The frontman of Marty O’Reilly & the Old Soul Orchestra talks to C&I about his band’s upcoming album, Stereoscope, out February 9.
With a soul-driven voice leading a baseline orchestra, the Santa Cruz, California-based band Marty O’Reilly & the Old Soul Orchestra do an impressive job of blending genres to create a completely different and engaging sound. Their latest album, Stereoscope, out February 9, takes their strong musical storytelling and singular sound to the next level.
Influenced by Radiohead and folk artists like Andrew Bird, the atmospheric tracks on Stereoscope weave together blues, swing, and rock with a hint of psychedelic and even Gypsy undertones, making for an interesting and captivating album from start to finish. With its rootsy and rhythmic instrumentation — O’Reilly on electrified resonator, Chris Lynch on violin and keys, Ben Berry on upright bass, and Matt Goff on drums and percussion— and intriguing lyrics delivered in O’Reilly’s evocative vocals, the album draws you in on first listen and keeps you hitting “play.”
Recently, C&I talked with O’Reilly and got an inside look at making music and making the new album, and being in the band and being on the road.
Cowboys & Indians: What do you hope your fans will get out of the new record?
Marty O’Reilly: Over the years, I’ve noticed more and more how true it is that listeners tend to feel very similar things to what you feel when you play music. It sounds obvious, but I think the more you see it actually happen, the more profound of an experience that becomes. A large part of the formula this time was to write an album that was exciting for us to play, and made us feel good on a deeper level. My hope is that people feel the same way listening to it as we do when we play the songs.
C&I: How do you think Stereoscope stands out from the rest of your music?
O’Reilly: It harkens a lot less on our heroes from the Americana world and focuses more on our own individual thoughts, feelings, and ideas. That’s sort of the basic concept of all art, but I think it’s lost a lot these days. Folk music has a really special and important place in the world, but I think the safety and familiarity can be alluring to a lot of artists. That includes every member of this project, and maybe every musician ever. Because folk music, in all of its forms, is just great.
I just think that creatively, over time, we started to feel like maybe there's a creative world outside of it that is important for every artist to tap into every once in a while — one where you have to fight off all of the immortal melodic tendencies and chord progressions of the past and focus on nothing other than what you’re feeling right there in that moment, where that feeling wants the notes to go, and how it wants them to get there. I think all of us are really excited that the product has been an album that feels familiar, doesn’t sound very much like anything else, but didn’t have to go too far off the deep end to get there.
C&I: What are some memorable stories along the way of getting this album from concept to actual release?
O’Reilly: There are many. This album was written over the course of two years, in multiple states and countries. But a great deal of the work created was in the arrangements we put together in a cabin in the Santa Cruz Mountains. We managed to have the cops called on us despite being very far away from anyone else; they showed up during one of our stranger, more humorous musical explorations. The band has a number of alter egos we take on as parodies of the types of music we do not excel at. In this case, we were embodying our hair metal band we’ve named The Smoke Lords. They hail from Death Valley, California. We desperately tried to explain to the policemen how different we were to what they heard, as if that were the nature of the problem.
We also recorded most of the album in a different areas of the Santa Cruz Mountains at an incredible private studio inside a barnlike building. Unlike at most studios, everything [there] is in one large room. There was a kitchen, too, and it featured a beautiful antique gas stove. On the last day of recording it was leaking so badly we had to evacuate the studio, running back in, one at a time, with T-shirts tied over our faces, to grab our musical gear and evacuate. We were reimbursed for that day.
C&I: What was the writing and recording process like? Where did you draw inspiration for the sound?
O’Reilly: I hadn’t written anything in a while and I decided that I needed to find ways to write beyond counting on “divine inspiration.” So I started reading and researching ways to do that. It helped me understand the many ways in which I needed to be more thoughtful and observant of the world around me. So I started paying a lot more attention to the conversations I was having, the people I was interacting with, and their stories, as well as my own. Song ideas came up all over the place and it allowed me to write more than ever before — and in a way that was much more valuable to me personally.
C&I: Do you have a favorite song or track that you’re most proud of?
