Syracuse, NY’s Charley Orlando is back at it again. Seemingly not content to stay in one place for too long, Charley’s vast career has taken him all over the United States several times, with hopes to perform far and beyond this well-treaded geographic area. Whether in a rowdy bar with beer drenched patrons or a quiet coffee shop with more readers than drinkers, his diverse musical skill set and easy smile garners him new friends and fans wherever he goes.
Having been on the Grammy ballad an astounding 26 times, when he is not on the road for weeks at a time, Charley can usually be found hanging with his wife and family, discussing and educating people on the intricacies of different brands of guitars and amps, or (you guessed it) producing new music and performing locally. “Never slow down” seems to be his modus operandi, and if more artists took his approach to performance, the world would be a much livelier place.
Set to release his new record his new label, Milieu Records, I sat down with Charley to discuss how touring has been treating him, what it’s like being a full-on DIY musician, his incredible ability to produce as many songs as he does, what we can expect from the new album, and his self-coined musical genre, “Organica Groove’
G- Hey Charley and thanks for speaking with Live High Five today. It’s a nice Sunday afternoon…
G- And we are in a nice little recording studio here, so let’s get to it! You have a new album coming out on a new label. Tell us about record, the company behind you right now, and what your plans are for the release?
C- Well, they record company is called AMA label group. That’s the label group, actually. The record company is called Milieu, and it’s under the AMA label group, which… I don’t know how many labels they own. It’s like 7 or 8, and they have 100’s of bands signed, and it’s all indie, digital online only.
C- So, I got signed by these guys in 2011 sometime, and recorded Organica down in Atlanta with the producer that they hooked me up with, Alex Rakoff I believe is his name.
G- I’ll look up that spelling.
C- Yea. He’s a really great guy and totally not into my kind of music but, once we got underway, he became a fan of the approach and the feel and the intimacy of it all. And he really liked used the Ableton program.
G- It probably made it nice and smooth for him in the studio, as well. How long did it take you to get from one point to the next for the album, because it’s just a one man thing at this point, right?
C- It is. It took 5 days.
G- For how many songs?
C- 9 songs.
G- In 5 days?
G- Front to back?
C- Yea all done. Like everything… All my acoustic guitar rhythm tracks, all my lead tracks, and the vocals, all the backing on on my part. Then, when I got done recording with them in Atlanta, because what we did was I treated it like a live session, so I went in and played my guitar and sang to the tracks so we had the timing of how the song was gonna go and the arrangement of it, and then I went back in and played my acoustic guitar and sang to the tracks.
G- Huh! I guess it’s more the output in the short amount of time. I can remember being in a recording studio for 3 days just working on the rhythm section. It’s not a lot of fun.
C- Well, that’s kinda the cool thing about Ableton. You tell it to stay at 110 bpm and it does, and it doesn’t falter from it. (Both laughing)
And the other thing is you don’t spend hours tuning someone’s drum set to to a microphone. The samples that they use in Ableton, to me, sound like a real drum kit, and they do. They sound like a real drum kit because they are real drum kits that got sampled and put into a wav files, and I access them through triggers.
G- Nice. That’s rad!
G- Now, this album, you have an actual coined style for this record. It’s called “Organica Groove,” and I’d like to talk about it for a few minutes if you would. Can you explain to our readers what the term means, and how you came about coining the term?
C- The term came about like everything else does in my life… All my songs and everything… It just popped right out of my mouth, popped right out of my head. It made sense and felt right.
The whole idea initially, with bringing the DJ program into everything was I had been wanting to, for some time, make an album with synthesizers backing up the acoustic guitar and the vocal. But my first idea of it was something very, very more melancholy feel, and more, you know, quiet. And then I started using the Ableton, and realized that you could make rowdy, kinda world party music with it, you know? Because you have timbales at your disposal, and you have tables and affected drum kits, they call them carbonized drum kits, where it’s just…
(Charlie makes drum sounds I won’t even attempt to transcribe here… Hey, I do this for nothing, dammit!)
And there’s woodblocks, and mallets, and all these different kind of sounds, and they’re all these real instruments that were recorded and put into my computer! So, I basically just figure out the timing of where I want everything and I just start building it. And that’s how that started. I was like ‘Wow! I can do more,’ and then I could do more, and then I could do more.
