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 a hook that will keep you coming back for a more nuanced listen of its dissonant harmonies and production that makes it sound like your speakers are blowing out.
You may recognize strapless guitarist and singer Glen Galloway by his alter-egos Glen Galaxy and Galaxalag from no-wave rock outfit Trumans Water or the even more esoteric Soul-Junk, a genre-hopping gospel outfit that has traversed sonic landscapes ranging from experimental indie to glitchy free-jazz hip-hop to disjointed skronky spaz-outs.
Joined by Trumans Water drummer Ely Moyal, guitarist Jason Begin (who moonlights as chill-wave outlet Drifting), and bassist Otis “O” Bartholameu of Olivelawn, fluf, and the Makeup Sex, Octa#Grape is giving the garage a long-overdue cleaning, and you won’t believe the cool stuff they’re finding in there while they’re at it.
The last I heard, you were working on putting the Bible to music. What’s the word on this substantial undertaking?
Glen Galloway: 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?
GG: 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 is 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 [it] 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, compared to your work with Soul-Junk and Trumans Water. Where is this sound coming from?
GG: I used to really not be able to stand melody...tuned my guitars weird to prevent it. Now I think it’s all right. I think albums like Can’s Ege Bamyasi and Future Days won me over.
Can you tell me about the experience that inspired you to leave Trumans Water and start Soul-Junk?
GG: 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 three days I heard God telling me it was time to leave Trumans and start a gospel band.
What inspires you lyrically these days?
GG: For Octa#grape, the best lyrics kind of spill over from the thrill of writing the music. When I write a new song, I get like a nine-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 T.S. Eliot as a kid and that kind of ruined me for writing anything linear.
What have you been up to besides Octa#grape, musically or otherwise?
GG: 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 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 [in L.A.] a couple weeks ago, which was nice and surreal. ■