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This show was a long time coming. Looking back, it had been two years since our last show and one year since Dustin wandered off to pursue a steady paycheck playing music in Nashville. After his departure I wrote a 5-part blog post outlining our time as a band. Towards the end of that post I mentioned we wanted to play a 20th anniversary show, but were afraid that we may have missed the chance. A few weeks after the story went online, we got an unexpected e-mail from Jim, who played drums with us from 1999-2005. He said he’d gladly play a show. There was one catch. Jim currently lives in Germany. He promised he would make it over regularly enough, so we agreed and patiently waited. Sure enough in the Spring, he appeared. We practiced and it sounded pretty good. He came back in the Summer. We played again and it was still pretty good. He came back in the Fall, we booked a show and next thing you know here we are. Although we had seen Jim numerous times over the years we certainly did not expect to be playing music together. In fact, it had been 10 years since his drums and our instruments made that all too familiar racket. The whole practice experience leading up to this show was surreal. We were the same people doing the same thing and with the same sensibilities, but at a totally different point in our lives. Our jokes and references hadn’t changed a bit, but the reasons for missing or rescheduling practices were totally different. In those 10 years, four marriages and five children have happened. Everything is the same, but everything is different. The songs we practice and ultimately played were a slow evolution. Jim diligently learned a bunch of songs from Requiem, but in the end I think Dave, Justin and I wanted to hear the stuff we hadn’t played in a while. So, did the show live up to all this hype? Yeah, for us it did. All in all, the show was pretty good. Black Karma Social Club played first and sounded pretty solid. Any band that covers ‘Bodies’ by the Sex Pistols will do ok in my book. Burn The Stage was next and they were great. We’ve known Ike and Nathaniel for a long time, so we shouldn’t have been at all surprised by how solid they were. Trivia time: back in 1996, 800 Octane played with Nathaniel’s band, The Drapes, in North Carolina. They were on tour from Portland, and we opened for them. Who would have known we’d cross paths so many times since then? I was pretty nervous and even a bit shaky for our set. Not as shaky as Jim, who stood on his drum stool to wave and promptly fell sideways onto my amp spilling his beer everywhere. It’s true, we are rock royalty. The set was great. Lots of old stuff. Lots of singing along. People seemed to have a great time and the word I kept hearing afterwards was “positive”. I’ll accept that. The show was a great experience. Although it wasn’t a formal “20th” affair it did the job. Thanks to Ike for making it happen, those who have seen recently, and those we hadn’t seen in upwards of 5, 10 and 15 years.
It’s been two years since our last show and almost a year since adding the ‘twenty years’ blog posts. Drummers have come. Drummers have gone. Practices have happened. Live shows have not.
It’s time to address that last item.
Sometime after Rise Again, when things were at their peak for us (“peak” meaning at least a dozen people were coming to shows and we’d break even on gas money) we had an unfortunate falling out with Jim. In retrospect, the reasoning was pretty dumb, but sometimes it’s hard to see the forest through the trees. We pressed forward. We played a bunch of shows with our friend Dan and eventually we found a permanent drummer named Dustin, who was hungry to play. He’d drive an hour from Longview for practice twice a week, which showed amazing dedication. He was rock solid, had great timing and wouldn’t settle for boring. With Dustin behind the drums we were progressing musically, making new fans and getting to play some amazing shows. The highlight of them all was definitely opening for Tiger Army at the House of Blues in Los Angeles. Playing that stage was a spectacular moment. Dues = Paid.
The lead up to Requiem took a long time. We got rid of our practice space in Portland and started practicing at Dave’s garage out in Scappoose. Because it was now an hour long drive for everyone except Dave, the frequency of practice dropped and songwriting slowed. The last two albums had only taken 1-2 years to write. When we finally recorded Requiem we were going on 3-4 years. In 2008 we finally had enough songs for an album, so we went back to Egg Studios and knocked out the whole batch of them. Tracking went really well and we finished our entire wish list of songs. In the past we aimed for 14 or 15 tracks and settled on 12 or 13. This go round we recorded 20 and put 19 of them on the album. The biggest problem was we couldn’t decide what songs to cut, so we just included almost everything. Personally, I think the album is a bit unfocused because of it, but like most decisions, it seemed like the right call at the time. It was nice to have that period documented and most importantly, it was nice to have Dustin, who had been in the band 3 years at that point, finally on an album.
