Summer Music Series: Seacoast DJ And Musician Octo Octa
Last year, DJ and electronic musician Maya Bouldry-Morrison — known to many as Octo Octa — returned home to the Seacoast after a tour in Europe was cut short by the pandemic. Now, she has a new EP out, “She’s Calling.”
For the second installment of our Summer Music Series, Octo Octa spoke with All Things Considered host Peter Biello about the inspiration behind her work and where she’ll be directing the proceeds from her EP. Below is a transcription of their conversation.
Peter Biello: I wanted to start by giving our listeners a chance to hear a little bit of your music. So I'll play a little bit. And let's start with the first track of your newest EP, which is called "Goddess Calling." But can I ask you first to introduce this track and tell us a little bit about what you were going for?
Maya Bouldry-Morrison: This whole EP is about exploring magic and ritual and how it interacts with my life and very specifically with the music I create and perform.
Peter Biello: The song here is called "Goddess Calling," so let's listen to a little bit of it. So can you tell us a little bit about the mood you are going for here?
Maya Bouldry-Morrison: Sure. So, I'm an electronic music producer. I'm doing lots of like house, techno and breakbeat and stuff like that. It's very autobiographical work. So, essentially everything I make is trying to either process things that are happening in my life or further explore things happening around me. Specifically for "Goddess Calling," it's speaking directly to the goddess that's within my life and is constantly present in the music that I make, and especially there during moments of magic, like playing parties or deejaying or something like that, where there's this very interactive moment of connectivity with people and with her herself.
Peter Biello: You mentioned spirit, you mentioned goddess, and the beginning of "Spell For Nature" has kind of a religious feel for me. Maybe I'll play that a little bit right now so people can know what I'm talking about. So that seems like a very traditional, almost a Christian beginning of a music, but I don't know if that's where you're coming from.
Maya Bouldry-Morrison: Well, I'm not trying to be referential to any dogma that currently exists. Most of my spiritual interactions with the world and the conjuring that I bring forth is trying to really just call from something within myself that I feel outside of what's happening. But of course, I grew up in a Christian church so why would that tonality not be present in those moments when I try to think about the spiritual tinge with that music?
Peter Biello: So, how do you go about composing a song like the ones on your newest EP?
Maya Bouldry-Morrison: I really don't have a very set process. Because I'm an electronic music producer, I have a studio of hardware equipment. I also constantly use software on my computer. It's an interaction between the two. So I have this hybrid setup for making stuff. And because I have so many options of ways to start working on music, there's not a really set way to go about it beyond actual emotion, is the way I think about it. Although my work is mostly instrumental, I like to try to have an emotional impact with everything, so I try to start from that place.
Peter Biello: So how was the pandemic for you creatively?
Maya Bouldry-Morrison: Well, it's been a roller coaster of creation and just times of deep depression and not getting much done. It's been a lot to process because essentially I know... we're friends with lots of musicians and it's a hard time for so many of us because it was such a radical change to the way we not only interact with the world, which is performing, but for myself and my DJ partner, every weekend was a chance to heal from the weekend before, just dealing with the world and trying to move through it. So, not being able to have those moments of release was tough.
Peter Biello: So, let me ask you about what you're doing with half the profits of the sales of this EP. You're donating half the profits to the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, which works to guarantee that all people are free to self-determine their gender identity and expression, regardless of income or race, and without facing harassment, discrimination or violence. Why is this project so important to you?
Maya Bouldry-Morrison: When I came out in 2016 — I'm a transgender woman — I was in Brooklyn and there's lots of forms and things like that to get gender markers changed and find access to resources. And Sylvia Rivera Law Project had a lot of that information available for free and I was able to navigate a number of processes that I had to do for the government to live more comfortably. And that's always stuck with me. So, our label T4T LUV NRG, we are putting out music by trans and non binary individuals like ourselves. There's only so many ways I can contribute. I don't have a lot of time always to contribute. So, I thought it would be really wonderful to raise lots of money through my releases.
Peter Biello: I wanted to ask you about your stage identity, the name Octo Octa. What's the inspiration for that name?
Maya Bouldry-Morrison: It's very silly. It's like I said, I've been making music... I'm 34. So, when I was 18 years old, I wanted to come up with a new name because I had a terrible stage name before that, and I had an AOL screen name that was Octopus Octagon and I was in school and I was studying linguistics and I love the idea of the two prefixes and so I just put them together. That's one thing that happens after a decade of making music is you don't know necessarily, a decade later, that you're going to have the same name that you started out with. So it's a silly origin story. It's that simple. I wish it was more. One thing I found very interesting, though, later, of course, once I came out, I was dealing with the idea that it's the masculine and feminine prefixes. That doesn't quite scan to exactly who I am, but it is interesting. It was an interesting choice by chance.
Peter Biello: I guess it's such a millennial answer to have a screen name evolve into a stage name. I mean, I'm just a few years older than you, but I feel it. Maya, this has been wonderful. Thank you so much for speaking with me about your music.
Maya Bouldry-Morrison: Oh, thank you. It's been a pleasure. It's been really fun.