Solo musicians who record and gig under band names - until a few months ago I would have asked what that was all about. However, having recently interviewed and featured two such artists, I now know the answer; it's because they just don't want to be known by just their name. Simple as that. Of course, there is much more to the thought process than that and in the case of Oktoba, aka Chris Athorne, Oktoba was chosen as it's the month he was born and he loves the Autumnal colours and season. The spelling was mainly to stand out and also to differentiate from an American hip hop artist!
I recently spoke to Athorne about his debut album, Smoke Signals, which was released on 29 October and signals a folky, americana sound that you could listen to all the way through and not find something you don't like. In fact, I listened to it three times straight off. By the third time, I was singing along. It's very good.
The album was written and recorded in a fairly short period of time and is intensely personal to Athorne; not least because he was only able to finance and record the project in the way he wanted as a result of a small legacy from his father who passed away in January this year. Athorne performed the title track at the funeral and says that "it was very important to name the album after that song out of respect for my father who was my biggest fan. He would have wanted me to make the record". Listening to the album (Smoke Signals is the opening track) you would think that it is the obvious choice for the first single release but this is exactly why the first single is Tongue Tied. Athorne says that he chose to release this first "to show the darker side of the album. It's an honest song and it's the song me and Tim [Bidwell, producer] really liked". Playing the album, pre-release, to friends and family elicited the same response.
An honest song really encapsulates Smoke Signals as a whole - there's a heartfelt, contemplative bluegrass / folk sound that really feels honest. Athorne says that his best songs are written quickly, the ones that take forever usually just don't cut it.: "the best songs come out of the blue". As he matures as a writer he says that he is much more judgmental about his own songs. He writes about his own life ("it's the best kind of inspiration") and loves seeing how people relate them to their own lives. Personally, my favourite track is Something New which speaks to that part of us that yearns to start something completely new - Athorne did just that earlier this year when he gave up working in a bar to become a full time recording and gigging musician. He says he did this following some advice: don't have a plan B, no one ever made it by working forty hours a week for someone else. Seems to be working out just fine so far!
Smoke Signals is available now and the great news is that a lot of material has already been written for the next album!