Talks with Julie Flanders of October Project

 

October Project
Photo by Steven Lowy

Julie Flanders
Marina Belica
Emil Adler

October Project's website
Marina Belica's website
Julie Flanders' website

 

Different Eyes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CEV:  When you and Emil Adler were writing songs back in Montclair, New Jersey was there any idea in your minds that you were going to end up forming a group to perform them? What were your thoughts about the music you were writing? 

OP:  Our thought was that we were going to write theatrical pieces with music! We transitioned from that to writing for some incredible theater singers and Emil, of course, was writing pretty consistently for television at that point, creating little “mini soundtracks” several times a week, for the “go to video” segments of everything from Geraldo to nightly news programs.    

CEV:  When and how did all the members of October Project come together to form the group? 

OP:  I suppose there were several ways that was happening at once.  I was friends with Marina and Mary and Emil was friends with Dave.  Emil and I had been working with Marina.  Mary, Emil and I got together to sing some of our songs and then Dave came by to strum the guitar.  Mary and I were very close at that time and I really loved (and still love) her voice and our songs were a great fit for her.  

CEV:  Who do you consider to be the original founding members of the group?

OP:  All of us.   A band is all its members.  

Emil and I, of course, had begun writing together even before college and I suppose we were the centralizing hub.  Emil owned the studio in his garage and the two of us introduced all the others to each other and into this incarnation.   

But a band is everyone in it: Mary, Emil, Dave, Marina and of course myself.  Then there were a few people along the way who came and went, like our good friend Paul Byrne who was actually our first guitarist.  Dave was really a bass player and when Paul left, we needed him to really LEARN guitar and make it his primary instrument – so he did!  Of course, I also think of Urbano Sanchez as a founding member!! though he wasn’t OFFICIALLY a member of the band, he was as intrinsic as any of us and a HUGELY important part of the group. 

Mary, of course, has such an extraordinary and unforgettable voice that she was a large part of the identity of the group. 

Marina’s voice in the harmonies created SO MUCH of what people think of as the sound of the group and its angelic essence.  And of course Emil’s harmony voice is amazing.  

Emil’s music, arrangements and producing are what people think of as the collective “sound”.

We called DAVE “the glue” for his playing and his voice and just the fact that he is SO COOL.  

And Urbano’s unique way of playing rhythm was a great gift.  It was the HARDEST part to change, expand and substitute for on the albums - - it was so different! and when we had big name drummers come in to fill out the sound it was difficult to keep the signature and fingerprint of the October feeling without Urbano. 

As the writer, my role was to see, establish and communicate the overall vision of the group – its visual aesthetic, the message of the songs and the gestalt of the group in sound, feel and look.  For me, where this all came together was in the Bury My Lovely video which I co-wrote with awesome director, Josh Taft.   I still feel like that video is quintessential October Project of that time period. 

CEV:  Why call the group October Project?  


Photo by Bill DiCecca

OP:  Well, we tried for a long time to come up with a name that would be mysterious and important (smile) and one of the big contenders was In Camera.  But it was taken.  And then The Fall.  That was taken.  OH gosh! We kept coming up with GOOD ONES only to find that other people had come up with them “first” 

So we got together and said, “Okay we should name it after something important to us.”  And because Emil was the musical leader of the group we said, “Emil, what’s important to you?” And Emil being VERY meticulous and organized in a way we all envied said, “My file folders.  My file folders are VERY IMPORTANT TO ME”

So we laughed but then we said, “so what’s the name of the file folder for the band” and it was “October Project” as the band planned to give its first concert in October.

Which ended up really suiting us – reflecting both the beauty and transitional/ephemeral feelings of October and the technical and classical standards of a PROJECT.  Kind of a bridge between the chaos and theos that have always been part of our work. 

CEV:  Who was/is it within the group that composes the music that has become so associated with the October Project sound?  

OP:  Emil Adler.  He writes and arranges everything.   

CEV:  Artistically do the members of the group see eye to eye? How do you work out creative differences of opinion when they arise?

OP:  Actually, in my experience, creative differences are EASY to work out.  It’s HUMAN differences that are the challenge.  Usually, everyone we work with has creative input – SIGNIFICANT creative input!!  We all have to AGREE that something is WORTHY & pleasing for it to move into the world. 

That has always been true. 

Emil has extraordinary arranging and producing skills so he is able to take people’s strengths and limitations in performance and weave them together into something where the whole is greater than any one of the parts. 

Everyone contributes their “essence and gifts” and it shapes itself into something communal. 

CEV:  When you have such a strong group of individual performers does it make it any more difficult to function as a group?  

OP:  What makes a group work is COMMITMENT.  If people are committed a group will work. 

What makes a group fall apart is when someone’s individual needs no longer fit into the requirements of a GROUP.   

Groups require agreement and flexibility to change.   

It’s very much like a marriage.  I believe strong performers make each other better.   It’s usually EGOS that create difficulty.  I think
it’s when people’s insecurities come into friction with one another that there are problems.  

