OCTAVIUS - Interview
Apparently, you’ve a past deeply rooted in hip hop. Can you tell us about these stages you’ve shared with the Lost Boys and Foxy Brown that are mentioned in your biography?
I lived in Atlanta for a while. My father ran one of those cheap downtown hotels that were always a haven for prostitutes and dealers. This is where I became really intent on developing my MCing and writing skills. I used to call the local radio stations and ask to come down and rhyme on the air. Long story short - I did a few drops for a DJ named Cliff Mack. (In case you don't know, a "drop" is an intro to a DJ's timeslot wherein you rhyme about how dope the DJ and radio station are.) We became friends and eventually he allowed me to open for whatever artists came to town. The fact that it was Foxxy Brown or The Lost Boys didn't matter. I just wanted an audience. There wasn't much of an underground hiphop scene in Atlanta at that time so you had to go where the crowds were. I was doing much more straight ahead battle stuff then - RZA, Ras Kas, Nas, Ghostface type music.
You spent some time in Germany around 95. Has it changed your view of hip hop and music?
Definitely. I realized how closely related hiphop and black culture as a whole had become. In other countries if you're Black-American you're seen as this portal to an entire subculture. I also saw how hiphop isn't categorized into "mainstream," "underground," or "east/west coast" by the listeners there. I think they were able to appreciate the musical qualities much more than the social implications---which is a wonderful thing. I started going to dance clubs while I was there because the age requirement is 16 at a lot of places. I heard drum & bass, insane Bjork remixes and harder techno for the first time in Berlin. Living in Germany closed the gap between hiphop and electronic music for me. I'm forever in debt to 1994/1995.
In other words, which transition does link traditional hip hop to the music proposed by Electric 3rd Rail?
I'm not sure what "traditional hiphop" is. I think each artist has a specific voice and in order to sell records the labels grouped certain artists together and canonized their sound. If Pete Rock decides to rely on jazz breaks to make a record, that's his art. If Dr. Dre chooses to use funk samples and concentrate on the bass, that's his art. If RZA chops his beats off-time and puts piano on top...(etc. etc.) Electric Third Rail is our voice. I think the true spirit of hiphop is to forge new ground. Octavius is much more hiphop in spirit then Dilated Peoples or whatever because of this. We try to put music together that isn't just an echo of someone else's idea. I think Dummy by Portishead is a great hiphop album. I think a lot of the stuff Trent Reznor does is the result of hiphop. He's even said so in interviews.
Electric 3rd Rail is credited to Octavius & 4AM, and there are other participants in this album. Whereas the Modern Chairs 12’’ that is extracted from this album, only mentions Octavius. Then, who is Octavius? You (William Marshall) or a band?
Both. Electric Third Rail is credited to Octavius.4AM because 4AM felt that he doesn't get enough attention. All future releases will be credited to Octavius (the band.)
Can you tell us more about this "city sound" concept around Electric 3rd Rail that is explained on the CD?
I was living in Hawaii for a while after Octavius version 2 (we're now on version 5) broke up. When I came back I was living in Oakland and had to take the train into San Francisco for work. The train has to go beneath a bay (about 3 miles) to get to its destinations. The trip underwater inspired a lot of ideas as did other modes of public transportation. The city also seemed a lot louder and noisier than I remembered. This was right before the bubble burst on the whole internet industry so the city was pretty vibrant. Clubs were packed every night of the week because you had a lot of young people with a ton of disposable income. Anyhow, 4AM had a couple of beats that I thought suited the concept of a noisy, vibrant and edgy city. We kind of went from there. I would take the train down to his house (he lived about 3 hours away) to share ideas and record. We did everything on his MPC, a Roland 880, a Shure SM-57, and a horrible Gemini mixer...oh and a sock for a wind screen.
There have been lots of comparisons when Electric 3rd Rail was released. Which ones do you consider as relevant: Merzbow, Massive Attack, Tricky, Joy Division, Nine Inch Nails, My Bloody Valentine...
We seemed to get compared to music we admire a great deal. Tricky, Joy Division and NIN are definitely artists I've listened to more than one or twice. I don't mind the comparisons at all. I hope to eventually have younger bands compared to us.
How have you hooked up with Meat Beat Manifesto’s John Wilson? Do you have other similar connections?
