The Orion Experience made me believe in music again.
No. I am not exaggerating and it’s not hype. Always dissatisfied by the current state of the music industry, a number of weeks ago my cynicism hit an all time low while watching music video of a popular music groups currently on the cultural radar. In a fit of frustration, I messaged my friend Robbie Rist, who always has his thumb on the pulse of the music scene, a simple five word message: “I’ve given up on music.” In response he sent me a link to The Orion Experience’s latest video NYC Girl. Within the four minutes that it took to play the video not only had my faith in music been resurrected, but I had discovered that I had a new favorite band.
Fronted by Orion Simprini and Linda Horwatt, New York City’s The Orion Experience brings back everything thats great about pop music. Combining a high energy sound with playful lyrics, The Orion Experience abandons the pretentiousness often found in the modern rock music and the mindlessness that seems to be prevalent in the pop scene, while still maintaining a delicate balance that prevents them from becoming “camp.” Releasing their first CD, Cosmicandy, in 2007, The Orion Experience got nationwide exposure when their music was featured on Laguna Beach and Zoey 101. In 2011 The Orion Experience followed up with a new five track EP, NYC Girl, which continues to prove that pop music doesn’t need to be phony or mass-produced. The Orion Experience is here to save us from the shit that is tainting the radio airwaves and crushing the earbuds of people who actually lust for good music.
But as Orion Simprini revealed to me in a recent phone interview, the winds of change continue to blow and The Orion Experience continues to evolve. With a strange sort of good nature cynicism, Orion Simprini talked to me about the current state of music, and reveals how he is doing his part to make people believe in the art of pop music again.
CONFESSIONS OF A POP CULTURE ADDICT PRESENTS
THE ORION EXPERIENCE:
A CONVERSATION WITH ORION SIMPRINI
Sam Tweedle: So how long have The Orion Experience been around?
Orion Simprini: We put out our first record, Cosmicandy, out in 2007. We’d been kicking around for a while though. Linda and I have been friends for many years. We were both theater students at Rider University in Lawrenceville New Jersey. We started writing songs way back then. She’s always been my songwriting partner. I was in a band for awhile called Kitty in the Tree for a while. It was kind of a sex, drugs and bubblegum band.
Sam: Well there is nothing wrong with some sex, drugs and bubblegum.
Orion: It was like The Archies meet Motley Crue. All the songs were about drugs but every chorus had a “la la la” in it. It was a strange amalgamation. But when that band broke up Linda and I started brainstorming about the kind of band that we wanted to see. In the New York scene, I guess, they think everything is super cool. You got to be The Strokes and smoke cigarettes and stay up late late at night.
Sam: When I think of the New York music scene I automatically think of Lou Reed.
Orion: Lou Reed lives on my block. I see him every day. He’s a cranky old man now. He’s a hundred thousand years old and walks around in these big, baggy yoga pants and yells at everybody. Yeah. So we wanted to do something a little different. Kind of pump up the fun aspect of the music that we always loved. Although we are not huge B-52’s fans, we kind of wanted to get that kind of party energy. That’s kind of where we started from and decided where to go and move in that direction.
Sam: What kind of bands inspired you when you first started really listening to music?
Orion: I think everyone will always say that it’s so hard to put your finger on the music that inspired you, but I started out getting interested in music when I was a teenager. I was listening to a lot of musical theater. I was definitely drawn to some of the more theatrical rock stuff, like Jesus Christ Superstar and Hair and Pippin. I really liked the classics as well. I never really listened to any rock music. It never appealed to me because it was the 90’s, with Soundgarden and Nirvana, and while I can appreciate that music now, it just wasn’t my thing. My friends were all into Sonic Youth and I just can’t imagine a band worse then Sonic Youth. So I didn’t listen to rock music until I got into college, and when I did, of course, I discovered The Beatles. I basically have to say that The Beatles had to be the biggest influence on me, because as I was learning to play guitar I learned how to play every single Beatles song. Their entire catalogue is just a study in great chord changes and great music theory as far as pop song writing. I was in college as a theater student, but I quickly discovered that I wasn’t doing the work that I was supposed to do for musical theater and studying the entire Beatles catalogue of songs instead. There is no regret in that for me. In college I discovered what I wanted to do, and that was to write songs.
Sam: Do you still do any sort of theater?
Orion: Not really. No. I just find that it’s better to focus on one thing. I tend to get distracted [otherwise] and then everything seems to suffer. So I decided to put myself whole heartedly into music. But the other thing is, in this day and age, you have to be everything as a musician. You have to be your own manager, your own booking agent, your own business person and all that, and it really does take up a lot of time.
Sam: Where did the rest of the members of your group come from?
Orion: The rest of the guys in my group are actually musicians that I really liked that I stole from other bands. Reef Roxx, our lead guitar player, was in a band called Evelyn Forever, which became Billionaire Boys Club. They were from the Jersey Shore area, Ashbury Park, Redbank…there are a lot of struggling bands around that area and I was able to recruit some people from other bands I really liked.
Sam: Is the Orion Experience still pretty central to New York, or have you been able to spread out to any other markets?
