Vroom vroom: Revvin’ up for LaB 5555 with headliners The Octanes, Texas rockabilly heroes

Austin-based rockers The Octanes have a rockabilly sound that earned them a Houston Press Music Awards nomination for Best Roots-Rock in 2010. The band is peeling through town on Friday night to rock the wheels off LaB 5555: Speed.

We sat down with lead guitarist and vocalist Adam Burchfield in advance of their performance to talk Museum memories, social experiments, and waving the geek flag high.

The Octanes - 2Photo by baldheretic via Flickr

HMNS: The theme for this month’s LaB 5555 is Speed. How did your band name come about, and what was the inspiration behind it?

Adam Burchfield: When I was first starting out, playing guitar and singing, I would sit down and write out what I thought were cool band names on a legal-size sheet of paper. Nothing ever really stuck out, though. One night after jamming with the guys that would form the band, I had a thought: Rockabilly music and hot rod cars seem to go hand in hand. The music that we play is fast, and usually when you want to go faster you want a “higher-octane” gas. High-octane gas is also high quality or “hi-test.” So, with that, I thought, “There’s the perfect band name: ‘The Octanes’.”  It was original, and would forever associate us with a high-performance, hot rod type of sound.

HMNS: Describe your sound and influences. How has the city of Houston influenced your music?

AB: Our sound would best be described as “roots-rock-rockabilly, with blues influences.”  I was born in Tennessee into a very musical family that recorded everything from bluegrass to rock and roll. My parents moved to Houston with me when I was 2 years old. I grew up here in the ’80s, through new wave and the dawn of MTV, and I always thought bands like the Stray Cats were very popular in Texas and here in Houston, especially. Stevie Ray Vaughan was also very popular in Houston throughout my childhood, as well as Albert Collins. Through the ’90s I became more involved in the blues scene. I would also go and see Ronnie Dawson and The Paladins quite a bit. They had a big influence on our sound.  Eventually, I started The Octanes full-time, earning many nominations for local awards through the 2000s. We’re based in Austin now, and are currently traveling doing shows all around the country.

HMNS: What’s your favorite memory of HMNS?

AB: This may sound like a strange answer, but I would have to say it would be from when I was a kid. The bottom floor, or what I always called, “The Basement,” had a series of displays behind glass that basically gave a history of scientists.There were different displays with the figures doing strange experiments, beakers boiling, and the figures looking very mysterious conjuring up their potions. It was dark down that hallway, too, which made it extra scary. There was also a space exploration display down there, with a capsule, moon rover and space suits. But nothing can beat the fascination I had with those strange static displays in “The Basement.” As a band, I would say our best memory is playing a wedding in the Gem Hall. To get to rock and roll in the exhibit hall among all those priceless stones in an amazing feeling!

HMNS: Do you have a geeky side? Do you wave the geek flag with pride or is it something you keep under wraps?

AB: I’d have to say I’m a little on the geeky side. I still love to research things that interest me. I’m into a little of everything: geology, archeology, space travel … Star Wars movies.  Our bass player, Drew Hays, is actually a bona fide scientist who will be publishing a paper later this year. She is also a registered dietician. We’re not afraid to let our geek flags fly.

HMNS: What’s the weirdest experiment — social or scientific — you’ve ever conducted?

AB: This is a tough one because I feel like playing music and doing shows is almost always an “experiment” to a certain extent. On a scientific note, I used to stay up all night with those build-your-own science experiment kits. In the kit they had a radio circuit you could build, and you could hear anything from a radio station to a trucker on a CB radio. I don’t really remember mine working quite right; I’d love to have that whole set now!

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Hear more from The Octanes this Friday night from 8 to 11 p.m. at LaB 5555. Hit the Grand Hall early for science hour from 8 to 9 p.m. and learn all about the science of speed from our expert staff. For more information or to purchase your tickets in advance online, click here.

Start your engines with a video of The Octanes’ single, “Flip Your Lid,” below:

Dino Derby: What was T. rex’ top speed?

How Fast was the T-rex?

Tyrannosaurus Rexstirs passions.  Adults get scared when they imagine a live T-rex chasing kids in a theme park. And kids get a thrill when they day-dream of having a T-rex as a pet.

We scientists get passionate too, we sometimes get so excited we yell at each other when we debate a  T-rex’s speed and hunting habits.

One PhD will start with: “T-rex was a slow-footed fumble-bum! And he didn’t kill anything – he just ate carcasses he found already dead!!”

Then a bunch of us will reply: “That’s just nuts!  Tyrannosaurus was faster than any big veggie-saur! And one bite could kill a duck-bill!”

Who’s right?


We need tools – mathematical rules to tell us how fast an extinct animal could run and whether a meat-eater could catch his prey.

Lets take the CHEETAH versus LION.

First we need two critters, close relatives, who have very different top speeds. Lions and cheetahs are perfect. They’re both big cats and they have the same basic design in leg joints.

Cheetahs are way faster. Cheetahs hit nearly 70 mph in a sprint. Lions can’t go much faster than 40 mph.

LONG ANKLES.  Check out these two diagrams. Ok – where does the cheetah get its extra velocity?  From its ankles. Much of the high speed comes from longer ankle bones. The ankle length compared to the thigh length is a reliable speed index in close relatives.

That’s an old Rule that Darwin knew back in 1859.


Duck-bills were the most common big veggie-saurs in the time of the T-rex. The question is, could a T-rex catch a duck-bill?

We need to measure ankles compared to thighs in a rex and a duck-bill of the same geological time zone. Duck-bills and T-rexes have basically the same style of hind legs. And the hind legs deliver all or almost all of their  forward thrust (Duck-bills did put their finger tips down on the ground while walking – but there wasn’t much weight on the forelimb.)

Check out diagram # 3. Here’s a T-rex with a thigh (femur) that’s 1200 mm long. And next to the T-rex is an Edmontosaurus, a big duck-bill.

Who has longer ankles?


The longest bones in the ankle are the metatarsals. And the rex has much longer metatarsals, compared to the duck-bill.


That’s cool.  But now we have more questions – how fast was a duck-bill and a T-rex, in mph?  And did a T-rex have the killing equipment necessary for bringing down live prey? Stay tuned for the answers to these questions.

Science Doesn’t Sleep (8.18.08)

Robot Vista
Creative Commons License photo credit: Kiwi Flickr

So here’s what went down after you logged off.

Robots: they’re so hot right now. A new surveillance bot looks really cool – but it’s also extremely noisy (and so not very good for surveillance.) And – this robot could save your life.

A humpback whale has lost its way, somehow ending up in the Baltic Sea – an area that lacks the food it will need to survive.

What’s it like to be an Olympian’s brain?

It only stood waist high, but it might have given Usain Bolt a run for his money – the small British Ornithopod Hypsilophodon foxii was so fast it had a special adaptation to keep its ribs from rattling at top speeds.

Shockingly, Bigfoot find turns out to be a hoax. (Though with a web site like this, I can see why major networks attended the “press conference.”)

The NASA spacecraft Cassini has taken “razor-sharp” images of 1000-meter deep fissures in the surface of Enceladus, one of Saturn’s moons – a place believed likely to contain life (or at least, more likely than other places in space).

A new study from the Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center indicates that low density foods may be the key to weight loss. Sponsored by the Mushroom Council, the study recommends foods that have a low ration of calories to volume, like…mushrooms.

As Arctic ice melts, Canada will search for the remains of a 19th century expedition that was lost in pursuit of the Northwest Passage.