Rob Smith Can’t Say No: Oranjuly

One of the sort-of-cool/sort-of-overwhelming things that’s happened as a result of this column is the number of email solicitations I’ve received from musicians and their representatives, talking up their records, tours, videos, and the like. Nary a day passes that I don’t receive at least a handful of these hopeful info blasts (sent out to me and probably thousands of others), and as a result, I’ve been exposed to a decent amount of new music, some of it is good; some of it … not so much. This was one of the primary reasons I embarked on this endeavor (the other being the interaction with Popdose readers and fans), and I’ve lapped it up quite eagerly, even as I’ve complained about Kenny G and Koot Hoomi and others that I’ve written about.

A couple months back, I received an email from Brian E. King, Boston-based singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist and evil genius behind Oranjuly, whose self-titled debut was released July 2. It’s one of the best records I’ve heard this year: a concise, expertly crafted American pop album, with nods and waves to the classic practitioners of the genre, from the Beach Boys to Big Star to Elliott Smith. King wrote everything himself, played most of the instruments, and sings his own sweet melodies and sweeter harmonies. He’s a talented guy, already capable of synthesizing his influences into a sound and language all his own.

I’m hopeful that King and deserving others like him find an audience; he truly deserves to be heard. I am happy to devote space in my column to evangelize for this music, and, as always, I invite others to send their work my way.

On July 5, Brian King and I talked about his music, his influences, and his vision for Oranjuly.

This will go in my “Can’t Say No” column in a couple weeks.
Did you write the article about the Chicago album?

No, I think it was Giles who wrote that. He gets the super-boffo quad-sound reissues; I get the Indian-style covers of Hall and Oates songs. The staff and readers like to take turns messing with me.
[Laughs] That’s funny.

I really like this record. You did a hell of a job. What’s the story of your band? I take it this is mostly your vision. Am I wrong about that? Or is it more of a democracy?
No. It’s really my thing, in terms of the songwriting and all the arranging and the recording. The guys are great; I need them to play this stuff live with me, because I can’t play it all myself. They really flesh out the live stuff we do and make it more rock and roll, so to speak. We’re working together a little bit in the studio, just because I need more players and stuff. It’s not a democracy. I hate saying that.

It’s a benevolent dictatorship.
Exactly, yeah. The guys are okay with that, too, so it works great for us.

So did you play all the instruments on the record?
I played everything except the drums. I did play drums on one song, “South Carolina,” but all the other drum tracks were done by our drummer, Lou, and also another guy named Andrew Jones, who played with us before we got Lou. Andrew is a session drummer friend of mine who did a bunch of the stuff. Everything else on that, beside the horn parts and cello, is me.

Why did it take three years to make the record?
It was just because I wrote all the songs in 2005, 2006, and I just kept making additions. I also didn’t have the live band to play with me yet, so I had really no pressure to put it out. I got the right lineup for the band; this band is working really well. We booked the CD release when we were halfway done with the album, and it kicked my ass to get the thing out there. It didn’t need to take three years to put it out. It was just laziness and having no pressure.

Did these songs all begin as, like, bedroom or dorm room demos?
Absolutely, yeah. “Hiroshige’s Japan” was actually one of the first songs I ever wrote. That one I actually recorded at my college, in late 2005 or so. “Hollywood Blues” is an old one, but I completely re-wrote the lyrics. “Personal Ads” I wrote in, like, ’06. But yeah, they’re pretty early stuff. I’ve written a ton of stuff since then. I’m working on a new EP right now—actually, I was just recording.

Very cool. I love the little nods you give to certain records.
[Laughs] Yeah—it’s very intentional.

My favorites are the “Good Vibrations” keys in “Her Camera” and the little Raspberries knick in “207 Days.”
I didn’t know that, actually. Which Raspberries song?

“I Can Remember.” That chord progression, and the bridge after the main part of the song.
I’ll have to check that out. I actually don’t know much of the Raspberries’ work. They’re a band I’ve just never gotten into. I know the hits, like “Go All the Way,” but I will definitely have to pick that up now.

Obviously, other than that one, these nods are intentional. Why did you do that on the record?
I just wanted to do it on this one because those things—those songs and sounds—shape how my songwriting is. I think it’s just cool to have very intentional nods to them—not stealing any melodies or anything, just copying sounds.

