For years Maya Bouldry-Morrison found herself somewhere between two identities. Through her development with music production, and a positive experience coming out to the public, she has grown ever more comfortable as a trans artist known mostly by Octo Octa.
The Chicago native spent her formative years in New Hampshire, but is now Brooklyn-based, at home with her wife and high school sweetheart Brooke.
Initially she started flirting with electronic music in high school after seeing some friends perform with just a computer, Microkorg and maybe a Roland MC-307. She says, “When they were done playing I asked if I could play with them and I immediately went on eBay and got a Korg Electribe ER-1 for something like $80. From then on essentially every day I would go to my friend’s house and we would play around with what little equipment we had and would make some new pieces through circuit bending. We played a couple shows but for the most part we would hide out in a basement and figure out how to make music,” she says.
While studying at the University of New Hampshire, Maya bought Ableton Live to form dance band Horny Vampyre with her friend Jeremy, while using the Octo Octa moniker to explore experimental solo music.
Horny Vampyre is when she really started delving deeper into performance. “Jeremy and I would play tons of college parties plus other shows and the focus was very much on us being right up against the audience. Most of our friends knew a lot of the lyrics so everything would essentially become a gang chant and everyone would flail around. I later took that feeling and somewhat applied it to Octo Octa,” she says. “I was making a lot of IDM and breakcore at the time which was somewhat dancey but felt more at home at a noise show then a college party. At the end of college is when house music finally clicked with me and I figured out that a 4×4 beat at slower BPM would actually make my solo shows more fun and everyone would dance. Once that happened I was all in.”
She continued to perform and produce eventually releasing her debut EP, Let Me See You, through 100% Silk, the house sub-label of Not Not Fun Records. She says, “I was a big fan of Not Not Fun for a number of years and one day I noticed that they had set-up a side label that was going to be more focused on dance music than noise and ambient material.”
With a history producing mostly IDM Maya says she wanted to send productions to Not Not Fun but didn’t feel they were an ideal fit. “So when I saw there was a sub-label that was closer to what I was making I was excited to send them demos,” she says. With the few demos she had, Maya made a Soundcloud account and shared the link to the 100% Silk submission email. “They got back to me a few hours later and said they wanted to put out the record.”
Since then she has had several releases including the 12” Where Did You Go / Through the Haze under Argot, More Times EP under German label Running Back and Further Trips through Deepblak. Her first three albums have been released through 100% Silk, with the most recent Between Two Selves in 2013. She has also been traveling to perform, playing her first European in Germany at the notable Panorama Bar, held a Red Bull Music Academy residency in Manhattan, and has also performed Barcelona’s Sonar Festival.
Her influences range from classic WARP records, IDM, drum ‘n’ bass, Los Angeles record label Tigerbeat6, and has been supremely inspired by gender fluid trans artist DJ Sprinkles. Also known as Terre Thaemlitz, she is a prominent producer, DJ and theorist in the scene.
“I always like the display of watching people find out she’s a nihilist. I don’t always agree with what she talks about, but watching her be the ultimate curmudgeon is a refreshing perspective that I don’t think we hear enough from,” Maya says, reminiscing about Sprinkles’ lecture at Sustain Release this year. “Terre is significant to me because she was the first trans producer that I knew about that wrote music that directly spoke to me in terms of both ideological content and sound. That was something that had never happened before. I feel like that is something that would happen for a lot of people with like, punk/hardcore. When I was growing up hearing new music for the first time, going to shows and seeing people perform, even if I enjoyed it – there wasn’t a whole lot that connected on a significantly deep level. I was a diehard drum ‘n’ bass/jungle fan in my teens and even that which got me extremely hyped and excited, there was still always a little something missing, even if I didn’t know it yet. Midtown 120 Blues had this pull unlike anything else I ever heard before. It just clicked and I heard parts of myself in it.”
Maya began her own transgender process in 2012 and officially came out just a few years later, inspired by the story of Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace, previously known as Tommy Gabel. Maya first told her wife (a cis woman who identifies as queer) and eventually opened up to her family. Maya made the public persona change from male to female and says the entire process was positive and supportive, except for a couple comments from the public. “I haven’t had many issues being a trans artist beyond the garbage I have to handle when traveling. Dealing with TSA, documentation, and gawking passengers is obnoxious but something that passes once I’m where I need to be. Overall I am a more comfortable performer now that I’m out, so as a whole everything has been an overwhelmingly positive experience. That also might just be the culture as a whole right now especially in underground dance music circles. If I had come out in 2013 like I had originally wanted to I may have had a much harder time.”
“I’m especially happy right now being more involved in the queer community. I’ve identified as queer since I was a teenager, but since I never came out to my parents my queerness wasn’t something that I would publicly discuss. Therefore I also wasn’t seen as someone who was queer and I wouldn’t necessarily be invited to play queer parties even though I really wanted to. They were the spaces I felt the most comfortable in.” -OCTO OCTA
During the same year Maya started coming out, she was also suffering from debilitating anxiety issues. In addition to expressing through artistic creativity, Maya explores further into how she manages her anxiety and promotes self-care in her own life. She passes on advice for others who deal similarly, especially now as there’s an increase in emotional strain during trying times.
“The first thing I try to do during an anxiety episode is figure out if there is an external issue triggering it or if it really is just an internal issue. When I feel an episode coming on and I need to be like ‘am I stressed because there is a deadline, am I forgetting something, or is it just my brain today?’ If it’s an external issue or issues I break it down into discrete pieces and do them one at a time. I also make lists when I’m really worked up and cross them off as they’re completed which will make me feel better. If I’m just having a hard day for no apparent reason then my self-care is to clean my apartment, work on music, take a bath, and maybe go for a walk to clear my head. It may or may not work, but trying anything beyond just shaking and thinking about how screwed I am helps. Talking to friends I’m sure also helps a lot, but if you’re like me then you’ll be like ‘oh I don’t want to burden them.’ I typically wait until my partner comes home and then tell her everything. That’s something I really need to improve.”
Continuing on with producing and performance, Maya has several opportunities on the horizon. This month she’ll be releasing an EP on Paris-based label Skylax as well as Brooklyn label, Love Notes. With an album to be released on Honey Soundsystem this month, she said she’s hoping to make an overtly queer statement with the record, as her last album – Between Two Selves – was more ambiguous regarding Maya’s personal life. Keep a look out later this year for her second 12″ for Argot and a second EP for Deepblak. Additionally, she’s putting out a split record with Ames Henry for her friend’s new label, based on their monthly party Frendzone. “Then beyond that I’m planning some other things. So, busy busy busy!”
You can also catch her playing as Octo Octa for the first time at Movement Festival in Detroit this year. “I am very excited to be playing Movement this year! The only other time I was there I was playing an off-site DEMF party to a couple people. We went to TV Lounge afterwards until the party there got shut down and then I had to fly home the next day. So it was a very short trip. I’m glad that this year will be different.”
From the moment she bought her first piece of gear, Maya has developed an unbinding relationship with music, while simultaneously liberating herself. “It’s the most intimate and participatory art form. I feel like it’s the best art form that you can consistently engage with in different ways and it’s also mobile so you can interact with it anywhere. Sound plugs directly into you. It can strike emotions in me in a way that looking at a painting doesn’t. Being a creative person, music is the thing that’s most connected to me and has allowed me to express myself in a way no other art form could.”
Catch Octo Octa tonight at Strange Allure in Buffalo, NY.