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Behind the Dark Side of the Ocean with Rusty Shipp


In 2022, Rusty Shipp released their sophomore nautical rock album Dark Side of the Ocean. Like their first album Mortal Ghost, Dark Side of the Ocean quickly became an underground sleeper hit. In an era where music is being created and released faster than ever, Rusty Shipp’s approach continues to be one of thoughtful artistry and quality. They don’t follow templates, instead venturing into uncharted career waters just like their music plumbs the salty depths.

Rock On Purpose asked frontman and primary songwriter Russ T. Shipp to share the meaning and thoughts behind the concept-rich songs on Dark Side of the Ocean. Here are his answers.

About Dark Side of the Ocean

After our debut album Mortal Ghost launched us and our self-created genre of “Nautical Rock ‘n’ Roll” into public awareness for the first time, we followed up with our first concept album Liquid Exorcist, which was a short album, but took us to greater levels of recognition and popularity than its predecessor.

For our new album Dark Side of the Ocean, we wanted to make a longer, full-length concept album as good or better than Mortal Ghost, while retaining the concept album/storyline focus of Liquid Exorcist, to create the ultimate Nautical Rock ‘n’ Roll masterpiece concept album! I guess you can be the judge of whether or not we accomplished that. 

All the tracks flow into one another, painting a sonic landscape for the storyline. 10 main songs are tied together with 7 interlude tracks that include sound bites of scientific ocean facts, atmospheric sounds, narration and instrumental jams that either rock your face off or bring you into the atmosphere of the ocean floor (such as with “Waking Braves,” an instrumental throwback to “Breaking Waves” from the previous Liquid Exorcist album).

On the surface, these songs all follow a storyline of a naval sailor who drowns. As he sinks further and further down, his soul separates from his body and sinks all the way to the bottom of the ocean, to the parts mankind has never explored: the Dark Side of the Ocean!  

On his descent, he passes by many strange things mankind has never seen before: undiscovered sea monsters like the Kraken, Leviathan, and others, as well as deceased sailor souls, and finally sea angels. The sea angels collect all the souls that have sunk to the ocean floor and take them to their underwater angelic kingdom, ruled by the King of the Deep, the Archangel of the Ocean, the one men have given the names “Poseidon” and “Neptune” to. 

The Sea Angels are concerned about why the souls of men are descending from the surface with increasing frequency every year, and their royal rulers, the Sea Lords, hold a council to discuss what they should do about it. After being warned by the older generation of how dangerous men are and to not pursue the issue anymore, some of the Sea Lords decide to take a risk and ascend to The Other Side of the ocean in spite of whatever danger is waiting for them there, feeling a duty to find out once and for all what’s going on above them in the land of men (which the angels ironically call “Heaven”) to see if they can help with whatever is fueling the increase of deaths.

Living Waters

This is a lot of people’s favorite song on the album, and we’re planning on releasing it as a single in early 2023. Nautical Rock ‘n’ Roll at its finest with surfy-grungy guitars drenched in reverb and weird, ambient sounds. Lyrically, as the opening song, it brings the listener into this album’s storyline of monsters and beings deep in the parts of the ocean mankind has never ventured into, with their own hierarchies of rule. 

Because this album was written and recorded during the pandemic, there certainly was the temptation to follow the natural course of humanity and react to the fear and pain by retreating into our societal comfort zones, within our cultural tribes, to blame “Them” as the problem and “Us” as the good guys. But with this album, as the primary songwriter, I tried very hard (despite all the painful emotions flying around) to find the things and desires that mankind still has in common, to find ways to sing about the things that unite us, rather than divide us. The chorus of this song is kind of a Rusty Shipp Mission Statement or mantra that a crowd of people could join together to sing, in spite of all the world falling apart around them. That’s why the 3rd chorus is an actual choir of people of different genders and ages all singing the words: 

“Let the Living Waters flow and bring the world to life 
Trickle down the darkest cracks that never get the light
Weaving in and out of every creature on the Earth
Pull us all into the harmony that we’re created for.”

Keeping with the album’s pursuit of common beliefs that unite polarized people groups, the song references a variety of functions of water: how the ocean waters were the initial origin of life (interestingly according to both theists and atheists), how waters give life to almost everything on Earth. It’s a common bond we all have as Earthlings, and finally the supernatural life that comes from supernatural living water, famously quoting Jesus in John 4. 

