Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Octopus Project plays The National

Formed in 1999 in Austin, Texas, The Octopus Project is a team of 4 multi-instrumentalists who spend as much time moving on stage as they do playing. To consider their act just any normal concert is to underscore their unique brand of creative energy and expression. They are currently on tour with fellow Austin musicians Explosions in The Sky.

Josh Lambert, Todo Miranda, Yvonne Lambert, and Ryan Figg were nice enough to sit down with WRIR News at their show at the National.

Beyond the music, their stage set up is a beautiful black-light collage filled with bright colors and flashing hues. One icon that has been with the band for some time is a large Speaker stack covered in a white sheet and laced with Christmas lights. Todo explains the object.

"That’s David - he, sometimes when the beats aren't loud enough he shouts them so we all can hear."

In older music videos a similar stack, then green, can be seen.

"That was a previous incarnation, David also has another friend named david, who's sometimes with us. He's currently replaced by the neon totem pole. It's there to keep the beats pumping so the whole thing doesn't fall apart "

It was a fun and easy way to make our boring speakers look fun and interesting"

Creating such a stage show was no easy task, and it has been a long undertaking for the band, each tour building on the last. Josh said the larger hued lighting was their most recent addition.

"We sort of worked things up from having no interesting things happen at the shows in the beginning, to things here and there, to video, to finally working on lights. It's always a project, something new each time we go out.

I think we're at medium nuts. as far as stage stuff goes, sometimes it gets super nuts. Right now I'm ok with it, but it has to fit in the van."

The video collages, which project behind the band, are random images, cartoons that kaleidoscope, and sometimes appear to be a loose narrative.

The band, in what could be a tribute to the modern short attention span, jumps between instruments as breakneck speeds. It appears organic, as if the band intuitively knows what to do next, playing off one another. But Josh said the band is well-practiced.

"The shows are way rehearsed, we have things down to a tee. There is some le-way, here and there, especially when things break, which happens a lot. but we just sort of roll with it. Otherwise we are really practiced and know exactly what each person, hopefully, is doing. We're pretty much the perfect band. There's a certain level of chaos that elbows its way into the situation, which keeps it fun, if a little insane."

We know where and when we are supposed to be and when, but the rest falls out in different ways from show to show.

The musical style is fast based and builds heavily on layered beats and arpeggiated chords. This creates a fantastic blend of haunted melodies that allow the band to slip between "indie-post-rock" and "electronic" in styles. Josh said the live performance is structured that way before their sets, but the complex system of samplers and loopers is adaptive.


"Only one loop pedal, but we have a bunch of things we can just hit, when we're supposed to, hopefully, that are triggering loops and samples and stuff like that. I think we all have a little bit of that each in our areas. A lot of the backing beats are pre-programmed. A lot of them are chopped up into segments so we can trigger them on the fly, so if we want a section to go longer, or if we miss something it will go longer and then we can grab the next go-round. So we're still triggering things, we're not playing computer beats with our fingers, but we're hitting samples and loops and playing on top of that."

The album versions of songs are fast paced and energetic, but their live show puts that pace to its breaking point. Todo said theirs is a process to converting a pre-recorded song into a live presentation.

"The songs are usually written pretty independent of how we play them live, so after the song is together then we'll figure out how we can do it and break it up into the smallest piece that still makes sense to play with, make it as controllable as possible until it’s a little bit too much and then back it up a few steps to were the computer can do a few things for us and find the sweet spot."

The Octopus Project released their most recent album, Hexadecagon, last fall. Allmusic.com called the album "as smart as it is joyful" and it is a fair statement. Josh said the band is rarely stationary when it comes to producing new work, and their newest release played on elements of their new elaborate stage show.

"I feel like we're always working on new stuff, but the newest record, in particular, is a different beast. After we were touring about a year and a half ago, we decided to work on some new stuff and we're really excited about doing a surround sound kind of thing with sounds spinning around the room and bouncing back and fourth, something we had never seen anybody do before but might be technically possible. We got home from tour and starting working on the technical aspects of that and then once we figured that out, started writing songs and then we made surround videos that were in in sync with the music, doing this kind of instillation kind of thing."

"We basically pieced together and 8-piece surround sound system and made it work. It was really challenging."

We liked the aesthetic of it, and decided to make it into a record. We put it out in the fall and have been touring solidly since then.

One of their most exciting moments as a band came at last year’s Moogfest. They were invited to open up for 80's electronic super-stars Devo, an honor to say the least. Their dreams were almost dashed when they were told the guitarist Bob Mosthersbaugh has a hand injury and Devo was going to bail on the show. But just as god closed the door, he opened a window, and the band was asked to be Devo's backing band for 1 song.

"We figured out a couple songs driving from Tucson to Asheville where the festival was happening, kind of figured it out in the van and in friends’ living rooms. And then got there, and were like 'how do we play this' on stage for sound check in North Carolina, and the 2 of them walk in and go "ok, you wanna do this one?" and we were screwing around with a bunch of different songs and we ended up playing 2 instead of 1, and got on pretty good with those guys and the show was nuts and fun and we ended up weaseling ourselves on tour with them when they re-scheduled with the healed hand. "

The Octopus project is on tour through the end of April with more dates to be announced.

For Richmond Independent Radio News, i'm Brad Kutner.

No comments:

Post a Comment