J.R. Hill and the Oktars
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J.R. Hill and the Oktars

Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada | SELF

Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada | SELF
Band Rock Avant-garde


This band has not uploaded any videos
This band has not uploaded any videos



"J.R. Hill Exists; Your Argument Is Invalid by Taylor Burgess"

In his disorderly Wolseley basement named the Mortfell Oktorium Studio, J.R. Hill has been focusing on recording and playing shows here in Winnipeg. “I don’t really wanna go on tour again unless I know that I won’t lose thousands of dollars, because I can’t afford it,” he said.

Guitar pedals, a stuffed monkey, a pink flamingo, cardboard houses and utter amounts of crap looked like they were going to fall off the tin shelves at any minute. “Like in the summer, I lost, like 1,500 bucks. I just finished paying it off last month.”

The math didn’t add up: back in November, J.R. Hill undertook the psychotic challenge of making a 20-minute album by himself in just two days—and then he released it on his website, free of charge. And after that, he did another six albums with the same expediency, all of them also free. Together, the seven albums are known as Malphor: Mono Octopi. They are download-only, and are currently up on Hill’s website.

“The whole thing just started off on a whim. I recorded an album in two days, because I wanted to try and do it,” Hill said. “Well, I have tried to do it many times before, but this is the first time when I feel like my abilities have caught up to what I have had in my head.”

But why would he give so much music away for free when there’s a potential profit to be made? “I dunno,” he said, his back to the wood-paneled wall, “no one buys my records anyway.” The statement stings, but it’s a painful and slow world for Winnipeg musicians who aim outside of the established folk, punk, and metal scenes.

Back in November, J.R. Hill played with his backing band the Oktars in the University of Manitoba’s Art Barn, and the crowd was eating it up, flailing their arms and losing their composure over the band’s wild crescendos and the windups of tempos.

“Aren’t they blowing your mind?” asked an acquaintance. They were. They did.

“Who are these guys?” asked a stranger. “Are they from here?”

The out-of-control set was some crazy art-rock smoothie that any fan of Devo, Butthole Surfers or Ween could dig. It was really refreshing to see a Winnipeg group so well practiced, so vastly improved over time, and so tightly together that they pretty much smacked everyone in the room across the face with their talent. With the current line-up of the Oktars, it’s certainly a level of chemistry that Hill hasn’t had before. “If we stop talking in a jam for one second we’ll just start jamming for like ten minutes, and it just happens super automatically, which has never happened with any of my other bands before.” In the band, his brother Jesse Hill of Right Through plays guitar, his friend of nearly ten years Steve Basham plays bass, and the Upsides’ Toby Gillies is on drums.

That being said, the Malphor: Mono Octopi series was recorded and performed only by Hill, between midnight and 5 a.m., after coming home from work. (That is, except for the Oktars’ Christmas album.) Even though the albums were all created within a couple weeks of one another, Hill had a concept of what he wanted each to be. COW-wow uses strange tunings and loads up the wacko bedroom experiment sounds. With Figurine is his acoustic album, which teems with intimacy. “I like some of these songs, a lot,” Hill says. His pause speaks for the rest of the songs, and then about them he says, “I need to keep things more simple.” Granted, not every song’s a keeper, but from the sheer amount of material, you’ll be able to find something for some mixtape for some friend of yours who likes Bob Dylan, Nick Drake, Sly and the Family Stone, or whatever.

But of course there’s always a catch, even with free music coming directly from the musician. “I’m taking them down soon, so that if people want to hear them, they’ll have to download them now.” Y’hear that? Even if you’re curious to hear these albums, you’ll have to go to www.jrileyhill.com just to listen to them.

You can catch J.R. Hill with Ultra Mega at the CKUW FUNdrive Kickoff party on Thursday, February 4 at Platform Gallery. See him with his band the Oktars at Ragpickers on Saturday, February 6. Malphor: Mono Octopi will come down shortly after that.

- Stylus Magazine

"The prolific J.R. Hill"

The prolific J.R. Hill
The producer/engineer/singer/songwriter has been releasing a free album online every week since November
Don Beat

"I'm doing a series of musical releases right now, for free on my website," says producer/engineer/avant singer/songwriter/guitarist/keyboardist J.R. Hill (Fo!ps, J.R. Hill & The Oktars) about his latest stream-of-consciousness recording project.

"They are short 20-or-so minute albums, and I am going to be releasing one every week, every Sunday night; so far I have three up. The first one was written and recorded in two nights, the second one in a few days," Hill explains via email before informing that U stay-at-home, street beatin' computer clickers can check out all this semi-instant audio stuff in the downloads section on Hill's site at www.jrileyhill.com.

Hill says he plans to release eight albums in this salvo of his series. The first album was released on Nov. 8. It has nine tracks, and is titled Cow Wow. Hill says he wrote it in two nights and that the music is "psychedelic lo-fi stuff." The second release is an eight-song album titled Storkhut! The third came out on Nov. 22 and is called Plasticene Jellybean and "has keyboards and drum machines."

"The albums are very raw and pure," Hill adds. "I think everyone knows the standard drill for releasing music: Write, rehearse, perform, record, release, promote. I want to do something different. With these songs, everything sort of happens at once."

Since 2005 and until his eight-album online project kicked off four weeks ago, Hill had recorded and released two Fo!ps (pronounced 'Fops') albums, and an album each by the Oktars & his solo persona. Now, the pace is much quicker, and the forward-thinking Hill is stepping back just a bit to focus on his next online offering.

"I'm taking a bit of a break right now," he continues, brushing his bangs out of his eyes. "I do a drony folk blues thing when I play live, so a lot of people have been asking me for an acoustic album. That's what I'm planning to do next."

