Electric Octopus interview
Dripping with breezy hazed reverb and fuzzed out historic blues references, while interlacing both jazz and psychedelia, Electric Octopus have managed to not only find the key, but have opened some doors that have gone unnoticed for far too long. Here on This Is Our Culture, the trio lay down a bit of hipness layered with psychedelic rock, cool jazz, and extended jams that go down easy, not so much demanding your attention, though making it nearly impossible for you to dismiss this outing as mere background music.
I knew they were waiting for me as I climbed to the dimly lit second floor. I fully expected these guys to be mad as hatters, and while I wasn’t far off the mark, the guys I met were relatively down to earth … at least that is, while they’re not in the presences of their instruments, instruments that seemed to be calling them from the corner.
Jenell: Good evening, thanks for sitting down with me for a bit. Let’s get the basics out of the way for our readers. Could you all please introduce yourselves and the instruments that you play?
Tyrell: Hi I’m Tyrell I play guitar in Electric Octopus!
Guy: Hey Jenell, Guy, and I’m on the drum-kit.
Dale: Hi there, I’m Dale and I play the bass.
Jenell: (laughing) Why do I feel that I’ve just stepped into a Beatles’ movie?
Jenell: So who’s classically trained here?
Tyrell: I am not at all, getting lessons and that just didn’t feel like a natural thing for me to do.
Guy: I grew up learning the trumpet and played in brass ensembles and orchestras, when I found the drums though it took over everything, played percussion for a decent orchestra for a while but my mainstay has just been behind a kit.
Dale: I’m interested that you ask this as the first question, does it seem like we are? I like listening to classical music but our approach is very far from what I understand the classical way to be. I’m not classically trained.
Jenell: Well, from what you doing, it certainly seemed that you had an extensive toolbox you were dipping into. The band seems to have grown from a trio for live shows, is this going to be the new structure for the band as a whole?
Tyrell: Like everything we do, there’s no real structure or plan, it just happens, so if we are playing a show and someone wants to get up and jam then we’re all for it, but the band as a core thing is and will most likely remain just the three of us.
Guy: I’d say the same, just keeping the vibes good and exploring. A new person can bring in another viewpoint, dust off that old third eye and help us create new rhythms and sounds. To be honest I don’t really think we’ve thought about it overly, usually the natural thing to do has always just been the best.
Dale: As Guy says, whatever feels natural is what we’ll do. Currently I don’t think we have any immediate plans to bring anyone else in permanently, but we’re down to jam with whoever …
Jenell: I go back to the 60’s, have even seen Hendrix live, and while I don’t particularly like to make comparisons, Electric Octopus have a solid psych feel, with an undercurrent of jazz and jamming … how’ve you managed to pull this all together in a cohesive manner?
Tyrell: Literally just wing it. (laughing with a wide-eyed smile)
Guy: Yeh, I don’t ever really remember thinking too much about the music while jamming, in fact sometimes I swear I’m not even in the room anymore and I open my eyes and I’m still there and its like, ‘Oh shit we’re still playing this jam, how long has this been, where the fuck have I been? (starts going off on some mind wander again), Oh shit yeh, we’re jamming, right.’ We’ve all been playing our instruments for long enough that we can just have fun. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but whenever it doesn’t I swear those are the jams where I learn the most. The only thing worse than people who do nothing are people who copy other people, not about that, just doing us.
Dale: It just seems to have happened. We all have known each other for a while, played together in groups and also played with a wide variety of other musicians, so we’ve just fit in relatively effortlessly. There is some effort to pull an idea together while we’re playing, but that’s no different from just directing a conversation, for example.
Jenell: I’ve heard several descriptions of your sound, even invented a few of my own … how would you describe your music?
Tyrell: The description I’d give our sound today could be completely different tomorrow, it kinda just always changes with the vibe at the time we’re jamming I guess.
Guy: Environment definitely changes the sound, big up the Soiree 2016. Our first gig was surrounded by some of the most beautiful souls wandering the streets of Belfast. Sometimes it’s hard to think that the jams aren’t a direct reply to external influences sometimes.
Dale: It’s just the sound of the space we’re in at the time. It’s definitely a direct response to our surroundings, there’s no way it couldn’t be.
