Planet of the Ape Bots

photo by Janie Lynch

Planet of the Ape Bots:

An Interview with Santa Ana band, Orangutron

By
Samuel Munoz

I first encountered Orangutron in 2011. They had played a show during the Summer Concert Series of that year held in Downtown Santa Ana. At the time, they were a three piece with Richie on bass and lead vocal, Colin on guitar and back up vocal, and Courtney on drums. I enjoyed their performance and inquired with Richie as to maybe doing a show together with my band, Inkblots. It turned out that the only show they would play with us would end up being the last Inkblots show held later that year in December. This time around, they had added a new member, Tae Kim on lead guitar. The show they played that night was levels above the show I had seen earlier that year. They presented a type of dirty rock and roll that kicked you in the gut and roared and chugged its way to multiple climaxes within each song. I knew that one day, I would need to get their story.

The funny thing is that I’ve known the singer, Richie, for quite sometime. In fact, we went to high school together. I’ve seen him move from band to band, always looking the part of the coolest motherfucker in each of them. The guy has style, what can I say? He has become the complete opposite of his former geeky high school self–taking on a persona that has served him well as a front man. However, it was not until his involvement with Orangutron that I really felt he matured as a musician. Richie has surrounded himself with three very experienced individuals who have honed their craft through almost two decades of countless musical projects and it seems it has reflected quite well on Richie. I was very impressed with how good he had become and the music he was now creating.

The music of Orangutron is difficult to categorize. Each song is a product of full fledged improvisation, molded and cut down to a presentable size. As a result, the music takes on many styles with each band member including a little piece of their own to the finished product so that each song truly becomes an authentic collaborative effort. While it may help to describe their sound as reminiscent of Television’s Marquee Moon, to say that Orangutron is just another post punk band would (as Tae so eloquently put it in the interview) be an injustice. Unfortunately, the band currently does not have any presentable recordings. Although they do record all of their improv sessions at practice, they have yet to step into the studio and record the finished products. The only way to really understand the sound of Orangutron is to catch one of their shows.

The band met up with me at Memphis in Downtown Santa Ana in early August for a nice little chat about the band. With some drinks at our table, we talked about Orangutron’s early years, their song writing process, and the possible categorization of their music.

Drawing by Tae Kim

Sam:
Let’s start with introductions from each of you and maybe a little bit of background on your time here in Santa Ana?

Colin:
I’m Colin Price. I’ve been playing the guitar for twenty-something years. I moved to Santa Ana around 1998. I came down with my brother, Courtney. Been really happy ever since because the rest of Orange County was really boring [laughs].

Richie:
My name is Richie. I’m 27 years old. I was born in Santa Ana. I’ve been here all my life.

Sam:
Do you want to give us your real name?

Richie:
Yeah sure. It’s Richard Kerns [everyone laughs]. Well, no one ever came up with a last name for the nickname. It was just Richie. There was no back story, no comic book origin, no radioactive spider. I have been known by other names like Richiban Shinigami which is my name on Facebook…

Court:
My name is Courtney Price. I’ve been playing music for about twenty years now. I switched to drums from guitar about ten years ago. I started hanging out in Santa Ana in ‘98. I started going to Koos [Café] for open mic. Then later, when Koos closed down, we started hitting up Neutral Grounds here on 2nd street and started doing open mics there…I‘ve been playing ever since in different projects with my brother.

Tae:
My name is Tae Kim. My age is nobody’s business. I am the guitarists, keyboardists, and back up singer for Orangutron. My affiliation with Santa Ana? I guess I am a newcomer. I started hanging out in Santa Ana around 2002 with a few people I knew at the Spurgeon building. And I just slowly started realizing that there was this growing artist community here: musicians, bands, and stuff. And yeah, I’ve been coming around ever since.

Sam:
So tell me about Orangutron. How did you guys get together? How long have you been together? Give me the story.

