There’s strange twilight time between Christmas festivities and the New Years celebrations. The presents have been unwrapped, crackers pulled, and the only chocolates left in the box are the ones nobody likes. If you’re lucky enough not to have to go back to work, it’s a lost week where time is measured only by the shrinkage of the pile of festive turkey leftovers and no-one really knows what day it is. For some it’s a time of melancholic limbo, for others it’s one long, glorious Sunday afternoon, but it was within this festive no-man’s land that Belfast 3-piece, Electric Octopus, decided to release their latest album “Line Standing”.
Electric Octopus are: Dale Hughes – Low-frequency man (bass-guitar); Tyrell Black – Medium- to high-frequency man (guitar); and Guy Hetherington – Time, very-low and very-high frequency man (drums) – their description, my translation! Classifying their music is far from straight forwards. It inhabits the wide open spaces between jazz, blues-infused, guitar-led psychedelia, and more minimalist experimental music, ignoring boundaries and defying those who would seek to classify it. Equally, to call “Line Standing” an album is perhaps somewhat of an understatement. Most albums last less than an hour and maybe have 10 or so tracks. Not “Line Standing”. It is a sublime 18 track behemoth weighing in at a massive and highly pleasurable 4 hours and 39 minutes. To start playing Line Standing, and to actually stop and indulge in some truly immersive listening is to loose an entire evening.
Having lost a significant amount of time with the expansive soundscapes of “Line Standing” I decided to get in contact with Electric Octopus and find out more about the philosophy and inspiration behind the music…
This is what Electric Octopus had to say for themselves:
“Line Standing” is utterly epic in its scale. What’s your thinking behind unleashing an album of this awesome magnitude?
Dale: The album we released previous to this, Driving Under the Influence of Jams, was around 4 hours long. The initial idea for just to have some kind of long playlist of jams that you could set and leave on, like while driving. Once it got uploaded on youtube though it kind of turned into just a very long album, because it’s on a channel with thousands of other albums and that’s the way people are going to see it. So when you view it as that, you start to see it as just a nice way to deliver a lot of our stuff out in a format that people will be able to listen to as some kind of a unified work. It seems more complete as well, we have released albums of traditional length before and the larger ones just seem richer
Tyrell: Each album is kinda like a post card, an update of where we’re at or where we’ve been, recently, there’s just not been enough room on the post card, so we’ve had to write letters instead.
Guy: Its nice to share stuff we’ve enjoyed, learnt from, been lost in. People have reacted in a real mad way to what we’re doing here, and enabled it all in doing so. I’ll share it freely with them and anyone.
Describing the genre(s) a bands music belongs to is often far from straight forwards. How would you describe your music to someone who’s never heard you play before?
Tyrell: If you think about a genre as a specific group of sounds clustered together, then on the grander scale, all those clusters would be grouped together to reveal something much more. While there’s a lot to explore within one area, you gotta go outside of that to find something new. We’re just contributing to the puzzle, the more open minded the listener, the more likely they are to understand what we’re doing.
Guy: You’ll find us meandering our way through points of resonance through comfortable lostness, another tone to the conversion, and back again. You’ll find us trying to not try at all. And honestly maybe we actually don’t know what we’re really doing.
When someone listens to Electric Octopus are they listening to a composition, a carefully created tune that’s repeatable, or something much more freeform, a Jam that exists only in the moment you’re playing together and is different every time?
Dale: It’s probably more than 95% jam, we sometimes find ourselves covering the same ground multiple times, but it’s usually just fresh every time.
Tyrell: We’re just three minds on a road trip through the sound waves. We’re always on the move from place to place, but sometimes we’ll have to visit somewhere a few times to explore it a bit more. There’s a lot to explore.
How does that translate in to your live performances? Are they something unique that’s different every time?
Dale: They have to be different every time because it’s impossible to do the same one twice. The vibe in the room strongly determines what’ll come out.
Tyrell: Yeah, I’d say each jam is just a note in our diary. A gig could be us telling you about what we’ve previously discovered on our journey, or you could be watching us deep in exploration of a new area, the vibe of the room usually decides which path we take.
Guy: They’re unique, just where we are and where we’re from. Playing live is it when it comes to getting into the pocket of where we are and what we’re doing.
Do you start a jam with an idea, or piece of melody in mind?
Tyrell: Sometimes we do, like if one of us is playing around with a cool vibe then we’ll all get on board from there and take it as it comes, but the majority of times we just skip out the first bit, and get stuck right into the ‘take it as it comes’ section.
Guy: Starting with a good level of openness, opening up yourself to listening, replying, listening again is usually a good start.
It seems like you almost have an instinctive appreciation for each others playing and musical mood. How often do you play together?
Dale: Probably an average of around a couple of times a week for the past 2 years I would say.
Guy: Our playing’s evolved but there’s still a lot of even our first times playing in where we are now. You learn genres, you learn people, but when you actually start letting people play what they want within any genre. You start to get more of a merge you know. New bits here and there, The biggest thing I’ve learnt and am still learning is about listening, and replying almost instantaneously, learning how what you do effects mood, and playing with that, its hard you know, its a conscience thing before it becomes unconscious and more natural.
