Brooklyn Radio’s Lara Gamble got the chance to sit down with Mello Music Group artist L’Orange in NYC this past week to discuss his latest release The Orchid Days and what sets him apart from the rest of the underground artists in the scene these days. For one, when you listen to a L’Orange album, it’s as if you are simultaneously watching a movie, complete with film noir sound clips with soft, soulful vocal samples. He is definitely an artist who breaks from tradition and does not rely on the constructs of the industry’s standard genre typecasting.
What brings you to NYC?
I’m coming off of The Orchid Days and so wanted to come up here and talk to as many people as I can about it and also just take in the city and kind of gather inspiration for whatever I’m going to be working on next.
Were there any other cities you were planning to go besides here?
There is nowhere else I would want to go besides here.
Do you have any horror stories from your short stay?
No horror stories except for having to plan an extra forty minutes built in for travel coming from Washington Heights.
Where did the name L’Orange come from?
It was a nickname in high school that just kind of stuck with me. It wasn’t really any elaborate story. It was a color that I really enjoyed for a while, maybe out of admiration. I think growing up, I was a lot about darker tones or influenced by more pale or saturated or more contrasted tones. It got to a point where I got kind of tired of that and myself, and I wanted to be something a little louder or embrace something that I admired a little bit more.
If we walked into a record store, and yes, they do still exist here in New York, where would we find one of your records?
Well, that would kind of be up to the retailer. I think it’s labeled as “hip-hop” but….
How would you like to classify it?
Maybe self-indulgent art instrumental.
When and where did you start producing?
I started in 2006 on my laptop, and I made a lot of really bad music for a long time. Then, I shifted over to vinyl culture and MPC in 2009 and just tried to refine whatever my style was before I released anything for a few years. I released my first album in February 2011.
What brought you to Mello Music?
Mello Music Group has been my favorite label for a long time. There are a couple of really cool homes for music in hip-hop that embrace really the stranger, the more avant-garde or kind of left of center hip-hop. Like Stones Throw….
I was going to ask what you thought of Stones Throw.
I love Stones Throw. They embrace all sorts of weird…you know. But I always stick to Mello Music Group. A lot of it had to do with KON Sci from MindsOne. He kind of introduced me to Oddisee and Apollo Brown, and I started listening to yU and Has-Lo, and so at that point, I knew that’s where I wanted to end up. When it came time and they offered me a deal, I was quick to take it.
Your latest release The Orchid Days dropped on April 8. Are you happy with how it’s been received?
Yeah, sure. I never know how my stuff is going to be received, and part of my process is trying to separate myself from its reception. I think my album The Mad Writer was actually some sort of meta-commentary on that philosophy, being about a guy who writes for so long that he forgets what he’s writing for. I think it’s been received relatively well. I hope that it’s palatable for some, and that’s about as much as I can hope for. Other than that, people seem to kind of understand my concepts more than I ever anticipated really because a very important part is communicating those narratives through my albums. People seem to start to understand that, and that’s really cool. That’s maybe my biggest takeaway.
Which of your releases are you most proud of and why?
I think it would be The Mad Writer. That was the album that I worked on for a long time. There’s a lot of myself on that, and it ended up being an autobiographical, creative non-fiction memoir about a very strange and dark time in a very strange and dark person’s life. I feel like I worked on it for so long and really honed in exactly what my style was right around that time. And before that I had released The Manipulation EP, my first album, and then it was Old Soul, and both of those kind of represented the two parts of myself that I wanted to be reflected in my music. The Manipulation was kind of dark and quirky and funnier than usual. Then Old Soul was, I guess, soulful and maybe a little depressed and introspective. And so by the time The Mad Writer came around, I wanted to be able to kind of take those two parts of me and make those come together in a way that created something new. I think that was the first time I was able to make that happen.
The cover art is great for that album.
The guy was really incredible.
What inspires your sound?
It’s obviously my influences, but my sound — I think I realized somewhere around 2010 after I had tried to emulate my favorite producers for years, I realized that your value doesn’t really come from your talent or your craft. It comes from what you bring to it, your perspective. So, I think coming to terms with what my perspective is, and therefore where my value comes from, is probably the most important part. So being able to kind of share my experience just as a human being and the willingness to be vulnerable and be honest is something I’ve always valued really highly. I think it’s kind of underrepresented because there’s a bravado and a braggadocio, which has its place, certainly. It can, at times, be inauthentic because people are imitating styles. So, me, I wanted to just be honest and not take someone else’s life and try to pretend that it’s my own.
Well, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
And that’s how you begin your style. You take someone that you love and you emulate it and that becomes, hopefully, your own style.
Speaking of influences, who would you say is your number one influence?
Number one is an interesting thing. I think it separates because it becomes my approach versus my craft. And so, my method is obviously inspired by MPC culture and DJ Premier, Pete Rock and J Dilla, and there’s something to be said there. But stylistically, I look at people like Prince Paul, Dan the Automator, Danger Mouse. As many similarities or differences I’ve had, it’s more about the philosophical approach, but then when you actually look at the music itself, Billie Holiday has always been my biggest influence and Tom Waits, and I love artists like Neutral Milk Hotel and Modest Mouse and people that are just willing to be incredibly vulnerable and honest and imperfect.
You mentioned Dilla. What can you tell us about Still Spinning?
(Laughs.) It’s rare. It’s hard to find.
Yeah, I had a hard time finding it.
It’s only available a week a year. I released it in February 2012, I think. If it was available all year round, then I wouldn’t be comfortable with myself. I wanted to make it true to homage, similar to the way I did Old Soul, but at the same time, I just see the culture turning Dilla into a novelty or a pre-requisite, and I don’t want to be a part of that. So, to be able to pay homage to someone who influenced me in a big way is something I would really like to do, but I also would not like to walk that line of exploitation very closely.
I’m sure his family would appreciate that. Do you still own a CD player?
I do, of course.
Since you do, what album would we find in there right now?
Right now? Ooh, that’s a great question. Oh, I actually know the answer. It is Dr. Octagon – Kool Keith and Dan the Automator. Before that, it was Count Base D, and MindsOne is a CD that I have in my car all the time. MindsOne’s Self Reliance.
Last question. Is there anything else that you’d like to share/promote that we haven’t discussed? Where are you going next? Do you ever tour?
Looks like I might be touring towards the end of the year.
Have you toured for any of your other albums?
No, I’m not a DJ, and I really don’t want to pretend to be one. I’d really like to perform live, so I think what I would like to do is instead of learning to DJ and do that half-assed, I’d rather kind of turn it into a more performance art piece and just really rely on creativity, not trying to appeal to some sort of craft that I am not really part of. I think that towards the end of year, it seems that I’m going to be going to Europe for a couple weeks. I’d love to go there with Stik Figa or by myself, so there’s that. The Orchid Days is my album right now, so I am working on my next one, and I would love to give you some details on that, but….
That’s fine. Thank you so much for talking with me and good luck with the album.