Episode 006: Alex Bondarev & Conversing With Oceans: Learning to adapt as a musician during the pandemic
Today I’m chatting with Alex Bondarev, lead singer and guitarist for the group Conversing with Oceans. In this episode learn how the pandemic has impacted his life as a musician and what he’s been up to this year
Show Notes and Full Show Transcript
Before we jump into the episode here is a little background on the band.
Looking from his rock past to explore new sounds and musical landscapes, songwriter Alex Bondarev started Conversing with Oceans back in 2016 as a solo project.
Bondarev’s narrative begins in Grozny, formerly of Russia, when the unrest of war led him and his family to immigrate first to India, and then to the Bronx. Having music as his anchor from an early age and as a self-taught musician, he started his first band (A Moment’s Worth) with his best friends from grammar school.
A Moment’s Worth’s brand of optimistic rock resonated with audiences as they made front-page news of New York Press, won the first College Battle of the Bands, and received the Elfenworks Social Justice Award for their song “Dedicate.”
Conversing with Oceans combines a devotion to melody with Bondarev’s characteristically introspective lyrical style making it a more authentic version of Bondarev’s voice.
Collaborating with the team behind the Grammy-nominated “A Color Map of the Sun” (Pretty Lights), he spent the majority of the band’s first year in the studio honing new songs, while steadily growing their audience at some of NYC’s most trusted venues.
Conversing with Oceans’ first single “The Gold Rush” led to a one-on-one showcase with Randy Jackson at SXSW and quickly followed with a global distribution deal with Sony’s The Orchard.
The debut EP “PAST. PRESENT. FUTURE.” premiered on Atwood Magazine and featured a collaboration with the Grammy-nominated John Forté, who co-wrote and produced Fugees’ groundbreaking LP The Score.
Their follow-up EP “Indie Films” landed them a homepage feature on iTunes and Apple Music. “Indie Films” was followed by the third EP “Trilogy” this EP was produced and engineered by Tim O’Sullivan (Childish Gambino, Anderson . Paak), which climbed to the top of the Hypem popular charts.
Today, they are a fully evolved indie rock band, consisting of Bondarev on lead vocals and guitar, Daniel Castro on drums along with two of his former A Moment’s Worth bandmates, founding member Chris Ragone on lead guitars, and John Endico on bass.
Now you have a little background on the band let’s jump into today’s episode.
Jeanette: Welcome Alex.
Alex: Thank you
Jeanette: For anyone who is not familiar with you if you want to give a little background on conversing with oceans and your musical journey
Alex: Sure. Definitely, so first of all I just want to say thank you for supporting our music for the number of years that you have. It’s really been a long time and you’ve always been. Any releases we ever had you’ve always been incredibly kind and incredibly just supportive about getting it out there and sharing this music and doing write-ups on it.
For as long as I’ve known you. So thank you. That’s huge for artists these days and just in general for have that kind of support you have no idea how much that means.
Jeanette: Well you guys are awesome.
Alex: Thank you. I appreciate that. I guess we met through A Moment’s Worth first, right? Yea?
Alex: Yeah, so A Moment’s Worth was a band with my best friends whom I grew up within the Bronx. Basically, my story is that I came to the Bronx from Russia when I was 8 years old didn’t know any English. My parents kind of started their lives over here.
Music was right away something that helped make sense of the world growing up around me. So it played such a big influence on my life. The artists that I listened to and picking up a guitar when I was 12 to then meeting the guys in 7th grade that would be my band until now essentially. So music has been everything to me.
We grew up in the Bronx Underground seen playing rock concerts there. Playing shows on the East Coast and especially more so in the Northeast.
Conversing with Oceans was kind of an offshoot of that where I just had my own personal style and tried to experiment a little more. Tried to dive deeper into the lyrics because when you’re in a band a long time what happens is your sound starts to get defined by that band which is great and it was everything for me. It was my foundation but at a certain point, I needed to experiment and see what I could do creatively on my own. Who I was as an artist. So that was kind of how Conversing with Oceans began.
