The eclectic Austin band began the anniversary tour for their third album Hello, Avalanche in El Paso, TX, at the Lowbrow Palace. The Octopus Project are well-known for their unique sounds that sound like the music Nintendo plumber Mario would concoct if he gave us his pipe dreams and ditched Princess Peach to become a composer for sci-fi films. Hello, Avalanche is a prime example of the emotions of glee and wonder their music invokes. The high zipping sound that Yvonne Lambert’s theremin leads through the Octopus Project’s music is what it must feel like skipping through a field of sunflowers whilst being shocked by static; relaxing in a strangely metallic way.
The tour, which will continue through the West coast, is focused on the reissue of their “fan favorite” album featuring unreleased demos. Toto Miranda discussed the band’s inception nearly twenty years ago, the process of creating the reissue for Hello, Avalanche, and collaborating on scores for the Zellner brother films.
The Octopus Project is Toto Miranda, Yvonne Lambert, Josh Lambert, and Lauren Gurgiolo. The Octopus Project Kickoff ‘Hello, Avalanche’ 11th Anniversary Tour, Prepare for Score to Premier at Sundance via third Zellner Brother film collaboration.
Antonio Villasenor-Baca: How did the Octopus Project come together? What was the inspiration behind creating a project, a band with these kinds of sounds?
Toto Miranda: I guess the most basic way to put it is that it was kind of sound-based. We’d all been in other bands before, some of them with each other. I’ve been playing with Josh [Lambert] and Yvonne [Lambert] in other bands previous; but there was always sort of a songwriter. And we started this band to explore an alternative approach where we started with the sounds instead and kind of focus on expanding our sound pallet as much as we could. This was like late 90’s when we got started. Like electronic sounds were feeling really new and there was a lot of new stuff you could do with it. We wanted to get our hands on some of the instruments and some of the sounds and see what we can make out of it.
A: What kind of reception did you get at first? What did you expect and what did you hope to accomplish playing unique sounds with such unique instruments like the theremin?
T: I think the goal was really just exploration and any audience that we happened to have is really just a bonus. It’s really just about seeing what we can make and we’re really glad that people seem to enjoy how it turns out. I don’t think we were focused on being a live band right at the beginning; and then when as we started to try some experiments at playing live we realized that was also a really rewarding avenue and then we started to focus on making it a performance and having stuff happening on stage.
A: When it comes to the commercial aspect, how have you managed to label yourselves in terms of genre and selling your music and being able to describe yourselves?
T: I don’t know. We’ve never been great at that. We try to stay away from genre words and use more direct adjectives like loud or fun, I don’t know, loud noisy party-music. We do our best to stay away from genre words because it doesn’t suit us all that well. I don’t know how well it suits anybody who’s not specifically pursuing genre type music, plenty of which is excellent, but it can also be a challenge when presenting yourself. And I think we really do best when we can get up and be in front of an audience and have a good time with them.
A: How do you go about the actual production of the music? Because it seems so expansive with all of the different elements that have to be added.
T: Yeah, it’s also pretty exploration based. A lot of times it starts with just one individual person working on their own, kind of exploring sounds, and coming up with something new, knocking that into shape, and then presenting that idea to the rest of the band, and somebody might suggest another direction that it can go in. We generally trade pieces like that until the song is done. Then once it’s done we get together and figure out how to play it.
A: When it comes to the finishing touches to an album and all of the aesthetic parts, where does all of that come from? Do you plan on it being so eclectic?
T: Yeah, well, I think we think of it all as being part of the same project and we’re just as interested in presenting visual ideas, as we are sonic ideas. So we try to extend that to the look and the live show and also anything else that we might make. The artwork for the record, this last [album, Memory Mirror,] we enlisted a friend to do for us: Jaime Zurveza, here in town. He’s doing a lot of cool poster work. We’ve known him for a really long time. And so we’ll enlist friends sometimes but it’s always something that feels very incorporated to us with the musical part, the visual side is.
A: Getting into what this tour is about, what does the Hello, Avalanche reissue have?
T: The original album was never specifically mastered for vinyl we used the same audio for both. So we added specifically mastered for vinyl. Physically it’s going to be vinyl only this time, we’re not doing CD release. So it’s going to be really vinyl focused. We had the audio mastered for vinyl, and then included a second LP that included the Gold Beds EP that we put out a couple years after “Avalanche,” in 2009. It was kind of a limited release that maybe people don’t know about and the flip side of that, the second disc, is all unreleased demos that were stuff we were working on as we were making Hello, Avalanche, and candidates for the record that for one reason or another we just never quite finished. So its kind of like a sketchbook of some other ideas from that time and kind of complements the songs that did make it on to the record.
A: The album was described as your “perennial fan favorite.” Why do you describe it like that? Has it been your best selling or is there another particular reason?
T: That was the one that people really latched onto. It was the third album, it was kind of where we noticed that a lot of people were paying attention, checking out what we were doing. Consequently the tunes from that album remain ones that people really like to hear and that we really like to play and it just seems like an album that really connected with people. It was definitely a refinement of what we had been doing on the previous record, and the first [album], maybe to a lesser extent, the first one really is us just getting started, figuring out how to put songs down. The second [album] is a little bit focused, and then the third one is more focused and a little bit tougher. It was the first one we did in a studio with other people. So working on it, and I think that contributed something to the sound. Then the album after “Avalanche,” turned out to be in a different direction too, so it was kind of the culmination of that particular era of what we were doing.
A: And can you talk about the artwork for “Avalanche”?
T: Yeah! Well, the reissue we also redid the artwork completely. We went back to the original artwork and pulled it apart and put it back together in a sort of psychedelic flip of the original, really changed the setting, the color scheme- it’s got a really cool foil inlay on the jacket. And the fact that it’s a double LP means that we got to put in gatefold jacket that opens up and that gave us a really nice canvas for us to work with, doing the redesign.
A: How did you get into doing scores for films?
T: We got into through our friends, the Zellner brothers, they were the filmmakers we worked with the most. They’re friends we’ve known for a long time here in Austin, who have been making independent movies for a long time. We have two full-length scores that we did for them: a movie called Kid-Thing (2012), and a movie Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (2014). And we have our latest collaboration with them premiering next month at Sundance in Utah, for a movie called Damsel. So we’ve been really lucky to get to collaborate with them. We’re pretty likeminded artistically, and it ends up being a really cool back and forth. You know, it’s their film but they’re always interested in our feedback not just with the music but with the sound and other aspects of the filmmaking so we really get to be hands on and it gets to be a really rewarding collaboration.
A: Is it a different process making the scores from creating an album?
T: Yeah, absolutely. It’s really rewarding in that way as well. It gives us a chance to work with a completely different set of goals and expectations, which is not something that we think about a lot when we’re making regular band music. It’s interesting to work on a project that’s already been framed by somebody else to have a certain objective and to work within that. And that lets us explore much more atmospheric, spacious, kind of sounds, where I think with our records we’re always going for energy and focus and with the soundtrack we have a chance to kind of turn that pressure down a little bit and explore something more atmospheric. It’s usually a completely different sound pallet. The next movie, Damsel, is more or less a western, so we ended up using a lot of acoustic type instruments that you would associate with a western, like a banjo, a fiddle, a guitar, a bunch of stuff that we probably wouldn’t turn to when we’re doing regular album music. It really lets us open up a whole other pallet to work with.
– By Antonio Villaseñor-Baca