Raptures of the Deep
The Octopus Project aids decompression
PARTY TIME: No RSVPs neccessary.
by Leslie Wylie
The Octopus Project at least sounds like it was aptly named. There are four band members, contributing to a grand total of eight arms, each of which harbors its own set of ambidextrous talents. And between them, gumming the whole operation together, there does seem to be some kind of unifying mind force, keeping the salty cacophony of its various appendages in check.
“Well, that wasn’t our intention,” admits band member Josh Lambert, mildly amused at my marine life hypothesis. The Austin band’s name was actually stumbled upon randomly; Lambert and a friend were sandwiching together unrelated words, paying greater heed to phonetics than clever subtext, and the name just stuck. “So I guess we just evolved together somehow,” he says.
Juxtaposing random elements, with no expectations for outcome, may be what the Project does best. It’s certainly the life force behind the group’s sound, a hazily defined alliance of electronic dance music and rock.
“We try not to make a conscious effort to go any one way,” Lambert says. “I think we like to be really loud, so if that falls under the rock category, then yeah. Our goal is to make songs we have fun playing, and hopefully people have fun listening to.”
On stage, they shroud themselves in a tangle of sound equipment and instruments: the standard two guitar/bass/drums setup plus a control panel table, two keyboards, a theremin, and a mess of what Lambert refers to as “beat-making things and sampler stuff.” The Project, which also includes Yvonne Lambert, Toto Miranda and Kevin Adickes, is also notorious for switching instruments midstream.
“It keeps things more exciting for us,” Lambert says. “It’s fun in the middle of the song to throw the guitar at someone else and jump on the bass.”
Fun, clearly, is the operative word. The Project is as danceable as it is cerebral, a technicolor commotion that blinks and shimmers with the pleasure of its own invention. The band keeps itself as entertained as its listeners, donning costume masks and chucking balloons into the crowd.
Lambert explains, “Hopefully it triggers some gut reaction in people that follows through with the music. Hopefully they compliment each other.”
Because this playful, impulsive attitude is so prominent, it’s hard to decipher the exact point at which intuition ends and calculation begins. “Most of the songs are pretty exactly structured because we’re playing to prerecorded, sequenced beats, but there are a couple of songs that are really floaty. We play off each other, and they just happen as they do,” Lambert says.
As a result, even programmed beats feel organic, and a sense of organization wafts inexplicably out of layers of noise. Furthermore, the Project feels no obligation to pin down its musical philosophy.
“I think we just go at it and whatever comes out, even if it’s just wailing screeching noise, I guess to us it feels melodic,” Lambert says. “Live, we’re more noisy. It’s fun to find the most melodic sense of something that seems like it wouldn’t be.”
The band’s studio recordings navigate somewhat different terrain. Listening to the Project’s second and most recent album, One Ten Hundred Thousand Million (Peek-a-Boo Records), is like watching a party through a window—the drama without the volume, replaced by a kind of looking glass intensity.
“I think on the CD you can hear the more intricate textures—little tiny pieces come through better,” Lambert says. “The live show we try to make more loud, fun and exciting in a sense that we can’t get across on the CD.”
After a recent tour with …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead (as a sidebar, they’ve also shared the stage with such notables as The Shins, Deerhoof, Four Tet and Dismemberment Plan), the Project now divvies its time between writing and travel.
At the moment, the band’s quirky convoy of musicians, excess equipment, party favors and stuffed animal merchandise is making its way from Texas to Canada, affectionately leaving behind its own trail of sonic bread crumbs. Maps and destinations make traversing physical geography easy; deciding where to go next with their music is another story. Especially since they’re not quite sure where they are in the first place—nor do they care.
“We don’t know. It’s hard to make a line and go in that direction,” Lambert says. “We just kind of love everything, so we try to incorporate whatever we’re into at the moment or whatever’s on our mind. We just take it as it comes.”
What: The Octopus Project w/ Cue and Ibrahim