Bottom of the Barrel

“Bottom of the Barrel” is the most successful Rusty Shipp single released up to this point, being our first song to make it to #6 on Christian Music Weekly’s Rock Chart and #14 most-played Christian Rock song of the year. The message of the song is how in the darkest of times, a light is still there shining. Often it’s in the hardest of times that the spiritual comes most clearly into view (and also that the supernatural is manifested). 

Ironically parallel to the song’s message, when you listen to this song on Christian Rock Radio stations, picture a man (me) in the vocal booth singing that powerful chorus while holding his abdomen in pain from liver inflammation that flared up while in the recording studio— and who also was nauseous from COVID which he also got during the recording sessions of Dark Side of the Ocean. It was a very painful, even traumatic, episode of my life that I would never wish to repeat. Yet I have to laugh at the crazy irony there, especially when compared to the lyrics, as sung by someone who was literally feeling like the weight of the world was crushing him to a pulp in that moment! 

“Down at the Bottom of the Barrel still your love is bottomless. 
The weight of the world is crushing me to a pulp, but it brings my soul to the surface.
The weight of the world is crushing me to a pulp, but it brings my soul to the surface.


The weirdest song Rusty Shipp has ever made. Aside from being our introductory attempt at incorporating reggae into a Rusty Shipp song (probably the furthest boundary of the Nautical Rock ‘n’ Roll genre), the rap-like, Michael Jackson/Freddie Mercury “We Will Rock You” style verses are pretty weird for us, as well as having a song title which people have no clue how to pronounce— much less know what it even means.

This was more different than any other song we’d done up to this point, and it was a real risk of whether people would like it or not. But me being the fountainhead source from where all these songs come from, I just felt in my soul that this is what Rusty Shipp needed in their catalog. My wife had a very puzzled, unamused, unsure look on her face the first time she heard it (when the record was all done), and she said this could be the Rusty Shipp song that started losing us fans. 

Ironically, “Tanninim” is a ton of people’s favorite song on the whole album. Aside from just being something completely original, innovative, and experimental, it’s just a darn catchy song with the haunting vocal melodies, rhythm of the off-beat chords, “brilliant” drum fills (as one album reviewer put it), and the rap-like vocals. 

The word “Tanninim” is a Hebrew word used only once in the Bible. It’s in Genesis when God is creating living creatures in the ocean, and it says He created “Tanninim,” which the New American Standard translates as “great sea monsters.” That’s a really mysterious phrase that fits perfectly with the concept of “What could be down there at the Dark Side of the Ocean?”

What’s Kraken?

Every Rusty Shipp fan’s dream: FINALLY a song by this nautical rock band about the Kraken!

We had fun with this one. It’s one of the more light-hearted songs we’ve ever made, with the comical name and also comical sound bites of our drummer AJ sounding like a proper gentleman who inquires, “Excellent question, sir. What really is Kraken?” 

But nautical puns aside, the lyrics go even deeper than the Kraken itself, to a philosophical level that asks the hard-hitting questions we were all asking during the Pandemic. Reports and sightings through history about the Kraken raise some very relevant questions for us all about how we discern truth from the news in our modern era. 

“Maybe when they see a squid they really see a tool to meet their basic human needs at the cost of making people fools. A guarantee to sell his book or justify his rule: when is science really science when it’s fueled by our survival? Who can really trust the news when it’s always Who vs. Who? Give me something I can prove, something true as 2 + 2.” 

In an era of people questioning more than ever who is really telling the truth and who is biased, it forces us to go deeper to find the timeless truths that transcend our current era, culture, politics, and government, ie, the spiritual truths which can never be shaken by whatever issues we’re currently facing.

Angel Aquarium

When we released this song as a single before the album came out, people were pretty shocked to hear us suddenly trying out a reggae song for the first time! But then it goes from punk to grunge to ska, making it arguably our most eclectic song ever made. 

It’s only natural to have a song called “Angel Aquarium” on a concept album following a story about Sea Angels that “collect all the souls washed away. They take them down to a holding place where they are safe until they’re raised again on Judgment Day.”  Those lyrics and the concept behind this album is the imaginative building upon the foundation of Revelation 20:12-13: “…the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them; and they were judged, each one of them according to their deeds.”

But the song also has a direct application to us today, right now, and that is what the chorus lyrics tell us: 

“It’s impossible to be alone in such great company
Angels in aquariums
I can join the party just as soon as I believe.” 