Today I play with Chris who started A Moment’s Worth back then it was Dibs on Anthony. I played with Danny, Johnny who was in A Moment’s Worth as well. It kind of took on a life of its own. But I still have that room cause it did start off as a solo project. To kind of bounce around different projects, different sounds, work with different collaborators in a way that I didn’t do much as A Moment’s Worth so I”m grateful for that growth from this project to the next.
And thank god we’ve had such a strong support base and community with A Moment’s Worth and that kind of carried over into Conversing. So that’s my story in a nutshell basically.
Jeanette: I can’t remember exactly how I got into your band but I remember seeing you guys a lot in the city. Back in the early 2000s. I remember seeing you. I think you played at Angel’s and Kings when they had all those No One You Know Productions a lot of really great bands. All of those acoustic shows. Then I remember Conversing with Oceans came out.
Jeanette: How would you compare experiences you had with that verses with Conversing With Oceans
Alex: Verses A Moment’s Worth, you mean?
Alex: It’s been very different. It’s funny you mention Angels and Kings because we played a bunch of Angels & Kings shows that Keith and No One You Know put on. And Vinnie Caruana from I Am the Avalanche and Movielife used to play those with us.
So we just did a song with him in Conversing with Oceans. We did the song “439” together. Yeah, so that’s funny it’s like in the music world and in the world, in general, it’s so funny there are all these little links things really do kind of come full circle and that was one of those moments.
I grew up listening to Vinnie and his bands. Grew up playing shows together and now we finally got to work together on this project. So there’s definitely so overlap. I think the main thing in common is that I’m still a rock singer/songwriter at heart.
But with Conversing I’ve been able to basically work with artists in all different types of genres whether its hip-hop, dance. We worked with a jazz pianist. I’ve had kind of the freedom to because we’re not so, you know. A Moment’s Worth was pretty much more or less pop/punk, rock, alternative, pop, punk, rock. Those were our genres. We didn’t stray too much away from that.
With Conversing not having those labels or not feeling the kind of pressure. Not even the pressure but like what I said earlier, our sound was defined by the band playing together. Not having that as much gave me the freedom to. Let me write a pop song or and work with this artist who is totally different genre and has those different experiences.
In south, by the southwest with Conversing with Oceans, I was able to play a solo hip-hop show. I was literally the only performer with a guitar and a microphone and backing tracks at a show full of hip-hop artists whereas with A Moment’s Worth our sound anyway would lend ourselves to that experience.
So there’s been a little more flexibility and creative freedom for me as an artist to try out different hats.
Jeanette: Do you find that you like one particular genre of music? Do you find yourself going back to certain things?
Alex: No, generally I said that main thing at my core I’ll sit down with a guitar and write a song. I”m a rock singer-songwriter but it’s nice to be able to see. When I’m writing a song aside from the inkling I have when it first comes to me. It’s like okay maybe this is the style that is going in. I always let the song kind of take me where it will.
So if as I’m playing the music I hear keys or maybe like an EDM beat over it or just some reggae drums or anything like that I’ll kind of let the music and the message, the feeling of the song guide me along. So I wouldn’t say I have a favorite genre other than my base is probably almost always rock, pop, indie, a singer-songwriter that’s where I start from. But then the endpoint is who knows.
Jeanette: That’s the fun part of it
Alex: Yeah. I love it. It surprises me every time. That’s why I’m so passionate and I love songwriting so much seriously you don’t know. You may think it’s going to go one way and it just goes a totally different way and it blows you away and it’s even better than you could have imagined it.
Jeanette: Definitely. And I know you’ve been inspired by everything that is going on in the world right now. I saw earlier, well I guess last year in April you had written that song to rally everyone and help also raise money for the front-line responders. That was really cool.
Alex: Yeah, thank you. Honestly, that’s such a nice and meaningful part of the music. I feel like if we have a platform and we can raise some kind of awareness or raise funds doing what we love then I’m all for it.
Jeanette: That’s great
Alex: Yeah, it was a scary time. Right, starting out the world was essentially flipped upside down. People were going back to work to support their families at a time where it was very unsafe. It’s still, we’re still there more or less and it’s still so many changes that we have. Absolutely if you’re like a front-line worker who’s been this entire time throughout this pandemic my hat’s off to you completely.
Jeanette: For me as music enthusiastic It’s been kind of stressful and sad not being able to go see music and I can’t even imagine for people who are musicians. How’ve you been dealing with that?
