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The Whole Ten Years

The Oranges Band remembers its first decade

Jessica Amaya
The Oranges Band (from left, Virat Shukla, Pat Martin, Lee Ashlin, and Roman Kuebler) has a decade of indie-rock struggle under its belt.

By Joe Tropea | Posted 4/21/2010

The Oranges Band

The Ottobar, April 24 with Doug Gillard Electric, Slow Jets, and Highrise.

For more information visit theottobar.com.

Read: Joe Tropea interview with Roman Kuebler in Noise

The Oranges Band turns 10 years old this year. Given the on-again/off-again nature of playing in a rock band, especially during a decade when the music business has been completely reinvented, 10 years feels like a long time. Everything moves quicker now: acts blog-hyped during spring training are sometimes totally forgotten come pennant races. There are those problems along the way that cause bands fits and starts: rent has to be paid, affordable practice space has to be found, touring to make money without spending too much, and someone has to pay for studio time or home-recording equipment. Without rich parents, ultra-flexible employment, or label support, it's a balance most touring bands don't hold for very long. And though the Oranges faced other hurdles, too, like departing bandmates and its label Lookout! Records going catalog only, the band--in its current line-up of Roman Kuebler, Pat Martin, Dave Voyles, and Virat Shukla--doesn't look or sound as battle scarred as it could.

If the Oranges had only ever released 2005's The World and Everything In It, it would still be a band to remember. Each of World's 11 songs hold up to repeated listening, mixing a guitar palette of surf-tone chime to Buddy Holly chug to overdriven scrawl with driving rhythms, sing-along backups, and just enough hooks to keep it from being cloying. But over a decade the band also released three EPs and two other full-length albums, each showing signs of a band getting better with age.

Last year's self-released The Oranges Band Are Invisible is the band's latest and, in a sense, it's a thesis on Baltimore's indie-rock history. In "Do You Remember Memory Lane?" Kuebler asks, "What happened to the Rev? It was here/ it was right here when I left/ But now it's turned into Gordon's Nightclub." In the song "Ottobar Afterhours," a paean not only to the club but also to the late Buttsteak offshoot Lee Harvey Keitel Band--he sings, "All the doors get locked and our party's gaining power/ Ottobar afterhours, everyone knows everyone/ They're all relatively sure they'll never be another 'I am the fly in the ointment' or 'Any five workers waiting for the weekend to come'"--the latter line pulled from a LHKBND song. With guest appearances by members of Impossible Hair, Avec, and Karmella's Game, as well as other lyrical nods to Baltimore bands past such as Runway Model and the Fuses, Invisible proves the Oranges a band with a strong sense of local history.

City Paper caught up with the band--on tour with the Hold Steady--between two shows in upstate New York and asked about the best moments of its 10-year run, a brief history of the Oranges Band emerged. (Since compiling this list, Voyles left the band for personal reasons; Lee Ashlin is currently playing drums on tour.)

 

Top Ten Moments of the Oranges Band

1) 'Cause That's What It Cost to Make (2000)

I attended American University in 1997, where I met Dan Black. We studied audio technology and spent many hours working on songs and recordings in the university's studio. A year or so later, while Dan was still attending school, I dropped in for a quick run through of a couple song ideas. He played drums and engineered and I did the rest. We were both surprised afterward to find that we had recorded three fairly competent, realized songs. These recordings gave the impetus to really get the Oranges going, so I got in touch with Dave Voyles, practiced a couple more rough ideas, and recorded them in my living room in Hampden. We stumbled ass-backward into our first album, the $5 EP. (Roman Kuebler)

2) The Great White Whale (2002)

After our first van barely made it back from our second tour, it was necessary to acquire more reliable transport. Tim Johnston ponied up the credit cards, and I staked out a white Dodge van that needed to be shipped from California. We had to pick it up while on our way to a show, and not being familiar with the gauge, we ran out of gas. We thought it broke on the first day, but we got gas and made it. We named the van Moby Dick, and it carried us another 175,000 miles faithfully and with surprisingly little trouble. (RK)

3) The First Meeting (2002)

