Roots of Orchis
w/ Even Johanson, Velvet Teen
Fri Dec 7

Here is something that is true: People are skeptical of instrumental rock bands. Especially instrumental bands that don't have a reputation for doing crazy things like coming out into the audience and smoking people's cigarettes while they're playing (catch the Oxes show last week?), or have names like the Fucking Champs. It's really, really hard to say "we're all instrumental," and not have a club's booker hang up on you--especially if your name is not Doug McCombs or John Herndon. People think instrumental=boring, jazz, or worse, muzak.

Please consider this your pre-guarantee that the Roots of Orchis are absolutely not boring. No, they're not from Chicago, and no, they're not at all involved in a sideproject of a sideproject of Tortoise. And that's the reason they're really good. No, they're a phenomena. The Roots of Orchis are four, 20-year-old guys who live in Santa Cruz and make brilliant, progressive instrumental music without any connections or scene to fall back on. It's just them, and a whole bunch of surfers.

"Pretty much, Santz Cruz doesn't have much of a scene, and when it does it's pretty exclusive--you know, it's really rock and roll oriented, or noise-oriented," says Jackie Musick, who plays bass and guitar for the group. "And it's hard to be involved in a town who has a scene you don't fit into."

But even while living in a scene-less world, Jackie and his three friends have thrived.

They're on the verge of putting out their fourth full-length, and their last, self-titled album was a sophisticated melding of drums, bass, and guitar. It dripped with sadness and drama--but not at all in a fluffy way. Guitars carry the bulk of the music, but the drums, somber and dark, take the lead. And, more and more, the band has been mixing in electronic music--whispers and echoes punctuate more conventional fills. It really is music that defies genres. The upcoming album, due out in February and, according to Jackie, the album from which they'll play when they're in Portland--is their most electronic yet.

Perhaps they sound good because they've had to work so hard just to be slightly established. They've shown a remarkable amount of progress from the first album, When the Mosquito Stung the Crocodile, to the last. "Actually, we have a song on our upcoming album that is basically like a rewritten version of a song on our first album," Jackie explained. "It's not that we've come full circle. It's more like, now we understand when to quit. On our first album, the songs were good, but they would go on so long. Now, we're just a lot more listenable." More listenable is one, modest way to put it, but increasingly talented would be more accurate. Music that was initially pleasing has become music that feels full of integrity and skill and lean with talent. There are no holes to fill here.

The four guys, who all grew up together in San Diego, are planning a national tour next spring, and if everything goes well, a European tour in a year. They're graduating from college this term, too, and have talked about moving out of Santa Cruz altogether. "There's nothing here for me anymore," says Jackie. "But then again, not all of us want to leave."