Jenell: Who are your past influences, and who’s on your turntable this very moment?
Tyrell: Sooo many musical influences but I currently have Jesse Ed Davis – Ululu on my turntable, absolutely class record! Also been soaking myself in The Meters for a while, just tying to absorb the funk.
Guy: The main squeeze … Dr. Funk is crawling its way into my ear canals right now. But for past influences it’s hard to say, teaching drums meant I couldn’t go down a single road with my playing so it’s probably easier saying what hasn’t influences me most, music that’s based on frustration or something I haven’t ever really dug, like metal and that. You can tell if you hear a band searching for the sound, the evolution of that dates back since the first dude hit a rock a few times in a row with the same spacing between each hit and all the dudes round him were like, ‘Yo, that’s sick bro (probably in oo oo ahs)’ It’s a journey, you stand on the shoulders of all the past musicians, it’s not about being better, it’s about finding that all unifying sound.
Dale: I’ve absorbed a lot of different stuff from a lot of different people in the past while, so it’s hard to identify direct influences as it can all tend to just blend down into one big vibe after a while. I still can’t get past Blackstar by David Bowie, utterly unbelievable record. Bowie’s bass players have definitely helped me try to look for a sound on bass that resonates emotionally. I’m starting to really love Jaco recently also, the stuff with Weather Report really succeeds in combining light and dark and madness down into a really funk-heavy package, which is a fantastic musical vision IMO. His work with Joni Mitchell is also glorious, totally batshit crazy but deeply resonant and profound.
Jenell: The album, This Is Our Culture, was comprised of only 3, though rather lengthy tracks, 72 minutes in total, which seemed to suggest that you’re taking full advantage of the digital age, and the amount of material that can be placed onto one disc. And with that in mind, are you foregoing the idea of vinyl? Because I for one was standing in front of my turntable shaking my head with the digital download in hand.
Tyrell: It just doesn’t bloody fit onto vinyl. (laughing) We could split the tracks and fade in and out but you’d lose the vibe when you changed sides. We’re gonna get CDs though. We didn’t really think it was going to become a thing at the time we uploaded it but it’s become a pretty big thing very fast. Vinyl is definitely going to happen with future releases if we do anything short enough. (laughing)
Guy: That thing about the digital age is cool though, I suppose people in the past had to be aware that if they were going to get their music out it had to be a certain length. These jams naturally come to their own ends, it’s like a trip, you can’t just stop, the end is the end.
Dale: We would definitely love to do vinyl but it is just a logistical thing, our songs won’t really fit. If someone can hook us up with some 36” record pressing facilities I’m sure we’d be over the moon.
Jenell: What’s your recording/writing process like? I ask this, because your music is so expansive that I find myself wondering if you began with a notion, and that you actually construct around that notion, leaving it to hang like a gem in the middle of your wanderlust.
Tyrell: The mad thing is though, literally most times, especially gigs, it’s just come from someone tuning up or something and then we just keep going. Like it literally does just go out of my head that we’re actually just making sounds out of the blue … Mad! We wouldn’t actually be us if we tried to structure it, it would have a totally different feel.
Guy: We can talk about it easily together because we hear and feel it, but its impossible to explain externally, there are times when feelings replace words when you talk about it. I don’t really think we know whats going on, the journey feels long, so ask us in ten years maybe.
Dale: When there’s a specific vibe in the room, you can just take that and begin to let it work on it’s own. The way you begin isn’t super important.
Jenell: Do you find yourselves experimenting as you’re playing live?
(About 7 minutes of sarcasm)
Tyrell: I’d say you’ve probably gathered by now what we’re about. The thing about not having any songs or structure is that there’s no right or wrong, we’re all free to explore whatever we want. We’ve maybe just got really good at turning wrongs into rights. (laughing) I love the freedom of it all! If you listen to a track called “Drift” on our Soundcloud. That’s probably the most experimental pieces of music I’ve ever been a part of creating! We summoned something that night!
Jenell: A quick few words about effects and pedals for our musician readers. How are you micing and what electronics do you find most helpful for your sound? How do you determine when to use, what to use, and how not to overuse effects?
