This is a great testament to the wonder of the octopus! I am honored, cheered, and deeply moved at a song that is at once nimble, clever, and profound."
When he learned about my upcoming release, my Dad sent me this photo from the Octopus Garden in Hawaii, which is actually quite relevant.
The Hawaiian Kumulipo is an an 18th-century chant in the Hawaiian language telling a creation story over the course of a cosmic night. Anthropologists from the 19th and 20th centuries interpreted a recurring verse as describing the octopus as the sole survivor of a previous age of existence. Although that translation is in dispute, this tale itself has morphed into the notion that there is a Hawaiian myth that octopuses managed to squeeze through a rift between worlds when our world was created and the previous one was about to be destroyed.
Whether it's accurate or not, it made for a lovely jumping off point for the chorus of “The Octopus Song” and could easily be mistaken for one of my many references to Doctor Who. It also became the source for the album title that this tune will be a part of — “Alien from an Alternate Earth”
In May of 2018 I had a show scheduled at Oakland's sadly now defunct "Octopus Literary Salon" with Matt Jaffe and Rob Jamner, both of whom I knew from the open mic scene. Rob had actually invented me to play a show of his at Bazaar Cafe based on my lyric postings. Matt was in attendance as audience and I decided to wrangle him and Rob to be part of a show across the bay. At the same time I came across Sy Montgomery's "The Soul of an Octopus." Inspired by that book and thinking it would be fun to have a song to promote the show with, I decided to write what became "The Octopus Song."
In the book Sy describes her relationship with various octopuses she had met in the course of research the book, and some of the episodes she relates became the basis for verses. As mentioned, her reference to the Hawaiian Kumulipo inspired the chorus but there were bits of found poetry such as the lines about the nature of consciousness that I worked into 1st bridge. I shared the song with Sy and she was delighted, as indicated by the quote at the top of the blog.
The music and overall structure of the song was inspired largely by Nat King Cole's "You're Looking at Me" — I used the chords as a jumping off point for developing my own harmonic progression but also I liked the reveal at the end. At the time I was gigging regularly at the Hotel Carlton, playing during their evening wine service. I'd fallen out of a long term relationship with a particular code base that had led me through multiple iterations of companies and locations in the Bay Area, and this engagement was my main connection to the wider world for a time as I decided to take a break from all that tech stuff.
I played the song out quite a bit. I remember playing the Riptide open mic on Christmas Eve and one of the other players got a real kick out of the chord progression. I also played it a couple of times for West Coast Songwriter competitions, from which a pretty good live recording was made when I was at the Freight and Salvage. One of the judges circled the line about the wishing well and had a question mark next to it, which is funny because other folks have told me its best line in the song. Recently one of the denizens of the open mic circuit said recently that he thought it was a definitive (or words to that effect) E.G. Phillips song.
With a late night vibe and horn interplay from Rich Armstrong and Daniel Casares reminiscent of Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker, the instrumentation of this recording of this song is that of a classic West Coast jazz ballad. The recording of the horn parts was done as part of a rapid-fire 3 hour session where all the horn parts for the big band number "Brave Heart, Luna!" were recorded as well as horn and flute parts for 3 other tracks. This is in no small part due the skill and efficiency of producer Chris McGrew who had a knack for making sure we had the right folks for all the talent we brought into the studio as well as being a bit fearless in not only generating ideas on the fly but also being definitive as to what was "the" take so we could move without delay to the next part. There is also Kevin Seal on piano, who lends some sympathetic support and was able to quickly adapt to the ideas being thrown at him, such as the suggestion to add a bit of piano lounge flair to the last verse to be in keeping with the lyrics. Of course the rhythm section is also lovely with Chris on drums, Paul Eastburn on bass (he also wrote up some invaluable charts) and Jeffrey Burr on guitar. The whole project came together incredibly quickly and it was joy to watch these incredible musicians work out their parts and coalesce around my songs to create a tight, integrated piece — with just enough spontaneity so that we got things like that lovely wind down that closes out this track — unplanned, but at the same time elegant and entirely fitting. I'll have more to say about how this project all came about in future posts.
I'm pleased with the response I've gotten, including a post in Simply Jazz Talk which calls it "whimsical, endearing, and fun" and a woman on Facebook who said she was interested in adding the song to her repertoire. I always saw "The Octopus Song" as one of the central pieces of the upcoming album, which is part why I lifted its refrain "Alien from an Alternate Earth" for the title. While it is in some ways a demented Disney show tune with some silly vocabulary (such a "squirt" and "sucker") I don't see it at all as a novelty song. To me it is quite serious, whether or not you are huge fan of octopuses (which you should be).
I hope you give it all the spins.
The extended musings of a songwriter.