Right after we recorded, real life started to happen. Dave was already married and soon had two kids and a full household. He was also busy with a job where he traveled almost weekly, often internationally. Justin also got married during this time and decided to pursue a 4 year degree and a career change. Dustin was keeping busy with music and playing in 2-3 other active bands, most of which with their own shows, recording and other things happening. I too got married, had kids and kept busy with work. With all this stuff going on, practice was proving difficult to coordinate. Shows were even harder to pull together and one year we actually cancelled more shows than we played. Thankfully, we were still playing really well, despite being considerably older than many of the bands we played with. When we did play it was still a blast and we’d sit around and wonder how come we don’t do this more often.
So, where are we at now?
Well, it’s complicated. Justin has graduated, Dave now has a non-traveling job and all of our kids are getting to a place that allows for more freedom. We’re getting the itch to play more regularly, especially with the 20 year milestone at hand. Unfortunately, after 9 years Dustin quit the band in July. If your goal is to play music full time, you’d be wise to stick with the bands that are actually playing as much as possible. A few shows and practices a year wasn’t cutting it for him. It’s a bummer, but we get it. We’ve discussed calling it quits, but it always comes down to one question… “why?” We have fun playing music and when we do get to play live it still seems to leave a mark on a few people.
At this point who knows if we’ll find another drummer. If it does work out we’ll see you around. If not, then maybe that’s a sign to call it a day. I don’t know what’s going to happen. In either case I certainly didn’t think writing songs at that crappy garage in Boone all those years ago would have turned into 5 albums, hundreds of shows, seeing the country, meeting many of our favorite bands and making so many good friends along the way. We’ve known lots of bands that have gotten much farther and burned much brighter, but few have had the luxury of longevity. It’s been an amazing experience so far and something we’re very grateful for.
I hope we can keep it going, but only time will tell.
We recorded The Kelvis on a rainy weekend in either October or November of 1998 with Mike Lastra. We had played every song live numerous times so recording went really quickly. Lastra was great, he really got us used to the idea of accepting things as they happened. Scratchy noise or a missed note? Who cares. If it sounds cool then leave it. My only regret is that the album went un-mastered, which is why it sounds so flat unless played loudly. I sure wish we could get a do-over on that decision. We also embarked on our first tour during this time frame. It was only two weeks long, but it was an amazing experience bolting to the East coast in record time. Things were going relatively well but despite it all, Bryan left in 1999. The pace of independent music, i.e. – no money, no fans, no glory, isn’t for everyone. He needed a change and although we were sad to see him go there wasn’t any bad blood between us for his decision.
Very soon after Bryan left we enlisted Jim, who we knew from Bomf! and Underhand. Jim was a different sort of drummer. He played fast and was often just on the edge of out of control. With the slightly more raw sound Jim brought, I knew I wasn’t going to cut it as a solo guitarist for much longer. We started shopping around and after a brief stint with our friend Lyle (also from Bomf!), we got referred to Justin. I remember he made a point to jump during his audition. It was pretty ridiculous to witness, but the enthusiasm is what we wanted. We didn’t even try anyone else out. He was the guy and Justin became official in 2000. This was the lineup where we finally found our sound.
During those years we practiced a lot, wrote a lot and played a lot. The high water mark was 2002-2004 when we averaged about 4-5 shows a month. For a touring band that’s not very impressive, but we were doing it ourselves while holding down real jobs and practicing twice a week. We’d drive out of town on the weekend, return home, work, practice, work, play in town, work some more and then play out of town again. As we got more offers we were driving farther and farther for weekend shows. Eugene, Ashland, Redding and many regions beyond. Once we drove to Salt Lake City for one show where about ten people watched us. Another time we played in San Francisco on a Sunday and rushed home afterwards to be at work on Monday morning. Justin rolled out the van and went straight to work at 6am, possibly without a shower. The farthest one night stand was a trip to Los Angeles to play on a weeknight where we performed to arm-crossed apathy from a legion of bored bros.
