Longtime self-described "experimental/psychedelic/freestyle" Bay Area group O-Type, featuring Bruce Anderson, Dale Sophiea, Jim Hrabetin, and Marc Weinstein (of Amoeba Music) are playing a very special and recommended mixed-media show titled "The Curse of the Fine Arts" this Sunday evening, Feb 24th @ 8PM at the Berkeley Arts Festival. Additionally, tonight, Thursday Feb 21st, their music will be featured as the soundtrack to the short film High Heels (directed by founding member Sophiea) which will be screened at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco as a selection of the SF Indie Fest as part of the "Bay Area Shorts" segment at 7:15PM.
O-Type was born out of legendary band MX-80, which Sophiea and Anderson formed back in the mid seventies in Indiana before they moved west to Cali. MX-80, who defied categorization except maybe as "outsider" music, released several revered records on such labels as Island and Ralph (the Residents' label). Being hard to define doesn't sit well with labels, so Anderson and Sophiea started their own label, Quadruped, and busily cranked-out several diverse types of music under a slew of names, including O-Type, The Gizzards, Brutality, Half-Life, and of course MX-80. Marc Weinstein and Jim Hrabetin joined the fold in 1984 and have been part of the experimental musical family ever since.
O-Type, who were featured on both Amoeba Music Compilation Vol. IV and Vol II (Just Payin' The Rent), have released a slew of albums mostly on Family Vineyard out of Bloomington, Indiana. They have recently released five O-Type albums from a series of recordings called The New Edge, the band’s first ever DVD, GodAwful, and MX-80’s newest musical offering, We’re An American Band. Their show on Sunday in Berkeley is titled The Curse of the Fine Arts and is described as "a multi-media salon featuring music by O-Type with additional music by Andy Way, Gregory Hagan, Curtis Tamm, Camaron Stephens, Travis Wyche, and Chris Davis (turntables) plus film/video projection by Keith Arnold, Kahlil Karn, Dale Sophiea, and Curtis Tamm. Showtime is 8pm, Sunday February 24th at the Berkeley Arts Festival, 2113 Shattuck at Allston, Berkeley, California. Tix $5-10. I recently caught up with Dale Sophiea to talk with him about his last forty years in music with MX-80/O-Type, about the unique mixed media performance by O-Type in Berkeley on Sunday, and about his film with the O-Type soundtrack playing tonight at the Roxie in the SF Indie Fest.
AMOEBLOG: Can you tell me a bit about the film High Heels you directed?
DALE SOPHIEA: It's a short (15 minute) movie with a soundtrack constructed from O-Type's music. It's about a very shy guy who watches a television psychologist talk about how women respond to the world around them, then trying to put that advice into action. Unfortunately, he gets her message pretty wrong and the results are, to put it mildly, not what he had in mind. To date, it's also scheduled to be screened at the Seattle Int'l Film Festival in June, and Berkeley Video and Film Fest in September.
AMOEBLOG: I see that Sunday's event is described as a "multi-media salon" featuring music and visuals from a lot of artists. What kind of performance will this be and will it be all improvised or pre-scripted?
DALE SOPHIEA: Keith Arnold and all of us used to put these on fairly regularly when he ran the Fine Arts Cinema. He'd get a bunch of film and video artists together, and I'd assemble the musical line up. Everyone would scatter to all the nooks and crannies in the theatre, set up, and start playing and projecting. The planning is mostly in picking artists who respond to each other and fit together, all going in more or less the same direction in a very loose, but very cooperative sort of way. It's all improvised, with each ensemble getting a short time to strut its stuff alone, then blending together as we see fit, first in small pairings, then as a whole. The idea is for a bunch of disparate styles to peacefully coexist in
AMOEBLOG: I like that you have turntables included in the instrumentation on Sunday. What else will be included?
DALE SOPHIEA: O-Type uses Bruce and Jim's guitars, Marc's V drums, and my electronics. Another group with Curtis, Gregory, Travis, and Cameron features guitars, a keyboard, and some rather weird processing. Andy will be stirring it up with his electronic shenanigans, and I think Ilysea will be joining him on vocals, so this contribution will actually be the group called Maleficia. Oh, and in addition to Chris's turntables, he'll be heating up steaming tea kettles with some sort of intense flame.
AMOEBLOG: You and Bruce Anderson have made music together for 40 years with Marc and Jim (the relatively new kids) joining you all 24 years ago. What is the secret to your creative longevity?
DALE SOPHIEA: Carrot juice and yoghurt, both imported weekly from what was formerly known as Soviet Georgia. Also, we originally started playing together mainly because we liked being with each other. Somehow, against all odds, that seems to remain true.
AMOEBLOG: And how do you manage to consistently keep making music with an edge without ever watering down your sound?
DALE SOPHIEA: I guess we've simply refused to grow up - remaining to be big kids who are gleefully influenced by everything around us. As Bruce says, "The world sucks, but our lives don't."
AMOEBLOG: How has your approach to music changed (if at all) over the past four decades?
DALE SOPHIEA: Our instrumentation has changed somewhat. Bruce and Jim still live in the guitar world, but pedals and effects play an important role. Marc is playing electronic drums, and I've moved from bass guitar to the computer as my instrument. And we have grown up in one way: instead of playing in an assaultive, aggressive way - something we often did when we were younger as a defense against wholesale rejection by the music industry - we're now more oriented to music that is, in a word, listenable. People can like what we do or not, but we don't intend to dare them to.
AMOEBLOG: How often do you guys get together to perform and/or record?
DALE SOPHIEA: We record every time we play, which is twice a week. We haven't played a gig as O-Type of a couple of years now, but that should be changing some. Keith and I are looking into making the salons semi-regular again.
AMOEBLOG: Your release The New Edge is a box set with five CDs and a DVD. Are all the CDs albums previously released? And how would you describe the content of the DVD?
DALE SOPHIEA: All five CDs were released over a seven year period from 2000 to 2007 on Family Vineyard. It's an oddly disparate group of recordings, but also somehow cohesive - recognizably part of the same whole. GodAwful was described by MX-80 vocalist Rich Stim as "Bugs Gone Wild!" It's video of swarming insects and fish I shot in California's Trinity Alps, the mountains of Northern Greece, my yard in Berkeley, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It runs over a live session O-Type recorded a few years ago. It's the first in a series of videos which will feature semi-static, often nature-flavored shots over our music and are meant to serve as sort of audio/visual fireplaces, or "ScreenSavers" - which is what we're calling the series.
AMOEBLOG: Will O-Type still be making music 20 years from now?
DALE SOPHIEA: That's planning an awfully long time in advance, isn't it? We're not at all convinced Shrub won't poke "the button" on his way out of the White House next January. Barring that, I see no reason why not.
AMOEBLOG: Can you tell me a bit about your new venture, the duo Death Ray. Is that you and Bruce?
DALE SOPHIEA: Marc and Jim both have jobs that regularly send them to other parts of the world. Bruce and I are in the studio like clockwork every Tuesday and Friday. Death Ray is one of the projects we've fashioned to keep us from getting too lonely while they're gone.