The story concept is talking about angels underwater, hence the “angels in aquariums” line, but the applicable message to us landlubbers is that there are right now, in actual reality, helpful, caring angels around us at all times. As soon as we really believe that, we’ll naturally feel like we’re not alone and we’re actually part of a big, happy party that’s going on around us all the time, if we could only see the spiritual dimension. 

King of the Deep

This is the ULTIMATE Nautical Rock ‘n’ Roll song! At least, that was our attempt in making this song, which was trying to answer the question: what is the one song every Rusty Shipp fan would want us to make? It’s kind of like our previous song “Davy Jones” on steroids, but bumped up to the maximum level of epicness and nauticalness: sunken ghost sailor crew voices singing, low-bowed strings, a deep sea organ, and dark bell sounds for an ambient, orchestral metal sound. This is the closest thing Rusty Shipp has ever had to an orchestral song.

The voices singing go between the sailor ghosts marching in chains to the underwater Angelic Kingdom, the Sea Angels singing in their ethereal choir, and finally Poseidon himself (or in this story’s case, the King Archangel of the Ocean whom mankind has given the name “Poseidon” or “Neptune,” ie, the King of the Deep).  

Man Myth Legend

Back to the classic Surf Punk style reminiscent of Rusty Shipp songs like “Detonator” and “Caligynephobia,” this one I actually started writing while still in college 15 or so years ago. The song morphed quite a bit over more than a decade of tweaking it, originally being called “Pheaucher.” But all the lyrics and even the title changed when adapting it to fit into the concept story of “Dark Side of the Ocean.” The lyrics are a personal triumph for me, having a song so bold as to have the phrase “Nautical Sea Lords” in it, which just cracks me up at how excessively nautical it is. 

The lyrics are a clearer glimpse into the concept story, which describes an underwater kingdom of angels who encounter the souls of sailors that have sunk down from the surface— such as the narrator in the previous single, “Bottom of the Barrel.” Alarmed at the increasing rate of souls sinking down to their domain at the bottom of the ocean, they decide to risk the potential danger and ascend to the ocean’s surface to find out exactly what is causing the growing frequency of humans’ drowning.

All conceptual narrative and nautical imagery aside, this song was written as a response to much of the explosive division that arose during the pandemic. The direct application to life from “Man Myth Legend” is that in our lives, we often see glimpses of something troubling, or hear of people doing something that seems to be in opposition to something we believe. But we often don’t have the courage to go check out things for ourselves and meet the people involved, or get to know them and see what’s actually going on and why those people do what they do.

It’s easier and more convenient to try and keep things so cut-and-dry, black-and-white, and just write people off as the enemy. But it’s much harder, riskier work to step into the grey, give people the benefit of the doubt, and think of them as fellow humans just coming from a different place to get their needs met. To engage with “opponents” humbly and respectfully, to listen and learn from them about where they’re coming from and why they do what they do, is certainly awkward and uncomfortable. But the rewards of that hard work are greater than the rewards that come from playing it safe in our comfort zones. Indeed, the results of that hard work are necessary to our survival as people.

Us and Them

We try to do a well-known cover song on each album and make it our own. On an album called “Dark Side of the Ocean,” what better song to do than one from Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon” album?

It’s amazing how perfectly it worked out, because I had originally picked “Us and Them” just because it was one of the best songs from the Pink Floyd album, and yet not as famous as “Money” or “Time.” But it proved to be a seemingly Providential fit with the concept of our album, especially with the pandemic that I didn’t realize was soon to come when I picked this song.  

Lyrically, this song hones in on the “Us and Them” tribalism that we tend to retreat into when confronted with something we fear. The pandemic was the scariest, most life-threatening thing the world has faced together in a long time, so it’s no wonder why most people took such extreme sides.

There were some convenient wordplays with the original Floyd lyrics that went hand-in-hand with other songs’ lyrics on the album. Namely, the “black and blue, up and down” line also appears in “Bottom of the Barrel,” referring to the ocean’s up and down being marked by blue and black, as well  “Man Myth Legend,” which refers to “black and blue” bruises from violence.

We tried to really reinvent the song (as we’ve done with our previous cover songs) and bring out beautiful melodies that weren’t in the original, add a killer guitar solo, and swap out the weird talking voices of the original with voices telling more about our album’s storyline. The voices represent the older, more traditional generation of Sea Angels warning the younger generation of Sea Lords of the rumored dangers of mankind above, trying to dissuade them from ascending to the surface to meet men (which goes perfectly with the message of “Us and Them”).