The van had rules, especially around music. Album selections must rotate fairly, roadies included. The exception is the drive home where the driver chooses all of the music. If you are playing a game or watching a movie you forfeit your musical selection. Never play the same CD twice or forever be mocked. If you don’t like a CD, shut up since it’s not your turn. If two of you don’t like the music you may complain, but you can’t veto. If three of you hate the music then Dave is likely driving and he will tell all of you to go to Hell. If Justin is driving then pay attention as each song may be your last. Seating also had rules. Equal time is given to the passenger seat, which is the most comfortable and least odorous seat. Whoever had to work the earliest got to sleep on the bench seat. Second due at work got the floor. Next got the passenger seat and he-who-started-work-last had to drive. That was usually me and I spent countless hours watching the miles pass by while everyone dozed off in peace. It was usually ok though since everything I cared about was in that van.
During that time we flipped 100,000 miles on the van, added a roof extension and embarked on a few more tours and extended outings. We recorded a few times, most notably The Return and Rise Again with Conrad Uno at Egg Studios in Seattle. It was surreal getting wisdom from someone who recorded so many bands that were influential to us. I’m really pleased with how those albums turned out and they are usually my go to if someone asks what we sound like.
We were also lucky that we got to play with a ton of huge bands: Face To Face, Guttermouth, Saves The Day, Sum 41, Bigwig, Strung Out, H2O, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, GWAR, The Misfits, The Living End, Tiger Army, TSOL, Agent Orange, Paint It Black, The Loved Ones, Zeke, UK Subs, No Use For A Name, The Deviates, Zebrahead, All, Only Crime and three slots on the Warped Tour. For a perpetually unsigned and DIY we did pretty well.
Eventually real life starts to catch up though.
How did we wind up moving to Portland? There was a lot of small talk about moving during 1996, but eventually we sat down at a restaurant with Dave’s trucker atlas and started pointing at places. Chapel Hill? No, let’s leave North Carolina. Chicago? Too big. New York or Pennsylvania? Too cold. West Coast? Sounds good. L.A.? Too many bands. San Francisco? Too expensive. Seattle? Still fresh off of grunge. Portland? Hmmm. All I knew about Portland was that you could get to the ocean in an hour one way or be on top of a mountain an hour the other way. I flew out here to check it out, took some pictures, grabbed some local zines and reported back. Dave and Bryan were in. Sadly, Paul was not. We packed up and in the late months of 1996 and moved to Portland.
Moving was easy. Dealing with the fact that we were suddenly going to be a three piece is what caused me stress. I had only been playing guitar for two years. I could barely tune by ear and could not (and still can’t) play a lead to save my life. I could play loud though so I eventually bought a second Marshall cabinet. We always joke with people “if you can’t play good, play loud.” There was some truth in that. After securing a variety of jobs we eventually found a place that rented storage units off of Cornell and 26 and started to practice. We played three times a week with Sundays being “the long practice” of several hours. Hot, cold, rain, snow. Sometimes two of us would go out and play an extra day. Often we would write in our apartments. If not writing, we were working on merch ideas. For me, almost all down time was spent working on the web page. It was 800 Octane 24-7.
We quickly found ourselves with a whole new set of songs that catered to the reduced lineup pretty. That summer we started playing shows wherever we could. I feel like we played a lot, but in retrospect it was only a few shows a month at best. We started paying our dues at the local clubs, primarily EJ’s, the Satyricon, the Paris Theater and the Ash Street. Most shows were on weekday nights, playing only to the sound guy and bartenders, because even the other bands had bailed. We didn’t care. We were stoked to play. Early on we did something a lot of other bands in the area did not do, which was play any small, off the radar town that we got invited to. Coming from a tiny place like Boone, places like Longview, Bend and Tri-Cities seemed well worth our effort. A lot of bands only played Portland and Seattle. We said we would play every place in between that would take us. Want to play in my living room in Springfield? Yes. Want to play in my garage in Kelso? Yes. Want to play outside in a park near Tacoma? Yes.
