean intensely, but since I respect it so much I don’t jump in.

Danny Ocean by Jackie Russo for ILY.
Photography by Jackie Russo for ILY.
Danny Ocean by Jackie Russo for ILY.
Photography by Jackie Russo for ILY.

ERP: There’s a recurring image that appears in your songs and has become synonymous with you — the “Babylon Girl.” Who is the Babylon Girl, to you?

OCEAN: It was in Caracas, a day that my mom left for a trip and I told all my friends to come over. I remember we were freestyling and I was at the mic and I said that phrase. All my friends were like “yo, I love that, what does that mean?” As time goes by, I’ve been thinking about what that phrase means. I guess for me it’s an amulet of good luck. It’s me asking the universe to bless the track. I think that its context also has a lot to do with the divine femenine. I think the universe has to be a woman. A Babylon Girl is a warrior who can face any adversity, a woman who generates life. I had a dream a long time ago where a woman came in the night and made love to me, but it was love making that was beyond the physical. A Babylon Girl has a lot of strength, a lot of light.

Credits:

Styling by Danilo Salazar.

Beauty by Davo Sthebané para Givenchy.

Photography by Jackie Russo.

Editing by Ecleen Luzmila Caraballo

Writing by E.R. Pulgar.

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