The White Octave, 2000 Promo Photo by Dan Coston
Guitars, voice: Stephen Pedersen
Drums, sounds: Robert Biggers
Bass, second voice: Lincoln Hancock
Guitars: Finn Cohen
The White Octave emerged in Chapel Hill and Durham, NC in 1998 from demos recorded by guitarist and songwriter Stephen Pedersen, formerly of Omaha, NE band Cursive. Stephen was introduced to Lincoln by mutual friend Eric Roehrig (of Chapel Hill’s Sorry About Dresden) at a show at the Cat’s Cradle in December of that year. Stephen passed Lincoln a tape of some four-track demos and the two young musicians found they shared a desire to make rhythmically complex, melodic and intricately constructed rock music. Lincoln soon lured his friend, multi-instrumentalist Robert Biggers, to join and play the drums. The trio debuted in 1999 at the Sorry About Dresden house; its first club appearance (if memory serves) was at Duke Coffeehouse with Chicago’s 90 Day Men.
Material came together quickly for The White Octave, as the trio’s chemistry became evident to all who saw the band perform. The core songs for an album were ready. Lincoln visited Stephen in Omaha during the summer of ’99 and the two developed concepts for a number of instrumental interludes that would flesh out the record. Bob Weston was enlisted to record the group in the fall of 1999 at Mitch Easter’s brand new Fidelitorium in Kernersville, NC. The gentlemen read Chunklet and dined on Prissy Polly’s BBQ, and the record that resulted was quite good. It was issued by the Deep Elm label in the year 2000.
Looking to tour and to supplement its aura and volume, the band decided to add a second guitar. It looked to Finn Cohen, a friend and fan of the band, then leading his own group, Fura. Cohen joined The White Octave and work began on the material that would become Menergy. The group embarked on its first extensive tour during the fall of 2000 and played shows with a newly re-formed Cursive, Chicago’s Atombombpocketknife, and At the Drive-In. It returned home in September to finish writing a second record, which would capture The White Octave’s evolved sound.
In February of 2001, the band — now a quartet — again met Bob Weston. This time the location was Athens, GA and the comestibles were provided by Weaver D’s. Chase Park Transduction, the beautiful and well-equipped studio opened by David Barbe and Andy Baker, served the men well. The sessions that produced the Menergy album were fruitful. The band's sound was ruthlessly honed. The album was soon released by Initial Records.
The White Octave followed with tours of the eastern half of the US and Canada, playing almost 100 shows in 2001. It was fortunate to have the support of friends in bands like Cursive, The Faint, Bright Eyes, and The French Kicks, who shared bills and networks. On stage, the White Octave provided a furious, sweaty, high-kicking percussive blast. It could not be denied. Crowds responded in kind, and were growing apace as the year rounded out. Alas, the road took its toll and the group played two sold-out farewell shows at Go! Room 4 in November of that year.
The White Octave’s two studio albums document a remarkable band capable of writing music both challengingly constructed and directly affecting. Pedersen’s melodic writing and aggressive playing found its complement in Hancock and Biggers’ post-rock rhythmic sensibilities and Cohen’s angular riffs. The songs were meticulously assembled in collaboration by four singular musicians, each with his own distinct approach to an instrument and what it could be in the sound. On its fifteenth anniversary, that sound remains as original and awe-inducing as ever.