During this time we also moved into a house Dave purchased off of 51st and Hawthorne. It was a total bachelor pad with a pool, hot tub and foosball. Songwriting came easily once we all lived together. We made a lot of friends with other local bands during this time including Bomf!, The Leeches, Elmer, Tenpin, The Secludes and dozens more that I am forgetting to mention. A lot of these connections helped define us musically and personally. It was a blur of late nights, driving back and forth across the Northwest and going to shows. In other words, it was perfect.
1996 was a big year. We got a van, made a terrible CD, changed our name and moved across the country. Each of these items in a story in itself, so I’ll try to make it quick.
Contrary to popular belief the van was not purchased with the layer of topsoil and mold many of you are accustomed to seeing. It was incredibly clean, did not have the roof extension and was actually Dave’s daily driver for quite a while. This made out of town shows far more comfortable that the two door jeep and minivan combination we were used to. We’d arrive places and actually feel like a real band. The van, which donned many titles including “the crib”, “the aviary”, and “the procreational vehicle”, was purchased with only a couple thousand miles on it. When we finally parted ways I believe it was close to 170,000. If you include time sleeping, I’m pretty sure I’ve spent a year of my life in that rattling, foul-odored, sticker covered cage.
I mentioned that the first CD is terrible. It really is. The logos were made by a stranger and to this day I wonder if they are actually the result of a cruel and ultimately unfunny joke. I can vividly recall the first time I saw the CDs in front of Dave’s house. I opened the box like a kid on Christmas, saw the front cover and smiled with approval. Then I flipped it over, saw the back “artwork”, swore loudly and put it back in the box. Sometime later I suppressed my anger, removed the shrink wrap, saw the disc art and put it the box again fuming with disgust. A short while after that I played it on a car stereo and sure enough, it sounded as bad as it looked. The volume levels were impossibly low and we are still fairly sure the final recording was slowed down on the DAT to CD transfer since the demos sound better than the final product. The real tragedy is that we spent more time in the studio on that album that we did on any other album. We had a full month of unlimited studio time. For comparison The Kelvis was done in 3.5 days and it was infinitely better. There is a reason we buried half of those things under a slab of concrete in Dave’s back yard.
On a positive note, that first studio experience was a blast. I have fond memories of many things. The most ridiculous memory was making Bryan record a chicken egg shaker track over and over again only to see how long it would take to agitate him. I can also recall inviting all of our friends down to sing gang vocals on a song, which was awesome to witness and still makes me smile. Perhaps the least appropriate bit of trivia about the album is that at least one half of the songs were mixed while the engineer watched pornography. I may be misremembering this, but I could swear one video featured a hermaphrodite. Inexplicably, he had videos in the studio, but no VCR so we drove to a Blockbuster and rented one just so he could mix in style. When we eventually returned the VCR we felt a bit unclean knowing about the unspeakable filth that had just spewed from its analog heads. Speaking of porn, the album actually got its name from a selection contained within the large stash of adult reading in the studio. ‘Swank’ was the winning title since the runner up, ‘Meat People’ wasn’t going to cut it.
With the album release we accepted the realization that there were two other bands called Hoss and one of them actually had a record out. So, we decided to change the band name. We liked Octane. Not wanting to endure another name change we decided to make it unique and attached a number to it. 800 Octane just had a ring to it. It was that simple. I liked the name until the first time we saw a flyer with 1-800-Octane on it, then I started to question the decision. I’m glad we changed it though, since a year or two later Lagwagon released their album called Hoss, which is still one of my all-time favorite albums.
As for moving across the country? That’s actually not a quick story at all.
1994 was a long time ago. Clinton was in office, OJ was relevant and grunge was winding down. It was also the year Dave, Bryan, Paul and I decided to start a band.
Dave, Bryan and I were all mutual friends who lived in the same dorm in school. We spent that first year driving all over the place to go to shows. If we weren’t driving to see live music, we were listening to music, talking about music or arguing about music. We met Paul the following year and he immediately fit right it. Aside from listening it turned out Dave and Bryan had actually played music in bands before. I don’t recall if Paul was ever in a band previously, but he was a naturally talented guitarist. I was the odd man out since I had never played any music. All I knew was the dozen Misfits songs that Dave taught me on the crappy guitar I bought in Lenoir. Motivated? Yes. Talented? Definitely not. We all got together in various configurations playing covers and for open mic events here and there.