Alex: That part is hard. I think on February 23rd it was exactly one year since I played on a stage which is the longest time I’ve gone without playing since I was a kid. And that hit me. It was this weird time warp with this past year where it feels both like the quickest time like we’ve been just like “what it’s been a year” and at the same time, everything we’ve gone through it feels like it’s been forever. It’s really like this double-edged thing.
It’s been hard but we’re adapting and I think it’s so important our eyes on the light at the end of the tunnel. Which is eventually we’re gonna get back there.
Alex: During this time there are so many things. Thankfully I was able to. Thank god I was able to maintain a job and provide for my family. There are so many touring musicians that just cannot do not that because it’s their sole income. So many people in that boat and it’s much harder for them in this scenario than it is for me.
Not even musicians. Anybody in the restaurant business. There are so many people who have been shut down in this economy. That’s much scarier so for me I try to really count my blessings and try to focus on the fact that I can still make music. I can still produce there are certain things that I can still. I can use my platform. Make content and really build on this time in a different way.
Innovate, adapt. We did a concert with Rockwood Music Hall last year that was just Livestream. We were able to raise money for all the venues, the music venues that are being shut down right now. And everyone in the music industry in the live music industry who hasn’t been working all this time.
I’m just counting my blessings and trying to figure out ways to facilitate and help the rest of the community that’s hurting so much more than I am.
Jeanette: So how do you balance everything. You’re married, you have kids, you have a full-time job. So how do you throw in the music?
Alex: That’s a good question. I was actually just recently talking to a very talented friend about that because he’s about to have a kid and you know he’s balancing a job with his music. He takes his music very seriously, does it with a lot of heart and a lot of commitment. I don’t want to shout him out on this but what. I don’t know.
The long end. The short answer to this long difficult question is I don’t know. I just think all we can do is try to put one foot ahead of the other. I try to schedule as much as I can. You know, like we had this interview today. So whatever I could do to make that happen. It was going to happen. Because it’s like this stuff is always a priority to me. Getting the music out and awareness of this music. It’s just always a top priority. So if family, so is work. I think just being aware as I get older now that time is finite. We really have to focus on the things that matter most.
If you cut out a lot of stuff like social media browsing, watching TV or you know. There’s so much that we think is essential that is really now. That’s not contributing to our dreams, to our happiness, to our overall sense of fulfillment. That if you kind of put those things at least on the back burner and focus on ok what’s the next step towards my goal.
Okay I know I have to work today but I’m also working on this song. Can I get up a little earlier and make some progress on this mix or sit with this progression or practice my instrument. You know so it’s just carving, I’ve found that it’s just carving out a little bit of time each day towards the things you’re passionate about and you’ll make a lot more progress that way then if you think ok I have to devote the next 3 months to this project alone and do nothing else.
I think I’m all about like baby steps doing the smallest thing you can do to get started and then see. Sometimes you’ll surprise yourself. Sometimes I’ll sit with something and what I’ll think is like a five-minute thing actually turns out to be like an hour-long project and I’m like “wow look at this thing that came out of this.”
Other times it’s nothing. Steven Pressfield who wrote the “War of Art” has this great approach to these things which is to be a professional right. So whatever you do and you do seriously like just show up every day and do the work and I’m a firm believer in that.
Jeanette: That’s great. So anything in the works?
Alex: Yeah so right now I’m really trying to perfect the whole process of a song from starting to writing to producing, to production, mixing, and mastering and putting it out there. So we have a song coming out very soon that I actually just submitted yesterday and I’m just trying to be very mindful and very consistent with building a body of work that will outlive me. That my kids will one day hopefully be able to sit down and listen to these songs and be like “oh wow this is what my dad thought about and wrote about. This is who he was as a person.” If it does that for them then my job is done. If it does that for more than them then I’m the most lucky guy in the world. So that’s that my thing. I’ve just been really focusing on crafting songs, getting them out there, and just putting one out after the other.
Jeanette: So what would you say is kind of an inspiration for you? How does your process start?