Tyrell: I guess I should answer this one. (laughing with delight) For me, effects can be a very hit or miss thing. Sometimes you just get the right sound in the right environment without pedals. Sitting looking at my pedals now, it looks like a lot to me but its really all very basic! My pedal chain goes, fuzz, overdrive, wah, octavia, uni-vibe and delay. The most important thing for me is the guitars tone and volume knobs, its all about dynamics, going up and down with the journey. Again, when and what to use is just experimenting and riding the wave at the time, the wah is definitely an easy one to over use though, but it sounds so damn good!
Dale: Ty is able to get a huge variety of sounds from a guitar, so I’d add to what he’s said that if you’re a guitar player trying to replicate what he does, the most important thing is probably to find those unique sounds in your own gear rather than copy someone else’s. Personally, I just use a Sansamp, mostly for the EQ and tonal qualities rather than overdrive, and also use a very very temperamental Moog ring modulator at times, although it rarely comes out when I’m in the flow these days. I use it mainly on my Rhodes piano, which may one day make an appearance on the recordings.
Jenell: In the past, as now, there are those who’ve attempted to capture the etherial delights of substances through their music, some managing this much better than others. So I’ll politely ask if medications have influenced what you’re laying down?
Tyrell: I definitely wouldn’t say that medications have created our sound as such, but I guess sometimes it helps us explore our minds a bit more than normal. Although to be fair, we’ve had some class jams with nothing involved at all, the playing in itself is almost a drug, I’ve come out of jams feeling very very high on the vibes, just lost for 20 minutes in a musical trance!
Guy: I’ve been medicating regularly for the last four years, Just existing is the real high though. The reason I’m in Belfast is because I’ve just finished a Masters degree in Astrophysics, Physics is how I know Dale actually. That degree involved a lot of mindsploring and scaping. I can’t say for the other two, although I’m sure this applies, if I find something I love I bring that into myself. Life’s width is more important than its length, we have an opportunity to be beautiful, stay centered, explore internally as much if not more than externally and always keep learning. Life is a trip. I could talk for ages about all this, although we were saying about doing a podcast maybe soon, if anyone is interested in the ramblings of a few musician keep an eye out on our Facebook page, it’d be a lot more natural than this.
Dale: The real trip is the trip of existence, as Guy says. Chemicals are a sub-set of that, and psychedelics can be useful for exploring that. They’re by no means essential however, a clear and finely tuned sober mind is a very powerful thing.
Jenell: How would you describe your core listeners?
Tyrell: Impossible to describe I guess, everyone has their own peculiarities, that’s what makes us all unique. Like, out of the 70 odd thousand people that have listened to our album on youtube, I probably only know or have met about 10 people. (laughing)
Guy: Yeh, don’t know really. If they feel what we feel then peace dudes, I hope your ready for the journey of all journeys.
Dale: It’s mysterious, we know very few of them. Time will tell.
Jenell: You just got back from Spain, how did that tour go?
Tyrell: Yeah that wasn’t actually a tour, it was just a very very long week in the sun having the craic haha! Lots of mountains and lizards!
Guy: People reading this are going to think Craic is something else.
Tyrell: (laughing at an inside joke) Yeah, craic and crack are two very, very different things!
Dale: It was great, a real trip.
Jenell: I understand that you’re coming to America for a short time [and perhaps have been there by the time most people read this], why such a short visit?
Tyrell: What?? Is this actually a thing? (laughing) I don’t actually know where that came from, but ya know, I’d be pretty happy if it were true. Lets make it happen! All help welcome!!
Guy: No idea why this is a thing but we’d all go anywhere, pretty much whenever, it’s just funding ATM.
Jenell: I know of only a handful of musicians who are totally happy with their equipment … with your wishes granted, what would you like to be holding in your hands?
Tyrell: I’d actually, at long last say that I’m very content with the gear I’m using now, picked up an old 60’s Fender Amp a while back and I literally couldn’t ask for anything better. Buying guitars and amps has always been a very addictive for me, but now, I’ve got three main guitars I play and even that’s too much at times but they all have different sounds stored away so they all tell a different story. Actually, I’d love an old Gibson Firebird III, the one with the three P90’s, played one in Melbourne last year and it sounded so nice, should have bought it!