(Prior album release) Root was a complete experiment in that, and in some ways it failed for me, but it still was a great, fun process. Organica, the album Organica, is the next level of what they Ableton did for me, and the one that is coming after this one is already written, and it’s even at another level of what this is.
G- (wondering just who I’m talking to) You already have your next album written, and this one hasn’t even come out yet?!
C- Well, and I have a Bob Dylan tribute album that is done that I have to release at some point. I’m just waiting for the label to OK it, because I recorded it all myself with the help of a couple of people.
G- That’s just an incredible amount of output for under… I don’t know. How long did this all take?
C- Well, the Bob Dylan album has been going on for 2 years in between tours and life, and then I finally just finished it and got it done. It worked out great, and my record label had a great point… They want me to release it 6 months after this album comes out, and that’ll bridge the gap between this album and my second out for Milieu.
C- This year, there’ll be 2 releases, and another recorded.
G- Alright. And what are you going to be doing to support the records? Are you going to be jumping back on the road any time soon?
C- Unfortunately, probably not this year.
C- I‘ve got some family issues to deal with in my life, so I actually, towards the end of last year, cancel my southern tour and kind of take care of things here. So I’m going to be in Syracuse playing locally quite a bit.
C- The album is going to be heavily promoted online, and sold at shows and stuff like that. But if I do go on tour this year, it’s gonna be in the summertime probably.
G- Right on. Since it’s a digital only label, are you going to be submitting for Pandoora and Spotify and everything along those lines for instant access, or is it going to be drag-and-drop downloading?
C- It’s gonna be on a lot. It’ll probably be on Spotify. Pandora, you have to actually prove you’re selling an actual cd through Amazon to even get considered.
C- Yea, which I did make physical copies, a limited run of 100 physical copies of the disc, so I was thinking about just getting Amazon to sell it so I can get in on Pandora. There’s already a Charley Orlando channel on there. For some reason, they put Charley Band Orlando…
G- Good for them!
C- Yea, I was like ‘That’s great.’
G- It’s his middle name!
C- Thanks (laughing.) So, but that based off of the Free World Citizen album, The Charley Orlando band with Kiel (Feher- drums) and Max (Mckee- bass.) So, you hear all sorts of stuff like hard rock tunes, and heavier Ryan Adams stuff, and it’s just funny.
G- Now, running the gamut as you do, you have a wide pool of influence that you draw from, lots of musical diversity, very eclectic recordings throughout your career… Just for some of the readers, givee us a couple of the influences that you’ve brought to the Organica album. Were you listening to anything at the time that kind of influenced during that process, or are their any newer acts that you think we should know about?
C- You know what’s interesting? I stopped listening to music while I was doing this, because, first of all, I didn’t want to be heavily influenced. And when I saw I stopped listening to music, I stopped listening to popular music. I didn’t want to be influenced by any of it because, to be honest, now, when I hear music on Sirius XM or that my 12 year old son cranking stuff out of his room, I’ll lean my head out and say ‘You know they’re using Ableton,’ and he’s like ‘I know! I can tell!’
It’s like once you start using this program, you realize how far and wide it spans in professional recordings, because you can literally do ANYTHING you want. If I had a screen the size of the wall in here, I could have 500 tracks and just select with a mouse, and just build an orchestra.
G- And it (Charley’s entire rig) is smaller than my drum set, too.
C- My whole rig is 7’x7’, and most people look at it and go ‘Wow! That’s a lot of crap!’ And it is a lot of crap, but to be honest with you, it’s not much compare dto what a whole band hauls around! I fit it all in the back of a mini-van with a sound system! (laughing.) And a bunk!
G- (laughing) Ok let’s dive a little bit… You’re in constant creation mode, as evidenced by the fact that you have one album written and about to come out, and another album ready to be recorded and released. Give us a bit of insight as to your creative process and your approach when it comes time to write a song. Is there a lot of noodling involved, or do you go in there with something in mind?
C- I would have to say, in the beginning, I would actually sit down and say ‘I’m gonna write a song,’ or I’d get an idea and record it. I was all about documenting all of it in the very beginning when I started writing music, because I didn’t want to forget anything. I was scared to death that I was gonna miss that moment when I was gonna get the perfect line or the perfect bridge, and I didn’t play it and record it and now it’s gone. So, in the beginning, I think it was a more calculated process.
