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Last updated: 07 May 2003
October Project is back, with a new six-song CD entitled Different Eyes. Re/Formed around the angelic voice of Marina Belica, and the songs of Julie Flanders and Emil Adler the group returns itself to its three original members, who have been friends and collaborators since college. Read our review of the new recording and gain unique insights into it from the artists in our interview with them below.
Signed to Epic Records in 1993, the group has enjoyed international acclaim and has sold close to a half million copies of their two albums (October Project and Falling Farther In). The albums made the top five (along with Creed, Jars of Clay and U-2) in a list of "Music With A Message" in Borders Bookstores' magazine.
October Project has headlined sold-out shows across the United States and toured with such platinum-selling acts as The Crash Test Dummies and Sarah McLachlan. The band performed live on TV's Latenight with Conan O'Brien as well as on numerous nationally syndicated radio shows, and was featured in the Emmy Award-nominated PBS Special Just Passing Through with Shawn Colvin and Julia Fordham. October Project's music appears in the feature film Blown Away starring Tommy Lee Jones and Jeff Bridges, and has appeared on such TV shows as The Real World, Extra! The Rosie O'Donnell Show, Baywatch and One Life To Live.
October Project established its roots in a New Jersey garage but its early seeds germinated on the campus of Yale University where Belica and Flanders were roommates for four years. The three were joined in 1990 by guitarist David Sabatino, percussionist Urbano Sanchez and singer Mary Fahl.
Although the original group took a break for personal reasons in 1996, Flanders, Belica and Adler continued to make music together. In 2000, they gathered in the studio with Sabatino and percussionist Sanchez to "cover" October Project's second single, "Return To Me," for Belica's debut solo recording decembergirl. The response to the track was phenomenal. It went to #1 on alternative station WBER in Rochester, New York and aired for several months on 99X, one of the most popular commercial radio stations in Atlanta. Prompting a mention in Billboard magazine, the track was also featured in the climactic scene of the indie movie The Adulterer featuring several Flanders and Adler songs, and was used as the closing credit music in The Spirit of St. Paul's, a documentary about the World Trade Center disaster and its aftermath.
Musical Discoveries: The track credits for Different Eyes reveal copyright dates from October Project's earlier days. Please tell us a little bit more about where the songs came from.
Julie: These are songs that we loved that didn’t make it onto albums. We decided to start with a small collection of songs, not a full length [album]. We already have a full-length ready for recording. We thought it was a nice way to come back in together.
Marina: It’s kind of a bridge from the past to the future. It lets our fans know that we’re back and it introduces them to the line-up as it now stands.
Emil: All these songs were part of the OP canon, to one extent or another. Some we played live, some we considered for the first and second albums.
Julie: We really liked this material and wanted to revisit it, and Emil was learning his studio set-up, so it was a great way for us to all gather together and do something specifically for the fans.
What kinds of things did you do to the material between original composition and this recording?
Julie: Really nothing to the compositions. I think the things that might have changed or been different are arrangement elements. You know, ways of performing or presenting the song, not the song itself so much.
Emil: Obviously, we’re a different group.
Julie: Yea, the vocal arrangements are different in some of the songs. But the compositions are the same.
Emil: And the lyrics are essentially the same.
What did you do to the songs themselves?
Marina: One big new fun thing is the "Hey-Hah" section in "If I Turn Away."
Julie: There are new harmonies in "The Mind’s Eye." Even "Long After Tomorrow."
Marina: That’s fairly new, you know, because that was never performed live. Vocal arrangements were created for the songs that weren’t performed live. And then some new stuff was added, like the "Hey-Hahs."
Emil: I was just thinking of "See With Different Eyes," and somehow all the songs seem like they have more thought in them then they’ve ever had. But I guess, when I think about it, they really haven’t changed, essentially. Really just the approach - the recording approach.
Julie: The bones are the same. The outfits are different.
And why did you draw on this period of the band's compositions for Different Eyes?
Julie: We felt that the material was some of the the more romantic and accessible material and we just really liked it. It was enjoyable for us.
What did you have in mind when you set out on the recording?
Emil: The idea was that we would do this with the forces we had at our disposal. Whatever it was that we could conjure up in the home studio is what we would use.
Julie: As a performing group, we’ve been finding our voice with this. I’m new to this performing group and Marina’s the new lead vocalist. We’ve been looking at our previous experience together ‘with different eyes’ and finding new ways to express ourselves. So, in terms of the vocal arrangements, we’ve been finding our voice together. The instrumental arrangements were honed within the creative frame of a home studio.
Emil: When you write a symphony, you write it for the instruments in a symphony orchestra. It’s a creative limitation.
Marina: A self-imposed creative limitation.
Emil: If you write a string quartet, you can’t suddenly, because of a whim, bring in the flute player. Your creative limitation, self-imposed, is that you’re writing for the four string instruments. It’s not typically seen as a creative limitation, but in fact, it is. So when you’re writing for the home studio, the limitation is, this is what we have at the home studio. These are the voices that we have at our disposal, these are our talents.
Julie: The arrangements came with our collaboration with the studio. Initially, with October Project, before we were even signed, the arrangements came from the really peculiar assortment of instruments that we chose and the way we put them together.
Was any of this material performed by the earlier lineup either in a studio or live setting?
