Ocean Blue frontman David Schlezel still considers Lancaster his “musical hometown.”
“Lancaster was essential to our success,” Schelzel says. “It really was. Even though we were from Hershey, Lancaster was the first place we played that we really felt like, oh, this is home, here’s our home base.”
This week, Schelzel and his band will return home. The Ocean Blue will play at Tellus360 Saturday, its first show at the venue. The performance will follow the release of its eighth studio album “Kings and Queens/ Knaves and Thieves,” out Friday on Schelzel’s own Korda Records, which he runs with a collective of musicians from various bands.
The Ocean Blue made waves with its melancholic, atmospheric pop in the ’80s and ’90s. The band released its first three albums on the Warner Music Group’s Sire Records imprint and earned national attention for songs like “Between Something and Nothing,” “Drifting Falling” and “Ballerina Out of Control.”
Schelzel says the Chameleon Club was instrumental in the band signing its record deal. He says he’s grateful for club founder Rich Ruoff giving the band an opportunity to play an all-ages show — an important detail, as the musicians themselves weren’t yet 21 at the time.
“I want to say, like six or seven major labels saw us at the Chameleon and ended up really signing our deal or agreeing to a deal out of the shows that we played there,” Schelzel says.
At the time, cover bands dominated the local music scene, and it was somewhat unusual for a band like the Ocean Blue to play a set of mostly original music.
But Schelzel and his bandmates weren’t interested in becoming a cover band. In fact, what he most longed for was creating albums in a studio, not playing live.
“As a band, we really wanted the ability to make records … We found out about music, we enjoyed music by buying records, and later on, by watching videos on MTV,” Schelzel says. “So, the live music thing wasn’t really part of our musical experience when we started out.”
These days, Schelzel and Bobby Mittan are the only remaining original members, Schelzel lives in Minneapolis, where he practices law, and Mittan still resides in Hershey.
Guitarist Oed Ronne joined in the mid-’90s, and drummer Peter Anderson, also of Minneapolis, joined in the 2000s.
The band makes the distance work with the help of technology, and the fact that they all have recording studios in their homes.
The music on “Kings and Queens / Knaves and Thieves” was primarily recorded in their home studios, and a bit was tracked in Argentina, too.
“So interestingly enough, the band has a huge following in South America,” Schelzel says.
On a tour a few years ago, the band first visited Paraguay, and then went to Argentina. In Argentina, an impromptu backstage jam session before a show resulted in “Paraguay My Love,” a track on the new record.
“Peter, our drummer, recorded it,” Schelzel says. “I went back home and listened to it and warped it into a song.”
Not all of the record was born of such joy, though. In fact, the Ocean Blue’s members have faced a number of hardships in their personal lives in recent years, the details of which Schelzel opts to keep private out of respect for those involved.
“I think that really affected the record,” Schelzel says. “It was life, death, separation, loss, disease.”
That’s why even if the music might encourage you to tap your toes, a deeper look at the lyrics reveals the melancholy within. It’s not unlike the work of many of the Ocean Blue’s influences, like the Smiths, the Cure and New Order.
“I think because songs are often written lyrically from an emotional place, and I’m a bit of a goth and a romantic, so we’re always sort of skewing in that direction lyrically,” Schelzel says. “That’s when I feel inspired to write, when oftentimes sad things are happening or I’m dealing with a difficult emotion.”
The years have shifted Schelzel’s voice, too, moving his range into deeper territory than it once was, but not to the detriment of the music. Schelzel says he believes he does some of the best singing of his career on “Kings and Queens / Knaves and Thieves.”
He credits that to working with famed producer Butch Vig, best known for producing Nirvana’s seminal album “Nevermind.”
The band also experiments with different styles on this record more than any other, drawing from diverse influences like ELO, ABBA, Elton John and Sigur Ros, Schelzel says.
The musician also feels the new record marks a fresh chapter in the Ocean Blue’s history, thanks to the wisdom that comes with age.
“Some things seem more serious to me, so there’s a little bit more of that in the record, too,” Schelzel says. “The first three Sire records feel very youthful to me. This one feels more mature.”
At the Tellus360 show, Schelzel says the Ocean Blue will play songs from the new album, its best-known hits and a few deep cuts that will please their longtime fans, too.
And he couldn’t think of a better spot to kick off the band’s new, exciting chapter.
“We’re super excited to start the tour and the process there,” Schelzel says. “That will be the day after our record comes out. So, it should be great.”