An arrangement of tones can provide stimulating ambiance, a melody can inspire, and a rhythm can move you to clap your hands. The Octopus Project is an Austin-based electro-pop-rock band whose sound has the capacity to do all three.
Their familiar sound is actually what’s playing through my car’s speakers as I drive to the Scottish Rite Theater – where the band is recording the music video to their latest single “Sharpteeth.”
There’s something about music that can enhance a mood or help establish one, and for the moment their music provides me a backdrop for clarity. Which is precisely what I need as I prepare to spend a few hours with a band that I’ve developed a true appreciation for.
There’s something about music that can enhance a mood or help establish one
The Octopus Project is composed of husband-and-wife Josh and Yvonne Lambert, Toto Miranda, and Ryan Figg. Stepping into the theater I find myself amongst a group of gentlemen all dressed in embroidered Western shirts and string bow-ties – you know, the type that Colonel Sanders used to wear. I’m instructed to pull a shirt for myself from the costume rack and after finding one that isn’t too baggy am pulled together by Mrs. Yvonne Lambert herself. She secures a few clips around my waist to give the shirt a fitted look, and then straightens the white satin tie attached to it.
Yvonne lends the impression of someone who is always perfectly turned out. I imagine she wakes up with her hair perfectly coiffed – in a ‘flip’ reminiscent of a bygone era. She moves slowly and gently, in a German-style dirndl, attending to everyone in the production. There’s a patience to her mannerisms and an elegance in her composure.
There’s a patience to her mannerisms and an elegance in her composure.
Walking onto the stage for the video shoot, you see that this level of attentiveness doesn’t just exist in Yvonne but in every member of the band. Josh and Toto (past film majors) discuss how certain shots should be framed, while Ryan Figg secures black pieces of tape to the floor so he and others stand exactly in their designated positions. The precision with which they do things on set shouldn’t surprise me. The arrangement of sound they assemble for each of their tracks exhibit that same refinement.
With everyone in position the camera rolls, and the music starts. A beat slowly fades into soft rolling drums…
You then hear something not often heard in their previous tracks. You hear them… in their own voice. Another person here at the video shoot notices the contrast from previous records too. “You’re going to have vocals in this album?” he says with surprise. “You guys are going to blow up.” I agree with him.
Together for nearly fifteen years now, the band doesn’t feel like it went through big evolutionary changes looking back on one album to the next. “The way we get there changes…we go about it in many different ways…but it all feels of a piece to me,” says Toto Miranda.
… the band has matured and developed a more sophisticated sound – likely without them even realizing it.
However, after listening to their latest album, Fever Forms, I feel the band has matured and developed a more sophisticated sound – likely without them even realizing it. As noted during the video shoot, Fever Forms – more than previous albums – features several tracks where you’ll hear the band’s own voices.
These echoed consonants breathe a new life into their compositions, and on tracks like “Whitby” it reveals more of their soul.
In an interview we had at Yvonne and Josh Lambert’s Austin home, Yvonne divulged that the lyrics to “Whitby” are inspired by her dear friend Susan Tyrrell – an Oscar nominated actress affectionately called Susu.
“She used to always tell me ‘Your health is sexy. Do it for me.’”
“Susu had [also] once told me that somebody she saw had looked like they had been groomed with a gardening claw. I thought that was great! It was so descriptive, so I borrowed that [for another lyric] ‘ingenue groomed with a gardening shoe.”
“ingenue groomed with a gardening shoe.”
Against a chorus of brightly animated sounds on “Whitby,” Yvonne sings these playful lyrics with soft-spoken and unexpected emotion. After more dialogue in our interview, it’s revealed why that is.
On the very same night Yvonne was working on “Whitby” she got word that Susu had suddenly passed away. Josh suggested that Yvonne, who was heartbroken, simply go to bed to wash away the emotion from the sudden loss. Yvonne, however, felt compelled to finish the song. And as a result, it’s something she feels Susu’s spirit lives on through.
“For me that song is special. I feel like it’s her song… it’s something that both of us are a part of.”
… she’s able to get the theremin to sing with qualities that are operatic and beautiful.
The tone and weight in which lyrics are sung in Fever Forms, give the tracks more body and substance. This is especially true next to the more developed sound of the theremin. Wherein previous albums would see the instrument used to add eerie from-outer-space effects to the tracks, Fever Forms showcases Yvonne’s mastery of the device – as she’s able to get the theremin to sing with qualities that are operatic and beautiful.
The Octopus Project, like most great bands, are best experienced live. Watching Yvonne play the Theremin is a bit like watching a conductor of an orchestra – sound seemingly emitting from her fingertips and through the vibration of her hands. This performance coupled with a video projector light show – synced to their amps – simulates what it must feel like to be a synesthete; as bright colored geometric shapes layer themselves concentrically to the beat of the music.
The band is an assembly of creatives that exercise control over every detail and nuance of their craft. You’ll hear it in the precision of their music.
You’ll see it in their live shows and their music videos.
“We wouldn’t have been happy putting out something we weren’t 100% excited about,” Yvonne mentions. And with Fever Forms, there’s lots to be excited about.
Keep your eyes on them.
These guys are going to blow up. ◊
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