Houston Calling

Free Press Summer Fest preview: The Octopus Project

August 4th, 2009 · 1 Comment

Austin’s The Octopus Project is a unique band whose live show is one of the most entertaining I’ve seen in the past few years. For those unfamiliar with the band’s indie-tronica, here’s a video of the band’s new song, “Wet Gold” (filmed in Galveston):

In advance of this weekend’s Free Press Summer Fest (August 8-9, in Eleanor Tinsley Park in downtown Houston), The Octopus Project’s Toto Miranda recently answered a few questions for Houston Calling.

Houston Calling: Let’s get the obvious one out of the way–what prompted the singing on the new EP?

Toto Miranda: The addition of singing wasn’t really part of a plan or anything, we just ended up working on a couple of songs that seemed to need another layer to feel complete. Both tunes started as instrumentals, like all our songs, but when we tried adding voices it seemed to fit pretty well. We’re always looking for new ways to expand the range of sounds we use, and it’s exciting to start considering vocals as part of the palette.

HC: I have been a long-time fan and supporter of the band and have been pleased to watch the progress over the years. Are you pleased with the direction the band’s career has taken since the first release?

TM: Beyond pleased! The fact that we even have a “career” is kind of a mind-blow, we just try to keep doing exciting work and feel really lucky that some people have decided we’re worth following. Hooray!

HC: How was the “mini-tour” last month? Were crowds receptive to the new material? Are you excited about the upcoming tour?

TM: The dates in June went really well–we got to visit some our favorite spots, like the Pilot Light in Knoxville, and play some brand new towns like Memphis and Louisville…and yeah, people seem to really enjoy the new tunes in the set. We’ve been playing a couple tunes from the new EP and a brand-new one that we just wrote a couple months back. The tour we’re on right now (sorry these answers are a little late!) is shaping up to be really exciting too–especially the fact that the East Coast leg is gonna end at the Summer Fest in Houston! Ultra-psyched to play there (three of us are Houstonian by birth) and to share the stage with so many great bands. 

HC: I love it when I hear from someone who caught the band live for the first time. it’s always the same story–they’re blown away and amazed they hadn’t heard of The Octopus Project before. Do you ever find it hard to give 100% onstage while on tour? I have always been impressed by the band’s energy.

TM: Anytime we get up to play a show I have a pretty similar, slightly out-of-body experience…the energy and the physical style of playing just come naturally and sort of take over. Sometimes I try to make myself calm down for some practical reason or another, and that’s usually harder than just letting the rocknroll flow. Fortunately the onstage momentum seems to translate to the crowd and get them involved, and then we all party together!

HC: You guys played last year’s Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits Music Festival, and Coachella as well. How was it playing to such large audiences? What was your favorite part about it?

TM: It’s a tremendous experience to play for huge audiences like that…it’s a very different feeling than playing a regular club show, the scale of everything is just so much bigger. The stage, the audience, the organization backstage. It’s super exciting, and I hope we get to do much more of it in the future, but it also makes me appreciate the sane, human scale of a regular-size show. The impact of those festival shows really shows up after the fact–they seem to introduce us to a lot of new people who live all over the place and will come to see us when we play their hometowns.

HC: What can you tell me about the new EP? Did you record it in Austin?

TM: Yeah, the EP was recorded in Austin. It’s comprised of a couple songs that were originally released on a 7″ in the UK last year (“Wet Gold” and “Moon Boil”), a couple songs that were in the running for Hello, Avalanche but have since been reworked and improved (“Wood Trumpet” and “Half a Nice Day”), and a song from our first record that has become a different beast over six years of touring and re-recorded as such (“Rorol”). About half the recording we did at home, and about half in the studio. It’s really nice to be able to collect all these songs that we’re proud of but hadn’t found their proper homes yet–they all seem to work pretty well together on the EP!

HC: How do you think (or do you think) being from Austin or being a Texas musician influences your music?

TM: While I do have an inherent sense of Texas pride (maybe only because we’re misunderstood in so many other places), I don’t think we particularly identify as “Texas Musicians”. I’m also not sure that Austin has particularly influenced our sound, but being from a town with such a vibrant and prolific music scene has definitely encouraged us to do our own thing and take it to the limit, so to speak. Starting a band, writing songs and hitting the road has always just seemed to me like “A Thing That People Do,” though I feel very fortunate that it has turned out to be a fairly successful endeavor for us so far.

HC: What is the band’s process for writing songs? Do you just get together and “jam” and work things out, or does each member bring something in and it grows from there?

TM: We mostly work independently, though collaboratively–we’ll develop ideas at home and then bring the demos together and talk about which bits we all like. Then the idea might change hands, or the same person might finish it up with input from the group. We usually don’t learn to play the songs until they’re completely written, although they may change some more once we do learn to play them.

HC: What band are you most looking forward to at the Free Press Summer Fest in Houston? Are you guys going to be able to stick around for some of the Houston bands or will you be on the road soon after the show?

TM: To shout out some Austin homeboys, we’re always thrilled to play with the Sword and Explosions in the Sky, on the Houston side of things I always enjoy a Young Mammals show. The fest falls in the middle of our tour so unfortunately we can’t stick around for day two…would that we could!

HC: What have you been listening to lately? Anything to recommend?

TM: Tour is always a great time to listen to new jams. some of the hits in the van this trip have been Terry Riley, Mr. Oizo, Dee D. Jackson, Modeselektor, Ravi Shankar, Francois de Roubaix, Fela Kuti and Flying Lotus. Diversity is the key!

Thanks to Toto from The Octopus Project for taking the time out to answer these questions.

The Octopus Project plays in Houston at Free Press Summer Fest this Saturday (August 8th) at 4:35pm on the main stage.

To find out more about The Octopus Project, visit the band’s website at www.theoctopusproject.com.

Tags: Interviews · Music · Show listings

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