CEV:  You spent quite a bit of time refining your sound in Tritone's studio. What were you working on during this time period and what kinds of lineup changes were made and why?

OP:  The band was finding its voice. 

Something most people, other than musicians, don’t realize is that musicians usually have to work full-time in addition to whatever else they are doing.  So a lot of time in Tritone was spent just doing the basics of being competent – practicing, learning, creating, refining, while holding the other responsibilities of life in tact. 

A lot of that time was spent LISTENING and finding arrangements that served the song and brought out the best in each of the performers and then all together. 

We were finding a ‘Sound” 

CEV:  Tell me about how Epic records "discovered" you in 1993 and how you came to their attention.  

OP:  We had a manager, Peter Ciaccia who helped us go from being a local band to being a local band with Major Label interest.  We played in a lot of clubs, learned to think of the word “No” as “Not Yet” and kept going.  We were very fortunate.  We played regularly in a club called Café Sine and we were signed out of that club along with Jeff Buckley.   

CEV:  On that first album how hard was it to go from let's do this to finished album?  

OP:  We worked for a few weeks with our producer and it was a very intense and difficult process of moving from the sound we HAD HAD to what the label wanted and thought would succeed.  They had ENYA in mind and so a lot of the lushness came from their hearing us like that. 

CEV:  Could you elaborate? 

OP:  Making an album is a process of FOCUSING what everyone thinks is working BEST into something finished. 

Emil had created amazing arrangements and Glenn helped assemble a team of musicians who could support the band in rendering them. 

CEV:  Were you surprised at how successful the album became after its release later in 1993?

OP:  Well, Yes and No. 

CEV:  Why or why not? 

OP:  We had committed ourselves all in to its success and so we were really LIVING it all the time, no matter what the obstacles.  So in some ways it seemed like “OF COURSE” when you bleed enough for something you hope to turn the water into wine. 

On the other hand, we were not focused so much on marketplace success the way the record company thinks of it, as we were on creating something POWERFUL and original and having as many people hear it as we could manage.  We wanted people to experience the magic WE were experiencing in making the music – to have that kind of Rush and Epiphany that WE had when we would finally stumble into the RIGHTNESS of sound and song.  We wanted people to FEEL what we were feeling. 

And it was like a contagion of belief. 


Photo by John Mazlish

CEV:  The next year, 1994, you spent out on the road touring and making videos for your single releases. That must have been a drastic shift from the previous year for the group. Tell me about what it was like to be suddenly thrust into that kind of schedule.  

OP:  It really wasn’t THAT rigorous.  The band never went out for more than six weeks at a time and only one of us was married with a kid at that point so it was do-able.    The videos and interviews were all fantastic experience and many of them were on the phone, so it was pretty easy.    I (Julie Flanders) was a non-performing member at that time (doing a Solo Show Off Broadway) so I would meet up with the band for interviews and videos. 

CEV:  Who was it that October Project's music appealed to? Were your fans across the board or from a certain demographic?

OP:  We can always “recognize” our fans.  Usually it’s a person who enjoys looking inward, loves music that gets better with repeated listening and maybe is a writer, singer or musician themselves. 

It seems to be less about “age” and more about a kind of mindset or exploratory spirit. 

The record company did focus groups and we seem to have a large male audience of educated people who enjoy a lot of cultural experiences – reading, music, theater, books. 

OF course, DUH, we must also have a lot of female audience.  But maybe they don’t like surveys as much as men do. 

CEV:  That survey certainly does speak to my characteristics as a listener of October Project and I have been listening to your music for years and I agree that it never gets old and always sounds fresh.

How much of an influence did Epic records have on the albums that you released while you were still under contract to them?

OP:  They had the final choice of producer, recording venues, which songs, etc.  They had a LOT of influence.  Sometimes we agreed, sometimes we didn’t.  When we didn’t agree, they would make it clear who was boss.

CEV:  After having gone through the recording and releasing of your first album was the second one easier because you knew what to expect?

OP:  No.  Each record has its own challenges.

We played with different players, had a different producer, and it was a different time in our lives.  

There were some similarities, but for the most part each album takes on flavors of its own.

CEV:  During the recording process how did everyone get a say in what was happening in the studio?

OP:  Everyone comes to the process giving their best input and performances.  On the second album Emil and Peter Collins and Dave Leonard the engineer did the detail work and made the final decisions.

On the first album, it was Glenn Rosenstein, Emil and Jay Healy.

Making an album is like making a film.  You know a LOT before you record the first notes – at least WE do – the arrangements are already pretty structured before the record button is hit.

But then, there is the magic and mystery of what actually HAPPENS and how the best laid plans of mice and musicians are never what ACTUALLY happens.

CEV:  So this is the tough one. I read on Wiki that your contract with Epic was terminated in June of 1996. Did you ever find out what happened and why the label decided not to go with a third October Project album?