Marina: Certain of them were, in fact, performed live, although some of our closest friends who have listened to the album didn’t really recognize them in their new outfits, as Julie described them earlier. So, yes, there are tunes that we used to play out live and the fun is, for those who were there at some of those earlier concerts, will they remember them or will the different eyes be deceiving.
Julie: It would have been previous to us being signed, so anybody that heard these songs, it was a long time ago, right at the earliest moments of the band. And not all of the songs have been performed live.
Emil: All of them have been treated in a studio setting at one time. We tended to these songs as a band and usually recorded what we did. We’ve handled all of these songs in more or less finished ways, really in less finished ways.
Marina: And in very intimate environments. No national broadcasts!
So what's in store for the full length album?
Emil: Same approach, basically, except now the songs are more recent.
Julie: We have an abundance of material that we’re choosing from. If you were a fan of November Project, you might have heard a couple of these songs. The better part of them are new.
Marina: The guiding philosophy is inspiration and open-ness to ideas. In other words, there’s no preset idea of how they will sound. Each song will suggest its own treatment, some may actually have string arrangements, others may be spare, some may be big production numbers. That’s what’s so exciting to us, because its fully in our hands, we’re completely open to our imagination and can approach them from a number of different angles.
Emil: But it will be in the context of the home studio, which creates a different set of possibilities than it would if you had eight players and a large studio somewhere on the outskirts of Nashville.
Julie: We may have some guest artists.
Emil: But it won’t be definitional.
Julie: Now that it’s the three of us, what we’re focusing on are the vocals and the songs. The vocals and the songs and how that organically suggests an arrangement.
Marina: And harmonies are always definitional for us.
Who will be performing on the new album?
Marina: We will!
Julie: We hope Dave and Urbano will be able to guest on tracks. We’ve had a lot of people who have offered, and if we can make it work out, we will.
When do you think that it will be completed?
Julie: We’re hoping for some time this year.
Emil: We’re aiming for the fall.
Marina: And we’re falling for the Aim.
What are your plans to perform live in the coming months to promote Different Eyes? Do you think you'll get to venues outside the northeast USA circult?
Emil: Different Eyes is kind of a bridge, a gift to the fans. Because it’s a bridge, and only an EP, it’s a bit premature for us to launch a big promotional tour. The promotional effort will start after the release of our full-length.
Marina: By releasing Different Eyes, we’re revealing our process, basically. The EP says here we are, this is what we’re doing, we don’t want to include you out. We’ll come see some of you in the Northeast, because logistically that’s feasible.
Julie: In terms of promoting an album, some of where we get to play has to do with what we can manage logistically and financially. We’re going to go to as many places as we can and, at the same time, we’ll be creating our full length album, which will require a lot of focus.
Will "Different Eyes" be available at any retail outlets or is it going to be an October Project internet-only release?
Julie: At this time, until we have a full-length, we’ll keep it for our fans (sell the EP at our website and at live gigs). You never know what might happen later. But for the time being, our focus will be on completing a full-length and that will go to retail.
How is the new website working out for you?
Marina: Our website is a work in progress and we’re very happy with what we have up so far. It was designed by a college room-mate of ours and her husband. (Blue Iceberg).
Clearly, the internet is great. For me, one of the silliest things that satisfies me is when someone from nine years ago makes their way back to the mailing list. You refer back to the database and see that this person actually signed up to the list in 1993. They just found out we’re back and they sign up all over again. The internet is a miracle that way.
Emil: With the music business in the toilet right now, it’s certainly one of the best options for a band like ours.
What kind of features would you like to add to your website--what value would they be to you?
Julie: A butler, a massage therapist.
Marina: Emil’s going to offer free reflexology sessions!
Emil: ... to any ladies of a certain height and weight ...
Marina: ... and hairdo.
Different Eyes Review
The EP includes five new recordings plus "If I Turn Away" previously released on the band's limited edition "Three" EP. The songs were all written by Julie Flanders and Emil Adler earlier in the band's career. A tender and melodic ballad entitled "The Mind's Eye" (1995) is the opening recording. Marina's lead is supported by Julie's backing vocals and lush instrumentals comprised of keyboard and light percussion. Listeners will be enthralled to hear October Project's return.
Lovely string-styled arrangements support Marina's lovely lead vocal in the sensitively sung ballad "Long After Tomorrow" (1992). Light strings and woodwind sounds provide the instrumental backing for Marina's soaring lead in "See With Different Eyes" (1995), a gently rocking tune. Her crystalline voice is perfectly echoed by flute.
"If I Turn Away" (1989) is the most lushly arranged tune with thick keyboard arrangements filling the gaps between the lyrical passages. Clearly one of the standout tracks on this EP is "Forget You" (1991), a rich and somewhat Latin-styled piece with ultra-crisp percussion perfectly punctuating the melody and multi-layered vocal harmonies. The EP concludes with "When The Wind Blows" (1984), an evocatively sung ballad with lush arrangements featuring guitar, percussion and light keyboard textures. Vocal harmonies are classic October Project and everso enticing.
Having completed this six-song EP, October Project will immediately begin work on a full-length recording. They plan to include Sabatino and Sanchez in the upcoming recording and in select concerts. Different Eyes is available from October Project's website. Be sure to return soon to read our interview with Marina, Julie and Emil.
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