It‘s early afternoon in the Manhattan studios of Late Night With Conan O’Brien, and Orgy is readying itself to tape a performance for tonight‘s program. It’s hard to chat with the band‘s hunky 6-foot-5 lead singer, Jay Gordon, who keeps interrupting our conversation to consult with the wardrobe assistant, who hasn’t found the skintight black leather gloves he wants to wear — the better to wallop the studio audience with a little death-pop noise from his band‘s Teflon-slick new Vapor Transmission album.
It’s the second time Orgy has played Conan, a fact that speaks to O‘Brien’s open-mindedness among late-night talk-show hosts. “I don‘t think Letterman could have handled it,” Gordon laughs. “I mean, I’m sure Conan isn‘t rocking out to our music, but it doesn’t matter. He wouldn‘t be the first person to gawk at us.”
Orgy have been accused of everything from looking like girls to ripping off New Order to beating the shit out of their fans. That last rumor is a result of KROQ’s Money of The Kevin and Bean Show ejecting the band temporarily from the station after getting a bottle cracked over his head during a recent appearance. Turns out the perpetrator was a friend of a friend who just happened to be wearing an Orgy pass. “I got on the air and was like, ‘Look, we can’t control what other people do,‘” says Gordon. The band has been reinstated at KROQ, with the current single, “Fiction (Dreams in Digital),” in the Top 10.
Maybe the incident was poetic justice. Without paying any dues whatsoever, a bored party boy who’d never been in a band woke up one day a few years back, pulled a half-baked sci-fi music dream out of his ass and in less than five weeks had an album that would go on to sell 1.5 million copies. The paradox is that Candyass‘ sophisticated vibe — a sleek, futuristic sonic and visual veneer — was effortless for Orgy, as though the convergence of high tech and maquillage were inevitable. “It takes balls to cite Duran Duran as an influence,” Gordon says. “We look all prissy, but then we’re playing heavy music, and I think that fucks with people. We‘re thrashing around up there on the stage — we’re not afraid to break a nail.”
So is Orgy a bunch of gearheads sublimating their dance-pop fixation in a healthy way, or just a sophisticated prank in Kiehl‘s eyeliner and applique-laden body suits? “Blue Monday,” the New Order cover song from Candyass that got them quickly noticed, certainly prompts this question. An aggro’d-up version of clubland‘s most cherished anthem — how could it not be popular? “No, it wasn’t calculated,” band member Amir Derakh says. “That song was very powerful for both Jay and me. It was a dance hit, but it wasn‘t a song you’d hear on the radio. Our version has this whole middle part that‘s not in the original. Most of our fans are too young to remember it, so you can’t accuse us of playing the nostalgia card, either.”
Gordon concurs. “We got so much shit for that — people were like, ‘They’re a one-hit wonder, and the one hit they have isn‘t even theirs.’ Hello. We released ‘Stitches’ as the first single, but the labels were battling over ‘Blue Monday,’ so we had two hit singles. It would have been almost better for us if ‘Blue Monday’ was our only hit, because people are more interested in drama like that than art or talent.”
Even if Gordon is just a guy with a Warhol-like business sense, good bone structure and a little luck, Vapor Transmission proves this so-called novelty band has an uncanny aptitude for taking dated sensibilities and recasting them with dystopian weightiness. This owes in large part to Derakh, the band‘s most experienced member. Once upon a time, he toiled at hair-metal’s ground zero, working the Sunset Strip in acid-washed jeans and poodle-mane hair as a guitarist for Rough Cut, but couldn‘t parlay those arena-size dreams into something on par with Enuff-Z-Nuff or Hanoi Rocks.
“Yeah, I wish we hadn’t tried so hard to fit in,” he says. “Some of what we did in Rough Cut is related to the more experimental stuff I‘ve brought to Orgy.”
That experimental stuff would be the thereminlike quiver he conjures from a guitar-synthesizer hybrid called a G-synth. With a processing chip beneath the pickups, the G-synth converts the sound wave from a plucked string into a note that can be endlessly manipulated. Derakh’s fancy toy — plus those hexagonal Syndrums of drummer Bobby Hewitt, the ultramodified Ibanez seven-string played by Ryan Shuck, the fuzzed-out bass of Paige Haley, and Gordon‘s NorCal drawl so torqued he sings with a British accent — all conspire to give Orgy its ’80s new-wave sheen, a sound that hovers somewhere between airbrushed gimcrackery and egghead memories of tomorrow.
To see what an exact science Orgy is, you can visit www.guitargeek.com, a site devoted to six-string technoids. Click on Derakh‘s name and you get his G-synth setup, a scary-looking tangle of effects pedals and flanger patches that makes ax-wailing’s cathartic release look like brain surgery. “Being in this band requires a lot of work, and that goes way beyond our clothes and makeup,” Gordon says. “We need to stay abreast of technology, figuring out how to split the sound between a synthesizer and guitar so it‘s just right.”
Now, one might argue that all this is Gary Numan meets Dead or Alive with feedbacky guitars, and that Orgy don’t have an original bone in their bodies. The band are the first to admit that their custom-made cyberpunk threads are every bit as important as what they play. “Yeah, we take a lot of our cues from magazines, books, movies,” Derakh says. “We‘re all just a bunch of fashion bitches.” Gordon has a more social-theorist perspective. “We know how things come in 20-year cycles, and I think the industry as a whole is really feeling that. But we’re just having some fun with it. We don‘t want to replay that ’80s thing the same way at all.”
Vacuous as they wanna be, Orgy could be mistaken for Marilyn Manson with trendier clothes, minus the Nietzschean pretensions, crafting hooky darkwave anthems engineered for the KROQ playlist but angsty enough to keep it real for all their Blade Runner–worshipping, sexually confused neo–New Romantic fans. Moreover, you‘d think these commercially successful fashion plates would have no shortage of attitude, but they have much love for their influential friends, like Korn, which signed Orgy to its fledgling Elementree Records.
“That definitely helped in the beginning,” Derakh says. “I think it was pretty forward-thinking of those guys to sign a band like us, which sounds nothing like them.”
On the empathy tip, the track “Eva” is an elegy written about album producer Josh Abraham’s mother. It‘s the kind of highly personal gesture that could easily have been mawkish or insincere, but Abraham was stoked. “I was very close with his mother, so I just tried to write it as though I were Josh’s brother,” Gordon says. “But I still had to make him leave the studio when I was laying it down. I was like, ‘Josh, dude, go home.’”
Derakh and Gordon have produced a handful of up-and-comers like Coal Chamber and SpineShank, and Gordon has his own label, Division One, with ex–House of Pain member Danny Boy‘s project the Ex–Super Models as his first signing. And you might have heard rumors about Gordon’s top-secret project the Wondergirls, a supergroup with Ian Astbury, Scott Weiland and other gods of rock. “That‘s kind of on hold. Because so many different labels are involved, it’s a nightmare from a legalistic standpoint, which I don‘t understand because we’re all part of WEA [WarnerElektraAtlantic]. I‘d think they’d be into it — it‘s loaded with hits.”
During a show at the Roxy a while back, the band did the ultimate uncool thing: gave it up for their major label. Good PR, perhaps, but Orgy would like to be seen as more than beautiful androids sent back from the future to rock us out in the present.
Says Derakh, “One of the things we’re working on is that we want people to know we‘re a real band and not just this processed thing . . . but we’re definitely that, too.”