The last year in Maya Bouldry-Morrison’s life has been eventful, to say the least. Although she knew that publicly coming out as transgender meant that her work as Octo Octa would never again be viewed the same way, she didn’t necessarily anticipate that she’d be so quickly welcomed into an international network of queer artists, parties and collectives within the world of electronic music. Honey Soundsystem is one of the key players in that network, and the San Francisco-based label just so happens to be releasing Octo Octa’s album, Where Are We Going? The producer spoke with Shawn Reynaldo for Red Bull Radio’s First Floor about how her transition factored into the record, while also contrasting the (mostly) positive response she’s received with the everyday reality of living as a trans woman. Read an excerpt below and listen to First Floor on Red Bull Radio here every Thursday at 1 PM EDT.
It’s strange for me to do this, but I’m going to start this interview by talking a bit about myself. The last time we had a conversation, it was more than a year ago when I was interviewing you for Resident Advisor. I was the journalist that wrote the article where you publicly came out as transgender, and I assume that your life has changed quite a bit since then.
It’s changed quite a bit. I started playing more shows and I also started playing a lot of queer parties, which was great because before that, being in the closet, I did not get invited to those parties – which I understand. It’s opened a lot of spaces to me that I previously wasn’t involved in and wanted to be involved in.
Between the time we first did that interview and when the article was finally published, there was something like a month or six weeks that passed. How were you feeling during those weeks? Stressed out, excited?
What I was waiting for was potential backlash, because not all the stories you hear about people coming out as trans are necessarily great ones. It was fine, and my private life has... I talked to my family, and everything was mostly okay and is now okay a year plus down the line, but I was nervous as to what people would say online about it, or messages I would get. But I was also really excited that I could finally have this information be out in a larger public sphere, and not have to tell every single person individually as I went to parties to refer to me in a different way. So it was also a relief to finally be doing it. It was a lot of things at once.
I really wanted to do this record with a overtly queer label. That was super important to me.
For most people, issues of sexuality and sexual identity are usually a relatively private matter, but you’re now in this position where your sexuality has become a topic of public discussion. I imagine every time you do an interview people ask you about it. I imagine even in casual settings at clubs people might come up to you and want to talk to you about it. Is what I’m imagining accurate? How has it been dealing with that change?
It’s accurate. I don’t mind talking about it now, and I don’t mind talking about being trans in every interview at this moment, just because I don’t mind there being more visibility in general. I think about the fact that in a lot of the interviews I don’t talk about the music I’m doing as much, but I’ve also been releasing for a while, and people have heard what I've done and don’t necessarily need to discuss it as much. I’m sure there will come a time where I’m just like, “OK, do we need to ask and answer these same questions over and over again?” But I like doing it right now, so we’ll see how that will change.
In clubs, what happens more is that there’s a lot more heart-to-heart conversations with other people, discussing sexuality and being trans and anxiety and things like that, which wouldn’t necessarily have happened as much before. But I also invite that conversation, because we can talk about the weather or we can talk about what’s actually happening in your life. That’s a little bit more interesting.
I do want to talk about the new album. It’s coming out on Honey Soundsystem, which is one of the most pre-eminent queer crews and labels in electronic music. How did you manage to connect with them?
I played a show with Josh [Cheon] and Robert [Yang] in New York last year, one of the few live sets I actually got to do in New York. I was playing again with Josh and Robert in Dublin, doing another live set, and that party was super fun. They were like, “It would be nice to do something together.” I was like, “I would absolutely love to do something together.” From there I started working and Jackie House, Jacob [Sperber], took it over, and we’ve been working together super close on this album. I really wanted to do this record with a overtly queer label. That was super important to me. Also, Jackie just is really good at helping me realize what it should be and what we should be doing around it.
I process my life through the things I’m making.
Honey Soundsystem is obviously part of this larger queer network of labels and parties in North America and beyond. Do you feel like you’ve really been welcomed into a larger queer dance community?
Yeah, I do. It’s really sweet. Those were spaces I wanted to be in before, but didn’t always feel welcome. In college, my partner and I were trying to go to [the school's] queer support club, and showing up there and just getting a cold shoulder from absolutely everyone, because we were seen as a straight cis couple. I always had the worry of being back in queer spaces and getting that same response. But once I came out, then I felt more comfortable with myself to go into those spaces, and everyone’s been wonderful so far.
Did you write the entire album after you came out as trans?
Yeah, I think the whole thing was written last year all in one block. I wrote it after coming out.
Looking at the song titles, there are tracks like “Fleeting Moments of Freedom,” “No More Pain,” “Move On.” It’s pretty easy to assume that the album is meant to be autobiographical, so I was curious, how much of your story did you put into this music?
There’s always an emotional or ideological core to every track I make. Personal moments would come through while exploring and writing the track and figuring out as it was taking shape, “What is this actually about? Oh, it’s actually about this.” Every track is calling towards something or some idea that is in my life. I have a really hard time just writing something and having it be totally devoid of any meaning to any experience I’ve had. I try not to write tool tracks that are just for DJing, that have nothing to it. While those tracks are fine, I just don’t find any reason... This is my art form, so I want this. I process my life through the things I’m making. I have to have something in it. If there’s no emotional core to it afterwards, then I typically just throw it out, because I’m listening to it and I’m just like, “I don’t know what this is trying to say,” so there’s no reason to finish it.
Listening to the album, though, it still sounds like Octo Octa. It’s floor-friendly house music, more or less. Did you make a conscious decision not to change things up too much, stylistically?
I have a problem where I can only kind of do one type of thing. There’s some filter in my head that when I’m making something, no matter what I’m trying to do, it always has the same tonality or texture to it. So, as much as I would be like, “I would really like to just make some straightforward techno track” or something like that, as much as I would try to do something else, eventually these little things and ideas come into it and transform it to what it always comes out to be, for better or worse.
I’ll play something for my partner, and she typically knows that it’s me versus someone else, just because there’s something else that’s in it. Which is great, but it’s also somewhat limiting at times. I’m not a great producer that can jump from style to style and do all these things. I can do this one track, or my brain will allow me to move in this one direction. Putting together an album, I still want to do what sounds like me.