Did I read that you interviewed Brian Wilson once?
I did, yeah. I was the editor of a local music magazine that went national for a little bit. My publisher at the time told me to “get somebody big on the cover.” I couldn’t think of anyone who had a big album out. And I’m a huge Beach Boys fan, so I was just kidding around and said, “Brian Wilson.” And he said, “Yeah, go for it.” And I was surprised—it was pretty easy to get him on the phone. I talked with Scott Bennett, who’s been in Brian’s band, and I talked with Brian’s mixer, and it happened. Brian was a pretty strange guy, to be honest.

What do you mean by that?
He just speaks in one-word answers. Like if you ask him this big, long question, you have to make sure he can’t answer with a “Yes” or “No.” You have to ask, “How did you feel about this?” I got most of my questions answered by his bandmates and others. I started geeking out and asking him about bass guitar tones and really obscure stuff that nobody would care about.

That’s awesome. I also hear a bit of Elliott Smith’s influence in stuff like “Hiroshige’s Japan.” Did you write that thinking, “I want to write a song that sounds like Elliott Smith,” or did it just kind of build to that?
I think with that one it just happened. I was listening to him a lot at that time, in like ’05 or so. I never said I wanted to sound like him, though. I know the influence probably came through, just unintentionally. I do understand how people could get that idea, though.

Part of it is that vocal effect. Did you double-track your vocal on that?
Yeah, you’re probably right. That’s one of the keys to Elliott Smith’s sound—the acoustic guitar with no effects on it and the double-tracked vocal without echo or anything.

Right. I love that the record is only 32 minutes long.
[Laughs] It’s a perfect, concise statement, and not enough people do that. Did you have any temptation to put 20 songs on the thing, or stuff in 80 minutes of material?
I would have liked to. We still had two songs we could have put on it, but I cut them at the last minute. They’re totally recorded and finished, but I cut them because they weren’t as good, and they didn’t really fit the style of the rest of the songs. One is called “I’ll Never Write a Song for You Again.” When I first started with it, it was really cool, kind of with a dance beat, but then it ended up sounding like Muse’s new single. Now, I like Muse for what they are, but it didn’t really gel with the rest of the record. I’m not sure what we’re going to do with it. We’ll probably put it out eventually. The band wants to play it, but it’s kind of cheesy. Another one was— You know, I get the Weezer comparisons left and right, but the other song sounded like it was straight off of Pinkerton or something, so I didn’t put that one out. It’s a good song, but it just didn’t fit.
You know when you go to do the two-disc reissue in 20 or so years, you’re going to have to dig some of this stuff out.
[Laughs] I know.

How about the sequence of the record? It starts kind of loud and ends quietly. Was there a particular arc you were intentionally going for?
Definitely. It kind of gets a little rocking toward the end. “Hollywood Blues” is like that, but even half-way through, it goes into that weird string thing, but then it gets heavy again. I put a lot of the catchy stuff first. I figured if people liked that, they’d keep listening through to the more interesting stuff. All of it is pretty catchy in my opinion, but the later material is stuff you probably wouldn’t hear on the radio or anything.
I agree.
I always like when my favorite records do that, so it’s pretty cool.

As a young band, how do you feel about using technology to get your music out there?
I think it’s great. We really wouldn’t be doing anything if it weren’t for MySpace and, in particular, Facebook. We’re really utilizing Facebook at the moment. I think it’s awesome. I was just talking with my girlfriend yesterday about how bands like us—and really just a lot of bands who are really great—never had an opportunity to get their music out there, just because of their location. I’m really lucky that I’m in Boston and there’s a great music community here, with the support of a lot of people. I love the technology. I think it’s great.

What are you looking forward to most, now that the record is out?
I just want to get it out there as much as possible for people to listen to. I’d like to play out of Boston more. It’d be great if we could get picked up by another band to go on tour; I’d be absolutely down for that. I just want to keep working on new stuff and getting it out there.

So your next thing is this next EP?
Yeah. I don’t know when it’ll come out—probably the fall. It’ll be four or five songs, and they’re coming along really fast.

What else do you want people to know about your band?
Pretty much to just check out our record and hopefully we’ll be out of Boston playing around. But I think people will really like the record if they give it a listen.
I totally agree.