by Jeremy Hart
Some bands are just so bizarre they don't let you look away. I meandered up to Rudyard's a while back to catch a friend's band and watched with a mixture of dread and fascination as this motley quartet called The Octopus Project (the opening band, it turned out) spent a half-hour setting up a cluttered mass of instruments, black boxes, and cables. I feared the worst -- I'd come to see a band I knew and liked, and here I was about to be subjected to some kind of mindless electronic pop...Oh, great, I thought, I wonder when the kids with the low-hanging pants and glowsticks come out?
With hardly a word, the four members of the band picked up instruments, set up in front of the bank of keyboards, and played. My mouth dropped open, and it stayed there for the duration of the set. Nobody sang, but they played each "song" until it reached a general conclusion, then switched instruments and did it again, and it was incredible. It was the first time in quite a while that I walked away from a show mystified -- half the time I couldn't even figure out who was making the sounds coming out of the speakers -- so I figured I'd do a little research and got a hold of bassist/guitarist/keyboardist/etc. Josh Lambert to answer a few questions.
SCR: I wanted to start with the basics, for those unfamiliar with you folks; can you talk a bit about the band's history? How did you all come together?
Josh: Sort of from the beginning.... I started playing in a band called Springhill Mine Disaster with Toto [Miranda, drums/guitars/keyboards/etc.] somewhere around the summer of 1995 and Yvonne and I started dating in early '96. Toto and I started working on tunes for The Octopus Project sometime in 1998. It more or less evolved from another band we had called Harry Bungus All-Stars. Toto, Yvonne and I were playing in a band called Hidden Speaker around the same time. We decided to play a couple of (pretty haphazard) shows early '99 and very quickly realized that adding Yvonne [Lambert] would be a good idea. We played with that line-up until the summer of 2001 when we added our friend Dustin [Kilgore] and then later, Nik [Snell] (who also played in Hidden Speaker). Yvonne and I got married in August of 2001, our record came out last April, and Dustin decided to quit in May because of work and school just before our first tour. That went well for the first half, but our van was stolen in New York and we had to cancel the rest of the shows. Nik was replaced by our friend Colin last August, we went on another tour in October, and that pretty much brings us to the present.
How structured are the songs? They almost seem improvised, but live you guys switch instruments so often that I'm not even sure that'd be possible.
For the most part, the songs are pretty structured. Live there are a couple of songs where we kinda just let things happen, but otherwise we pretty much know what's going to happen at any given second. Due to the switching instruments and whatnot we sort of have to do it this way. Though, we do try and play the songs somewhat differently than our record to change things up every once in a while.
The song titles are somewhat off the wall -- do they have any relation to the songs themselves?
Not particularly. Well, not in the sense that we tried to come up with titles that fit the songs. We, more or less, would come up with a bunch of song titles and then apply them to the songs after the fact. For example, "Its Caption was a Star" came from a lecturer in one of Toto and my film classes who was describing some storyboards, and "Marshall Examines His Carcass" came from the name of a picture that we found of some scientist guy with a huge octopus carcass. We just substituted our friend Marshall's name for the scientist's.
You have no idea how much of a relief that is; Marshall [of local Houston rockers Chasmatic] is a good guy, but I don't even want to think about him examining his own carcass -- it makes it better, somehow, that it's an octopus...
I was hoping people would decide for themselves about that. Maybe Marshall is examining his own carcass, maybe he's examining someone else's carcass?!?!? Who knows for certain. It is pretty creepy to think of him examining his own carcass, though!
The Octopus Project -- http://www.theoctopusproject.com/
Peek-a-Boo Industries -- http://www.peekaboorecords.com/
Photos courtesy of The Octopus Project.
Do you see yourselves as having a "sound," so to speak? Do you see that sound changing on down the road?
I guess you could say that we have a sound. I don't really know exactly what that would be, though! I think it comes from us attempting to bring together all of our influences with the somewhat limited amount of equipment that we have.
I do think that our sound will change. Hopefully! We don't want to repeat ourselves. Our first record came out of us recording the songs as we were writing them. Most of the versions of the songs on the record are kind of works in progress. Not necessarily what those songs HAVE to sound like, but more what they sounded like at that moment in time. Those are the songs that we change up the most live.
I think that the songs on the next record are coming more out of a live situation. So, I think they're more cohesive and less improvised sounding.
Do you draw inspiration from any particular bands or artists? Who would you call an influence?