After our first meeting with Lookout!, where plans and common goals were discussed, our A&R rep pulled Roman aside. "So, am I right to assume that I can talk to you directly, and you'll pass it on to the dudes?" she asked. To which he replied, "Yeah, that's fine." She then added, "I figured as much considering Timmy was, maybe, asleep?" (Virat Shukla)

4) On TV on the Radio (2002)

We had just finished a tour with a show in Brooklyn, N.Y., during CMJ fest '02. The On TV EP had come out a week earlier, and I was catching a ride back to Baltimore with Ted Leo and the Pharmacists--they were playing at the Ottobar that night. I had passed out in their van and all of a sudden Ted cranks the radio full volume and for the first time in my life I heard my band on the radio. It made all the pain-in-the-ass things of being in a band and touring consistently seem all the more worth it. It sounded good, too. (Dave Voyles)

5) All Around (2003)

We spent two weeks working 12-14 hour days recording our first full-length, All Around, at a studio in the tiny Michigan town of Benton Harbor. There were ups and downs: songs that should have worked out that didn't and songs that were written late-night in the studio because we didn't have quite enough material. I felt drained when it was over. The rest of the band had shipped out prior to mixing, so I was left to drive the van back to Baltimore. Being alone allowed me the luxury of not being embarrassed by playing our new album over and over and, having decided it was pretty great, I stopped by the Talking Head before finally going home and played it once more for whoever was there. (RK)

6) The Videos

We had two very different experiences making two very different videos. The "OK Apartment" video was made for $1,000 and simply involved the band on the bed of a pickup truck driving to different locations around Baltimore. The idea: the band remains in the same position while the background cycles through Baltimore landmarks--sort of a lo-tech green-screen thing. It was a cold and blustery day and no one much enjoyed it, but the video came out great.

The "Finns For Our Feet" video was as close to the Hollywood experience as the Oranges Band is likely to get. We were on a soundstage in Van Nuys, Calif., being fussed over by a crew, acting out a treatment involving an underwater-themed school play. The set was swarming with child actors who were far more experienced than us. Our hair was slathered with glycerine in order to affect being underwater. It was a great day-long party, and we were the guests of honor.

The results of the videos somehow reveal the truth about the Oranges Band aesthetic: Even though the "Hollywood" approach yielded a fairly slick, professional video, the "OK Apartment" video turned out to be more enjoyable and representative of what the band is about. (VS)

7) Starry, Starry Night (2004)

When faced with sparsely attended shows, no host for the night, and no hotel budget, we took to the campgrounds, usually spilling out of the van onto the ground in our sleeping bags. When camping, we found the experience was always affected by the part of the country we were in and adjusted accordingly. So when camping in the rocky Arizona desert we figured it best not to sleep on the ground for fear of snakes and scorpions. With Dave, Dan, and Virat occupying the benches inside the van, Tim and I grabbed our sleeping bags and, left with few options for a reasonable night's rest, scampered up onto the roof. Having spent so much time inside the van, it was surprising, for some reason, to find that the roof had as much square footage as some N.Y. apartments . . . but with a much better view. (RK)

8) Lookout 15 (2004)

We were flying to San Francisco to play Lookout's 15th anniversary at the Great American Music Hall. While cruising through airports, I noticed a few people staring and whispering. The other guys had their guitars, and I had a snare drum, cymbals, etc. As dumb as it may sound, I felt like a rock star for a hot minute. A totally weird and fun feeling I had never experienced, considering I'm just a regular dude that's not in that mindset. The weekend was a blast, and I felt honored to be a part of celebrating a record label that had always been huge influence. (DV)

9) Second Show (2007)

It was my second show with the band. We were opening for Spoon at Sonar. I figured there'd be a lot of people at the show, and they managed to get nearly everyone in the doors by the time we went on. Dave told me not to look out at the crowd before we played, but I couldn't help it. It freaked me out a little bit, I don't think I'd played in front of that many people before. (Pat Martin)

10) First Practice with Doug Gillard (2008)

Dave, Roman, and I had been playing and writing the songs on what was going to be Are Invisible, for months before we got to play with Doug. We were getting ready for a couple shows that weekend and preparing to record the album, and Doug came down from New York to practice with us. I remember hearing those solos for the first time, and my mind being blown. I looked at Roman while we were playing "Art Star," and just being like holy shit. It was pretty incredible. (PM)

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