Alex: That’s a big mystery for me because honestly, I don’t know. It’s so elusive. I could find inspiration in just about everything. It could be a conversation I have with somebody where somebody opens up to me about a tough time they are going through. The recent song. The most recent song we have. It’s not really a song but a track that’s sort of a spoken word.
I had a conversation with a good friend and he was having a really tough time that day. He has been during this time and throughout that day I had multiple conversations with the same people where they were echoing that same sentiment. Oh like “man life is really beating me down right now and I don’t know what to do and I don’t know if it will get better.”
I just literally after having those experiences just opened up my notebook and was like “all right let me write a letter to them and tell them how I see them.” Just holding nothing back. Let me just let it flow on a piece of paper and tell this friend what I really wish they felt deep down in their spirits. And that’s how that song came together.
Other ideas I have come from dreams or movies or shows. Things that randomly pop into my head. It’s one thing I’m very very grateful for and I try not to focus on where exactly, what the thing is that sparks it every time because it’s so. It’s really is so elusive. What sparked it one time may not happen the next but my main approach to that is when we do get that feeling as artists or creatives it’s like “oh this is a cool idea I can maybe make something of this.” Is to listen to that.
Like wherever it comes from it doesn’t really matter but when you get that feeling it’s like act on it. That’s the main muscle you want to develop.
Jeanette: You mentioned something you recently put out. What’s the title?
Alex: Yeah. It’s called “Again.” Again, it’s very different from anything I’ve ever done because in A Moment’s Worth I don’t think I’d be able to put out speaking over a rock track so to speak. But in Conversing it’s like ok I’m not really sure what genre this is. This isn’t really a poem. This isn’t really just talking to somebody but it’s words over a song. And it all goes together. It’s speaking over a song so in Conversing it’s great because its like that’s what this project is for. I can try it.
Jeanette: Nice. And what else do we see? Do you have anything on the horizon for this year?
Alex: So, yeah, I’m hoping to develop our live show again. I’ve been investing time into like basically working with visual elements that I’ve been able to kind of sit with and I’ve been trying to catch one of our live streams. I’ll be incorporating more visual elements into those as well. That’s a big component of what I’ve been working on.
Jeanette: The Facebook reel. I had a question about that actually. Is that kind of one of the things that you were talking about kind of the music and the visual imagery promotions.
Alex: Part of it, yeah. Something I’ve heard is because we release so much music and we’ve only done one album that people want to get a sense of what Conversing with Oceans is. So this is like a way to be like “hey if you haven’t heard us and you haven’t see what we’ve done this is a quick thing you can watch.”
The other aspect of that is that yeah, they are songs that I produced that’s essentially another element to this work. Production, the mixing, and writing. It’s just a way to encapsulate what we’ve done so far. And even for me, it was just nice to look at that and it’s like we’re just always on to the next thing and not really appreciating the journey. Not appreciating the development of the craft and things you’ve done and how far you’ve come. So I think that’s an important reminder.
Jeanette: Yea definitely. Is most of the music on there is that all your music? Is it other music that you produced for other people?
Alex: Yeah, it’s all Conversing.
Alex: It’s all Conversing stuff.
Jeanette: very cool. Very cool. All right. Yeah. Definitely. I wish there was more live music. I wish live shows were going on right now. But you know I think listening to music is the next best thing. It can be very uplifting and I think it’s. It’s gotten me through a lot of tough times.
Alex: Sure. Oh absolutely. That’s my goal just back out there. Other than that I’ve really been focusing on the production end of things and really want to build my muscles there and see what I can do. Which artists I can work with. What producer I could write for and things of that nature. So yeah. It’s pretty much. It’s a world of possibilities right now.
Jeanette: That’s neat. Have you started producing any artists yet? Or is this just something on the horizon?
Alex: It’s something on the horizon. Yeah, so, that’s something I’ve been working on.
Jeanette: Very cool. What do you think the future of concerts is gonna be like? It’s very interesting to see how things are gonna change?
Alex: I think this year. It’s still very iffy. You know. I’ve seen friends who are basically seeing no actual tours till next year.
Alex: 2022. Yeah. I don’t know. Then I see things being booked again for the fall. What that actual concert is. I mean obviously, they had the drive-in concerts. I think that’s gonna be a thing for a little while. Obviously like social distancing has to be some sort of you know. Yea. Then I think a lot of that depends on the vaccine rollout and how many people get vaccinated. What the numbers are cause the whole thing with this is it could change overnight.
