|ISSUE 8.1||WINTER 1998|
In some music journalism, there has been a division established between sound and song. Roughly, the argument is that those who write songs hearken back to modernist notions of the author and narrative, while those who manipulate sounds (such DJs mixing drums 'n' bass and ambient music) embrace a postmodern eschewing of established forms and structures. Orchestraville, a band that has been writing and evolving for seven years now, defies this opposition and, with a kind of dialectical grace, merges song and sound into something new.
Comprised of guitarist Chris Forbes, bassist Dave Pascoe and drummer Keith Hanlon, Orchestraville creates sophisticated, complex music. Informing their music is both the tradition of the singer/songwriter as well as a definite awareness of the timbre and tone of sounds. As Hanlon says, "On the one hand we're serving up the song, but on the other hand we're trying to create something different. However, we're not just exercising our chops; we're more trying to create a mood." Pascoe adds, "We try to use bass, drums and guitar to the fullest that they can be used. I don't mean that it is busy, but that we try to get the most out of our instruments."
In an unconventional, controlled manner, Orchestraville juxtaposes harmony and dissonance. This combination reflects a craft in their songs and their playing, a cohesiveness that calls attention to the fact that these musicians have been playing together for years. "Like any band, when we first started playing, each musician was fascinated by just hearing himself play and not really listening to everyone else," Pascoe notes. "And then, after while, through some maturity, you start listening to what everyone else is playing. Sometimes some bands never get to that point, but I think we're past that. We can make decisions about how the whole band sounds, instead of going, 'Wait, I can't hear myself so I need to turn myself up.'"
In many ways, maturity -- something not often privileged in the world of rock 'n' roll -- is a significant aspect to Orchestraville's music. This maturity is especially reflected in the lyrics, which tend to be dark but not depressing, plaintive but not despairing, both convoluted and redemptive. Often the lyrics deal with the gaps that exist between people, whether the people are complete strangers or intimate friends. These gaps can affect people's interactions and the choices people make. Thus, one theme Orchestraville explores is the outsider, the reject, the misfit of society, the person for whom the gaps are too wide to be bridged. The song "He Believes" speculates about such a person and how that person structures his world: "He believes in something ... even if it's bubble gum, even if it will not last."
Their songs also explore how these gaps affect relationships, especially romantic ones. The song "Ersatz Love" deals with the delusions that people nurture while "Powder" deals with the ache of the void and the inability to fill it: "And I'll wait right here as I see you passing by my window and I'll pile all the good that does into a thimble."
"The Dog as a Catalyst for Love" is another song about the desire to connect yet the complexities in making that connection: "I've heard about using your dog as a catalyst for love, as a stitch for the You's and Me's/When everything you stand to lose is standing there inside those shoes, and they can turn and just walk away."
Occasionally, Orchestraville will play a cover, representing both a nod to their influences as well as an opportunity to interpret someone else's song. For example, they recently took "Executioner," an acoustic song from Robyn Hitchcock's album Eye, and completely transformed it, effectively making it their own song. (Their version of the song will soon be appearing on a Robyn Hitchcock tribute CD.)
Soon, Orchestraville will be releasing their own CD, which will feature songs from the last few years. Many of the songs include the addition of Brendan McKay, a guitarist who was formerly in the band and recently passed away due to cancer. McKay's guitar playing, heavily influenced by avant-garde jazz, adds another whole layer of texture to Orchestraville's music. "This CD will be something of a document of one period in Orchestraville," Forbes comments. The band does plan on releasing another CD of material written after McKay's death.
Orchestraville is a band that has endured and continues to make music which at once fits into recognizable forms and is also one step off, not quite like anyone else's music -- a significant accomplishment in this era of imitation and simulation. When asked to describe their own sound, Hanlon notes, "For awhile, we had this phrase 'twisted pop music' which fit once, but I don't think we are that twisted anymore. For years, people described us as quirky, but I don't there is any quirk left." What is left is a hybrid of song and sound, an attention to craft and artfulness, that emotes and resonates distinctly.
- Jim Januszewski (Mar 1998)
Briefly, what's the history of the band? What phases has it been in? What phase is it in now?
How do you see your music compared to other music today - fitting in, not fitting in?
So there is a consciousness of the texture of sound in your music?
How does writing songs -- even writing so called pop music -- fit into what you just talked about?
Who writes the songs?
You guys play covers. What are your thoughts on covers?
What are you trying to do with your music? How would you describe it?
Is there a difference between dark and twisted?
Well, you guys are pretty white ...
How has Brendan influenced the band, both his playing and his passing away?
Well, so the stuff you are playing now is different than the stuff on the cd. Is the cd you are releasing a tribute to Brendan?
Are there plans for that?
One thing I think of you is endurance: you have been around for so long.
- Jim Januszewski (1998)