Faraquet's Devin Ocampo

Faraquet's Devin Ocampo
In their four-year existence at the end of the last millennium, Washington, DC’s Faraquet only released one album and played very few shows. Still, they were a highly influential band, combining jazzy time signatures with richly layered indie rock and off-kilter post-punk. Though they don’t seem to care, they were integral in helping define the math rock movement. Since then, drummer Chad Molter and singer/guitarist Devin Ocampo have reformed as Medications, a similarly experimental indie rock band, and released two albums. In July, Dischord Records released Anthology 1997-98, a compilation of Faraquet’s long out-of-print singles, and the band have reformed for a handful of shows. Exclaim! caught up with Ocampo on the phone to discuss the compilation, the reformed Faraquet, and why math rock isn’t such a dirty term any more.

What are you up to today?
I am mixing a record for a local band. That’s basically my day job, producing and engineering. I work out of Inner Ear Studios for the most part. I also have a home project studio that I call Treehouse, but it’s mostly my personal studio. I don’t rent it out or anything.

How did you get into recording?
I used to record myself in high school on a four-track, and it just built up from that. I didn’t consider it as a career until a few years ago, when I decided it would be something I’d like to pursue further. I taught myself, the same as guitar and everything else.

How did you first get into punk music, and what attracted you to the DIY scene in Washington, DC?
I grew up in L.A. along with Chad Molter, who plays drums in Faraquet and plays whatever’s needed in Medications. We were around 18 when we started playing together. We both grew up in the L.A. area. I got into punk rock first, when I was 12 or 13 as a music listener. Then by the time I was in my late teens I really latched on to the do-it-yourself, anyone-can-do-it ethic. As well, with making music, I realized it was a love and passion, and something to share with others, not a way to make a million bucks. We always thought DC was a cool scene from the outside, and we wanted to get out of L.A. We moved to New York initially and that was way too expensive to try and live and have a band, so we ended up moving to DC. Ironically, it’s just as expensive now as anywhere else, but back then it was a little cheaper.

At what point did you start Faraquet?
When we moved to DC, Chad and I were sort of playing around. The first person who picked me up at the train station was Travis Morrison from Dismemberment Plan. We knew each other, and he knew that I played drums. I don’t know if he got the picture that I was a guitar player, but he knew I played drums. There was this band called Smart Went Crazy that needed a drummer, and he suggested me. I started playing with them as a drummer, but still wanted to continue playing guitar and writing music. That’s when the guitar player of Smart Went Crazy, Jeff Boswell, offered his services. We needed a bass player, not a guitar player, so he enlisted to help out and play bass. It was really just sort of a continuation of something Chad and I had been doing for years.

What were you listening to that influenced Faraquet?
That’s a tough one. Some of the stuff that’s sort of obvious, as far as what made Faraquet different musically, is some of the jazz and prog that we were listening to from when I was a kid. Stuff like King Crimson and Yes. Some of that stuff gets a little bloated, but I was informed by some of it. I also tend to take a lot of influence from jazz horn players instead of guitar players. I was never really that excited about jazz guitar. Also Sonic Youth, Dinosaur JR, and just a slew of other things that we were really into.

Is it true that Faraquet are back together?
Not necessarily. It’s true that we decided to play some shows, just because I started working on this anthology record and getting all the tracks together to remix it. Getting all of the original tapes together was something that we had wanted to do for a long time because the stuff it had been originally released on had gone out of print, and people couldn’t find it. We’re all still friends. Chad and I still play, and Jeff is still a friend. We just sort of said maybe we can play a show. We’ve never really been seen. It’s one of those bands where people started taking notice after we broke up, there really wasn’t that many people to see us play. We have a show set up in DC and we’re gonna see how it goes. Depending on how well it’s received or if we feel like doing more, we’ll probably play more shows. But the current creative project is still Medications for Chad and I.

Why did Faraquet break up?
The simple version is sort of why anybody breaks up. We were at a creative standstill, and it just felt like it was at the end of things. We wanted to try something new. That’s the simple version.

How are Medications different if it’s still two out of the three guys in Faraquet?
That’s a tough question to answer these days. I guess in some ways it’s not. It’s still predominantly my songs, and still a continued vision. I think it follows a similar creative path as Faraquet. We’re no longer playing with the drummer we were playing with, so Chad’s back on drums. I guess there really isn’t a huge difference. At the time, the way that it worked out was that it fell under a different name. I had originally started the band without Chad. We were taking a break after Faraquet broke up. I had played with other drummers and other bass players, so the band was sort of already started by the time Chad started playing with us. It just made sense to have it be something else. But really, the major difference is just the name. It’s still us writing and continuing the same logical path from what we were doing in Faraquet.

