The music industrys tunnel-vision talent scouting is hurting it as much as Napster ever did. Terrified of making an error in a field with breathtaking staff turnover, major-label A&R personnel tend to sign mediocre practitioners of currently dominant genres.
In such a climate, a band of Orsons quality and bravado can be all but overlooked, despite flaunting its wares right in the shadow of L.A.s label offices. Orsons gorgeous, authentic morphing of pop, rock, R&B and soul (think early Prince meets Queen) seduces most who hear it, yet the group is still playing only a couple of modest, often off-circuit shows a month and struggling to release its first full-length CD after four years together. Unusually for an act with obvious musical and onstage chemistry, Orson was assembled through ads, auditions and word of mouth: Guitarists Chad Rachild and George Astasio tried out more than 40 vocalists before Jason Pebworth, fresh from roles in the touring Phantom of the Opera and Jesus Christ Superstar on Broadway, answered their call. Scene veteran Johnny Lonely brought supple bass lines, and more recently the unflappable Chris Cano took over the drum stool from the departed Johnny Fedevich.
Orson (named after Citizen Welles) remain philosophical regarding their obscurity: The longer that we take, the better that we get, notes the shaven-headed Pebworth during a break in rehearsals at their cluttered downtown lockout. Every day, even in the process of making this record, were improving.
Orsons profile hasnt been helped by their playing West Hollywoods unusually supportive Viper Room almost exclusively throughout 2002. This was more accident than design, but now Orson are taking the reins and prioritizing the fans: In the past year weve tried to focus on free shows, more Eastside gigs, all-ages places like Juvees Skate Shop and the Echo, notes Lonely.
For unsigned acts, Hollywood presents a morale-draining environment. There is no audience, laments Pebworth. Its more of a scene people are in competition.
We go even to, say, Hermosa, says Rachild, and youre playing to people who want to hear music.
While the members of Orson actively support other emerging L.A. bands, they have no regular gigging partners. We play with anybody, stresses Lonely. We rarely turn down a gig.
Perhaps Orsons as yet untitled debut album (due for self-release this spring) will enlighten new ears, though just completing the recording is a financial odyssey. Fortunately, theyve found a soul mate in producer Noah Shain, a recent Orson convert whos incredulous at their L.A.s best-kept secret status. Johnny played me some demos theyd been making, and I said, I have to mix that! I went to every show over last summer, and I courted them. I couldnt understand why they hadnt made a record yet, and I made it my lifes mission to produce an Orson album.
With four years of continually evolving world-class material, track selection for the album will be torturous. Itll be a mix, says Lonely. Half greatest hits, half brand-new superhits. Orsons demos have bulged with instant favorites and lasting flavors, hinting that their first full-length will be a monster. Slated for inclusion are the hedonistic amour of No Tomorrow, the T. RexviaMotown backroom cool of Happiness, and the 6/8 face-the-truth nostalgia of Already Over. A throbbing rhythm section gauzed with layers of twin-
guitar interplay, along with Pebworths epic Morrissey-meets-Mercury vocals, makes for a mass-appeal package.
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The irony is that Orsons secret weapon should be 101 for any band: Whats good about Orson is that theres a timeless quality to it, because theyre good songs what a fucking concept! notes the down-to-earth Cano, speaking, as a relative newcomer, with both insider and outsider perspective.
For all the hair-tearing, Orsons patience will pay off: First of all, weve had enough years were sitting on an egg! Pebworth notes, while mulling their beneath-the-radar isolation: We all feel that we would want to be part of something thats going to make it commercially, but this band can only play how we are. In the end, it would be more of a detriment to us if we did conform to whatevers popular, cause the second we start playing that, its already over!
Regardless of recognition, Orsons debut will be among the most enthralling L.A. albums unleashed this year. Dont wait around for the sanitized major-label re-release.
Orson play the Three of Clubs on Thursday, April 22; www.orsonband.com.