November 2004 - ORQUESTA
If the summer is your favourite season, and you want to discover a band that perfectely embodies all its different emotions from bittersweet to euphoric then ORQUESTA DEL DESIERTO is your band (and mine, too). Although the line-up features members from the Earthlings, Hermano (Steve Dandy Brown) or Goatsnake (Pete Stahl) f.e. this isn't just another heavy doom blues supergroup. OdD are playing some sort of semi-acoustic latin-tinged sound, with a slight psychedelic feel and fronted by the soulful and outstanding vocals of Pete Stahl. Since the days of the legendary DC Hardcore group Scream, I'm a fan of his voice and I can't imagine no other singer for OdD. But you can be sure that the other involved musicians are also putting their heart and soul into the music, and the latest album "Dos" is the next proof. Once again, the band have spent some time in the legendary Rancho de la Luna studios to record the material, and some months ago it was time for the first European OdD tour. At first, I want to meet the band in Cologne when they played in the 'Underground', but due to difficult personal circumstances I had to stay at home. What a shame! So I decided to contact Steve Dandy Brown a few weeks later for our interview, and he was so kind to answer my questions. Well, he got a lot to tell and the result is one of the most interesting interviews in the Cosmic Lava.
Hello, Dandy. It's been a while ago since you have played some shows here with OdD. What are your memories abut the first European Orquesta tour, and what were the best gigs you played here in Germany?
Damn, Klaus, it's only been about a month and a half since we were there! Really, though, I can't put into words how absolutely amazing the Orquesta tour was. To tell you the truth, I was extremely surprised by the reception that Orquesta received in Europe. When we left here, my thoughts were, "I'm about to take a band over to Europe that is pretty new and unrecognized. Maybe we'll have a chance to play for thirty or forty people each night, and start to build something." I was absolutely blown away by the fact that each night we played to nearly packed houses. It wasn't that the venues were enormous, but seeing 75-100 people in the audience every night just blew my mind. I think, though, that the thing that impressed me the most was the reaction those crowds had to the music. Again, I was wondering what most of the people in the audience would be expecting. Orquesta is sort of based around guys that have made their name playing heavier music, and I think we came over labeled as "stoner rock." It was truly incredible to see the look on the faces of most of the folks in the audience when we walked on stage with acoustic guitars! I really don't think they had any idea what was going on . . . well, at least the one's who had only come to the show because they knew Pete was in Goatsnake, or Mario was in Fatso Jetson . . . or even if they were fans of Hermano.
It was a crazy evolution through every show. At first, the audience had no idea what to think about the band, but it seemed that by the middle of every show everyone was starting to catch onto the vibe of Orquesta, and actually seemed to enjoy it. I think it was something way different than what they came expecting. By the end of the show, it was unbelievable to see the reaction of the people who had come out, to see that they had actually been able to catch onto and enjoy something far outside of the norm. I have never in my performance experiences seen an evolution in an audience like that. As far as gigs in Germany go, I would have to say that Jena and Belfield were my two favorites. Jena is always a pretty strange city to visit, but extremely unique in regard to cities in eastern Germany. There is something extremely far away, at least emotionally, that fascinates me about Jena. Bielefeld, of course, because it was the last night of the tour, and those gigs are always emotionally charged.
You've also played one show at the Underground, a small club in the suburbs of Cologne. They own a small stage, and I ask myself how eight grown men had found enough space on the stage.
That's always the problem when playing live with Orquesta. There is rarely a club date where we aren't wondering how the band is going to fit on the stage. For our shows in Europe, though, we only brought a six-piece band, which made it a little easier. I would say that at least twenty five percent of the shows, though, a couple of us had to stand on the floor! Really, that's the intimacy of a club gig anyway. That's why I've always enjoyed not only playing club gigs, but seeing shows at clubs as well. There's something about being right on top of the artist that gives the listener more of an insight into the emotions that are being expressed. I couldn't even imagine, though, the problems we would have fitting into some of those venues with the full Orquesta line-up. With all eleven pieces, we would probably have to let the audience stand on the stage while we all played on the floor.
For me, your second album, Dos, sounds more mature than the self-titled debut. I think you captured the vibe of a late summer day with all its melancholy and beauty. Well, that's my personal and subjective opinion, but how do you feel about the album and what is a bigger inspiration for you, music or nature, or do both go hand in hand?
I really appreciate your endorsement of the record. I am always humbled by folks who say such kind things about a piece of art I've helped to create. I do think that a lot of people caught onto that vibe, and I'm glad that we were able to express exactly what we wanted to come across with the release. It was always my intension to depict some aspect of the almost endless summer of the desert through the Orquesta releases, and in some ways I feel very successful. I do think that the maturity of Dos simply comes from the fact that we all had more time to allow the initial inspiration behind the project to sink in a little more deeply. That seems to be the case with almost any band that moves beyond a debut, though. As for your music and nature question, well, music is nature so how can the two possibly be separated?
You recorded Dos at the legendary Rancho de la Luna studio in Joshua Tree, California, and at the Green Room in Palm Springs. Please tell us something about Rancho de la Luna. What kind of location is it?