Orion: We’ve been to LA a bunch of times. We’ve been to Las Vegas and Portland and Seattle and Texas. Honestly, we play in New York as much as we play anywhere else we end up going. I think that we are based in New York because that is where we live. I wouldn’t say we have a stronger following in New York then we do in LA. We try to follow where the interest is. There are pockets of places that know about the band and others that don’t. There is a changing nature in the ways that bands are being discovered and that is a cool thing. I am happy to be a part of that revolution.
Sam: I heard about you via word of mouth. How do you find that other people are discovering your band?
Orion: Absolutely the same way, and its very cool and very organic. I don’t feel that we’ve reached that dipping point yet. We need to expand our friends by the power of ten before we will be where we want to be. Reef said something the other day that I thought was really interesting. People are really gravitating towards boutique sort of places. You got to a boutique place to get your cupcakes or your clothes. People like undiscovered things, and I feel like it’s the same way in music now. They’re seeking out boutique kind of bands that are doing their own thing. I think it’s a good thing. There is a real diversity in your choices now.
Sam: Now I came across your band at a moment where I had all but given up on the music scene, and your song, NYC Girl really got to me and reminded me that there is still great music being written. What are you doing differently then some of the mainstream pop groups out there?
Orion: For me, the thing that really gets under my skin is that the singer gets celebrated so much more then the songwriter. It’s great if you can sing, but that doesn’t mean anything to me. I could care less. But who managed to put their heart felt feelings into poetry and music is what should be celebrated. So, with that being said, I put it upon to myself to try to write songs that feature the song writing aspect of things. You know, it’s a hard thing to do because you are also working in the confines of pop music that also has its own rules, and tastes change. In New York, for awhile, it was all about Lady Gaga. I really appreciate a lot of what she does and I think a lot of it is pretty cool. But for me, her songs are not very good. I don’t like them. They could be good, but they aren’t really. So right now we are doing an album that is going to be very dance oriented. I am trying to write dance music and electric music that is better then what I’m hearing on the radio right now. It’s exciting, and it’s a whole different world. It’s given me more respect for the electronic band genre because it’s a lot harder then it sounds.
Sam: The concept of the singer/songwriter really hit its peak in the 1970’s. Do you think it’s a tradition that is dead in modern music, or do you think we’ll be seeing a renaissance of this in the near future?
Orion: I wouldn’t go so far to say there is a renaissance. The respect that the songwriter gets is almost nothing. A lot of times it’s a “frankensong” written by twelve different people under the guidance of an A & R guy. But a song, every once in a while, breaks through. For example, you know that song by Gotye? Somebody That I Used to Know? That song caught fire because of the strength of the song. You have somebody like Adele, who really cleaned up [at the Grammys]. I think that we will see more of that coming, because I just don’t know how much more people can take of the whole processed thing. Maybe the manufactured pop stars might end, but it’s hard because it’s being done so many times in so many different ways that people are really having to do it a bit differently now. I know for myself, the idea of getting on a stage and playing a three chord song is starting to wear a little thin. It’s been done so many times that you have to reinvent it. That’s kind of the reason why we are going to try to pursue doing more electronic music with more elements of theater in our live show. There is only so many times that you can see a band play on a stage in some shitty bar. It’s old. You go and see a show at a theater and there is a production involved with it. There’s lighting, there’s sound, there’s stuff. You go and see a band and they plug into a shitty backline and play a bunch of songs and thank you after each one. There’s just nothing really special about it, unless there is that raw energy of being in a rock club and feeling that the music is out there. But I’ve seen it so many times that it blows my mind that people would go out and see a rock show. I don’t know. It’s hard. I think the important thing is that I think we’ll see artists start to reinvent the genre like they always have to.
Sam: Well do you feel with your foray into electronic music and putting together a more elaborate stage show that you are trying to reinvent The Orion Experience?
Orion: Absolutely. I think for a long time we had a lot of grand ideas of what we could do with a million dollar production but I think we are trying to change our views on that and [we’re going to see] what we can do now. We have crazy ideas and we’re going to be trying a lot of new stuff out. Some of it might work, some of it might not.
Sam: But it’s all about experimentation.
Sam: As long as you guys don’t put out something like The Elder, when KISS tried to reinvent themselves in the early 80’s. I personally think you guys sound great the way you are.
Orion: (Laughs) We have a pretty humble quality control element to us, and we know when stuff is not working. I’ve been playing music in bands for twenty years and you need to challenge yourself. You can’t just do it the same way all the time.
Possibly one of the best discs that have been sent my way in a long time, NYC Girl is required listening for people who are sick and tired of the monotonous music that is currently playing on the radio today. Fusing together both rock and pop together under one umbrella, The Orion Experience is like an atomic bubblegum explosion, blasting away negativity and cynicism in a giant neon mushroom cloud. The title song, NYC Girl, captures the groove of the 70’s New York sound, while Vampire pays tribute to the faded Goth scene of the 90’s but without the droning that often goes along with it. Meanwhile, Rollercoaster and Emerald Eyes continues the high energy that attracted me to the group in the first place, and the album caps off with Sweet Friend which is the sweetest love song since The White Stripes’ Me and You Are Going to Be Friends. The Orion Experience helped make me believe in music again. They are the perfect cure for musical discontentment, and are hopefully an example of the changing face of popular music.