Orgone plays Skylight
The Austrian psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich was so convinced of the curative properties of orgone (a “cosmic-energy” life force he “discovered” and named), that he developed a device known as the orgone accumulator. It consists of an enclosed rectangular chamber with a chair inside that a patient sits on, in dark solitude, to regain his or her orgone equilibrium. If Reich had survived beyond 1957, he might have adapted the accumulator by installing speakers in it so the patient could simultaneously soak up another form of soon-to-be-discovered cosmic energy: funk music. He might even have done away with the chamber altogether in favor of larger gathering places, like Santa Fe music venue Skylight, where the masses can experience the power of the bands that play this music, like the aptly named Orgone (in town Saturday, April 4).
Orgone is an eight-person group of musicians from Los Angeles who play funk and soul with so much precision they’ve been hired to back big-name R & B and hip-hop artists like Alicia Keys and CeeLo Green in the studio. Since its forming in the late 1990s, various members of the band have come and gone, but the core group has steadily developed a hard-driving funk feel that pays homage to the pioneers of the genre. The syncopation and understated melodiousness of early New Orleans funk quartet The Meters are on display in Orgone’s newest album, Beyond the Sun , as is the propulsive experimentalism of the George Clinton band Funkadelic. But, as part of the ongoing neosoul movement, the group is not reviving a past music tradition as much as reanimating it with new energy and ideas. The song “Down Down Down,” which provides just one example of this reinvigoration, features anthemic horn arrangements and the lilting vocals (that are somehow relaxed in their urgency) of Adryon de León.
De León is a relatively new addition to the band — despite being the frontwoman. She told Pasatiempo she has only been working with Orgone since September 2013. While looking for a full-time vocalist, keyboardist Dan Hastie came across her performance videos online and was impressed enough that he reached out to ask her to audition, live. As the singer explained it, “They had me come out basically sight unseen. Dan sent me links to seven vocal tunes. I learned them all, flew out to Indiana, and did a show with them the next night. I had never sung with them before. The first time they heard me was during sound check. From then on it was full steam ahead.”
The match is a good one. De León arrived with musical influences similar to those of the band and an extensive background of her own. She grew up singing in her family’s Baptist church and participating in community theater. Then she launched her professional career, touring with a nonprofit performance organization and teaching choral music. Her influences begin with jazz legends Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holiday and go on to include soul and funk icons like Aretha Franklin and Chaka Khan, as well as more contemporary innovators. “If I could pick one artist right now who I would really love to emulate, it would be Jill Scott. I love her sound. I think she’s a wordsmith as well.” De León also voiced her admiration for Sharon Jones, who is at the forefront of the neo-soul movement, and with whom Orgone has shared the stage.
The funk octet decided to capitalize on the addition of de León by putting together an album of original material featuring her sound. The collaborative songwriting process combined ideas from the past with newer insights. “A band that has played together as long as they have has an archive of jam sessions that they’ve recorded,” the singer said. “I came in with a journal full of words, expressions, phrases.” From there the band approached the creative process a few different ways: “One being the organic sit-and-jam scenario, where we come up with maybe a beat or a guitar lick or a chord progression. So some of what you’re hearing was made from scratch. Then there are a few songs where we worked with awesome producers.”
Despite the relatively quick turnaround between adding a new singer and releasing a new album ( Beyond the Sun comes out at the end of this month), the interim period involving rehearsing, writing, arranging, recording, mixing, mastering, and promotions was not overly pressured. As de León remembered it, “There was only a time crunch at the end, because we had deadlines as soon as we signed with our label [Shanachie Records]. But we always had the presence of mind to know we had to capitalize on me being a new singer so we could get the material out in time to market ourselves for festival season and touring and all that. So, for the most part, it wasn’t really a time crunch.”
Orgone also had the opportunity to consolidate its new sound through fairly constant touring during that same period. Somewhat miraculously, the entire band and the equipment travel in one van, a Mercedes Sprinter. “It’s actually really nice. You can stand up in it — that’s a plus!” Asked if everyone gets along in tight quarters during extended periods of time, de León said there were no fundamental conflicts. “These guys have known each other for literally decades.” Traveling the country inside their own sort of mobile orgone accumulator, “everyone has their own way to stay sane,” including self-isolation with headphones. This technique allows the band members to concentrate cosmic energies within so they can later share them with the crowds that come for an equilibrium adjustment at every nightly stop.