When you write songs do you ever think about genre?
Generally no, and probably less so than I ever have if I ever did. One of the things I’m really happy about as far as progressing as a songwriter and an artist is feeling completely outside of genre, and just making music. We have so many disparate influences that it’s nice to be able to do that and not be locked into some kind of box. Faraquet was sort of like that for me too. It was just all over the map. There were so many influences that we were drawing from and we weren’t trying to fit in any genre. People tried to put us in the "math rock” thing, but I think that it’s just a simple term that people have to use to put you in a box. I hope we’re not easily described.

It seems like every band that gets lumped in with math rock hates being called "math rock.”
I think it’s a lot less of a dirty word than it used to be, because people are actually into it on some level. Back in the late ’90s, it seemed to be utilized by press people or reviewers as a way of lumping things together. "Oh, this is math rock. It’s something for brainiacs to listen to.” It was a little bit dismissive back then as a term. It was used for music that was beyond the norm. It’s not pop music, it’s maybe in different time signatures or grooves, and it draws on other elements like jazz. I guess for me, I’m always a little bit wary of titles. I also don’t want to be a jazz musician. Rock is an easy term because it encompasses so many things. It doesn’t put you in a box. It’s hard for an artist to be in a box.

Why did you decide to do this compilation now?
Mostly, because I got around to doing it. We’ve had this idea for a few years actually, and it wasn’t that interesting for me to just go grab a copy of the CD I have and release it. I really wanted to do justice to it. So we had to compile all of the original tapes so I could remix it. Then it could be a consistent quality throughout. That was the main thing. It was a time consuming process that we finally got around to doing. There was no reason for why now and not any other time, other than that really. As far as why we’re playing now, the easy answer is that there’s been enough time to get over whatever reasons we didn’t want to play together. Maybe it could have happened a few years ago, but everything sort of fell into place. It really only happened as we were getting this project along. We included Jeff since he was a member of the band, and as much as we talked about getting this project off the ground, it just sort of sprung up. Like, "Hey this is nice! We’re hanging out. We can play music together. Maybe we should play some shows.”

It’s hard enough for bands to sell records if they’re constantly touring. It’s probably going to be hard to sell copies from a band that’s not really active right now.
I would think so. Since I do this for a living as far as the work, remixing it and getting everything together was not hugely costly. The cost of putting it out wasn’t a huge factor, and we sort of accepted that whatever sells, sells. I’m not trying to push it or get a huge amount of record sales from it. I figured at minimum, as far as I can tell, there’s a good amount of fans out there. Faraquet is kind of an anomaly because we broke up right after we put the record out, and really only played a week of shows after that record came out. So the whole existence of Faraquet at this point, eight years later, is purely based on the record. No support or doing anything whatsoever.

How has living in Washington DC influenced you as a musician?
It’s a relatively small community. It’s a major city, but people don’t move here to make it in the arts in general, music included. Those of us that are here to do that are usually here and doing it because we love it. It thins out the herd. There’s a small community of people here and they’re very supportive. I think that influences the way things are done.

Are things still thriving in the DC scene?
I think it’s a bit of a lull period. I feel like all major cities are feeling a bit of a crunch, because the cost of living is getting so high in the cities. It’s sort of transferring back. Even going back to the ’60s and ’70s, there was mass flight out of the cities so you were left with crime ridden shells that could be inhabited by artists. DC is getting hurt right now because it’s just too expensive for young creative people to exist very easily. Towns like Baltimore are having a bit more of a resurgence and some energy happening within the arts. There are good people here and there are still good things happening, but I’m hoping it’s bubbling on the underneath and something new will happen. It’s a little bit quiet right now.

When will the upcoming Medications record be finished?
Hopefully this year. Chad has recently moved to Colorado, so that makes it a little difficult for us to be too active, but so far it just makes us more focused. We got started on the new record, and we have a new member who plays pretty much everything, so that should take us into different directions. I’m hoping to have the record done within this year. That will be the next push with touring on that and get active again. We’ve been under the radar for about a year. Other than that, I’ve spent the last year producing quite a few bands and engineering and focusing on that.

Is the Faraquet reunion in DC a one off thing?
For now it is. We have yet to play together as a trio. I’m sure it will be fine. Chad and I got together and played some Faraquet shows down in Brazil with another bass player that was more because the opportunity arose and Jeff wasn’t able to do it. So Chad and I have learned the songs and can play them, and we’ve talked to Jeff, but we’ve yet to play. We’ll see how this goes. I’d love to play more shows, and we’ve been offered more, but it’s not a reunion so we can make money or do anything other than play and have fun. If people want to see us and opportunities arise, we’d be open to that. I’d like to let things present themselves organically. That’s the way we do things. If it happens, it happens. If not, it may just be limited to this one show.