Featuring members of Soul-Junk, Trumans Water, fluf, and Olivelawn, Octa#grape a breath of fresh air in dusty garage.
Can we all agree that garage rock has reached an impasse?
Don't get me wrong. I love fuzzed out guitars, lo-fi drum tracks, and retro vocals as much as the next guy - and San Diego has got its share of great garage acts - but as more bands cloak themselves in distortion and deliberately under-produced recordings, each becomes less distinguishable from the next, and all too often they end up sounding regurgitated.
Then there's Octa#grape.
Dancing around the common trappings of garage rock revivalists, the quartet dropped their Emotional Oil EP via Bandcamp on February 12, and it immediately set Octa#grape apart.
Each track on the four-song EP has an infectious hook that will keep you coming back for a more nuanced listen of its disconsonant breakdowns (the lead-out to “Eternal Hair” could be a Murray Street b-side) and production that makes it sound like your speakers are blowing out.
Strapless guitarist Glen Galloway’s playful yet earnest (not to mention well-spoken) lyrics are run through taut reverb, giving his words a nostalgic, timeless quality.
You may recognize Galloway by his alter-egos Glen Galaxy or Galaxalag from Soul-Junk, a genre-hopping gospel outfit that has traversed sonic landscapes ranging from experimental indie rock to glitchy free-jazz hip-hop to disjointed skronky spazz outs.
For all his avant-garde leanings (including occasional reunions with no wave rockers Trumans Water), you’d never guess that Galloway creates music for Target, Cadillac, and Adidas commercials via Singing Serpent - a Kensington-based studio that he co-founded with musician Rafter Roberts thirteen years ago.
Joined by Trumans Water drummer Ely Moyal, guitarist Jason Begin (who moonlights as breakcore producer Vytear and chillwave outlet Drifting), and bassist Otis ‘O’ Bartholameu of Olivelawn, fluf, and The Makeup Sex, Octa#Grape is giving the garage a long overdue dusting, and you won't believe the cool stuff they're finding in there while they're at it.
How did Octa#grape get going in the first place?
Somewhere near the end of 2011, I had six songs that didn't seem to fit into what we were doing with Soul-Junk. For a while I thought I would play them solo, so I booked some shows and tried it. Then I started finding people who would do one show with me as a 2-piece. I recorded the first six songs with [his son] Jude on drums (we haven't released those yet). Alice Cohen did an animated video for us. Then last May we turned into a full band overnight.
I was playing an early version of Octa#grape with a drummer named Kevin Maliszewski, and he mentioned O (who I'd known way back from the days of Olivelawn) really liked our songs and might want to play bass with us. I figured if we were going to be more than a 2-piece, we should be a 4-piece. So I asked Kevin if he would be into playing guitar instead, and I asked Ely (who I had played with in Trumans Water) if he wanted to play drums. Over the next four months, we played some shows and recorded 9 songs (with my friend Jason Begin producing) with that line-up. Then Kevin moved to LA. Jason Begin started filling in on second guitar, and we asked him to join right after.
The last I heard, you were working on recording the full text of the Bible to music. What’s the word on this substantial undertaking?
Yeah, that's Soul-Junk. The Psalms are working the best by far. There's like 150 of them, so that's between 10 and 15 albums. I think we're almost one-third through the Psalms. Three albums released, two more are pretty much all recorded and being mixed. Before that, I did Genesis and half of Exodus, all posted on the Soul-Junk site. I have a few ideas about which books to go after once the Psalms are all sung, but that's a few years away. I used to stress a little thinking how much more there was to do, but now I'm just having a good time with it.
Soul-Junk wasn’t always embraced by Christian audiences. How has Octa#grape been received so far?