John is a friend of 4AM so he should explain this portion. (And for what it's worth, we do have other semi-famous, famous and infamous friends.)
Can you tell us about this first and short album, Descent and Dissension? Where can this be found? Is it still available?
Descent and Dissension was really just a demo. It was the first group of songs I had ever recorded with the intention of making an album. A guy named James Kirkman did all the beats. He is responsible for turning me on to Ministry, Depeche Mode, and The Smiths among other things. We lived together in a small studio apartment in Fresno, CA. He gave me the confidence to try and be very original. There is a song on this record called THE LOCUST FROM THE BOTTOMLESS PIT that pretty much broke me into underground hiphop. Many people probably still consider it the best Octavius song. Descent provided a template for the many different kinds of songs I do. Some of my music is very hard and aggressive, other songs are really delicate and reserved. I explored just about every facet of my personality within those 6 or 7 songs. It was pretty much a crash course in writing, recording and releasing music independently.
There have been lots of changes in hip-hop with this explosion of independent labels that happened around 96/97. How do you relate to this? According to you, are there people in this galaxy of labels of artists who really share your approach of hip-hop?
I'd say I most directly relate to the Def Jux/Anticon sort. There are people from both camps that are really good friends of mine. I hope they can resolve whatever differences may linger from days gone by.
Was Octavius and 4AM a one shot duo or do you plan working together again?
4AM and I are pretty much joined at the hip. We have a very different approach to music but we compliment one another well. He is a full-time member of the band. That said, he's doing a solo album to be released next year on Just One Entertainment.
Can you tell us about the new album you’re preparing?
The new album is called Audio Noir. I've had this record in my head for 4 years now. While Electric Third Rail was extremely raw and cathartic, the new one is very much at ease with itself. It's also much more a celebration of our influences than Third Rail was. Its meant to be appreciated on several different levels - I wanted to make the kind of record that you could really delve into on one level but you could also just have it on while you cleaned your apartment or whatever. It's more about SONGS. The last project was the kind of piece that you should really listen to from start to finish. Noir retains some of those qualities but you could also get into the first half of the album now, and the latter half 6 months from now. Hopefully it has a warmer sound overall. I'm also not ashamed to say that it's a much more accessible recording. Each song deals with its own particular subject matter - this was really important because I'm a big fan of artists that are able to paint a complete picture inside of 3 or 4 minutes. Out of the 12 songs, 10 have vocals on them and I think there is a different vocal approach on each one. Noir is our attempt at writing 12 solid songs that might have some relative longevity. I won't attempt to describe it using other music because I always give people the wrong impression. I think the title describes it fairly accurately.
Let’s finish with our standard questions. Your current playlist?
no particular order--
Pink Floyd : Animals (One of the scariest records ever made. I have this old issue of Rolling Stones panning it)
Interpol: Turn on the Bright Lights (solid new band, not many of those around)
Hovercraft: Vagus Nerve/De-Orbit Burn remix par Scanner (programmed beats and guitars--a lovely thing)
Miles Davis: Get Up With IT (70s Miles = that raw shit)
The Liam songs on the new Oasis: (John Lennon rips-offs never sounded so good)
Ghostface Killah: Iron Man (I pick up new lines everytime I hear the goddamn thing)
The Verve: Urban Hymns (THE DRUGS DON'T WORK. so much personality in the vocals. our grandchildren will listen to this record)
Squarepusher: Do You Know Squarepusher? (the Joy Division cover...)
Playgroup: DJ-Kicks (dirty, new york electro)
Buddy Guy: Sweet Tea (his best work ever)
Most French people do not really grasp US lyrics. Would you recommend them to stop listening to English-speaking rap?
Of course not! Music has a way of transcending language. There is much to be gained from just the tonal attitude of the vocalist. There are underground MCs like Busdriver, Dose One, Mikah 9, and Omega Cix who rhyme in English and I haven't the slightest idea of what they're saying 70% of the time.
Would an Octavius concert in France be possible in a short or middle term?
God I hope so. The French seem to really know a good thing when they hear it.
Any special message or statement to end this interview?
http://www.sputnik7.com is the best place to view innovative music videos online. Other than that I think we've covered it. Thank You.
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