Categorized | Arts & Culture

Best You’ve Never Heard: Sh! The Octopus

So, you’re starting a band. The guitarists, the drummer, the bassist and the vocalists are set. What’s next? The perfect name – something unique, unusual, memorable. Something that fans can shout rhythmically to get you to perform an encore.[headphones]
When thinking about unusual band names, little known movies might be the way to go. The Misfits, Black Sabbath and Duran Duran all took their names from Hollywood, and Sh! The Octopus, an up-and-coming, Detroit-based, classical-alternative group falls in with this set of bands as well.
“We get asked that all the time,” frontman Randy Bishop said with a chuckle when asked about the origins of the group’s name. “It actually came from an old movie; I have the DVD version of it. It’s a bad movie, but I was just really intrigued with it.” The detective comedy film “Sh! The Octopus” was released in 1937 with a small budget under the direction of William C. McGann. The band nabbed the name and ran with it, creating a standout Detroit band who has never been shushed, but does require you to stop talking and listen.
Making the Band
Although Bishop originally began his project as a one-man show in July 2003, he eventually recruited the help of bassist Chris Sesta, guitarist Andy Stachowiak, drummer Joel Pearson and vocalist Christine Baxter to round out the band. While Sesta, Stachowiak and Pearson have all been members for at least a year, Baxter joined the line-up just months before their debut full-length album, The Carrot Chase, was released last July.
Although the band in its current shape is relatively new, none of its members are novices at their craft. Baxter has a classical music background and has been on the keys for years. Bishop and Stachowiak have each been playing the guitar for more than a decade. Pearson has been playing the drums for eight years and Sesta has been playing bass since he was 17. [everyone1]
Even though Baxter came into the line-up a little later than the guys, her talent is never underestimated because of the close-knit bond that brings together the five. “We’ve probably gotten along better than any other band – or even group of friends – actually has. We’re all really hard-working,” Bishop said.
Baxter had to go on tour with the band quickly after joining. It was a fast transition, but being on the road with a band haunts so many people’s pipe dreams that it seems completely understandable she jumped right in. “We actually have an ‘Alphabet Game’ where we look for road signs,” Baxter said. “There are a lot of sing-a-longs in the car.” [donpeterka]
Get Seen, Get Heard
“When we were on tour it was just a lot of fun, joking around, playing shows every night, the people,” Pearson said. Intimacy always makes fans happy and Sh! The Octopus gets about as intimate as a band can. “The last concert I went to, I was like eight feet away, and in between songs I could just go up to Randy and talk to him,” fan and musician Don Peterka said. “They’re totally approachable, especially when you buy them beer.”
The band operates their touring and recording smoothly, considering they aren’t signed to any record label. “Promoting can be a little frustrating, but an offer probably wouldn’t have helped that much anyway,” Bishop said. “But we wouldn’t turn down a record company’s offer now.”
Promotion can be tough for an unsigned band, especially when taking into account the plethora of indie rock star hopefuls that overwhelm the music scene. The media recognizes some of this competition and the more bands that emerge, the harder it is for smaller bands to get their voices heard by the press and public. For those who want to support the band’s tour agenda, Sh! The Octopus is planning to schedule shows at The Magic Stick in Detroit and the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti, Mich. areas; check out their Web site for more details. “When you’re a big indie band where you’re independent and you’re playing a circuit and some bands come up bigger or more noticed than others, some of that is because of their talent, but I think a lot of it has to do with certain critics,” Peterka said. [game1]
The Sound of Sh!
There’s the budding young, hip folk scene and there’s the edgy, emotional indie rock scene. We’ve all heard plenty of each, and most have their favorites from each genre. Sh! The Octopus is able to blend these two sounds with such ease to create refreshing music that stands in its own box.
[randybishop]One track that stands out from The Carrot Chase is “Apology,” which boasts harmonizing vocals and foot-tapping drum beats. The melody repeatedly switches from slower to faster and back again. The actual recording took a total of seven months, and in terms of track life and length, there is a good amount of variation. Some songs were recorded three months before the album dropped, and others had been around since 2003. “I think we like being able to experience music in a different way,” said Baxter. “I’m teaching music during the day and I’m rocking out some nights. It’s a really great outlet – a different outlet – for expressing myself.”
Another notable track is “Flaking Friends,” which has similar guitar style and vocals with a stronger drum track and a more constant fast beat. “My Kicks” is also worth a listen – especially if you like shoes. The drums do most of the work in this song, and the vocals are shared by guitarist and vocalist Bishop and pianist and vocalist Baxter. Bishop and Baxter also blend their voices together on “Come on Down,” incorporating more exotic sounds with softer guitar hues and little drumming. All four tracks can be previewed on the band’s MySpace page.
Many of the band’s fans also can vouch for stand-out songs on The Carrot Chase. “The last song (‘Come On Down’) kinda sounds something more like the direction I wish he would go into if he was gonna change direction. It’s just a little more alternative country, folky and a little rougher,” Peterka said. [table1]
For a similar sound, “The Brunt of Our Jokes” incorporates the melody of “Come on Down” with the addition of Pearson’s percussions. It has a beat on the fast side with soft vocals that still hit on every slam of the cymbal.
Although the band members devote time to school, work and other endeavors, the band is still number one for the members of Sh! The Octopus. “The best part to me is when I take a song, write it on a quick think, show it to these other four people and they make it into something that I completely did not expect,” Bishop said. “That’s hands down the best part.”

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