Octolab on 15 years in the scene and returning after a long hiatus: Interview

J.N. 07/04/2021

Arriving on the Swedish electronic scene with their debut album The Timeless Room in 2007, Lysekil two-piece Octolab picked up lots of attention for their high-energy, dancefloor-friendly melodies. Rising from the ashes of synthpop project Spektron, Arielle Andersson and Fredrik Lundvall Kindsäter combined elements of bubbly electronic sounds and harsh EBM basslines, and quickly gained a following in the scene, but after the release of the Mind And Matter single in 2010, Octolab slowly faded away and became silent – until two years ago when they announced their comeback with the EP Petite Little People.

Last year, just as the pandemic arrived in full force, they released their sophomore album Mystery Park and were supposed to have embarked on a tour, stopping over in Denmark and Germany. However, they’ve had their hands full and spent the year doing more remixes than ever, and just a week ago they released a remix cassette of other bands’ Octolab remixes.

Messed!Up spent half a day in Lysekil and met up with Arielle and Fredrik in their home, and chat about the pre-Octolab era, returning to the scene after moving back to Lysekil and how they have evolved as a band over the course of two records.

The winding road to Octolab

Octolab have been around for almost 15 years by now, but it wasn’t your first band, you also have a background in several bands years before you started together.
Arielle: We had Spektron together with two friends but Fredrik played in other bands before that, I was too young (laugh).

Fredrik: I started already at the end of the 80s with Presto Fervant and although we haven’t done any new music for decades it wasn’t that long ago we played live. We released a split CD in 1992 called Impact and I just recently found two copies – didn’t think I had any left (laugh).

In the 90s I was in Novelty, a synthpop band and much poppier than Presto Fervant. Presto is kind of harsh EBM music and songs like “Butcher’s Knife” may give you a hint of how hard and raw we wanted it to be (laugh). We were quite young Ronny and I when we started and thought we had a really cool backdrop video at our shows, but when we had the same video at Bodyfest two years ago we realized that times have changed and it wasn’t really appropriate content anymore (laugh).

Arielle: You mean the porno you had in the background? (laugh).

Fredrik: Someone may have said that it was a bit offensive. The 90s were different and there was never a discussion on whether it was inappropriate or not.

How did you arrive at the thought of starting Octolab?
Arielle: Spektron, the band before Octolab, decided to call it a quits, but we wanted to continue and do something harder and with more EBM influences. I just wanted to play EBM and Spektron were quite poppy. And Fredrik with his roots in the EBM scene shouldn’t play synthpop, it doesn’t suit him well (laugh).

Fredrik: If I remember it right it all started with Spektron doing a remix of a Code 64 song on their first record Storm, but it didn’t sound like Spektron at all.

Arielle: The idea was to start a side project to Spektron but it turned out to be a permanent project when Spektron didn’t continue. We wrote “TV-Spell” and sent it to Electro Shock Records and Cryonica Music and they put it on a few compilation albums. Later Cryonica asked us if we happened to have any more songs and I said “Yeah, we have a full album”, but we didn’t have anything but “TV-Spell” (laugh). And then they asked us if we could send them a few more songs. That’s when you learn that lies will get you nowhere (laugh).

But it pushed us to continue writing music as Octolab and we wrote “Fools” which ended up on the compilation Bright Light, Dark Rooms, and then Cryonica told us “We’ll give you a year to finish off a full album”. To make that possible when both of us worked full-time we just had to move together; Fredrik lived in Lysekil and me in Gothenburg at the time and it wouldn’t have been possible to write a full album on distance.

What’s fun with such a small town as Lysekil is all the bands in the scene popping out of here. Octolab, Code 64 and Xenturion Prime are just a few bands from Lysekil. Why did the scene flourish here?
Arielle: It’s fun when you think about it like that. Most of the bands also live quite close as well; Kricke in Code 64 lives two blocks away from us and Hasse in Xenturion Prime [and Code 64] stays in our old apartment. Bjørn, the second half of Xenturion Prime, lives in Norway but it’s quite close and he has been involved in the production of some of our songs.

Fredrik: But the scene has a long history in Lysekil. There was a band called Third Door Left running a club, Vicious Insanity, where you had to be a member to get in. All of that happened before I moved here, I’ve just lived in Lysekil since 1994 and missed out on a lot of what happened, but Arielle used to hang out at the club.