Where do the names for your songs come from? Do they inspire the shape of the track? Or does the name take inspiration from the feel of the finished track?
Tyrell: Guy’s been the man behind most of them so far, connector of words! They usually just come from some form of conversation we’ve been having at the time and then it just sticks.
Guy: They usually come afterwards, the majority of the time. Unless something good has been said, that’s been hanging in the air, waiting for a thing to be attached to it, then they usually come afterwards. The post naming process however is highly secret and I cannot disclose this information, I am sorry.
Did Abdallah Obad find a pen in the end? And what did he write/draw when he eventually found it? (I must know…)
Guy: I messaged him and he said he didn’t find one that day no, but when the album was released and he listened to it again he wrote this.
“Plant a seed & be patient
Sometimes it is a free fall
I would advice you to get lost
Till you find a reason to survive
Its hard to always walk on a straight line
You sometimes find yourself at the rock bottom When motivation finds you
When you must run to stay alive
Plant a seed & be patient
Sometimes it is a free fall “
Other than Chickens and the hunt for stationary, what sort of things inspire your jams?
Tyrell: Absolutely anything can become inspiration if you give it a chance.
What is the most ferocious creature you’ve ever been bitten/stung by? How did you incur its wrath?
Dale: I have recently come into ownership of a young cat, who is being extremely ferocious at the moment. You can incur her wrath through no fault of your own.
Guy: The shark tale is for another day.
Tyrell: Sharks are very ferocious.
When did the band form?
Tyrell: I think it was around late February 2016 when we first played together, then it sort of just became an actual thing around like April time or so when we got asked to play a gig.
How did you meet and what drew you together?
Tyrell: I’d met Dale from a previous band we were in together, then I ventured off to Australia for a brief period and when I came back we just figured we’d continue on a musical journey of sorts, this is the point where I first encountered Guy, little did we know where we’d find ourselves exploring!
Guy: Yeh, seems like ages ago now, in Belfast.
Where did the name “Electric Octopus” come from? Was there a steam-powered cephalopod precursor?
Tyrell: The short, and I guess only answer is, we found ourselves in Camden, London, sitting over a pint, we received a message offering us our first gig, we we’re asked our name and somehow our response ended up being ‘Electric Octopus’. Maybe there’s more to it! The gig in question also never happened in the end!
Guy: We sent a long list of loads of random names. Name after name, until Hannah chose Electric Octopus as the one.
Are you reading anything interesting at the moment?
Dale: I’m reading Quantum Mechanics, The Theoretical Minimum by Leonard Susskind. It’s a great book that explains the basics of quantum mechanics from the beginning. It’s good for anyone who’s interested in that kind of thing.
Tyrell: I’m currently reading “The Grand Design” by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow.
You guys have released an incredible amount of material since your first album, “This is Our Culture” popped up on bandcamp in June 2016. How do you access enough studio time to be this prolific?
Guy: Belfast is a cheap enough place to be creative. We hire a space in an old Linen mill in the city, its cheap enough, and worked out cheaper than paying for rehearsal space three times a week anyway. We’ve taken it and been growing it since, probably had it since September 2016. We record and produce all our own stuff up in the room.
Dale: Basically, we have our own studio.
I notice that there’s no producer credits on Line Standing. Do you ever work with a producer and label, or do you prefer to do things your own way?
Dale: The majority of what we do is done our own way, but we do like working with producers as well. This is Our Culture was recorded with Ross Cullen at Railway Studios in Lisburn, and that was a great session. We recorded recently with Niall Doran from Start Together in Belfast for ‘The Live Room’ and that was fantastic. We are able to release all our own stuff in a pretty straightforward way, we don’t really miss not having a label.
Tyrell: A lot of labels are focused on purely the business side of music, which undoubtedly works for many, but for us so far, doing things our own way has been the most beneficial. We certainly never rule out working with other people, some times fresh eyes and ears can bring something new to the mix that we may have overlooked, but overall, as long as we’re absorbing positive energy then I can’t really see an end.
You release your digital music on bandcamp without a price tag, and instead allow the listener to pay what they choose. What’s the philosophy behind this approach? Do you find that people are paying more the more music you put out?
Tyrell: I just think it’s one of those things where putting a price tag on music can give you a much narrower audience, like if someone’s broke and can’t afford to spend any money for whatever reasons, then they shouldn’t have to miss out on listening to the music they want to listen to. Music is more powerful than money so money should never dictate who gets to hear the music. Obviously with physical forms there has to be a price tag since there’s a cost involved in the making of the product but as far as the actual music itself, it’s a collection of sounds we’ve found, experimented with and recorded as notes for everyone to read. I guess some people just like what we’re doing and decide to give us a little funding to explore further.
I’m a photographer so almost by definition I’m bit of a gear-nerd and prone to lusting after shiny new bits of kit. What piece of musical equipment would (temporarily!) slate your kit-lust, what would you use if for and how long have you wanted it for?
