• Radio Monash Journalism

Moving on from the present: a chat with Orangutang

Written by David Paicu.

Originating from Portland, Oregon, Orangutang is a band that is just as mysterious as their entirely unique sonic oeuvre.

Lacking a Spotify bio and being almost impossible to find on the internet, and given their last single was released in 2014, it is a testament to the band that their sound still seems to pervade the lives of so many people.

Understated and emotional, Orangutang managed to establish a musical capability that resonates in the atmosphere it creates. Melding sounds in the same way that the Avalanches do, while utilising the dreamy vocals found in Father John Misty or Beirut, their songs can truly be described as an experience.

With all that being said, it raises the question - what has been happening with Orangutang? Where did they go? What are they doing? After a little research, Radio Monash were able to get in contact with Andy and Benji to ask them these questions, and find out what they’ve been up to.

How've you been during quarantine?

Andy: "In the beginning, I actually enjoyed spending extra time with my family and having lots of home-cooked meals and trying to flatten the curve. But now, as time goes on, it seems to be weighing more heavily on everybody. It’s hard to tell where it ends. I just feel really bad for everyone who have lost their lives or livelihoods or missed out on important events like weddings and graduations."

Benji: "I’m doing okay. I’ve actually been building a little house out in the Oregon countryside so I’m kinda in my own bubble anyhow." 

How did you create Orangutang? How did you guys meet?

A: "We were each playing bass in different bands, and I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but Benji had some ideas and a sort of vision of the kind of sounds he wanted to make so I guess we just started working on it."

B: "We knew of each other as kids but didn’t really become good friends till we were both in our early 20s. We had a lot of similar interests musically which grew into making songs together as Orangutang."

Your music has an incredibly unique sound, how exactly did it develop? 

A: "Neither of us are into specific genres, so we never tried to define what kind of music we would make or figure out some type of formula. From the get-go we were experimenting with different sounds and ways to put things together. We would go to thrift stores and get toy keyboards and find interesting instruments on Craigslist and eBay. We had specific sounds and textures we liked, like the fuzzy guitar sounds of Ennio Morricone and Os Mutantes. Benji had a circuit bent Casio that he’d use to sample his voice and other things and we used lots of tape echo and reverb. Eventually we had a vocabulary of sounds that we would use to create the imagery or feelings we were going for."

B: "Yeah, we are both into lots of styles of music, sound textures and the recording process. I never really liked the idea of song formulas. I think having multiple influences is important in song writing whether it be influenced from a feeling, sound, song, memory, place, etc."

Were there any influences you channelled when making 'Rio'? Any past experiences, music, or literature?

A: Steve Forbes, (who played drums on 'Rio') and I were in a couple of drum classes together. One was on Brazilian Samba drumming and the other was Ewe drumming from Ghana. Honestly, I wasn’t super into the specifics of those particular styles. I was more interested in rhythm as a puzzle. I was trying to figure out how different rhythms fit together and make you feel a certain way.

With 'Rio', I told Steve to try this one pattern that I mistakenly thought was from Samba but was actually kind of a combination of a Samba bass part and a pattern you play on a little Ewe drum. I think Benji heard Samba and his mind took him to 'Rio' for the lyrics."

B: "This one started off with just the vocal melody over a piano part. Yeah, the drums inspired the lyrics and I loved how the arpeggiated synth part combined with the drums. I had an old tape delay and Casio sampled vocals that added the lo-fi element to the song which I think added a lot to the overall texture."

How much of an influence has being based in Portland had on your music?

A: "We wrote and recorded everything on the EP before moving to Portland. I think everything on the EP was written in California and recorded in a barn Benji was renting in the Santa Cruz mountains. I absolutely think the environment we are in influences the sound of the music."

In 'Bella', the song begins somewhat tranquil and upbeat before taking a turn sonically, what prompted that diversion?

A: "You’re right it does! I never noticed that before. To me, that song is about a sort of reckless exhilaration that’s tempered by the safety and warmth of the person you love. It was quite a while ago, so I don’t remember what we were thinking at the time but maybe we thought it suited the song to have it get a little unhinged sounding."

B: "The lyrics had a part in changing the feel, but I also wanted to have a bit of space/breathing room before the guitar solo and more energetic part of the song. I had an old pump organ mixed with tape delay/synths and liked how it created almost like a Victorian era Lee “Scratch” Perry (laughs)."

Your last release was 'After Dark' in 2014, are you guys still in the process of making music? What does the future look like for Orangutang?

A: "We want to make more music! We’ve been busy raising families and have had some ups and downs trying to get creative again, but I think we know more what we want to do with music and it’s definitely been encouraging to hear from people like yourself who like the music we’ve made and want to hear more, so thanks for reaching out!"

B: "We also have a bit of music already recorded and just have to finish it. Between raising kids, building a house, COVID, etc. music gets shoved in the back seat. I miss it so much though and am looking forward to releasing more!"

What would you say the M.O of your band is?

A: "We hang out and try to make stuff that sounds cool (laughs)."

B: "Ha, yeah, a whole lotta hanging out, eating food, and experimenting with sounds/styles."

What do you hope your music evokes in people, given its relaxed and fantastic nature?

A: "I hope it sort of zooms them out to a more panoramic view of things. I hope it gives them a moment of relief from their daily struggles. That’s what my favourite music does for me, so if our music could do that for some people, that would be amazing!"

B: "I hope it has a nostalgic quality that evokes an emotion or takes you on a journey."