Somewhere around 2004, after I left Dexter Grove, I sobered up first of all, and wrote probably 7 songs a day for probably about a month, and they just kept flying out of me… I couldn’t stop! I wasn’t trying, I wasn’t stopping it or second guessing any of it, and I wrote… God, I wrote 40 songs that month probably. And most of them are documented and recorded, and they sound good to me and I use them all as a library at this point, and if I didn’t like it back then, it doesn’t mean that I’m not gonna like it 10 years from now. So, I keep everything logged away. I register all of them with BMI and library of congress to make sure it’s real, and then I kind of move on. The ones that stick and get through that first process of bleh, then they get worked on as live shows happen.
C- With my folk stuff, just me and my guitar, I can probably whip a song out in 5 minutes sometimes. Other times, it takes a week. Other time I’ll write a couple of lines and be ‘Yea, I don’t know what to do with it.’ Just the channel of moments stops, and I just run dry, and other times I just can’t stop! I’ll just write and write and write and play and write and write, and the songs usually come out all at once. Not like playing and writing or writing and playing, it just comes out.
G- And I’m looking at a guitar most of the time wondering ‘What can I do with this?’
C- That’s the problem… You don’t have to look at it and ask what to do. Just pick it up and start playing it.
G- Good point, sir!
C- For me, my downfall is as soon as I start thinking, any time I start actively focusing on it, it’s done for me.
G- It’s the Bruce Lee method… ‘Don’t think. FEEL!”
C- It’s actually ‘Don’t think. Just do!’ That’s my deal. If I start thinking about where I am gonna go from here, I would probably freak out. But if I don’t think about it and I just hear everything and feel everything and react, 100% reaction all the time. Sur,e you’re going to make mistakes, but whatever. The glory of the moment when you’re like ‘WHOA’ is worth every mistake!
G- Nice! Very good! So, since this year is going to be a little less active on the tour circuit…
C- Which is much needed after 17 straight years!
G- Yea you’ve been doing it for quite a while, and you’ve already shared stages and played all over the place… Just logging more miles than Fedex, so it would seem… In the event you were able to curate your own lineup, feasible lineup…
C- Of musicians?
G- Of musicians, or artists and acts to perform on stage with, if you could select 3 that you could share a stage with, who would you select and why?
C- Bands? Like other artists?
G- Yea, but feasible. Everybody wants to tour with The Beatles.
C- Well you know what’s interesting, there’s 2 bands right now and I know there music decently and I listen to them and I really, honestly respect the hell out of them for the originality that they bring to it, and they’re both from Syracuse, believe it or not.
C- Yea. I always thought it would be cool, now that I’m doing the Ableton thing, to do a tour with Joe Driscoll and Sophistafunk. And the reason I say that is because all 3 of us have at least one thing in common, and that’s the positivity of the music and the words, and speaking to a higher level of thinking, and not just speaking to a bar level of thinking.
And I don’t mean any disrespect to anybody, I just mean that it seems, sometimes, when you speak positively and sing positively to people who don’t really want to think positively, it almost comes across to them as preachy. But when you can connect with people on a higher level, then the words make sense and the music just sings, and that’s what I think both of those artists are capable of and doing currently right now.
G- It’s weird, because that (the tour) hasn’t happened yet, either. I know Joe is based out of the UK…
C- He’s doing great over there! He’s killing it!
G- Joe is always gonna do his thing, and it looks like Sophistafunk is always gonna do their thing, too.
G- And you’re always gonna do your thing, so it would make sense… That would be a very good representation of what Syracuse has offered in the last decade, regarding different genres and approaches to music. Honestly, all you’d need is some Dinosaur BBQ for dinner and you’d have a very good taste of Syracuse musical and artist culture.
Now, be it local or otherwise, you’ve played a TON of shows, and there must be favorites. There must be ones that you want to forget, but their must be favorites as well. If you were to pick one of the craziest or most memorable shows that you’ve played in the past as just your one man act, where would you say it was and what was it like?
C- Craziest? I don’t know. Probably… I remember a really rowdy show out in MaCall, Idaho. Also, Payett, Id. was a lot of fun. Small little town, not much there, but everybody is just so grateful for the music.