In the summer of ‘94, we were all in town and found ourselves with access to a practice space. It was a pay by the month storage unit attached to an alternator repair shop. I can’t recall the first practices specifically, but I do know something seemed to click pretty quickly. We were able to kick out a batch of songs in a few weeks and just like that we decided to become a band. We quickly and easily settled on the name Hoss. Living in rural North Carolina it was a name you heard from time to time and it seemed to fit with what we were playing. With a name and a new found mission we kept writing. The songs were short, fast, a little quirky and all over the place lyrically. Songs about movies, songs about girls, songs about growing up. I think it’s safe to say we haven’t strayed too far from that formula.
After practicing all summer the next milestone was to actually play some shows. Even at this relatively obscure college town in what could be best be described as a culturally neglected part of the state, there was actually a bit of a music scene. Local bands included Sticky, The Husbians, Smartbomb, Damage Done (“the metal guys”), Silly, Pink Collar Jobs and several more. There were good bands making good music, and despite being such a small town, it had a pretty diverse and positive thing happening. Later that year we finally played shows. For many years our first shows held a nearly magical quality in my mind. I believed this strongly until a few years ago when I copied them from VHS to a computer and witnessed the horror firsthand. We were not rock gods bursting out of a scene that couldn’t contain us, but rather four nerdy looking dudes barely holding the attention of anyone in attendance. Yes, there were a few good shows, but I assure you there were even more terrible ones. We had to experience all of the stuff that new bands go through; equipment problems, travel problems, overly long set lists, a lack of banter between songs and just general sucking on stage. We were paying dues, thankfully to a small and somewhat merciful audience.
As we started to get better we followed the lead of our friends and later started to play some out of town shows. Hickory, Johnson City, Chapel Hill, Charlotte, Wilmington, etc. Eventually we did get to open for a few headliners. The show that seemed like the high water mark for us was when we got to open for Antiseen. I presumed that would be as good as it got for us. We kept playing and I figured that when we all got done with school we’d call it quits and go our separate ways. Wow, was I wrong.
Rise Again was released 10 years ago this week, which brings back a number of random thoughts about the album.
In typical 800 Octane fashion, Dave didn’t have lyrics to most of the songs when we walked in the studio door. I’m pretty sure Dave wrote Lost At Sea first, in one pass in about 5 minutes. Never Sleep Again went pretty quickly as well. The strong songs always seem to write themselves. Other songs like Roads Less Traveled had lyrics being scribbled while being performed. Go For Broke was tough because the music was written at the last practice before recording. Paging Mr. Bronson almost got cut, while we were certain Now Or Never would be the most popular song. Totally incorrect. We did multiple takes of the spaceship noise in Destination:Space, however the howl in Bloodline only took one. Most people don’t know this, but the feedback in the middle of Dead Air is morse code for S.O.S. Subtle, but I love it. We also spent more than two hours discussing whether or not we should include Waving Goodbye on the album. Although factually correct, the song is still totally ridiculous.
As for the physical album, that was a labor of love and hate as well. Like all three of the ‘R’ albums the artwork and layout was hammered out by our friends Kevin and Robert in Seattle. Navigating the design electronically between people with good taste (them) and people with poor taste (us) took a long time. Another fun fact is that many of the pictures from the album were taken at a real mortuary (thank you Brent), while others were taken at an office building. Knowing that, it’s easy to tell which is which. The DVD was excruciating to create. Knowing nothing about how to author a DVD, we decided to author a DVD. With the assistance of Bryan, the former sound guy from the Paris Theater, we all stumbled through it one hard lesson at a time. At one point nearing completion the computer with the project crashed. The data was recoverable, but upon inspection we did find the computer had cockroaches in it. To say the DVD process was sketchy is an understatement.
Those are just a few things that come to mind. Every time I listen to it, something comes back to me. Hopefully if you liked the album you have your own memories associated with it. If you want to hear it again, or for the first time, we just made the album a free download at Bandcamp. Of course we still have physical copies for sale as well.