Richie:
We had been hanging out, not necessarily together, but we would bump into each other at parties that Jack Marko [local artist] would have. So, from time to time we would be jamming with one another. When Slow [one of Ritchie’s former bands] broke up, there was about a three week period where I didn’t do anything.

Colin:
Yeah, he was depressed, cutting himself, growing a beard [laughs].

Richie:
I think I was playing Legend of Zelda for three weeks.

Sam:
Which one?

Ritchie:
Ocarina of Time

Sam:
Nice! That’s the best one [more laughter].

Drawing by Tae Kim

Richie:
Anyway, I think I was at Proof one night, after those initial three weeks, to see some bands play. These guys [Colin and Court] were there and the conversation came up about Slow. They were like “You guys broke up! Oh that’s horrible! So you want to jam sometime?” [the Price brothers laugh]

Court:
He had a gig that was booked before the band had broken up and we just suggested that we could back him up if needed. We started off just getting together playing some Slow songs and some Richie songs. We did that for the first year.

Sam:
When was this?

Richie:
It was in January of 2009.

Sam:
And you guys started off as a three piece right?

Colin:
No, actually Tae was with us since the beginning. Court and I had been playing with Tae in different projects for like ten years. Orangutron started as a four piece, but Tae decided to leave the band. I guess the music was not satisfying Tea’s taste at the time. [I came to find out later that Tae actually quit the band on Colin’s birthday in Nov. of 2010. The band has yet to forgive him despite taking him back]

Court:
Yeah, but I have to say, we didn’t really start to thrive until Tae quit [everyone laughs].

Colin:
It was about a year before Tae came back.

Richie:
He saw us play a few shows without him and we were sounding good, so he was like [in a wimpy voice] “Can I come back guys? You guys are sounding awesome. I really miss playing with you guys.” And we were like [in a somewhat sympathetic voice], “Ah, I guess.”

Drawing by Tae Kim

Tae:
I was playing in another band and we were on the same bill. I was outside while the three of them were playing and the door man was like, “These guys are pretty good, you know.” And I was like, “Yeah, I was actually in this band.” He was like, “Really? Why did you quit?” I said, “I don’t know why I quit. They are pretty good. I think I should rejoin them.” At the time, it was more of a joke, but I really found it interesting how the music changed after I left. I dug the whole collaborative song writing process. The songs are an extension of everybody in the band instead of just one person.

Court:
Richie had written all the songs before hand, but when Tae left, we were trying to figure out what our sound was going to be. We started improvising and a couple things came out that sounded pretty cool. And from then on, all of the Orangutron songs have been written essentially the same way. We improv, then look back at what we’ve done, cut up the song and arrange it in a way that makes sense. The lyrics get edited. Richie is really good at improvising lyrics. We take his lyrics and see what works and what doesn’t. […] In the end, it worked out really well because what we were looking for in a lead guitarist was Tae, so we were really happy that, once we got something a little more to his palate, he came back. It was really frustrating looking for another guitarist.

Sam:
Are the lyrics always completely improvised?

Colin:
The lyrics are a long process.

Court:
Richie would be the best person to talk to you about the lyrics because he is the one who spits out the initial draft.

Sam:
So you all work on the lyrics together? It’s not just Richie?

Richie:
No, if I did, the lyrics would be a lot less intense. What happens is I will initially improvise lyrics while we are jamming together and Colin will transcribe it.

Court:
We record all of our practices. Colin will come in the next practice and have it all typed out.

Sam:
Wow, can you even understand it? Because I know when we tried to record our practices with Inkblots, I could never understand from the recording what the fuck I was saying. The instruments drown out the vocal a lot of the times.

Richie:
Yeah, half the battle is trying to understand what I am saying. It’s like “You nuts frecd oour fjds” [laughs]. I mean I try to be as coherent as possible. I’ve learned to just repeat phrases when I notice that I’m mumbling.

Drawing by Tae Kim

Colin:
Being a musician, sometimes the words get overlooked, but I love thinking inside the words. I think Ritchie is like a great poet and he reminds me a lot of the beat writers. It’s just a stream of consciousness about places and things that are happening to him. I love the process of going back to the words and trying to put the themes and stories into a more mythological context or philosophical context.