C- You know, probably out in the Rockies just pretty much everywhere. People took to this and took enough interest in it to come talk to me and see where it was at and talk to me about what it was. A lot of other places, people just look at me as some dude with backing tracks, you know, which it can be looked at that way. But I think I’m still in the process with this of it looking freaky to people, and sounding freaky to people, so I think, in my mind, no matter how rowdy it did or could get, it just hasn’t hit yet for it, you know? But I’ve classically been ahead of the curve.
Like back when I was in Dexter Grove, no one had ever heard of a 2-piece band. We used to get that all the time… ‘There’s no such thing as a 2-piece band.’ But there’s this woman out there on the road named Ani DiFranco who plays in a 2-piece band, and they’re like ‘We’ve never heard of that,’ and then Ani becomes huge and you get The Black Keys, The White Stripes, all these 2-piece bands!
G- Yes indeed.
C- So, I’m kinda looking at it that way. Dexter Grove was around 10 years before we got any respect, and that’s when we broke up. So, I kind of look at this in the same way in that it’s so different for some people that it’s the best thing they’ve ever seen, and it’s so different for some people that they just can’t wrap their head around it and it looks goofy.
G- I gotta say it looks a lot more fun watching the performances of 1 man with a guitar using loop pedals and singing into a microphone than it does at most of the electronic music shows I got to with just one guy pressing play on a keyboard. I’d say that you’re definitely moving the art form in a different direction, and there’s so much technology available now and so much access to music and music dispersion that the solo acoustic singer/songwriter, which can now be blown all the way open into orchestral ranges with what’s available to you, that there will be an upswing in this. There will be more people that are going to have the desire to do things on their own.
C- It’s either lazy, or not lazy. This took me 4 months locked in a room to even sort of feel comfortable with, and a whole year of touring to get comfortable. Now, I can go anywhere with this stuff and kill it. It’s totally different than going to see a band. You’re going to see a show, artistry, creativity, and you’re going to hear positive words.
The place for this music is at a festival on a sunny afternoon! That’s where this music fits best. Now, I’m waiting for everyone to catch on to it. Guaranteed, 5 years from now, there’s going to be a host of dudes who got off their ass and figured it out, you know?
G- So, for as long as you’ve been doing this, you’ve seen a lot of the ups and downs. Given your tenured career, I could probably talk to you for a decade about some of the things you can, and some of the things you shouldn’t do.
For all the kids out there who are just trying to save their money to get that first guitar so they can start tinkering away, what advice can you give to them to help them do what you’ve done and create music?
C- Well, that’s tough. I don’t love it any more or any less than when I started. Music is something I was born with. When I picked up a guitar, I started playing it. I worked really hard at it, and when I say that I practiced for hours a day in the beginning, I’m not kidding… I used to get yelled at to get on my homework and I’d say ‘Yea I’m doing it.’ I didn’t want to do anything else except play baseball and play guitar, the 2 things I love the most. And I still love baseball as much as I love playing guitar.
G- He’s wearing a Yankees sweatshirt, folks.
C- Damn right I’m wearing a Yankees sweatshirt! (laughs) But I think my main advice would be, if you want to be in music and you want to try to making a living out of being a musician, you’re gonna have to love it more than you love living, because it is one of the most frustrating, thankless, ruthless, emotionally charged jobs to be in. And you have to be very thick skinned.
You have to know when to make the right decisions regarding music and regarding persons. I don’t think the music industry is anything to be taken lightly, like ‘Yea I’m gonna make it, man!’ No, you’re not. The one-in-a-million it was when I was growing up is now one-in-twenty-million. But the good things is the stuff that’s available to kids now.
The amount of just shear free promotion that’s out there now, and the ability to just sit in your bedroom and record a song with a little flip camera or your iphone and put it on Youtube and become a sensation overnight is there. Does that sensation make you a lot of money? Probably not… If you’re gonna do this, make sure you absolutely love it and you’re going to play for the love of the music, and not to get paid every night, because you don’t always get paid, and you don’t always get paid what you’re worth.
I could never think of myself not doing music. Even if the worst case scenario happens and I couldn’t make a living doing it and I had to go out and get a job again. I’d do it, and I’d still be out playing music every night! It’s something that carries life for me.
G- Right on! Organica will be coming out on Milieu Records on February 5th, and we’ll have link to it when it’s up. Charley, thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us, and we will see you around town!
C- Yes you will!