If you’re a fan of Arcade Fire and Talking Heads, then you’ll love Shock Octopus. Hailing from Australia, this art-rock foursome has released four EPs, singles and built a cult following with this music. We chat to the lads about their latest EP Enter The Exit and much more!
How was Shock Octopus formed?
Shock Octopus formed in Perth in 2009 when Michael and Dave’s former band, Syrian Rue, disbanded and went in two different directions. The other guys found indie success with their broody industrial-orchestral masterpieces, Shock Octopus went for a more ragged pop-art direction. Back in the early days, our shtick was to be loud, cranky, theatrical and incredibly unfashionable. Since then we have mellowed out a LOT – perhaps by virtue of the fact that we are now well into our 30’s; however, I believe the sense of theatre and experimentalism remain.
What is the backstory behind Enter The Exit?
When Syrian Rue was disbanding, Dave and I wrote a couple of lush art-pop songs, ‘Antarctica’ and ‘No Easy Way Down’, back in 2008. These were not released under phase one of Shock Octopus because they didn’t really fit into our spiky and angry approach back then – despite ‘No Easy Way Down’ being a favourite of our live sets.
I actually tried to get ‘No Easy Way Down’ into our 2014 album A Crisis because by that stage we’d rediscovered the joys of melody and nuance. Various recording disasters made that dream a non-reality.
Six years later, a friend’s band wanted to release a double A-Side single on environmental themes as a fundraiser for Extinction Rebellion. ‘No Easy Way Down’ is about climate change from a polar bear’s perspective we thought the song’s time had come to shine, so we re-tweaked and re-mastered for a new, jilted generation. By that stage, Scott and I were writing some new songs in the home studio around environmental and existential issues that were fitting in perfectly with the ethos and vibe of the songs we’d written 12 years ago.
Shock Octopus has been through many phases, including an acoustic ballad phase from 2015 – 2018. I think though that ultimately our hearts have always been set on the melodramatic progressive-pop sound that Dave and I wrote in our early days, but may have been a little too green then to pull off until more recently.
Enter The Exit really feels like coming full circle, reuniting the old and the new and to quote U2, “as sort of homecoming”. I did warn we are incredibly unfashionable.
What was the writing and recording process like?
Easier than we thought? See the thing is that all members of Shock Octopus live in disparate corners of the globe. I am stuck in a Melbourne lockdown, Dave is based in Japan, we believe Scott is wandering up and down the vastness of the Northern Territory. So ‘jamming a new song together’ is a little bit impossible.
For the new songs ‘Life On A Pier’ and ‘Zero Gravity’, I tried a new approach of doing the entire arrangements by myself on the keyboard layer by layer. I then sent to Dave online to replace the fake guitar and bass with the real thing and to a drummer friend to fill in the backbeat. It is getting easier to do the whole online thing now – you couldn’t really have pulled this one off in the Noughties.
Before now, my approach had always been to write the bare song on the piano and bring it to the band to turn organically into whatever arrangement happened. I must say, this has been the first time I have arranged music the way I hear it in my head and the result has been exhilarating. If the band don’t mind me going dictatorial on them, I may do this again.
The writing process has also doubled up as therapy. Speaking for myself, I work in the environmental sector so existential dread is my daily life. So being able to put into words in a song such as ‘Life On A Pier’ was a bit of critically needed art therapy.
If you could tour with a single artist who would it be and why?
I believe with the new EP’s sound we could “epic it out” on tour with Arcade Fire. Always admired their panoramic sound and wearing their social consciousness on their sleeves.
What is your creative process?
We try to exchange ideas as democratically as we can over email. All three of us are songwriters so there is no shortage of material or possible directions. Normally, one of us takes lead in any given project. Scott, for example, masterminded the Throughout The Winter and Roam In Silence EPs.
I had a very stubborn, single-minded vision for Enter The Exit to the point where I took a Scott composition, ‘Zero Gravity’, and decided what is really needed was a dual piano, trip-hop beat and layers of backing vocal pyrotechnics. Remarkably, Scott wasn’t offended.
Describe your music in a single sentence.
Environmentally conscious epic progressive art-pop that is unafraid of putting the black mirror to the heavier shades of the human condition.
What are your future plans?
I am currently arranging 3-4 more songs in a similar vein with the intentions of releasing an album of sorts in the not too distant future. Given we live worlds apart, we were kind of prepared for a future of being unable to play live; however, I may consider Facebook Live options when I can brave that dan-fangled technology sometime.
Otherwise, I am often seen playing live in Melbourne for charity or environmental cause gigs. We’d love to be played in environmental film soundtracks – if you are a filmmaker reading this, then consider this a proposition.
What do you hope people take from your music?
I want people to learn to re-learn to love music again as a visceral experience. As a means of deep-art expression that can be devastating, uncomfortable and fun all at the same time.
From a technical perspective, we love to mess around with texture, structure and form, and we love it when people notice and appreciate this. Back in the early days, a reviewer gave us our own genre name, “key-change rock”, which I’ve kid of taken on as a mission statement. I feel that music has become a free, disposable commodity for a bit of fluff escapism to put on the background on Spotify, but this just really isn’t us. We’ve set our sights a little grander than a self-numbing agent. We like to offer people the opportunity to be their house-band on their final jig before the apocalypse.