Sam:
Can you take me through the process of it a bit?

Colin:
Well, first I just write it all out as I hear it. Then we look at it, and we say something like “Well, this verse is just pointless, but these four verses are really cool.” You know, they come out off the top of his head all the time, so it can’t possibly all work.

Court:
If we are fortunate, it’s five minutes of continuous music where the lyrics come out and boom we’re done. Sometimes it’s over the course of thirty minutes and we got to figure how to take minute 1:35 and put it together with minute 12 through 15. We need to figure out a way of cutting out the middle and make that bridge. So then the lyrics have to come together in a way that is not comfortable or easy and so the song takes a little bit longer to build.

Colin:
I think “The West” would be a very interesting song as an example. There were like three different phases in “The West” that Ritchie was singing about. I think he had been watching a lot of Deadwood which is how I think the title of “The West” came about and in the end of the song he talks about the Wild West. In the middle of the song, however, it’s like this personal broken hearted love story where you fall in love with a girl and your friends don’t like her. Then the beginning of the song is this personal story about going to college and meeting new people. That was all done in the course of a 15 minute improv. We had to tie those three lyrical sections together. The song got shut down to 7 minutes and it became this coming of age story and waking up to the experiences of life with a love story in the middle. When we get to the Wild West section, we meet this old frizzled man who got his women stolen and has a ruined life.

Court:
You wouldn’t necessarily gather all those things by looking at the song. A lot of the conversations we have as a band are assigning and ascribing meaning to these lyrics that are our own, but we don’t necessarily expect the people that are hearing it to interpret it the same way.

Tae:
It’s open ended…

Photo by Andrew Galvin

Court:
I think we try to stay away from being preachy. We are not trying to tell anyone how they should live, or how they should do things, or subscribe judgment to any of the things we are talking about. It’s more like creating a landscape or environment or a fantasy for people to engage in. There may be meaning in there, but it’s not universal.

 

Tae:
It’s more like reflections than story telling…

Court:
You will never hear us say “You fools, can’t you understand!” in any of our lyrics.

Sam:
Damn it! That line is in like five of the songs I‘ve written [everyone laughs] […] Last thing I want to talk about is the style of your music. How do you describe it? It’s sometimes really difficult for me to pin it down. I sometimes hear Joy Division, sometimes it’s more of a jam band. I also hear a lot of Television in your music.

Tae:
I think calling our music one genre would be like a total injustice. I guess we are just a lot more honest about what we like, what we want to project. We like all these good things versus we want to be post punk or dance rock or whatever. I mean calling us one label would be a complete injustice.

Court:
I mean, it’s a tough question to ask because whenever people do ask that question I’m always using like these bizarre combinations in order to try to explain it. [In a confused voice] “You know we are like a combination of Grateful Dead meets The Velvet Underground meets Can meets uh something else.” I think the improvisation really influences our music a lot and because of that the songs are not going to fall into traditional pop music structures, so then it gets hard to label. But then again, all the bands that you ascribed to us, I would agree with. They are influences that we do have at some level.

Tae:
I think it’s more of what people call you then what you decide to be. I don’t think you decide to be post punk or something like that because a lot of the times people are like you guys are post punk and I would be like “We’re not post punk, we’re like the Grateful Dead. The Grateful Dead is not post punk!”

Richie:
It’s just Rock and Roll to me. I don’t know what else to tell them, really. If you try to put specific categories to it, there is this expectations that it has to follow certain specific characteristics: “Oh, it’s folk, so then you must have acoustic guitar.” I think if you tell them, “it’s rock and roll,” then you leave it up to them to fill in that blank.

****

Learn more about Orangutron on Facebook.

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This entry was posted in Santa Ana Artist Spotlight, Santanero Articles and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Planet of the Ape Bots

  1. Camaho says:

    Ah yeah! My favorite band!

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