Space Oddities

The Ostrich Farm’s B-boy bouillabaisse

By Michael Strohl

To get to Woodpecker Hollow Farm, one must travel outside Amherst, north on Route 116 for about 25 mites, through the tourist Mecca of South Deerfield and the sleepy hilltowns of Conway and Ashfield, taking a left on Route 112 and then another right onto the road toward Plainfield, off of which you'll find the farm.

You wont find a premises populated by cows or chickens, but by ostriches, its here that the Ostrich Farm, a local trio, practices and makes its symbolic home.

A friend of mine claimed she once spotted a UFO out this way, and on my first trip up to the farm, a rainy May evening on which the resulting fog lent an appropriately eerie feel to the wooded landscape, I didn't doubt her. At first, it seemed in unlikely place for one of the Valley’s most forward looking bands, but in a way it all sort of makes sense. It's definitely out there, and so is this band.

“I’ll never forget puling up here for the first time," said J.J. O'Connell (a.k.a. Some Guy on Drums), recalling the semi-hallucinatory impression with which one inevitably leaves this place. The music of the Ostrich Farm, too, imagines a kind of alien landscape, mashing up funk, hip-hop, space-rock and industrial into a mix that’s entirely in sync with current developments such as post-rock but also

harks back to the late '60s and early ‘70s, when stylistic cross-fertilization was the norm.

"At one point in rock history, it was commonplace for bands to try out different things," said bassist-keyboardist Chris Millner (a.k.a. the Man from Outer Space). It's something that's starting to come back now with bands like the Beastie Boys — a lot of different influences are starting to come together. 'With this band, I ready wanted something that was a melt-down composite of my various interests. I think we all did.”

What's unique about the Ostrich Farm is that they achieve this act of hybridity within the parameters good-time, groove-oriented rock (though the band admits to trying to downplay that image), a potential disaster area for parry-boys and high-minded conceptualists alike. Both Millner and Jillson did their time as part of New York's avant-jazz scene. Thus their music often is as engaging conceptually as it is viscerally, containing audible echoes of  mid-period  Talking Heads, early Devo and perhaps more distantly, Bill Laswell's troupe of avant-funk minimalists, Material. Songs like “Take You Home" and "Let Your Load Loose” stretch the spirit of the Mothership into new shapes, mixing booty-coercing Funk with heaping doses of scientific abstract shit.

Like many of their contemporaries, the Ostrich Farm don't think in terms of genre distinctions. The main thing is to play something with same integrity and emotion," said Millner, who listens to everything from Led Zeppelin and the Beasties to Jungle. "Something you can really get into and say, yeah, that's the fucking shit," he said. To me, that’s more important than any musical genre, whether its Folk or Japanese traditional music. Either you hear it or you don’t”  

Having lived in places like Brooklyn and Oakland, Millner and guitarist Tony Jillson (a.k.a. St Mix) have heard their share of hip-hop, which they've managed to incorporate into the band’s sound without coming off like phonies.

“I look at it this way," Millner said, acknowledging the sensitive racial politics that surround rap in this country and the reluctance white artists feel in incorporating its sounds, “I’ve lived In East Oakland. Tony and I have both lived in Brooklyn. We've both been the only white person on our blocks. Sometimes I feel a little reservation. I don’t want to be a white rapper. But I've learned a lot listening to hip-hop. Sometimes I’ll just sit down at my piano and turn on a rap station and get ideas from just playing along with the grooves and Jams."

I don't think we're faking it," Jillson added. "We're not trying to cop the urban slang."

"We're just a bunch of goofy white guys and that's how we rap.” Millner said. I wouldn't put myself up against the skills of someone like Q-Tip, but I do what I do. It's just another element of the music. And I think it's relevant."

In other words, they're just keeping it real. ■

The Valley Advocate

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