Before writing a note of music, though, the band took the performance idea to the Whole Foods Market flagship store in Austin, proposing to perform the project in the store’s parking lot during SXSW 2010, says band member Yvonne Lambert. Without knowing all the specifications, Whole Foods agreed. However, The Octopus Project was then challenged with the task of figuring out how to make the idea come to life and write music that would do justice to such a colossal endeavor.
“We had a little bit of a freak out moment after they said yes,” says Lambert. “It was exciting and scary at the same time.”
The band named the venture Hexadecagon, and the music that was created later went on to form the latest The Octopus Project album by the same name, which was released by Peek-A-Boo Records in Fall 2010. However, making the music for the two free live performances at SXSW and recording it for the album were two different undertakings.
Listen to “Fuguefat” – DOWNLOAD MP3
For the live performances, the band first got all the technical aspects down and acquired the necessary equipment. The mostly-instrumental quartet, which also includes Lambert’s husband, Josh Lambert, and friends, Toto Miranda and Ryan Figg, is already known for approaching music in an unconventional manner, whether it be in the live setting, where band members switch places and jump around from instrument to instrument, or with the mixture of sounds and textures that they incorporate in their music. If any Austin band among a sea of bands at SXSW were to come up with fitting music for such a task and represent the city’s status as the “Live Music Capital Of The World,” it would have to be The Octopus Project.
When it came time to focus on writing songs, the technical aspects that the band hammered out served as inspiration, says Josh Lambert. Some of the things that they tinkered with included making the sounds jump across from one speaker to another and also having tones move around from speaker-to-speaker in succession. The band took about three months to put the concept together and write the music. They rehearsed some aspects at their practice space and on the roof of Whole Foods, but the first time that they ever ran through the entire Hexadecagon show from start to finish was in front of the SXSW crowd.
Fan-recorded videos of Hexadecagon on YouTube show band members continuously moving around, toggling all sorts of electronics and hopping from instrument to instrument, which is not too different from any other Octopus Project performance. It is not unusual to see Miranda play drums one minute and guitar the next, or Josh Lambert doing the same, while Figg switches between guitar and bass and Yvonne swaps between keys and the theremin. However, the reactions of audience members make it evident that the Hexadecagon performances were anything but ordinary. Expressions of awe dominate people’s faces as they contemplate whether they should focus their attention on the band members on stage or on the images on the ceiling.
A friend of the band, Wiley Wiggins, helped create the video sequences, which are just as colorful as the music. Animal drawings, images of classrooms, and footage of two young twin girls are interesting and eerie enough to keep audience interest. But what the YouTube videos do not capture is the movement of the sounds; Yvonne Lambert says that everyone essentially had a unique experience.
“Depending on where you were standing in the crowd, it was maybe a little surprising and unexpected, in a fun way,” she says.
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For the album, the band had to rethink the music and come up with ways to keep that element of astonishment for the average CD and MP3 listener, who most likely would not have the luxury of listening to the album with 8-channel surround sound.
“We were so used to hearing it in our space, where we practiced with eight big PA speakers around us and wrote with that in mind,” says Miranda. “It was a challenge to reduce that down to stereo and still get the feel.”
The band members accepted the challenge with glee. Having been a band since 1999, The Octopus Project is good at diving into ambitious projects head on and has an admirable eagerness to learn new things. While some band members did have some type of musical training as children, they all say that they enjoyed exploring different sounds and going on offbeat paths.
Their previous bands helped them improve the way they approach music, but The Octopus Project was started with a different focus.
“This band is the first one that was sort of more about the sounds,” says Miranda. “Specifically, about trying to do things with sound more than just write some songs and play the songs.”
Their dedication to experimenting with sounds paid off when it comes to the new album, which they recommend listening to with a pair of headphones. While not exactly the same as having eight speakers, the sounds do bounce from ear to ear, creating a sweet web of music in the listener’s head.
On top of great music and interactive listening experiences, sometimes fans even get toys, which add a visual aspect to the physical releases. For the double vinyl release of Hexadecagon, the band designed a zoetrope with eight different slides — one for each song of the album. Once constructed and placed on top of the record, fans can view animations similar to the video sequences at SXSW. By not specifying which slide should go with which song, The Octopus Project give fans have the freedom to mix and match.
“We wanted to make the vinyl release as elaborate as we could, to make it a really exciting object you would want to have in your house beyond just the music, which is obviously available digitally without any kind of physical packaging at all,” Miranda says. “So if you’re going to buy something, we wanted to make it something pretty intense and cool.”
While touring with Starfucker, the band had the vinyl version of Hexadecagon available before its release date. The tour gave fans a taste of the new music, and some visuals were taken from the zoetrope and SXSW performances. With limited equipment at clubs, the band had to once again reconfigure the music and visuals to fit standard sound systems and one screen.
“We had to rethink the live versions kind of in the same way we did for the record,” says Josh Lambert. “[It involved] just figuring out how we can make it as awesome as can be stereo-wise and visually with the projections.”
Considering how well-executed the entire Hexadecagon project has been, from the SXSW performances to the album and tour, it is surprising that the band members are not pretentious. While all the band members exude a strong creative energy, they are not the artsy-fartsy type of people. They are just genuinely talented, curious, and above all, humble. They do not embark on grandiose projects to gain praise; rather, they do it to feed their wandering minds. Although they might do it without thinking about it, they are always challenging themselves.
“I think we like to keep it tense,” says Josh Lambert. “I think we like to keep a really healthy balance of, ‘Ohhh, everything could fall apart at any given moment.'”
“When things get comfortable,” Yvonne Lambert adds in agreement, “we add a new element that could throw everything off.”