The Octopus Project: Such Genius Is Rarely So Fucking Fun

When I discovered The Octopus Project they were the most intriguing instrumental band I’d ever heard.  I discovered them sandwiched between Austin-based peers …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead and The Sword on a 2005 bill.  In-between the brilliant proggy, post-hardcore art rock collective and the doomy, alternative metal outfit, I found a genius electro-psychedelic indie pop group that were beyond lovable… They understood “the spectacle,” but only on their own DIY terms… They wore at-home-constructed masks, had at-home-constructed stage-designed “creatures” (like an indie version of Iron Maiden’s “Eddie,” but far more huggable), amazing video projections, and even their own fucking stuffed animals… sewn together in the bus… in-between gigs. They were even hyper-danceable… possibly aided by the fact that their brand of postmodern pop didn’t have words to be learned.  On top of that, all of the band members play multiple instruments and, in a very punk fashion, make a point of swapping between songs.  They even embrace the theremin, courtesy of Yvonne Lambert (who also sews the stuffed animals), who I’m pretty sure has the best haircut since Anna Karina… Scratch that: Who I’m entirely positive has the best haircut since Anna Karina.

In recent years the band has taken up a bit of vocals and taken on a number of performance art projects, including live film scores and what-can-only-be-described-as installation concerts that are actually far more fun and far less pretentious than you would imagine.  Last month they released their fifth full-length, Fever Forms, on their longtime label, Peek-A-Boo.  In a recent chat I had with the band, they tell me that it’s the closest they’ve gotten to capturing their live show, which… I have to admit, is really the way that they have to be experienced.  The Octopus Project are about to embark on a tour and will be making a stop at Johnny Brenda’s on August 13th.  If you are yet to experience them live, then you need to prioritize that shit and, if you have… Well, then I know you’ll be there.  My latest conversation with them basically centered around just what inspires their brand of amazingness…

Izzy Cihak: Since this is a Philadelphia-based publication, I have to ask: Do you have any particular thoughts on the city?  Any favorite memories?  You’ve played here a number of times.

The Octopus Project: We love Philadelphia!  We’ve had some great (and not-so-great) shows there, but the one stand-out memory I have of visiting your town happened around 2005… We had a day off, after playing in town the night before, and we decided to do some sightseeing.  A friend recommended the Mütter Museum, so we headed over.  The whole museum was fantastic and creepy as we had expected, but the coolest part happened as we were leaving…  For some reason, the ex-Surgeon General, C. Everett Koop, had an office in the same building and we ended up running into him!  We talked to him for a few minutes and gave him a CD.  He asked us what else we were going to do in town that day, and recommended that we go to the filthiest, most hole-in-the-wall-looking Philly cheesesteak place that we could find.  So we did!

IC: You’re probably best known for the dynamics of your live show, which is quite impressive.  What does it draw inspiration from?

TOP: Especially live, I think we are just really excited about giving folks the most intense experience we can.  It always bores me to no end to go see a band I like, only to have them just stand around and play their songs with no energy or excitement.  That’s why people go to shows!!!  They want to be blown away!   So, we try our best to make the shows as big as we can.

IC: For that matter, are there any other contemporary acts that you think are doing especially interesting or progressive things with their live show?

TOP: A couple of bands come to mind…  Flaming Lips and Of Montreal.  I may not always be 100% into what either one of them is doing, but they both try and create a pretty intense world for people at the shows.  I love that.  Flaming Lips are more on the arty side of things, where Of Montreal is a bit more theatrical, but both of them are pretty awesome to see live… Having said all of that, I happened to catch the Zombies at SXSW this year.  It was just five dudes in their 60’s playing in a bike shop, and was probably the best show I have ever seen.

IC: The Octopus Project works with a lot of fine arts mediums, in addition to music, like videography and set/stage design.  What would you consider to be your biggest non-musical influences?  Are there any artists or movements of whom you’re an especially big fan?

TOP: I think we draw inspiration from all over the place — whether it’s from a movie by Werner Herzog or Gaspar Noé, or the sound of a bird call, or some geometric shape… We always take our disparate influences and try to stir them up in a pot together to create something (hopefully) new… Not that this is a movement, per se, but we’ve been listening/looking at a ton of 60’s/70’s educational music/books/films.  That stuff is amazing!!!  Such a goldmine of beauty!

IC: How would you characterize Fever Forms, compared to previous releases, whether in regards to the direction of your sound, or just the process of writing and recording it?

TOP: We really wanted to make a record that captured our live show better than the previous records had, so that was the main impetus behind the way we worked on this record.  Folks always come up to us at shows and tell us how much they love our records, but how much more intense the live shows are.  So, we tried much harder to capture that intensity.  That thought process sort of lends itself to shorter, crazier songs… Plus, we had been playing a couple of the songs from this record (“Mmkit” and “Sharpteeth”) at shows for a few years — they both pre-date anything from Hexadecagon — and we used those as a template of what the record should be like. We just took the directions those two were heading and tried to branch off from there.  They were relatively short and intense so, naturally, the rest of the songs felt like they needed to be in that same realm.

IC: What are you most excited for in the second half of 2013?

TOP: I think we’re all most excited about getting out on tour!  We’re heading out for about three months, and we’ll be traveling all over the world.  Can’t wait!!! It’s been a while since we were last in Europe and we are lucky enough to be touring over there with some buddies of ours, Man Or Astro-Man? in October.  So, lots and lots of shows!  See you dudes in Philadelphia soon!