Guy: I’ve only just got my own kit sent over from England there, until now I’ve just been using rehearsal room kits, But I’d probably get a couple more crashes, maybe a big sheet of metal, a gong actually anything that creates a sound that I could incorporate, I’ve got a bit of an old washing machine on the kit atm.
Dale: Probably a couple of vintage SVTs, turned down low as hell to avoid any earthquake damage to our space. A nice P-bass would be good. I have simple tastes.
Jenell: And with that in mind, are there any instruments you might want to incorporate in the future?
Tyrell: It would be absolutely class to get a jam with a saxophone player!! Would love some dirty Hammond organ too, Dale you can just play bass and keys sure?
Guy: Big up Joe Armstrong, you mad bastard, had a crazy gig where we’d started playing and I heard this, “GUY, GUY, I LOVE YOU!, GUY!!!” and I turn to my side and there he is beside the stage chatting away to me, he jumped on stage and starting jamming with his flute, Complete and utter randomness is definitely embraced.
Dale: As Ty says, we’re incorporating a bit of Rhodes piano atm in the jams, it’s a really fucked up unit which I had to rewind all the pickups on myself, so it sounds crazy, very Lo-Fi.
Jenell: I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on the album artwork … who was responsible for that? It’s one of the most brilliant timeless pieces I’ve seen in years.
Tyrell: Yeah the artwork literally couldn’t have been any better in my eyes, blew my mind when I first seen it! What is the guy called again Dale?
Dale: Alfi Andy – https://www.instagram.com/alfiandikid/?hl=en He did the artwork for my other band, Elder Druid. He’s unbelievably good and seems to intuitively know exactly what to do.
Jenell: Along those lines, would you please explain the band’s name, Electric Octopus?
Tyrell: (laughing) Once again it’s another one of those “it just came to us” kinda things. Couldn’t imagine being called anything else now.
Guy: We were sat in a pub in Camden, London, and Hannah, big up, was chatting to us about doing a charity gig. She needed a name, until then we were called ‘The Blackstaff Rhythm Ensemble’. We brainstormed, sent the loads of random shit, and she like electric octopus, as did we.
Jenell: Any sense of direction for you next venture? Any thoughts about lyrics or singing?
Tyrell: It’s all just a big adventure, sometimes you take time to explore things more closely and other times you just skim past without really taking it in! The fun for me is not actually knowing where it’s going to go next!
Guy: I’m on the same vibe as Ty there.
Jenell: Of course I must ask about actual music labels here. Is anyone courting you, or do you find that what you’re doing works well enough, and don’t want to be trapped my record management [?] … because it all has it’s pros and cons.
Tyrell: Labels and management seem to be becoming a thing of the past, like the internet makes it so much easier for bands and artist to do things more independently! For us to work with any sort of label or management, they would have to have the same sorta vibe as us for it to work. We don’t really want to be pigeon holed into any specific genre or whatever, people will always try and do that, maybe it’s the norm but we’re definitely not in the normal category haha As long as making music and playing live remains the main thing then i’m happy.
Guy: Yeah playing is the main thing really. I don’t think any of us are greedy, letting it evolve naturally has been insane, and has taught me not to rush these things, life is art, I’d like that to resonate through anything we do. If anyone was to come in, they’d have to be resonating with all of us.
Dale: We’re going along pretty solidly without a manager or label atm, we have a nice mind path that we’re going down.
Jenell: Anything I’ve missed, or anything you want to say?
Tyrell: Actually those were some pretty good questions, it’s weird having to try and give answers to it all haha I guess I’d just say thanks to everyone who has supported us so far, it’s a good feeling knowing that other people seem to be enjoying the ride as much as we are!
Jenell: I sincerely want to thank you for your time, and must say, Electric Octopus is one band I’m waiting to see live, so come to New Mexico [USA], we have a great psych scene going here.
Tyrell: Cheers for spending some time with us, I hope we didn’t fry your brain too much.
Guy: Peace to all the people growing trees.
Dale: Thank you for reading.
At this point I’ll post links to your Facebook and BandCamp page.
– Jenell Kesler