Octa#grape is super abstract lyrically, but it's riffy and immediate. We just got back from a little mini-tour in the northwest, and I loved seeing how quick it clicked. Soul-Junk it sort of the opposite dynamic. It's always been too weird for the Christians, and too Christian for the weirdos. I guess I like it that way. It's a stretch for everybody, but still feels vital. We've been around long enough to have people get past a knee-jerk love/hate reaction and really take it for what it is.
Octa#grape is distinctly melodic when held next to your work with Soul-Junk and Trumans Water. Where is this sound coming from?
I used to really not be able to stand melody...tuned my guitars weird to prevent it. Now I think it's alright. I think albums like Can's "Ege Bamyasi" and "Future Days" won me over.
What inspires you lyrically these days?
For this band the best lyrics kind of spill over from the thrill of the writing the music. When I write a new song, I get like a 9-year-old with his favorite song, and I spend about a week listening to them constantly, and I start getting pictures or phrases or bits and pieces of a story. I keep adding stuff and crossing stuff out right up to the point where I sing it. I'm into lyrics like Tom Verlaine and Marc Bolan and Parquet Courts and Epic Soundtracks and Mark E. Smith and Russian Tsarlag write/wrote. I read some TS Eliot as a kid and that kind of ruined me for writing anything linear.
What’s been going on with Methuselah and Thank you?
Methuselah had a good run. It was kind of a concept band. Double everything. Everybody played double-neck guitars, the drums were supposed to be a 2-kick set, and any time there was a guitar solo, both guitars had to solo. It was the kind of band that needed tons of rehearsing, so it kind of dissolved at the point where we didn't have time to keep it up. Everything we recorded got posted on the Soul-Junk site in bits and pieces.
Thank You (or "Glen Galaxy Says Thank You") will probably strike again soon. Most of those songs were written about 10 years ago, and took about seven years to get released - but the response has been pretty sweet. We were just out in Philadelphia last October playing these at Awake My Lyre, and I realized how these are straightforward gospel songs, and I'm very much into that. Gospel really never was meant to be pinned down. It's an experience way more than a document. But enough of the experience seems to be translating, so I think it's just a matter of time before more of these songs will see the light of day.
Can you tell me about the experience that inspired you to leave Trumans Water and start Soul-Junk?
One day we drove from Louisville to DC, and I read the whole gospel of Luke start to finish. The next day we drove from DC to Chapel Hill, and I read the book of Acts start to finish. For the next 3 days I heard God telling me it was time to leave Trumans and start a gospel band. Which was crazy because lots of what I was writing at that time were 7-minute spazz/noise freakouts. Gospel seemed like the furthest thing away. All of a sudden God started giving me the songs. They were gospel. But they were weird and raw and not like any other gospel songs. So I told the rest of the band I was leaving. I did one more European tour right after that, and then left and started Soul-Junk.
The production on 'Emotional Oil' sounds deliberate and powerful. What went into the recording process?
I feel like songs should be captured, not built. My best song recording experiences happen when I start to write a song and then the band all figures out their parts and rearranges the song, and then...right at the point where we move from thinking our way through it to feeling our way through it, we run grab the mics and the 4-track and hit record. We do as many takes as it takes to nail it, but stop if it gets old. Then we do vocals and as few overdubs as possible. Ideally the song is mostly recorded within two weeks of being written. That was pretty much true of every song on 'Emotional Oil' except "9-Eyed Lion," which I wrote a year ago. But it's wild and epic, so it aged well.
What have you been up to besides Octa#grape, musically or otherwise?
I surf as many mornings as I possibly can. Rafter Roberts co-runs Singing Serpent studios with me (making songs they secretly play on TV), and we started a 7" label called Thing Thing Thing early last year. I make collage oddities. Cathleen and I pastor a very small brand new church-plant. Both my kids (Jude and Mila) and two of my brothers (Jon and Brian) play with me in Soul-Junk, and we just opened for M. Ward at the Orpheum a couple weeks ago, which was nice and surreal.
Octa#grape will be at the Soda Bar with The Muffs on Sunday, March 3.