Where are we going?
“It’s a constant question now for all of us, right?” said Brooklyn-based DJ and producer Maya Bouldry-Morrison (professionally known as Octo Octa) while sitting in the airport on Monday. She was heading home from Moogfest in Durham, North Carolina.
Bouldry-Morrison laughed when asked if the title of her new album, “Where Are We Going?” has anything to do with the world we live in.
“I was making the album, figuring out the title before Trump was elected and then it came out afterwards and I’m like ‘Oh, that’s like a new facet to that title,'” she said.
Her second overall full-length project and her first as an out transgender individual isn’t so much about the world we live in, but more about the way she interacts with it.
“I was using that title in terms of myself being out now and things starting to feel better for me personally,” said Bouldry-Morrison, who came out publicly in early 2016 in an interview with Resident Advisor and is married to her high-school sweetheart, Brooke.
Apologizing for having to excessively clear a scratchy throat from smoking “way too many” cigarettes, she mentioned enduring a full body pat down in a separate room at the airport because “things” showed up on the body scanner that must have confused Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees.
“I deal with people in these social situations that are weird and new so where we’re going is all I think about sometimes. I’m trying to understand what’s happening. It’s always open ended,” said Bouldry-Morrison.
“Where Are We Going?” follows her 2013 debut album, “Between Two Selves.” Released in March on the HNYTRX label of San Francisco’s influential queer DJ collective, Honey Soundsystem, the LP features nine four-to-the-floor house and techno tracks, one of which – “Fleeting Moment of Freedom” – is full of backspins.
“They are cute and fun and I like doing backspins when I’m DJing and that track has backspins built into it,” she said.
Bouldry-Morrison said in previous interviews that this album has a sense of confidence and fulfilment, but it’s also emotional.
The title tracks open and close the album as Part 1 and Part 2 – a personal favorite.
“It makes me cry a lot. I was crying when I made it,” she said about Part 2, which has a lyric, “Do you feel better?”
In a press release, Bouldry-Morrison said, “It was the question every single person asked me after coming out as transgender. Overall I do, but no, I don’t feel better at every moment…These days, both emotions are ever-present for me.”
Photo courtesy of Jeffrey McMahan
Bouldry-Morrison said, “It’s weird” when some people ask her about what she calls an atypical experience as a transgender woman working inside the confines of a male-dominated sphere.
“I had the privilege of being seen as a male artist when I first entered this space. For other trans people having a hard time getting in, they ask what did I do and I’m just like I don’t know. Nothing was ever called into question,” she said. “Coming out much later when there was a lot of media coverage and more understanding of transgender people in general made potential backlash a lot less. I wanted to come out in 2013 when I put out my last album, but I was too nervous and worried and waited another two years and I honestly could not stand it anymore. I wonder if I had come out earlier if it would have been different.”
Maybe so when Bouldry-Morrison said she still doesn’t see herself represented in many dance music spaces at all even though this style of music is a unifying thing that she enjoys as much as other people.
“There are a lot of clubs that will boast being safe spaces, and I appreciate that step, but that hasn’t changed the diversity of the people who are still going to those places,” she said.
To find herself, Bouldry-Morrison said she has looked to people like Terre Thaemlitz, a transgender musician, theorist and DJ whose releases as DJ Sprinkles and K-S.H.E. have played a major role in making themes of queerness and gender identity a central discourse in dance music.
“I’m terrible. After this year, I’m putting a moratorium on this. I talk about DJ Sprinkles and Terre so much, but her records made me really excited and happy to see a trans narrative in an electronic album being presented, which is really great. That’s one of the people who emotionally inspired me to want to be doing what I’m doing,” she said. “Almost to the point where sometimes I finish something and I’m like ‘Uh oh, did I just bite their style like a little too hard?’ because I like the music so much. Unintentionally. I’m not like sitting down and being like it’s time to do this DJ Sprinkles song, so I’ll finish something and sit back and be like that sounds a little too similar. It’s funny.”
Beyond that, Bouldry-Morrison connects with Italian house music from the 90s like “Paranoia” by Don Carlos on Calypso Records or New York, New Jersey and Chicago house records, also from the 90s.
“The Italian house stuff is really airy and bubbly and floaty. My friend was like ‘Dude, listen to this. This is what Italians think paranoia sounds like,’ and it sounds like you’re on the beach. So pretty and nice. I’m like this rules.”
What does she think of her own music? It’s “super cute” she said when people tell her they listen to it while going for a jog or that it’s a good moodsetter for the office. She likes to envision people dancing in their bedroom.
“It’s light and airy and it makes me dance. So, yeah, you could listen to it while working on your eBook, I don’t know. As long as in the end it translates to when I’m out doing a live set and people are dancing, that’s important,” said Bouldry-Morrison, who admits her creative process is simple.
“I’ll be sitting and watching TV and then get really bored with watching TV and I’ll either play Nintendo or pull out my laptop,” she said. “Years ago, people would be like ‘Can we come take pics of you working in your studio?’ You mean me working on my laptop at my kitchen table with headphones on? I can work on stuff anywhere, anytime. I don’t buy expensive gear. I’m not ready to run home and start working on my $5,000 synthesizer. I make do with what I have.”
At the age of 30, Bouldry-Morrison is still developing as an artist and said she can’t quite put a finger on yet what she does stylistically that makes her unique.
“There’s nothing I can think about that’s like this is the thing I do that I should be known for, but when I’m playing music at home, my wife will listen to it and be like ‘Oh, that’s you.’ She knows immediately that’s one of my tracks, but I’m like what is it about it? She’s like ‘I don’t know, it just sounds like you,'” she said. “That’s cute. So I’m glad that’s there, but I don’t know what it is. I’m never working on something and like ‘Let me open up my signature file. Time to put a Maya thumbprint on it.’ I don’t know what it is, but my brain reacts in one way when I make stuff and it all comes out with like a similar strain through it. When I’m making something and my head starts tingling and I’m excited, you know like an ASM (autonomous sensory meridian) response from something, and I’ll be like ‘Ooh, this is good.”