Right? With the new strains and everything else, it’s so unpredictable. Do you know? I don’t think anybody as we were going into this thought we would be here a year later. I mean I think I’d be kind of foolish to try to guess. Guess how it’s gonna turn out and I’m just hoping for the best and we’ll see. Take it one step at a time.
I’ve seen during this summer even there were outdoor concerts and people were playing outdoor shows. People were kind of distanced. People had masks on and so I think there’s gonna be much more of a market for that sort of thing. Events doing more outdoor things and maybe limiting the crowd somewhat.
But again I don’t know what exactly that’s gonna look like or entail when it’s back in full force.
Jeanette: Everything is so uncertain right now.
Alex: But we’ll get there.
Alex: I’m optimistic. I’m hopeful that things will get better than they are now and perhaps even better than they were. Just the whole conscious movement towards basically what a virus can do to us. And how important hand hygiene is and all the stuff that like on our health and focus on what’s really important. Focus on family. Focus on mental health. A lot of things on this are ultimately gonna be good things. It just sucks that it’s devastating how we had to get there.
More than anything. Just thank you guys for hanging in there and being strong and being there for one another during a difficult time like this. Keep checking on your friends. Keep checking on your family members. Check on your communities. There’s so many things that I was like saying earlier, that grew out of this that are good. As far as the power of human connection and how much impact we can have on one another.
That’s really been highlighted during this. So just keep going and don’t ever hesitate to reach out. To talk if you need somebody to talk to.
Jeanette: Definitely. Yeah, I think that’s something that’s been really great from this. I hear a lot more about services and apps and things where you can talk to people. And even for me. I’m living with my husband but I haven’t really seen my friends.
Alex: It’s isolating.
Jeanette: It is. It’s very isolating. I’m thankful that I can get outside and walk around.
Jeanette: It’s still weird cause it’s a year later. I think we were hoping things would be better by this time but we just don’t know.
Alex: For sure.
Jeanette: It’s the new normal. Ha. I guess.
Alex: Yeah, exactly. Exactly and we’re all still processing what happened while adapting to all the changes.
Jeanette: Is there anything else you wanna add. Where people can find you?
Alex: Yeah. Conversing with Oceans. anywhere you Google Conversing with Oceans you will find our music. Our Spotify. We have a song coming out very very shortly. Really pumped for this one again it’s just different from the sounds I’ve been making.
If you guys are working with any or have friends who are or hear of any non-profits that are doing good work feel free to send them my way. I recently taken on an advisor role within the non-profit partnership organization I’ve been working with. So that’s really cool because it gives me an opportunity to not only bring awareness to nonprofits but also facilitate the process that selects a promising nonprofit and then is able to give them funding and structure. So feel free to send any of those organizations my way.
I”m really excited for that to kind of be a voice in that team. Other than that you can find our music just about anywhere. Our main site is ConversingwithOceans.com. If you go there that’s pretty much the hub for everything. We’re on just about every social media platform. My goal is to release music pretty often this year. I don’t have a set schedule for when I’m gonna release what because sometimes it’s like just inspiration strikes and I have to get something out. Other times I really like to take my time with things. We’ll be releasing music fairly regularly. That’s a safe bet.
I mean that’s it. Just want to thank everybody that’s been supporting us throughout this time.
Jeanette: You guys are so great. Music is just so powerful.
Alex: It is. And thank you. Thank you. I’m honored that we can part of that for you.
Jeanette: Yeah no, definitely. I wish there was more live music. I wish live shows were going on right. But you know, I think listening to music is the next best thing and it can be very uplifting. It’s gotten me through a lot of tough times.
Alex: Sure. Oh absolutely. That’s an understatement, right?
Jeanette: Yeah yeah. Absolutely. Yeah, well. Again I appreciate you coming on and chatting with me.
Alex: I appreciate this. Thank you
Jeanette: Take care.
Alex: Be well. Bye
Hope you enjoyed today’s podcast. If you’re interested in learing more about Conversing with Oceans check out their official website at ConversingwithOceans.com