“Untouchable” continues the album’s story by following a group of elite, royal warriors from the underwater, angelic kingdom known as the “Sea Lords.” After encountering an increasing frequency of human souls sinking to their kingdom at the bottom of the ocean, the angels engaged in discussions about whether or not to ascend to the surface to meet these foreign creatures called “men” and find out the cause of this sudden death, hopefully offering a solution.

After being threatened and warned of the danger by their traditional older generation, the Sea Lords decide that they have an obligation to ascend up toward the sun and offer help, above the water to the realm their people refer to as “Heaven,” regardless of the harmful consequences. 

The chorus of this song is the motto they repeat to remind themselves of their royal priesthood, having a special connection to the Life Source that fills them up with a spiritual life and love that is untouchable by the physical world. Their courage is renewed in the conviction that they’re doing the right thing and are entering into a destiny that can’t be touched by whatever dangers lie ahead. They rejoice at the thought of the legends that future generations will tell of their heroic journey to do the right thing in spite of danger. 

One of the main driving forces behind writing this song was that I wanted to create the most empowering chorus possible, with lyrics singing about the most inspiring truths in life so that when someone got the song stuck in their head or sang along to the chorus, they would be saying powerful affirmations that have the power to transform their lives. Those truths are: 

  1. Nothing in this physical world can touch my eternal soul
  2. I am unconditionally loved, more than I could ever fathom 
  3. I am part of a plan where I’ll be taken care of forever
  4. I have eternal life

So tell me, what is left to fear? 

I pray that anyone out there who sings along to these words in the chorus will be empowered, knowing that you too are UNTOUCHABLE!

“The Other Side

I’m very proud of this song’s beautiful melodies in the stylings of a classic, desert, Middle-Eastern surf rock song. This is another one that I started writing in college and tweaked over the decades, finally giving it an overhaul lyrically with the storyline and themes of Dark Side of the Ocean.

The song starts out with the angels having ascended to the surface of the ocean to the place they call “Heaven” above the Sea Angels’ kingdom. Naturally, the song starts out very ethereal and heavenly, with the voice of a man calling down to the angels about the reality of what they’ve just entered into. 

“You think this is Heaven, yeah
but we’re the ones all dying for our crimes.
No, up here no one gets out alive!”

Quickly the song shifts, losing the wet, ethereal sound to become acoustic and dry as it moves the listener from underneath the watery world of “Dark Side of the Ocean” to The Other Side of the waves, to the land of air and light, also ironically demonstrating a dramatic shift between what the Sea Angels thought “Heaven” was like to the earthly reality of it. 

Ironically, these Sea Angels ascended up toward the place they believe is “Heaven,” only to find that it was actually the furthest thing from Heaven. The citizens are plagued by war, disease, and death. Metaphorically, the lyrics explore the concept that there’s a lot more to the simplistic “Heaven above” than we are often taught. And unfortunately, that simplistic version of Heaven and salvation is actually shallow and limited, unlike its powerful reality, all-encompassing and bigger than anything we can fathom. 

“People always look for Heaven in the wrong places
as if it’s just somewhere you go on retirement vacation.
But a wise man once said that ‘the Kingdom of Heaven is within.
Try looking there and let me know when you find it!” 

The sounds and melodies follow the emotional rollercoaster of the lyrics, following the energy of both the lyrics’ artistic imagery and spiritual metaphors.

“We’re going on a search for the real Heaven
a Heaven we don’t have to wait for till our lives are through.
We’re finding out the real meaning of salvation,
and finding out it’s better than anything we thought we knew.”

The first time I heard the official mix of the whole album, I cried at the very ending notes of “The Other Side” as it closed out the album, because it was just so moving, so beautiful and powerful. I don’t know how in the world my voice sounded that magical, to be the perfect, ideal ending to this ambitious “magnum opus” for our band. It’s something almost supernatural that happened, that me or our producer couldn’t have planned to do if we tried, and yet somehow it happened. It took my breath away and left me with tears, and I hope it does the same for you!

There are several interlude tracks that tie the concept album together that I didn’t have time to get into here, but I hope that people appreciate listening to the album more now that they know the backstory behind the main songs on the album!

Listen to Dark Side of the Ocean: