The Trinidad-born singer who found success with hits including Caribbean Queen and Get out of My Dreams, decided that when the going got tough, it was time to take a break.
While some of today’s stars find solace in drugs and alcohol (inevitably ending up in rehab), Ocean turned to The Bible and found peace through spirituality. And now, he’s ready for a comeback…
“I’m working on an album at the moment,” he says. “It’s a Caribbean kind of album. It will feature a bit of reggae and calypso, with a pop element as well.
I’ve been getting myself together slowly and quietly, out of the limelight.
In the early stages of my career, when the success started to build, the pressure became quite intense.
When I started to feel that pressure, I just quit for a while. But now, I’m feeling stronger and I’m ready to make a comeback.”
Ocean has been so busy with his new album, that a hugely anticipated show that he was due to perform last week, had to be cancelled, due to his heavy recording schedule. But with plenty of experience of the music business — and a strong faith in God — Ocean is all too ready to deal with its pressures, should they arise again.
“The one thing I’ve always had is an attachment with the Bible. As I got older, it became more and more a part of my life. The Bible is a manual for life and it’s there for our use.
My relationship with God is what kept me out of rehab and all that madness, when the business started presenting pressures.”
What does he make of some of today’s celebs, who find the stresses of the industry too much to deal with?
“I feel sorry for them. It can be a difficult business. Imagine you’re living on a council estate and next thing you know, you’re enjoying music stardom.
That’s a lot for the head- and the ego- to deal with. You’re suddenly faced with decisions you never had to make before, and all sorts of things that are new to you.
You find yourself in the middle of all this politics and the way you choose to deal with that, will depend on your character.
Some people deal with the stress in ways that aren’t the best ways, while others choose more suitable ways. For me, my spirituality kept me sane. I’m not really a ‘Hallelujah hallelujah’ type of person. And there were times where I felt I couldn’t really talk about my faith. But I’m not ashamed of my spirituality and it’s very important to me.”
One element of Ocean’s return that may be surprising to his old fans, is his image. After all, his grey dreadlocks are a far cry from his 80s look, complete with mini-afro/ jheri curl and tight pants…
“In my sabbatical I was able to grow my hair and not worry so much about my image because I wasn’t in the limelight. I enjoyed that. Some people are still a bit surprised when they see me if they hadn’t seen me in years. But that jheri curl and tight trousers- I won’t be going back there!”
Even in his time off, Ocean’s name was still kept relevant, with various hip-hop acts making reference to him. ‘Billy Ocean’ was one of the many aliases of OutKast rapper, Big Boi. And both the Ying Yang Twins and Warren G have made reference to Ocean in their lyrics, with the latter spitting, “I rhyme, and swim waves of soul like Billy Ocean” on his 1994 track Super Soul Sis.
But an arguably more notable reference came for Ocean, courtesy of US comedy, Everybody Hates Chris. Written by comedian Chris Rock, and loosely based on his childhood experiences, the award-winning show follows the lives of a young Chris (played by Tyler James Williams) and his family. Chris’s sister Tonya (Imani Hakim) is a huge Billy Ocean fan, and even insists that her idol invented Michael Jackson’s moonwalk!
“Its great,” laughs Ocean. “That show is like another promotional tool and I knew nothing about it until my kids told me about it!
To know that the show is keeping my name out there is wonderful. As for me inventing the moonwalk; I know I didn’t- but I won’t argue with it!”
The new album Live Forever (working title) will be released in spring 2008.