The Optigan was a chord organ made by Mattel in the early 1970s. This intriguing instrument played back lo-fi sound loops on flexible LP-sized discs, each disc containing optically-encoded rhythm section grooves in a particular style of music (ie country, bossa nova, etc), along with drum loops and keyboard tones. Think of it as the 1970s version of GarageBand, where amateur musicians could put together their own songs using loops of recordings by professional musicians.
Optiganally Yours started in the mid 1990s when one of Rob Crow’s housemates, Pea Hix, became obsessed with the magnificent Optigan. When Pea had the idea to start a band around these haunting sounds, Rob chimed in and said “I’ll be the singer, and the band will be called Optiganally Yours.”
O.Y.’s first album, Spotlight On Optiganally Yours, was released on Cargo/Head- hunter Records in 1997, along with a suitably grainy music video for the single ‘Mr. Wilson’ (which is, perhaps, the band’s most well-known song to date). In 2000, a second album, Optiganally Yours Presents: Exclusively Talentmaker, was released on Absolutely Kosher Records (US) and Vroomsound (Japan). This album jettisoned the Optigan in favor of two related instruments, which utilized the same technology: the Chilton Talentmaker and the Vako Orchestron.
Shortly after the release of Exclusively Talentmaker, work began on a third release. Through much research and a little detective work, Pea rescued the original studio master tapes–which held all of the sounds recorded for the Optigan discs–from a SoCal garage, and set out to assemble basic tracks from the thousands of loops and samples the tapes contained. Since the tapes contained large amounts of material that never made it onto Optigan discs in the 1970s, there was a lot of fresh territory to explore. In contrast to the grainy, lo-fi sound of the Optigan discs, these sounds were all hi-fi studio quality. O.Y. in Hi-Fi was born. “Several of these sessions never became discs, so Pea chopped them up, as you would with a real Optigan,” says Crow. “And we wrote all these new songs using these materials, in addition to my guitar and voice of course. I think it’s the best record I’ve ever done.”
NMR + Joyful Noise Recordings (Photo: Jeff Wiant)