Arielle: I wasn’t old enough to get in anywhere else (laugh)

Fredrik: One of the bigger bands in the scene – I don’t remember if it was Cat Rapes Dog or Pouppée Fabrikk – played here as well and in Uddevalla [a few miles south of Lysekil] where it turned into some sort of riot when greasers turned up to pick the usual fight with people at the show. It happened all the time in the 90s (laugh)

And today Octolab stayed in the scene for 15 years. But you had a really long break between your albums, save for a few singles and EP’s. How did it come about that you started to consider a comeback?
Fredrik: Let’s start by saying that we’re very much aware of the gap between the albums and that it lasted too long (laugh).

Arielle: We even considered if we should start a new band or continue as Octolab but realized that we would love to play Octolab songs live in the future and continued under the Octolab moniker. It doesn’t matter if it will sound a bit different 15 years later, we had quite a diverse sound already at the first album. And it’s still us doing the music, it will sound Octolab in some way.

Fredrik: But I still wonder why we had such a long break. Well, we had kids but that can’t be all.

Arielle: This is how the story goes; I started to study, then you studied, we had our first child and a few years later there was a second. Those things take time (laugh). But when we moved back to Lysekil we realized that nothing really happens here, and we had a babysitter around the corner which made it possible to restart again.

Living in Lysekil is also cheaper than living in Gothenburg and we had a bit of money left even after buying a house here and bought new gear. But if you ask me, the reason making it possible to restart was that we had a babysitter (laugh).

Fredrik: Today the kids are much older and want us to sit in the studio because they fall asleep easier (laugh).

Arielle: ”We can’t sleep, there’s no one in the studio”, that’s how it usually sounds like (laugh). And we take our chances to put on the vocals when they’re out with friends because it can be really tough for them to be quiet (laugh).

Don’t want to be copycats

Fourteen years after The Timeless Room Octolab released their second album Mystery Park last year, and much has happened in between records. Along with more gear and years of practice, they’ve become better songwriters, slowed down their – Arielle’s (!) – bpm-frenzied EBM ambitions on the first record and turned to classic song arrangements. And for Arielle who just ended up behind the mic when the band started, the role as the lead singer feels natural today and she puts much effort into working with the vocal arrangements – and the band’s videos.

Your background in the synthpop and EBM scenes has made an imprint on Octolab’s music. Is it how you want it to be, a mix of genres but not too poppy?
Fredrik: I’m quite schizophrenic about music and love bands like Rational Youth, but want to mix it up with EBM, synthwave and postpunk.

Arielle: You’re not supposed to know what to expect from us, that’s the point. If we would be a synthpop band people will expect synthpop but when you pull in elements of different genres you won’t know if the next song will be synthpop or have EBM elements in it.

Fredrik: But it’s not always intentional. We always say “Let’s keep it together and create a sound that binds the songs on the record together” – and it never happens (laugh).

Arielle: Yeah, there’s always an idea on how it should sound at the beginning of the process, but it never ends up like that. The demos tend to change in the production process, and it’s just natural. When you’ve listened to the same songs too many times you get tired and bored and suddenly you start to make changes; change sound patches or add new sound layers and just like that the whole character of the song has changed. Or I start to sing in a different way; it’s a great thing to use the vocals as an instrument.

Fredrik: We’re kind of open to add any influences of electronic music but we don’t want to copy a sound, that’s just horrible. For example, if it sounds too much Yazoo or reminds us of too much Rational Youth we just restart the process. The worst that can happen is if you’ll hear “Octolab? Isn’t that the band that sounds like another band”. That’s a nightmare.

What’s new on your second album that makes it stand out from your debut?
Arielle: We know how to work with our gear – and we actually have gear. When we started we didn’t even have a mic stand (laugh).

I also had this idea of us being an EBM band and you can hear it on the first album. Very few songs are slower than 140 bpm, and I even wanted to do it all in 180 bpm, Fredrik had to stop me (laugh).

Fredrik: The Timeless Room was much about Arielle’s teenage songs and the bpm reflected that, but today we’ve calmed down a bit.

The biggest change is how we arrange the music, it’s a lot better today because we didn’t really know how to do it on our first record, it was a bit unpolished and raw. Maybe we’ve become a bit boring (laugh) because we’ve started to arrange music in a classic structure with verses and choruses, and it sounds much better.