Dale: I’d be pretty content with an Acoustic 360 I’d say. A jazz bass through a W-Bin style cabinet is absolutely unbeatable.
Tyrell: I can honestly say that at this moment in time, I’m pretty satisfied with what i’m using. It’s a fairly basic setup but I can find what I’m looking for, and much more with it. I’d love to explore the saxophone at some point though, all in good time.
Guy: A gong and a set of Bosphorus Antique cymbals, the ones with like the mixed lathing, would be lovely right now. A timpani or two wouldn’t be frowned at either, I dunno, my percussion lust is probably going to be with me until i die.
How do you feel that technology, and in particular the internet, are changing music, both for you the musicians, and for the listeners?
Tyrell: It’s kind of a win win for both parties right? I mean, the internet gives the musicians access to a much larger audience of listeners, and it gives the listeners access to a much larger variety of music to listen to. Real music for me will always have a certain purity, and that I can’t see dying any time soon. The connection between musician and listener in a live scenario will always be much stronger though, a lot of energy being absorbed.
Guy: It means we can get silly amounts of music out to people without the actual need to make anything to sell. Meaning we can offer it all for free or pay what you want, Its a great tool. The music i find now that inspires me I’m sure wouldn’t have been as easy to find even 10 years ago. Its like walking into the biggest library in the world and having access to it all.
If you could tour or play anywhere in the world, where would you go and why would you choose that particular place?
Guy: Drumming wise i’d go anywhere where the music directly reflects the rhythms of peoples lives in that place. Morocco always leaves impressions on me when i visit, so probably down into Africa and across to the middle east would be an amazing musical trip. Saying that, Ireland is incredible for that as well, and trad probably had its own role in what we’re doing here. Always wanted to head to New Orleans as well for the groove. I reckon we’ll be able to move around with the tunes, and that’s all I’ve ever wanted from music.
Tyrell: Yeah I’m not sure I really have a specific place I’d like to go more than another, in time I’m sure we’ll find ourselves in a load of unexpected places, ready for the journey. With what we do, for the most part anyway, I regularly have this feeling of leaving my body, I mean my body obviously needs to be in a place, but when we’re on one, my physical form is abandoned and I could be absolutely anywhere in the world or beyond. If there’s a place that can enhance that, then that’s where I’d like to be.
Which bands/artists in any genre are you finding the most exciting listening right now?
Dale: I’m a big fan of what Knower are doing at the moment, they have a similar offbeat character and technicality to Vulfpeck but with a weird edge to it that makes them really powerful live. You can’t beat Louis Cole’s drumming too.
Guy: Erykah Badu has taught me a lot recently. There’s a change in her acoustic performance on youtube, Erykah Badu Unplugged ACUSTICO, that blows me away every-time. Its the change into Appletree from like 14:23 to 15:05. Its unreal. Diving into old blues now as well, Skip James is a click away. Im also loving IAMDBB at the moment, she’s got a track Shade that is powerful. I could go on and on, Mike Jenkins album the Waters is dope. Jazz from that album is great. Lettuce have been floating around in the airwaves recently as well.
Tyrell: AWWW that change is absolutely unreal, definitely check that out!
I know absolutely zero about the Belfast music scene other than that you are a part of it. If I was visiting town, which three bands would be your top live music recommendations? (after Electric Octopus of course!)
Dale: Elder Druid
Tyrell: There’s always a lot of music going on around Belfast but I mainly find myself drawn towards Rab McCullough & co and Elder Druid. As for a third, although I don’t see them that often, Junk Drawer are absolutely top notch! All very different styles of music but they all share a certain purity and are completely genuine in what they do.
Guy: Rab McCullough in the empire on a Thursday night, get down, get a few pints of Guinness in you and you’ll be away. We had him down to one of our evenings last year and he blew the roof off the place, got up on stage with us and schooled us, was a privilege to play with him and i still remember it clearly. Look him up.
So what’s does 2018 hold for Electric Octopus?
Tyrell: 2018 is looking to be a pretty interesting year for us! Having released ‘Line Standing’ in the last moments of 2017 has brought us into a new year feeling completely fresh. We’re kicking things of with our first show of the year “An Evening With Electric Octopus” at The Menagerie, Belfast (probably over and done with by the time you’re reading this, so I’ll not go into the fine details).
We’re also heading out on our first European tour over March/April with the help of Total Volume agency, which is pretty exciting! We’re gonna be covering a lot of places over a 5/6 week period, all dates can be found on our Facebook page. After that, we’ve got a good amount of festival slots lined up for the summer. Everything else that’s to come is still current unknown but I’m ready to get stuck in.
Guy: We’ve been chatting about a load of things we could be at, but the options seem endless so anything could happen this year. I’d like to say thanks to anyone who has joined us along the journey so far, we’re ready for more. Come see us on tour, or head to Belfast for a show. All the Love. xx
This article was first published on Rock at Night on 13/02/2018.