Hill says he's been recording music - his own and others' - for the past 16 years or thereabouts. "I've produced a couple dozen albums - a lot of them are crust punk bands. That's how I started. I've done albums by bands like Despite All This, Ursula, and newer releases by Haunter and Right Through. I'm 22, born and raised in Winnipeg, I've been recording music since I was six, but I didn't learn to play an instrument until later," Hill explains over coffee.

"I've been on seven tours, over the last three years, all of which I have booked myself. Some I did alone on a Greyhound as J.R. Hill with a guitar or keyboard. I record in my basement, and I play all the instruments sometimes. J.R. Hill & The Oktars was started to play my songs live. Music is my only real career goal and I work tirelessly at it."

J.R. Hill & the Oktars will perform at Ragpickers with rockabilly/surf rockers The Upsiders on Dec. 16. Hill says the Oktars will play "selected tracks from my new albums" at the gig.

"The main thing though is I like music that has that raw exciting feel, and I need to record," Hill continues about his online album project.

"Recording is like eating or something for me. Many of these recordings will be used as demos for more pristine recordings at a later time, but I think it's very important for me to release them in this fashion. I'll be doing an album a week until January."
- Uptown magazine

"Like a Squawking Ducks Review in Winnipeg's Stylus"

(published in 2009) Unconventional, silly and at times borderline retarded, the DIY music collective known as Mortfell Oktorium are at it again. From the same guys and gals that brought you the Fo!ps comes a continuing trend of bad business decisions—J.R. Hill and the Oktars is released on tape. Much like the Mouth-Boat, CUIF media and other music made, played and sold in basements everywhere, Mortfell Oktorium continues to be a refreshing change from the countless wannabe rock-star personas out there. As with all their projects, side A of J.R. Hill and the Oktars is funny, mad, catchy rock music for acid-eaters who enjoy watching Sesame Street. Songs like “George the Cat” with it’s meowing chorus and the Residents-esque, coarse craziness of “Irony Boy” will annoy some but invigorate those who don’t take music quite so seriously. (Mortfell Oktorium, www.jrileyhill.com) Kent Davies - Stylus Magazine

"j.r. Hill "a get chair help!" review"

J.R. Hill is having an identity crisis. On the songwriter's debut solo album, the Fo!ps frontman channels his inner Brian Wilson, Paul McCartney, Gibby Haynes and Syd Barrett to create 22 songs that vary wildly across the musical map. He shows off his folk side on The Mosaic and The Tall Ones, gets into a psychedelic mode on Place, shows off his love of the '60s on Shellfish, Stick and Snow, crafts the next ... (r. w) - Winnipeg Free Press



-J.R. Hill (solo debut): "A get Chair Help",


-J.R. Hill, "Grabo series" (a set of CD's released from a group of about 50 songs in which each album had a hand made cover and an individual track listing many of these songs were remixes of older songs, they are very rare, few people own them)


-J.R. Hill and the Oktars: "Like a Squawking Ducks"
-J.R. Hill, the Oktars and various artists: "Tour 2009 Compilation"
-J.R. Hill, "Thing on Hill"
-J.R. Hill, "Malphor mono Octopi music series", 7 online albums (jrileyhill.com)
+Plasticene Jellybean
+With Figurine
+Last word from a hooded wink
+His head of FIre!
+(with the Oktars)The Oktars Christmas




the crowd was eating it up, flailing their arms and losing their composure over the band’s wild crescendos and the windups of tempos. 'Aren’t they blowing your mind?' asked an acquaintance. They were. They did."
-Stylus Magazine, Winnipeg

J.R. Hill and the Oktars are a band from Winnipeg, Manitoba that are unable to properly fit with labels or any pre-defined scene because J.R. Hill is in the process of creating his own little galaxy of work.
And it's going pretty splendidly.

Already a prolific recording artist at 22, with three albums in the last three years and mountains of unreleased material, this winter he locked himself away and recorded/released an album a week for seven weeks straight in an attempt to harness an uncontrollable surge of creativity and also to demonstrate the simple beauty of raw and direct rock, folk, pop and whatever songs.

The response from the local music aficionados was a mixture of confusion, awe and in some cases, aloof disgust. What exactly can be explained about a music series in which almost every album sounds like an entirely different genre, and where at times the lines between humour and seriousness, unrepressed glee and crushing depressiveness, blur beyond distinction?

“The series is an expression of a period in time, where everything is so accessible, and recording technology so available, but no matter how advanced we get; life not simple, music not simple. People experience a much wider variety of music, and all other types of media, through the Internet and mp3 players, a then they ever have in history before. It's about letting the things inside that spit stuff out of me, out into the this new open, in many forms, unafraid of being misunderstood” Hill says of the series.

That all being said, The Oktars as a performing group are not outside the realm of easy comparisons, some common ones are: Captain Beefheart, Ween, and Pavement.

One could get an impression by saying they are a mix between an early 90's indie rock band and a psychedelic jam band with bizarre, twisted pop leanings :P ......

The real thing that sets this band apart is that each member is an incredibly gifted and unique artist in their own right and is able to express themselves through an improvisational approach to performances. You will never see them play the same song the same way twice.

Though the set lists are composed from J.R. Hill's large repertoire of songs it's Toby Gillies bouncy, breakneck and insane drumbeats, Steve Bashams ingenious tasteful basslines, and Jesse Hill's no skool, out from left field guitar playing, that let the vocals and guitar leads really jump and bound around.

The Oktars are going to be releasing an album this summer with original material and polished up tracks from the recent Internet Music series and with the way things are going, the following late summer/fall tour promises to be somewhat of a breakout event for them.