The Anatomy Of: Octopus

The debut full-length from Detroit’s Octopus feels like a classic rock record in more ways than one. Its retro sound draws from the greats of classic rock and metal, but there’s an undeniable sense of atmosphere throughout that makes this album an album. Where some records have a nice collection of songs, Supernatural Alliance finds that magical atmosphere that binds the package into a singular experience. It’s nuanced and detailed but still kicks out the jams. It’s deliberate in taking inspiration from the golden era of rock, yet mindful enough to avoid being derivative or uninspired.

How is something like this learned? How is this developed? Musical inspiration is a curious thing. It’s useful to keep in mind that oftentimes these wheels are set into motion before anyone really “gets into” music. These sounds speak to us on a different level – instinctually, vividly, powerfully. They’re every bit the tastemaker that a fully-formed musical idea can be and stick all the same. We asked Octopus axeman J Frezzato to give us the rundown on the things that freaked him out and set him upon his quest for freakout sounds for the modern age.

CHILLING, THRILLING SOUNDS OF THE HAUNTED HOUSE

For years, it was the only record I owned. I still have it. Monsters were my favorite thing when I was a kid. And castles, graveyards and fog. I liked movies, too. If a movie had some monsters, castles and fog in it, then that was a good movie. Music wasn’t a concern unless it was related to a monster movie or something. I still prefer a black, rainy day to a sunny day. Sun and blue sky bum me out. I don’t know why.

But I digress. When I was six years old, they opened a Meijer near my house and they had this Disney Haunted House record. The cover had a castle, and some fog, and a graveyard. Even though I didn’t care much about records then, I felt like I should get this one. The vinyl was as good as the cover. It had thunderstorms, chains rattling, bat swarms, tortured screams. There was a lot of moaning and screaming. It disturbed my family. I played it all the time. The real showstopper was the end of Side 2, where they had a few short instrumentals. Just really fucking eerie and evocative. One of them sounded like a verb’d-out theremin. It was fucking great. I played the end of that record over and over. It scared the fuck out of me. I loved it.

IN SEARCH OF… THEME MUSIC

Speaking of “it scared the fuck out of me,” the Leonard Nimoy In Search of… soundtrack had a big impact on me, too. All the music on that show… even if it was a dumb episode, there would be this squalling Moog synth going on, and it was almost unbearable how fucked up it was. Unearthly. Fantastic. If they did something scary, like Jack the Ripper episode, or, like, hauntings or something… it was almost too much. The “Vlad the Impaler” episode gave me nightmares for months.

Anyway, that’s where I fell in love with the sound of a Moog, at like six years old. What an alien, incomprehensible sound. A Moog can feel absolutely inhuman, whereas the newfangled digital shit just sounds like a computer game. So great.

JAMES BOND THEME

By the time I was seven or eight I broadened my horizons past fog and castles. By then I was into any soundtrack music that sounded badass and heroic. I became cognizant of music as like, a thing. I was aware of John Williams and I was aware that all his main themes were great. I’m still really moved by the ’78 Superman theme. I would argue that if you’re not, there might be something wrong with you. And when they showed Escape from New York on TV, I realized that the guy who made the movie made the music, and I thought John Carpenter’s music was incredible.

So by that point I had a few records and they were all soundtrack records. I also wound up with a copy of The Planets by Gustav Holst, and I would use that for soundtrack music when I drew my own comic books. I liked anything that conjured mental images or created a scene in your head or whatever. Just this weird little dude drawing comic books in a tiny room.

I couldn’t find a record that had the John Barry’s theme for James Bond, which was my #1 favorite. To this day, when I hear it, every synapse in my brain fires at once. So I had a little tape recorder and when they showed James Bond on TV, I recorded the audio on this tape recorder and would listen to that little 30 seconds of tape. I really liked the guitar riff, even though I’m sure I didn’t realize it was a guitar.

I liked anything that sounded like it, too. All the noir crime shows and spy movies had some variation on the low string, repetitive guitar riff and I loved it. Duane Eddy, any of that stuff. But the Bond theme is still the thing. Even when a Bond movie is shitty, they kick in that music and I go nuts every time. So here’s ten hours of it.

TALKING HEADS – STOP MAKING SENSE

By the time I was 11 or 12, I still wasn’t into rock music or pop music or bands or anything like that—just movies and comics and soundtracks. Music was for teenagers. I was a kid and I was pretty staunch about being a kid. But then I saw Eraserhead for the first time, and it split my mind in two.

So then, I was at the video store and they had Stop Making Sense, which I didn’t realize was a concert movie… it just looked weird and I was like, “What the fuck?” I asked my brother about it, he was seven years older than me, and he was like, “David Byrne’s a strange dude,” which was good enough for me, so I rented the movie. Having just seen Eraserhead I was totally down for it. It seemed like there was something going on and the music was the movie which was the music, so that made sense to me. It unsettled you and you could tell there was some abstract code to it. It made you want to dig in and understand.

It also felt funny, the songs, the presentation, everything. I recognized that fear-comedy mix from the comics I was reading. Stuff was funny but I couldn’t figure out why. You see David Byrne, and you sense something is wrong, but are you scared, or is it funny? I was reading R. Crumb and Harvey Pekar and Art Spiegelman comix, which is all fear comedy.

I would listen to the songs and realize they were about weird stories from my life or things I had thought about. Then I would read interviews with David Byrne and he was all explaining his “intention” and being all fucking art school about it. “Oh, this song is about Japanese businessmen” or some shit. And I was, like, BULLSHIT, man. I KNOW what your song is about. You DON’T.

So Stop Making Sense was the flashpoint. I bought all the Talking Heads records and found them all movie-like. When I go back and listen to those records, they still pull me in. And, just like Eraserhead, it feels like you’re being shown one thing, and that thing hides another thing, and that hides another thing, and you get a sense that maybe there’s levels to it. You can go further in but there’s no fucking map. If you tune in, you’ll figure it out for yourself. That’s the definition of psychedelic, but it’s also visceral music. It’s body music and it couldn’t exist as anything but music, just like Eraserhead couldn’t be an essay. It’s got to be a movie. It could only be a movie. But it’s a good soundtrack, too. All those clangs and fucking machines hissing. Great stuff.

So anyway, that’s where I got into bands and then rock records and everything else. Three or four dominoes fell after that, and within a couple years I had a guitar and needed to put a band together. It all started with fog and castles and with fucking “Psycho Killer” and the big suit.

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