I think that Rancho has developed its reputation for a couple of reasons. First of all, I think that almost every musician that has done extensive work in studios could give testament about the inherent sterile environment that most studios have. It is rare to come across a studio that has real character. Any studio worth its salt is going to be geared toward the audio capacities, but to have something beyond that to inspire the artist is a rare thing to find. To put it simply, a record recorded in a box is going to sound much different than a record that is recorded in a box that has been painted. I honestly believe that the reason Rancho is so absolutely amazing doesn't only come from the gear and rooms, it comes from the fact that the artist can walk outside of that place and be completely surrounded by the rise of the San Jacinto and San Gorgonio mountain ranges. Where else in the world can an artist walk out to the blanket of stars that rise above the Joshua Basin, and see the silhouette of those mountains beneath the moon? Where else can the artist hear the coyote calls through the night? I think that is where the magic at Rancho comes from.
How important was the entire atmosphere of this location for the recording of Dos?
For Dos it was essential. The first Orquesta release was recorded entirely at the Green Room, which is in the heart of Palm Springs . . . just outside the gates of the airport. While I can hear some of the vibe of that endless summer I spoke about a few minutes ago on the first release, there was something too hectic and too forced about doing the record entirely there. I think that by the time we all had a chance to grow into the project, there was no way we were going to attempt to present the emotions of the desert in that type of atmosphere. It had to be Rancho. Of course, we still used the Green Room for a lot of the production, but overall the initial tracks were all cut outside of the city.
Who is responsible for the songwriting? I guess, it's not easy when you have eight people in one band.
When I first arrived in the desert, about five years ago, I was completely struck by the beauty of the place. It was so completely foreign to anything I had ever seen before, that I was absolutely blown away by it. That is where the initial inspiration and songs for the first release came from. As the band continues to grow, though, the songwriting is starting to become more diverse and from different sources. For Dos, Pete and I only wrote half of the record, while Mike Riley and Country Mark Engel contributed the other half. We are starting to piece together ideas now for the third release, and I would guess that the contributions will spread even more.
You've also done a beautiful music clip for the song "Above the Big Wide." Have you ever thought about the release of a complete DVD with sequences from Rancho de la Luna, etc.?
That certainly sounds like a great idea, but there are certain limitations upon exactly what I can possibly get done in one day! Don't forget, I'm a high school teacher, and for nine months out of the year I work no less than 12-14 hours a day . . . including the weekends. I have a wife and two beautiful daughters that absorb the rest of my day. I get a few open windows of time to pursue art. Unfortunately, there are only 24 hours in a day, and only seven days a week. When I do get my opportunity to create, I have to focus only upon what I can complete. In the last three years, between Orquesta and Hermano I have managed to put out four records, and do four tours. Do you know anyone who would want to put the DVD together for me?
Can you tell me if the clip was shown on any of the big commercial music channels such as MTV?
That's hilarious. Come on, Klaus, Orquesta is an independent band on a small independent label. That kind of airplay, at least in the US, is reserved for bands that have a bankroll behind them. We're lucky to get the video played on public access, and I'm not even sure if it was played there!
Dandy, apart from being a player in the line-up of Orquesta, you're also working as the producer of the band. What makes the job interesting for you?
I have always loved production because it gives me a change to explore that megalomaniac side that exists in everyone's psyche but few have the opportunity to sink into. Really, production is a severe obsession of the soul, and is no different that writing a novel or engineering the next great invention. People are always looking for a way to explore and expose this side of themselves, and I have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to sink my teeth into quite a few productions over the years.
I still remember the day when you sent me over a split cdr, including two songs from Orquesta and Hermano. Well, it was right before the first self titled album, and I enjoyed not only the Orquesta cuts, but also the idea of forming a band that has not very much in common with heavy, electrified rock. Was it planned that way from the start, or had you created the Orquesta sound in another way?
Again, Orquesta has always been a way of letting out the emotions that struck me when I first came to the desert. I honestly could go on and on about the natural wonder of this place, but really it is something that has to be experienced to be known. Orquesta has also always been a very personal expression of these emotions. I don't know if everyone would experience it in the same way. Well, obviously everyone doesn't experience it in the same way. If you tried to compare Orquesta to any other band that has come out of the desert and made a name for themselves, I think you would be hard pressed to find many similarities. It does drive me crazy, though, to know that most people out there expect only heavy music to come from this area, when in reality this place is filled with every type of genre there is imaginable. It's a shame when people attempt to pigeon-hole the "desert sound," because it is extremely diverse.
Well, I mentioned Hermano in the last question. I've noticed that you will be coming to Europe at the end of 2004. So, what is the latest news about the band? And what about the second album?
I am absolutely delighted that we have finally been able to finish the second Hermano release. Man, I can't tell you how much hell this band has been through in order to release both "Only a Suggestion," and the new record, "Dare I Say." It has been a real roller coaster ride. Through it all, though, we have managed to come up with a couple of records that I am extremely proud of. Both of them are definite statements of perseverance, both personally and professionally. At times, I can't believe that we have actually been able to stick it out, and keep the band going even though there were a million roadblocks thrown in our way, and more than a handful of people that tried everything they could to fuck us up. It has only been fuel to the fire, though, and when we come over for this tour in November and December folks had better watch out. It has taken us two years to get through a bunch of bullshit, and during that time we have built up a lot of steam. I know that all of us are biting at the bit to get Hermano on the road and to blow some motherfuckers up.