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SXSW 2003

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Photo By John Anderson

The Octopus Project

Up from the murky brine of Red River, shooting through the electro-magnetic reefs of Tortoise, rock lobster ensnared in muscled suckers, comes this native cephalopod mollusk.

"We came up with it while trying to name another band," winces Octopus Project beak Toto Miranda. "And hated it."

High school pal, former Radio-Television-Film mate, and fellow tentacle Josh Lambert nods, another survivor of said never-named band.

"I'm a little uncomfortable with it now that the band is four people," admits Miranda. "And eight arms."

The group, sitting on the floor of their small, South Austin rehearsal space at Music Lab, erupts with laughter.

"People point that out like it's something really clever that we did," continues Miranda, grimacing. "And it's like, 'No, no, no, no -- wrong. No. Back off.'"

Colin Swietek, the band's newest sucker and longtime fan, chuckles.

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"When I used to go see them play, I seriously thought that with all that shit onstage, it would take eight arms to play all that."

"It's so not meant to have any reference to what we're doing," sighs Miranda, "but how could you not think that?"

True. There is a lot of shit onstage; Survival Research Laboratories isn't this hardwired. Plus all that other junk -- guitars, drums. Theremins. And yet when the Octopus Project launches into its live set, all eight arms go for the throat. Big rock show, no entanglements.

"It's gotten better recently," acknowledges Yvonne Lambert, who met her husband on his 18th birthday. "When we first started playing shows, something would always break down. Something would always go wrong. And we were frantically moving across the stage. We were still learning how to do it, trying to get ourselves together."

"We didn't have a mixer for a long time," says Miranda sheepishly. "We just had a lot of amps. 'Unplug that guitar over there and plug in this keyboard.'"

OK, so they're not techies. Try twentysomethings of the technological revolution. Twenty-first century DIYers. In fact, some of Miranda and Lambert's very first demos made it on to last year's local debut, Identification Parade, on Travis Higdon's ever faithful Austin indie, Peek-a-Boo Records. Comparing them to the aforementioned Tortoise would be an oversimplification of the Octopus Project's instrumental deep-sea dives, but there are definitely a few ghosts in the machine. As well as Stereo Total, the Flying Lizards, Ladytron, the Flaming Lips ...

"Cornelius, Tortoise -- that's what we've been compared to by other people," smiles Yvonne Lambert.

"Before I was in the band," injects Swietek, "I would tell people it was organic-sounding electronic music with live instruments. A good combination of computers and rock music."

And masks! A different one every show; Pérez Prado first, an AC outlet the best.

"We do what we can," shrugs Miranda, adding that a new album should be out in time for a summer tour -- hopefully without the stolen vans and car wrecks of the first two. "It's easier to put on a mask than finish a song."

SXSW showcase: BD Riley's, Friday, March 14, 11pm

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