Alex Paterson sits down to discuss his outfit's forthcoming collaboration with Lee "Scratch" Perry, as well as what he thinks of the Orb being an "ambient group" and which track of his he places above all others.
Let me just start by saying having the opportunity to talk to the Orb's Alex Paterson was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had over the course of my four years covering music. For all intents and purposes, their debut album The Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld (1991) single-handedly got me into the electronic genre. When I first discovered it, I was a sophomore in university, and every summer my parents would bring me along for road-trips to Edmonton, a city five hours west from us.
Those five hours could have been some of the most tedious stretches of time in my life, but with Ultraworld in my Discman, the prairies I would gaze at through my window came alive. I never really grew tired of that album, as it took me right through university as well (as I allude to in the interview). I eventually evolved to the point of loving all their material, but I’d be lying if I said Ultraworld didn’t hold a special place in my heart.
That brings us to the present, and the boys in the Orb have a brand new record coming out on August 28th, entitled The Orbserver in the Star House. Here we have unique effort from the group that prominently features the vocals of Lee “Scratch” Perry, and not just on one throwaway tune either. It’s a fully-collaborative effort that may be a bit later for summer, but it’s the perfect summer album. I’ve listened to this a few times now and it’s remarkable how organic this alliance seems to be. The Orb and Perry meet each other halfway for an effort that can be loved on a level that isn’t just headphone music -- in fact play this loud next time you’re drinking copious amounts of wine on a sunny day. The Orb now lives beyond your headphones, and they probably have Lee Perry to thank for that.
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There was so much great stuff coming out of the electronic genre when your debut came out. What can you tell us about what you were going through, or your specific goals when you were creating music in the early '90s?
What I was going through in the early '90s? I was being used and abused by bad management and people all wanting to have different parts of me. That’s why we recorded Pomme Fritz, the forgotten Orb album between U.F.Orb and Orbus Terrarum. The Orb’s goals were changing week by week and it ended with Kris leaving the band in' 93/'94. Then the goal was to keep the Orb’s dream alive and prove that we as a band had more balls than my manager at the time, a certain Mr. Morris.
I read the press release, and it seems like a completely symbiotic collaboration, with most of the songs being done in a relatively short, organic time period. Having said that, was there anything about working with Lee that was difficult or unforeseen, since it’s the first project of this type you have been involved in?
Eyes wide open and keep the mic on all the time . The Orb rose to the challenge and delivered 13 new tunes in three days and then carried on mixing/adding after Lee had gone back to Swiss land. Yeah it was the first time we had recorded a completely vocal album, but we did it on our terms and achieved our aim because we believed in ourselves and what Lee would come up with lyrically.
Before I heard The Orbserver, I was worried it would be just fairly standard Orb, bass-heavy beats that Lee sang over. The bass-heavy aspect remained intact, but that’s about it as far as comparisons to the "Orb sound". Was it tough to design songs with an active vocalist in the studio?
No and yes, toughness comes from tough seeds taking root. Fair question, we set out for this album to surprise everyone and we knew that Lee loved soul music, so we wrote "Soul Man" for him and he delivered in a pure and righteous way. Pure magical was some of the sessions. Five vocal takes and then move on. We were on the go 24/7 and Lee was in the 6 PM to 6 AM work mode.
Did you and Lee have an actual goal in mind when you sat down to do this, or did all of it just sort of flow out? Again, it seemed like a fairly rapid creation, but I’m wondering if you all sat down and discussed what you all wanted to accomplish before the recording sessions?
This was all done from the heart and never tried to make a hit record, just a record with direction and purpose. “Let it flow”, as Mr.Fehlmann would often say.
With Deadmau5 and Skrillex making some serious waves in the mainstream music community with their breakthroughs, do you see that as positive for the genre? I’m a bit conflicted, because I feel electronic music deserves a breakthrough, but I’m wondering how much good their mainstream success will have for the whole genre as a whole.
Music for the young, and music for the old. Electronic music deserves it. More than the record company-made bands or the boy/girl band circus. Skrillex is better than the fucking Spice Girls
If you had to pick a single track out of your discography that you hold above the rest, is there one that leaps to mind? I think I’d choose "A Huge Evergrowing Pulsating Brain . . ." as my auto-pick, but I’m curious where you see your single auditory highlight.
Well, it would be "Plateau". Because we tried to record two different ideas at once and it worked. The Mongolian vocals are magical; even now it makes my hairs stick up on end! It has space and time that blends into the brain through filters of emotion left over from the acid house rhythms of the late '80s.
I never really understood why your group was always instantly lumped into the ambient genre. There are ambient elements to your work for sure, but I would say the music nearly always comes to the listener, and not the other way around. Now it seems you have embraced this vanguard aspect of your earlier works, in accordance with Lee. Did you ever see yourselves as a pure "ambient group"?
Yes! I suppose my days at E.G. taught me well! Ambient house was created from Orb after-hour parties in the squats of south London in the late '80s. I was also doing ambient rooms/chill out rooms or white rooms . . . also ambient afternoon gigs for new-age thinkers in convent garden too . . . all in the '80s!
But what was overlooked was the amount of reggae I was playing and the style was mostly dub. From the Upsetters, to King Tubby, Scientist, Prince Jammy, Mad Professor & On You Sound. This is now very clear in the Orb’s music too! "Blue Room" was built on a Jah Wobble bass line. "Perpetual Dawn" was a dancehall selection tune and towers of dub spoke for itself. DUB CHILL HOUSE, Orb style.
I recently bought your "Royal Blue Room" single and to me it’s absolutely phenomenal, I can’t stop playing it. Do you plan to release a lot of your future material online in the same format?
It’s all owned by the Satanist from another Universal. Ask them. Or hopefully I get my tracks back and start fresh. That’s next year when they come up for grabs . . .
It’s pretty cool how it is obvious the Orb is now in a different place than when you released Ultraworld, but it still retains a very distinctive Orb sound. How difficult is it to evolve while still not betraying the unique sound people grew to love over the years?
Always stay young at heart and stay in love. Thank you for your kind words, too. Difficult is in the eye of the beholder. Thomas, Youth, and myself believe that heaven is here and we just have to open our minds to understand it, smell it, and feel it. Vibrations of sound are all we are, after all.
Finally, I used to walk to university listening to your music, typically “A Huge Evergrowing Pulsating Brain . . .”, “Back Side of the Moon”, and “Earth (Gaia)”, but I would play all your stuff. I just want to thank you for giving me some of my all-time favourite headphone music, and I hope you would come through my neck of the woods sometime so I could tell you this in person. Any chance you’ll be playing any shows in Canada? I had to ask . . .
Here’s looking at you! Nice one and always a great pleasure to give it out. I love Canada and I have a weekly radio show called "Chilled Chewy Choosedays" on Fnoob.com. You can download weeks of music from there for free. I am LX Paterson and the pleasure is all mine.
Actually the pleasure was mine. The man is a living electronic legend, and even though I would’ve liked to ask him approximately 64 questions, I suppose ten will have to do. On August 28th, please check out The Orbserver in the Star House. This is not a plug. It’s just an incredibly cool fucking album and I’m trying to be nice.