O’Reilly: I think I’m especially excited about the last song on the album. It’s called “Spacehorse.” Firstly, I’m glad we could finally inject just the tiniest bit of our humor into the music. I’ve been working on our band lore. A lot of great bands have lore, and we’re not deserving of it, but I want it anyway. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, think Parliament-Funkadelic or what “Nowhere Man” was to The Beatles. “Spacehorse” is our “Nowhere Man.” The song is totally unlike anything else we’ve written. It feels really great whenever you write something totally different and it isn’t forced and it works.
C&I: With such a unique sound and so many different nstruments, how did you all come up with the idea to bring orchestra music into a mainstream setting?
O’Reilly: The band actually got its title years ago when it was just myself; our violin player, Chris Lynch; and our former bass player, Jeff Kissell. There weren’t a lot of instruments happening back then. There were actually very few, but I felt like there were so many sounds coming out of them that it felt like a larger collection of instruments. “Orchestra” felt right. Today when we perform live, the instrumentation still doesn’t change much. Chris rotates between violin and synth, and our drummer, Matt, will mix up his percussive instruments. Other than that it’s all pretty constant. For this album, though, we wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to add parts and layers that can’t possibly be pulled off with four people live. I think there’s a good balance though. We didn’t want these collections of songs to feel overproduced.
C&I: Who are some of the singers and songwriters that have inspired your creative development and made you want to become an artist?
O'Reilly: In the earlier parts of my life, Van Morrison, John Lee Hooker, Tom Waits, and John Fahey. For this stage in our careers, I think there’s a lot of Radiohead and Andrew Bird.
C&I: Are there any songs that didn’t make it on the album that we can expect later on down the road?
O’Reilly: I wrote a song for our first album called “The Captain’s Daughter Part 1.” It’s about two people [who] fall in love onboard a ship; the ship gets lost at sea, and then things start to get weird. A number of people over the years have asked me to write Part 2. So I did, and we recorded it, but it didn’t fit on the album. Part 2 will probably just be released as a single. It fits much more with our older catalog, and I think it’ll be great for our fans that want to hear something more like our previous albums.
C&I: What can we expect in terms of touring?
O’Reilly: A tour of the U.S. in March and April, and Europe in early May. We don’t have a very concentrated fan base outside the West Coast of the United States. It makes it hard to get out to the other parts of the country, so we’re excited to be making a push and getting outside of where we normally tour.
C&I: Lastly, as a band based in Santa Cruz, what are some of your favorite activities to do in California?
O’Reilly: Personally, my life is pretty much just the band, my girlfriend, and my family. I’m either touring and playing shows, home writing and working, or home relaxing with my partner. I made a promise to myself to hurl everything I’ve got at this project, so it’s a life that’s more exciting for me than it sounds.
It reminds me of a how a friend’s father used to work on this truck when I was growing up. For years he was just constantly building and modifying this thing from scratch. For a long time, I didn’t get it. [It] never seemed to finish. I thought the payoff for him would be finishing and driving the thing. I realized years later that the payoff was just doing the work itself and maintaining an exciting, unreachable goal. Like dangling a carrot on a stick in front of the horse’s mouth or something.
Being in a band is exciting for the similar reasons. Things often move along very slowly and gradually, as you are working at a goal way off in the distance, and you push that goal a little further every time you start to get close to it. Yes, that sounds torturous, but it’s not if you allow yourself to love the act of working your way there and don’t try to save the enjoyment for when and if you arrive.
Additionally, being in a touring band is, of course, a life full of its own adventures. They go way beyond just driving from city to city and playing show after show. It’s a life that presents you with a lot of really special and unique opportunities. I was just flown out to the Dominican Republic to play at a resort there. It’s an adventure that I will probably never in my life be able to afford to pay for out of pocket, but as a musician, I got to go for free. As an independent musician, you often can’t afford to buy anything, but you constantly get to do things that money can’t buy. It is truly strange and wonderful.
In terms of the rest of the band, Chris and Matt have more of an outdoor adventure side. Our bass player, Ben, is a true connoisseur in the art of conversation. But in most ways, our lives are the same. Being in a band full time doesn’t allow you to do much else, but it also gives you the chance to do everything.
For more information on Marty O’Reilly & the Old Soul Orchestra and their upcoming tour dates, visit their website.