Our interests are pretty diverse. We initially started the band because we were listening to a lot of bands like The Flaming Lips, Cornelius, Fugazi, Bjork, Aphex Twin, The Flying Lizards, Buffalo Daughter, IQU, The Beach Boys, Blonde Redhead, Sonic Youth, I dunno. I'm sure I could add a million bands to that list now! We just love music. We're not too particular. It just has to be good.
What are the Project's plans for the future? Do you have any plans for a second album?
Right now we're talking about doing a two week East coast tour in June with Black Lipstick (who are just about to put out a record on Peek-a-Boo) and then maybe touring out West after that.
We're currently working on recording new tunes. We don't have any definite plans as far as putting it out yet, but we'd like to have something out maybe by the end of the year.
Out of curiousity, where'd the name come from? I'm asking because I ran across another "Octopus Project" -- a real-live scientific study of octopi up in Alaska. Any relation?
No relation to the study! We've seen a bunch of those by searching our name on the internet. My favorite is some German police force called the Octopus Project that I think was supposed to rid the country of drug dealers. I could be wrong about that though!
The name actually comes from us trying to name another band (Hidden Speaker). I was talking to the singer from the band on the phone and we would do this thing where each of us would write a bunch of words down and then he'd say one and I'd say one. Whatever they were together would be the band name. I thought The Octopus Project was the best, but he hated it! I'm really glad he did, though! His favorite was Quarterly Porpoise. And, actually, Toto came up with the name Hidden Speaker long before that.
Also, our name has no relation to the amount of arms we have or how we look trying to play all our stuff on stage!
How do you guys write the songs, then? There must be a whole heck of a lot of experimentation going on during practice... Also, have you had any logistical problems with all the gear?
We kinda write everything differently. Some songs come out of jamming on them (like "Marshall"), for others, someone comes in with a part and we write the rest of the song together (like "Righteous Ape & Bird"). And, for others, someone brings in an entire song and, as the entire band learns it, it evolves into something slightly different (as in "What They Found").
The "logistical problems" question is pretty funny! That's actually where the "half-broken electronic shit..." quote came from. It seemed, for a while, that every show we played something went horribly wrong with our equipment. We were still learning how to use it in ways to suit the sound that we were going for. We now have a mixer to blend all the electronic stuff, but in the past we relied on unplugging and replugging stuff constantly. It was a big nightmare!! Something always fell over, came unplugged accidentally, skipped beats, was too loud or too quiet, died in the middle of the show, etc. etc. So, lately things have been better (crossed fingers!). We still suffer meltdowns (I mean random improvisational interludes!) of some sort every once in a while. When it happens, we try and play it off and hopefully it comes across as cute!
Do you have any kind of a scene in mind when you put together a song, or is it just based on things that sound good?
A few of the songs are actually based on stuff we did in film school. Toto wrote "What They Found" for an animation that he did, and I wrote "Obedient Guillotine" for an animation that I did. I don't know if we consciously try and have them sound cinematic, but we usually do like conflict/resolution type things. Actually, come to think of it, a lot of our songs have something similar to a three act structure. I don't know. Maybe it carried over. Also, Yvonne was a Pschology major. This explains why our songs are so mentally and emotionally stable!
Would you say they're going to be more "rock," or more on the electronic side of things?
Honestly, I think it will be more of both... If that makes any sense. We're trying to take it further in both directions.
Any story, by the way, behind the band's supposed rep as the band that "hooked up their half-broken electronic shit all wrong", according to the Peek-a-Boo Website? That sounds intriguing...
To add on what I said before... Lots of our stuff was (and still is) half-broken electronic shit! We were basically using rather unconventional and "un-high tech" equipment to try to get a new sound. Maybe that's what makes up any kind of sound that we have. We try and push our shit as far as we can (sometimes at it's own expense!), and we don't necessarily know how to correctly use a lot of the electronic stuff.
On Peek-a-Boo, I presume?
We don't really know yet. We haven't talked much about it. We're just focusing on the recording part right now.
You guys did all the graphic design for the Website and the CDs, right? Who're the artists in the band? And what's up with the creepy little-eyed people who show up on the site and the CD? They freak me out a bit, although I couldn't tell you why.
We all like to do art stuff. Yvonne, Toto, Dustin and I all sat around for a few days on dueling laptops coming up with the design for the record. The front picture is something I took in a store while Yvonne and I were on our honeymoon, and the back picture is something Dustin took. He's currently a design major at UT. Hence his no longer playing with us. He's got his hands full! We (Yvonne, Toto and I) all took the pictures of ourselves on the inside.
The creepy-eyed people came from Toto. I just took the guy he made for the CD and used the same idea on the Website. I was doing a web design business at the time, so I had a good excuse to work on it! It was practice for my job, I swear! END