There are not many bands today that strive to do something new with music. There are even less bands that can overwhelm me with an album
one year, and then improve so incredibly much that you think you have to reinvent music rating systems. Time Of Orchids from the American
East Coast are one of those rare bands.
Releasing their first two albums all by themselves, they came to the attention of the experimental indie label Epicene Sound Systems on which they released a full length EP last year. When I heard that they signed to John Zorn's Tzadik label, I knew we were in for something else, but an album which is at the same time as catchy and as melodic as "Sarcast While" will be hard to be topped by any artist this side of our spiral arm of the galaxy.
Reason enough to type up some questions and send them to the guys from Time Of Orchids. Chuck Stern (keyboards and vocals) and Jesse Krakow (bass and vocals) were kind enough to answer really quickly.
When did Time Of Orchids get together?
Jesse: Chuck and I just celebrated our 6 year anniversary together. I think he likes me.......
What is the meaning behind the band name?
Chuck: The way I look at it right now is that what we do best is combine beautiful and ugly things... that's what the name is, too. To me, time is a negative image and orchids is a beautiful one.
You released 4 CDs in 5 years, with the first two self-released, the third on the small independent label Epicene Sound Systems, and the new "Sarcast While" on Tzadik. Did you expect to make such progress with your band?
Jesse: Yes. We're nothing if not insanely ambitious, and this has always been the way. And just to
nitpick - our first album ("Melonwhisper") was re-released on Bad News Records in Japan about a year after we put it out
Chuck: We are exactly where we should be, in terms of progress.
Guest appearances have been an interesting aspect with Time Of Orchids. B-52's Kate Pierson added guest vocals on four songs on your second album "Much Too Much Fun", and this time Twin Peaks soundtrack singer Julee Cruise can be heard on five songs. How do you get these people to work with you?
Jesse: Honestly, with Julee it was as simple as writing her a note telling her how much we dug her voice, sending her a CD, and going from there. She is a little dynamo and completely brought her own vibe to her parts. It is a testament to both women that they were much more interested in being creative and making interesting music with a little band like us than doing some other project they felt nothing for with bands/producers much more well-known than us, and based on that notion we were EXTREMELY lucky to get both Kate and Julee to learn our fairly complex music. But you know, we're really charming guys. And they're hep ladies, to say the least.
"Sarcast While" is your most focused album so far. Is the reason for this the help of a bigger label or the growing maturity of the band?
Chuck: Both, I think. Tzadik enabled us to step up a bit, and really perfect what we'd been doing. I certainly didn't want anything less than our best out on John Zorn's label. And yeah, we've definitely been maturing as songwriters/humans. I love where we are right now. We have fun as a band. We see what we're doing clearly and we're very excited.
"Sarcast While" is your first album without founding drummer Keith Abrams. Why did he leave the band? Why has the new drummer Bodie no surname?
Jesse: I'm still not exactly sure why Keith left the band, actually. I guess one could say that he left for personal and musical reasons, but I still play with him in my other band PAK, so it's not like there are any lingering personal or musical issues there. You might want to ask him - I'd be curious to see what he has to say. But I think we've all tried to block that space of time out of our memories - it was a fucking horrible time - and to some extent we've been successful at doing so, 'cause, you see, we've been in the studio with a drummer with one name.....
The songs on "Sarcast While" have weird titles, and the lyrics are also only displayed for one song. What are the lyrics about? Are they an important part of your music?
Jesse: I think the lyrics are more important on "Sarcast While" than on any of our past
albums, mostly because this time Chuck, Eric, and I all contributed lyrics individually and collectively, making it a completely
independent and collaborative process. That was really important to me, especially because my lyrics on the album are all about the
futility of human relationships, kind of a tough idea to "jam" on, and it was nice to be able to take the time to be able to
craft and perfect such ideas and then present them to the band. What is also important to me is the fact that there are lyrics on this
album that I do not understand and probably never will. Literacy means never having to be literate.
Chuck: Actually, no lyrics are displayed in the album (Zorn's policy)... that's a "score" for one of our songs that you saw. Lyrics are always secondary to the music, but they're very important, nonetheless. My lyrics on this album have to do with love, growth and the stuff that can never change. Some of the imagery is pretty nightmarish, but I love having nightmares... so it's all fun!
The vocals have improved much on the new album, with three band members singing, and three guest vocalists. This sets you apart from the majority of rock bands. When did you decide to have so many vocalists?
Chuck: It's just natural. We have a very huge sound. I'm a big fan of choirs. Also, hearing many voices, especially when they're coming from the people playing the instruments you're hearing, can be a very comforting thing - a very honest thing. We wanted to submerge the listener in our filthy man-tenderness.
On your first two albums, the songs were generally short, on last year's EP "Early As Seen In Pace", they became much longer, and on "Sarcast While" there is an equal amount of short, middle and long tracks. Was this planned? Are there different methods for composing these different kinds of songs?
Chuck: Yeah, this time, we weren't concerned with having all songs be epics. We know where the epics belong. I'm learning the value of shorter songs, too... I've always been the one pushing for longer stuff in the past. With "Sarcast While", we got the balance right. There's a lot of soul in all of the pieces. And yes, there are definitely different methods used for writing different songs. Some were written by one person, and some by all (that's always been the case with us).
Being on the label owned by John Zorn seems like a child's dream come true. As there are only a few rock bands on Tzadik (apart from you, I can only think of Kayo Dot), how does this affect your status with the label?
Jesse: Well the great thing about Tzadik is that it is not a label where status plays any part. Clichéd
as it sounds, it really is all about the music there. I would assume that we were treated just as professionally as any band that has ever
put out a record on Tzadik, and that is the part that is like a dream come true. I mean, Naked City, Wayne Horvitz, Marc Ribot, and Ikue
Mori (to name but a very small few) is not bad company (especially when you're like me and have their records), and the fact that we're on
the same series as a band as earth-shatteringly brilliant as Kayo Dot is a treat in and of itself. It really says a lot about John Zorn
that, after all the different kinds of music he's been involved with over the years, he's now getting into the new crop of avant-rock
Chuck: It is literally a dream come true - I've had a recurring dream since I was a teenager that I was on a train headed to the "Tzadik Headquarters".
You will be touring soon with Behold The Arctopus, an avant-garde kind of prog metal band. On your latest album, the only metal-sounding piece is "Ours, Engendered". What kinds of people are you mostly targeting with your music?
Chuck: Good question. We're targeting a LOT of people... not just metal kids, not just pop fans. The truth is, there are a ton of people out there who crave that 'right' sound... it's hard to put into words or categories, but it's something that has the grit and angularity of metal, with texture and conviction, but also a timeless, tragic quality, as well... something that transcends. Add to that humor, and I guess we're targeting some very emotional people.
Time Of Orchids hide amazing melodies behind complex rhythm structures. Does this enable you to achieve also a more mainstream audience?
Chuck: Yes, it does. Melody is extremely important to all of us... it's just as powerful a tool as rhythm. And why should an interesting melody necessarily be thrown over a straight 4/4 beat? With us, rhythm and melody really become one, menacing thing - and it's often a very catchy thing.
Anything to add.
Jesse: Thanks for really listening to our music over the years. It's nice to know that we are not imaginary. And we'd appreciate it if you could buy us 4 plane tickets to your country so we could play some gigs in a place not called Bushville for an indefinite period of time, but no hurries.
Places to visit:
Time Of Orchids, official website
Time Of Orchids, MySpace site
Tzadik Records, label