Arielle: And the whole process is different. It happens quite often that I write a manuscript for the vocals and tell Fredrik to write music adapted to the vocals, not the other way around. We did it at “Blackbird” on Mystery Park that turned out too poppy but I told Fredrik to add some eerie sounds to make it fit better with the vocals. Other times we’re just jamming until we have a few good ideas to work with.

What’s most important is to kill your darlings. As it was 15 years ago everything we did ended up on the record and it turned out a bit messy and confusing. Today it’s a slower process because we listen through our songs, make changes when something doesn’t work out, change in the arrangements and even break out parts and write new songs on the back of those if it fits better. We’ve just become better songwriters I guess.

I have changed a lot as well. When Octolab started I didn’t want to sing at all, I wanted to be behind the keyboards, not being the lead singer, but Fredrik didn’t sound that well at all behind the mic and I thought “It can’t be worse if I do it” (laugh). But when we released The Timeless Room I wasn’t comfortable in the vocalist role yet, that’s different today and I also put a lot more thought on how to arrange the vocals.

Wasn’t it a bit hard for you to take that role on stage at the beginning when you weren’t used to it?
Arielle: Yes! I hadn’t reflected on how it would be at all (laugh).

Fredrik: But it’s not that it was strange for you, you’ve always loved to be on stage.

Arielle: I loved it already when I was a child. When I was five I ran onto the stage when Kjell Kraghe [Swedish entertainer] did a show. I just walked up on stage and grabbed his leg (laugh). Mom was quite embarrassed (laugh).

When I started playing music in my teens it just happened that I was behind the keyboards even if our vocalist wasn’t the best singer (laugh).

Fredrik: It may sound like you’re not part of the song-writing process anymore but you are even if it’s not as much as in your former bands because you work more with the vocals today.

Videos also seem to be an important format for you.
Fredrik: Just like Arielle said about writing a manuscript for the vocals and the music, the manuscripts can be used for videos as well.

Arielle: Someone told me ”I thought I had to watch a video to understand the lyrics but when I watch it I understand even less” (laugh), and I can’t say no to that. But I love the format because it lets me express another creative side of myself.

Fredrik: I rarely understand the story of the videos but love the end result (laugh). But I guess not many do, save for the video director. Arielle may have an idea to start from and the producer makes it into something else (laugh).

Arielle: Not always, the last director actually continued on my idea and it turned out just like I wanted it to be. On the other hand, it’s quite exciting to see the result when you don’t know someone else’s vision of the project. It doesn’t need to be our vision all the time.

We do a lot of the production on our own, it would be too expensive otherwise. I take care of makeup and styling on my own and quite much of the planning of the projects because I like it, but it’s loads of work on the set.

Fredrik: Some videos involve more than 20 people that need to be directed at the scene and that makes up for quite a big team.

Arielle: The ”Mind And Matter” video involved as many as 28 people. Let’s say we’re very lucky to have friends that are good at acting and want to help us out.

I guess that you also had to cancel lots of shows last year. Mystery Park was released just when covid-19 arrived.
Arielle: It couldn’t have happened at a worse time! The record was out when the lockdown started.

Fredrik: At the end of March just when everyone realized that the pandemic is more than the ordinary flu. If we would have known what was about to happen we would probably have postponed the release.

Arielle: We had worked so hard to get the album ready in time and were loaded with energy to go out on tour. Denmark was booked and Jens at Electro Shock had planned a mini-tour for us in Germany where we were supposed to have supported Das Ich in Berlin – Das Ich! And then there was a lockdown.

But you’ve spent this whole year making new music?
Arielle: Yeah, we’ve done a few things. The first new release will be a remix cassette [released last week] of other bands’ remixes of Octolab. Maybe people will find our album from last year when they hear some of the remixes and want to listen to the originals.

Fredrik: And we have done lots of remixes for other bands, in fact more than ever.

Arielle: But I hope the shows will still be there when all of this is over because we really want to get out and play live again.

Photographer: Krichan Wihlborg 

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About The Author

Music researcher with an unhealthy passion for music and music festivals. Former studio owner, semi-functional drummer and with a fairly good collection of old analogue synthesizers from the 70's. Indie rock, post rock, electronic/industrial and drum & bass (kind of a mix, yeah?) are usual stuff in my playlists but everything that sounds good will fit in.