Monday, October 27, 2008

Interview - The Octopus Project

Texas-based band The Octopus Project create the sort of music that intensifies and reveals more layers the more times you listen through. Their sound is heavy on the electronics but avoids the common pitfall of too much repetition. Currently known as one of Austin's best local bands, it seems to be a matter of time before they become a national fixture. They recently took the time to answer some questions from the road, which you can check out below.

What is the best description of your music that you’ve read (in a review/feature/etc)?

There’s a (now defunct) magazine called Resonance that wrote a pretty amazing article about us. It was literally the dream article that said all the things I’ve always wanted someone to say about us. They even put us on the cover. Unfortunately, the issue that featured us was the first issue to not be printed, and didn’t come out on newsstands. It was an amazing article though!

One of the things that The Octopus project is known for is as being a big part of the Austin music scene – How has the area affected your music, and would you say that there is an “Austin sound?”

I think living in
Austin is amazing. It’s my favorite town in the world. The general vibe around town is pretty relaxed, and incredibly friendly, so it’s possible that sneaks into our music somehow. I think we’re happy folks, and living in Austin makes us happy, so I suppose that might have something to do with the way we approach making music.

I don’t think there is one particular “
Austin sound,” but I do think we have a pretty amazing scene going on. There are a million bands in town, and the community is incredibly supportive of musicians. That environment seems to foster creativity and a general excitement about doing your own thing.

How do your songs begin? Do they start out from an electronic place, or does the songwriting process begin with a more stripped-down instrument and then evolve?

Every song we write is different, but most of them come from a sound or idea from one person, then things get passed around a bit between the rest of us for a while before we consider something to be complete. We tend to like to work on things by ourselves – sitting in front of the computer, or at the practice space. Also, if one person has specific ideas for a song, sometimes they’ll just write the majority of the song, and the rest of us will figure out how to play the parts/change things around a little bit to make them our own. Almost every song touches all of our hands at one point or another.

However, it’s pretty rare that we’ll write a song while we’re all in the room together. We tend not to jam a whole lot. It’s really fun, but I feel like most things we make up at practice have a tendency to sound like Stereolab – long and droney. Which is great, but I think we're going for a different thing. It often takes us a while to write new songs by passing them back and forth, but I feel like we work really well together that way.

What is your current favorite new or lesser-known band at the moment?

We’re all pretty into diverse things, so it’s hard to pinpoint one band. But, to name some: Ananda Shankar, Satyajit Ray, Alice Coltrane, Dead Science, Diagonals.

Are there any albums that are indispensable in the tour van rotation?

We tend to listen to a lot of quiet, minimal stuff in the van. Things that are really repetitive are pretty awesome to drive to. Right now, we play a bunch of stuff by Steve Reich, Johann Johannsen, Keith Fullerton Whitman, Popol Vuh.

If you could play a show alongside any artist or band, ala the Beck tour that had The Flaming Lips as his backing band, who would it be?

If I had to pick any band in history, the Beatles would be a pretty easy choice. But, as far as current bands go, I think Deerhoof, Sonic Youth or Flaming Lips would be pretty high up there.

What has been your proudest achievement as a band to date?

Hmm…. I’m pretty proud of the fact that we’ve been a band for a while now, and are still really excited about the things we do. I don’t feel like we’ve gotten burned out, and still feel like there’s so much we have left to explore.

What artists that you listened to growing up most influence the music you’re now making?

I was pretty obsessed with bands like Sonic Youth, Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, and Velvet Underground when I was in high school, and I know their musical ideas definitely creep into our music every once in a while. One of the things I liked most about those bands is that they were always more than just rock bands. All of those bands was/are first and foremost, excited about experimenting with sounds, but at the same time they know how to write amazingly beautiful songs. That’s a balance that we strive for as well.

How would you define success as a band?

I think bands are successful when they are making music that they are happy about. We were talking with a friend the other day, and he told us about a band that he knew who had been together for 20 years. They barely ever tour, and don’t really put out too many records, but have practiced every Tuesday night for the last 20 years. They just love what they’re doing, and love being together, and that’s really what it all boils down to. Making money and being recognized by your peers are great, but at the end of the day you have to be happy with what you are doing and whom you are doing it with. Those are the measures of success to me.

So, a tour ends, and you all head back to
Austin. What’s the first place you go? And, if it’s different, what is your favorite spot in Austin?

There are so many great things about
Austin. We all love swimming at Barton Springs, watching movies at the Alamo Drafthouse, and eating at our favorite restaurant, Uchi. Just being home is pretty amazing though!

If budget wasn’t an issue, what kinds of things (if anything at all) would you like to incorporate into your live show?

I don’t know what we’d do. We’ve always had an enormously tiny budget, so we’ve had to work around that. I think there’s so much more you can do when you have no money versus a huge budget. It forces you to think more creatively.

Mp3: The Octopus Project - I Saw the Bright Shinies
Video: The Octopus Project - I Saw the Bright Shinies

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