Austin’s The Octopus Project make electronic music for people who don’t like electronic music… mad, wonderful, almost orchestral at times, their songs have to be heard to be believed. In fact, you ought to catch the video for their track "Music is Happiness" right now so you can get on with said believing.
We corresponded with The Octopus Project’s Josh Lambert recently to learn about how the band began and where they’re going next. And it quickly became clear that besides being really talented, he’s also really, goddamn nice.
Hey, Josh! How’s Austin treating you?
Great! We love this town! Best sushi in the world!
How’s the music scene going there these days? Which bands are you liking the most right now?
The music scene in Austin is pretty fantastic. You can truly go out any night of the week and see a good band play. Everyone here is in a band, which makes for a lot of bands, but it also seems to spawn a bunch of creativity. Obviously, everyone wants to stand out, and that’s harder to do with so many folks playing music. So, people tend to just do their own thing here. I wouldn’t say there’s any sort of scene in the sense that everyone is playing similar music, but in the sense that we’re all friends and are all incredibly supportive of each other. It’s a pretty exciting environment! Right now, The Sword, Cue, and Horse+Donkey come to mind as a few bands from Austin that we’re all really into.
So, there’s a good story about how you guys ended up playing Coachella last year. Can you tell it?
Last year, Coachella wanted to pick one band and one DJ from MySpace to be included in the festival. They asked folks to submit their favorite bands, and then the Coachella people listened to all the submissions and picked their favorites. It just so happened that someone submitted our name, and the Coachella staff liked what we were doing, so we were asked to play! We had no idea that the contest was even happening until way after it was over. We came home from practice one day to an email from Goldenvoice asking if we would be interested in playing “a festival” in Indio, CA in April. Needless to say, we immediately replied: “Yes!”
You’ve been playing together since ’98, right? How did it all come together?
Well, we’ve all known each other and been in bands together forever. Yvonne met Toto when they were 11. I’ve known them both since late high school. The three of us were in another band in 1998 where we were pretty much just the backing band. We left that band in order to focus on something where we had no limits and could just do whatever we wanted. Initially, we were attempting to throw as many instruments together as we could and see what the results were. We didn’t play too many shows, and were all in college at the time, so we weren’t really taking the band too seriously. It wasn’t until Peek-a-Boo offered to put out our record that we decided to really focus on the band. This was around November of 2001. We’ve been going at it full-force ever since then!
What’s it like playing in a band with a spouse?
Awesome! We never have to miss each other while we’re on tour! We’re all first and foremost great friends, and Yvonne and I being married never comes into the picture while we’re in band-mode. We try really hard to keep things separate. We’re just four best friends making music together. But, it is pretty fantastic to get to do something together that we love so much. What’s your process like for coming up with a song? I mean, you guys switch instruments frequently, so I’d guess it’s different every time. Writing songs is pretty different every time. It’s pretty rare that we’ll jam at practice and come up with something all together, but it happens every once in a while. Usually, one person will come up with an idea, the others will build on it at home, and we’ll pull it all together at practice. A lot of times, though, one of us will come up with something entirely on our own, and have the others learn it. For example, Toto wrote The Adjustor by himself, and we all just learned the parts and kind of made them our own.
If I were to ask you a generic “who are your influences” question, would you hold it against me?
No, but we do get that question an awful lot! It’s a really impossible question to answer because we all listen to everything, and are influenced by everything in life. Everybody is. But, if I had to make a list… Deerhoof, The Flaming Lips, Michel Gondry, Clara Rockmore, Zhou Xuan, Dan Clowes, Haruki Murakami, Werner Herzog, Sonic Youth, colors, Alejandro Jodorowsky, The Beatles, Lost. Uh….. I don’t know. A million other things.
You do all your own art design work, don’t you?
Yes. For the most part. We’ve had a couple of incredibly fantastic people do some posters for us, Leia Bell and Mike Budai. But, otherwise, we do everything ourselves. Yvonne is the only one who does the sewing, but we all do everything else together. Literally. The new CD that we just did, The House of Apples & Eyeballs, has a cover that Toto and I drew together. He drew half the image, and I drew half. We all normally gravitate towards the same design aesthetic (cute + weird), and 99.9% of the time agree on stuff. All of us grew up drawing all the time, making flyers for our bands, making crafts, or whatever, and couldn’t imagine not involving those kinds of things with the band. It’s a great excuse to get to do all that stuff!
You know, my mom had this wooden duck in our house when I was a kid that led people to start buying her all these duck knick-knacks over the years to go with it until our living room was basically full of them. Do people do that for you guys with octopi?
Yes, definitely. It’s incredibly nice of folks to do that kind of thing for us, but none of us are infatuated with octopi or anything. I’m assuming the same went for your mom and the duck! The name of the band was incredibly random, and the only reason why we picked it was because the words sounded good together. It’s pretty awesome when people give us stuff, though! Recently, a girl brought a whole bunch of octopi-decorated cupcakes to our show! Yummy!
Last question: What’s next for you?
We just put out a collaborative record with Black Moth Super Rainbow. We’re planning on spending the rest of the winter writing new songs, and then we’re going to go record them at Bear Creek in Seattle in February. We should be putting the record out around June or so. We’ll be touring as much as humanly possible all of next year until we make another record, and start the whole process over again. We’re going to tour Europe for the first time in May/June and Taiwan in July, and we’re outrageously excited about that! We’re so incredibly lucky to be doing what we love!
That’s it! Thanks for your time, Josh.