OP:  Yes.  We knew.  It was the economics of the record label downsizing. We were told that it was because Epic’s fortunes were inextricably entwined with those of Michael Jackson and his album of that time had bombed because of his legal issues.  All the mid-level artists like us were dropped.

CEV:  At this point a lot of things happened to the members of October Project including some solo projects and a new group formation called November Project. Tell me about this time period in the life of the group and the individual members of the group.

OP:  The band never officially broke up.

Mary decided she preferred a solo project to being in a group.  She’s continued that way.

Emil and I formed another project, November Project, which was fantastic in all its own ways.  Very different from October Project it was more visceral and raw.  It was a really talented group of people and players and we loved the songs.  We got all the way to completing a five song CD which did really well, doing tours that sold out and were extraordinary and all-but finishing an album which was beautiful and remarkable.


Photo by Laura Sage

But, as I said, a band is like a marriage and while that project was successful musically, it was not successful in staying together.  I think the term people use is creative differences but I would say when bands break up it’s usually not creative at all.  It’s just a lack of imagination about getting through a challenge.

Emil and I also worked with Sylvia Tosun and Sylvia and I charted onto Billboard with the songs Sleepless (Dark Water) and a couple of others before she moved into a full –on dance-oriented career.  Too Close to the Sun and Jump In were the two albums we wrote for her.  

Marina had her project, Decembergirl and when she went to record a CD she suggested all the OP members get together and record her version of Return To Me which ended up getting a lot of radio play and really making it PUBLIC what a beautiful voice Marina Belica has.

That led us back to working together in a  new way and we recorded Different Eyes which was  wonderfully received, even though it was made in our front bathroom.   

We then were touring and creating new ways of getting the music out there without the benefit of a label and it was going REALLY well.

However, Marina wanted children and ended up having TWINS just as we were about to go into recording a full length CD

CEV:  October Project was actually dormant for a few years between 2006 and 2010.

OP:  THUS her hands were FULL with two little lives and not a minute to breathe, much less sing.

CEV:  Was this just an opportunity to reevaluate the whole October Project thing with some time not working at it?

OP:  Well, working full time and parenting is a VERY distracting enterprise and with the collapse of the music industry, songwriting is not exactly a money-making proposition for any but the smallest percentage of people.

So we were all dealing with our “Real Lives”

During  this time I wrote a book of poetry, JoyRide which has now been given a beautiful design and cover by artist Reed Seifer and will be coming out this year. I also  began singing and performing solo myself which has been wonderful.  I have an incredible album of songs just waiting for enough time and resources to produce it, but we really want to get October Project out and into the world  first!

CEV:  A new website was launched in 2010 and you announced that a new album was in the works. What prompted the return to actively working as the October Project group?

OP:  Marina’s twins are now in kindergarten so she can make the commitment again.

CEV:  During the intervening years after the group first disbanded did you ever reach out to Mary Fahl and see if there was any interest in returning to October Project?  

OP:  No.  We respect Mary’s choices for herself.  

CEV:  After everything that has transpired over the last decade or so how do you feel about each other and still working together as October Project?

OP:  It’s FANTASTIC.  It’s music for its own sake! Free of a lot of the STUFF that got put on it by the music business.

CEV:  You've continued to do shows over the years under the October Project name with the new lineup.

OP:  Well, it’s not so NEW. 

I mean, it’s usually Marina, Emil, myself, Dave and Urbano.  

And sometimes other players that most of our fans have come to know because these other players have been with us in various ways over decades as well.

I LOVE that people call it NEW but not sure it’s all that accurate.

CEV:  I think that the "new" attribution simply conveys the idea that you are once again moving out into the spotlight to delight both fans that have been with you since the beginning and new fans who will now discover your music because of the exposure that you will get on the Internet which probably wasn't as much of a factor the first time around. And for the band members the new probably connotes more of a new configuration compared to the larger group the first time around.

How have the fans received the act in its various incarnations?

OP:  MOSTLY we have incredible fans who love what we do.  Some fans love ALL of what we do.  Some like particular projects or this singer or that singer.

We like all of them, so we’re not sure that people have to choose or compare – why not just enjoy the variety?

MANY people have never heard the band from twenty years ago. We have  a LOT of people who are CONFUSED by the old version of the project when they go to look up the new version.  

Some old fans OF COURSE loved the band the way it WAS, just like sometimes people love a FIRST album more than a SOPHOMORE album. Interestingly, we went through a few phases of change that caused people to react

Those people who LOVE LOVE LOVED the band BEFORE it got signed and then HATE HATE HATED the first album

Those who LOVE  the Mary Fahl era but HATE  November Project or vice versa or those who LOVE Marina Belica and don’t know what to make of Mary Fahl.

People always have something to say, but what they say reveals more about them than it does about the singer.

Personally, I think they are all great singers!

CEV:  And of course I would have to agree with that last statement...they are all great singers. I appreciate you taking the time out to talk to me about October Project and I hope that I get to listen to your music for another twenty years.