The Octopus Project, Bringing New Sounds and New Visions to Johnny Brenda’s Tonight

Last Friday hyper-quirky experimental, Austin-based, indie poppers The Octopus Project released their sixth LP, Memory Mirror.  The album is the band’s first on Robot High School and also the first to feature new full-time member, multi-instrumentalist Lauren Gurgiolo, formerly of Okkervil River.  Although the album maintains the spacy/fuzzy/dancy elements of earlier releases, the album tends to hit a little bit harder and has the band being far more “vocal” (literally) than ever before.  In a recent chat with the group they tell me that they wanted the album to better reflect the sounds of their live performances, which tend to be a little bit brasher than was reflected on previous releases.  The live shows themselves have become legendary DIY spectacles, boasting costumes, light shows, video work, and basically any other element of an awe-inspiring multimedia production that could be constructed on an indie rock budget.  The Octopus Project are currently on tour (which began with hometown shows at this year’s SXSW) and will be returning to Johnny Brenda’s tonight for the first time since 2013.  Here’s what they had to tell me about their recent history…

Izzy Cihak: First off, how was SXSW this year?  Did you play any especially amazing shows or see any especially great sets?  I’m guessing it’s a particularly interesting experience for you, since you have the benefit of already being based in the area.
The Octopus Project: SXSW was fantastic this year!  We’ve played the fest almost every year since 2002 and have seen it change quite a bit over that time.  This year felt like a bit of a return to the quieter, less corporation-heavy festival that it had been in the past.  It was definitely a breath of fresh air.  We played four shows and they were all great!  My two favorite sets that I saw were Suzanne Ciani — who did an improvised, quadrophonic set on her Buchla synth, and a hardcore Austin band called Vampyre — who played a day party we threw.  Top notch craziness!

Izzy Cihak: This is a big question, but the last time I spoke to the band was in August of 2013 (which seems kind of crazy).  What have been some of the highlights of The Octopus Project since then?
The Octopus Project: We’ve been pretty busy since 2013!  We’ve gotten to tour Europe a few times, Japan(!) once…  We scored a film called Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (and won the Special Jury Award at Sundance for it!).  We spent the last year working on our newest record, Memory Mirror, and were lucky enough to work with one of our heroes on it — Dave Fridmann.  We’re currently working on the score for the next film by the Kumiko filmmakers, Damsel.

Izzy Cihak: You just released Memory Mirror, your sixth album.  How do you feel the record compares to previous releases?  Were you explicitly trying anything new this time around, or did it just feel like a natural evolution from Fever Forms.
The Octopus Project: Memory Mirror feels to me like a pretty natural evolution from Fever Forms.  It’s a catchier, more intense version of some of the ideas we were playing with last time around.  We did make a conscious effort to keep the songs more focused and condensed — cutting out the fat.  We also wanted to capture more of what our live shows feel like, so the songs are a bit rougher.  There’s also A LOT more singing — ha!

Izzy Cihak: What would you consider to be the album’s most significant influences, both musical and otherwise?
The Octopus Project: As with any of our records, our influences are extremely varied. I think I was listening to quite a bit of garage-y type music when we started working on it, so it’s possible that that influenced what I personally wanted from the record.  But, we all listen to so much stuff, it’s hard to say where those influences fall.  We always just start writing a bunch of music and whittle things down as we’re working.  We never know exactly what we’re going to get until we get there!

Izzy Cihak: You’re going to be returning to Philly, or Philthy, in the very near future to play yet again at, arguably, the city’s best venue, Johnny Brenda’s.  What can be expected of the live show this time around?  It always proves to be pretty incredible.
The Octopus Project: Aw, thanks!  We’re unbelievably excited to be back at Johnny Brenda’s!  One of our faves!  Each tour, we try to make things different from the last, and have been working on some new stuff…  Double drum kits!  Crazy lights!  Video mapping!  Should be a pretty fun time.

Izzy Cihak: Finally, how do you hope and plan to spend the rest of 2017? Anything you’re especially excited about?
The Octopus Project: We’ll be wrapping up this current US tour in May, but will be heading to Europe later this year.  We’ll also be finishing the Damsel score over the next couple of weeks.  Excited to get to work on new tunes and figure out what’s next!