The Orion Experience was tired of playing the same old kinds of gigs. You know the ones: you arrive on time, throw your gear in the corner, rush on stage 15 minutes before your set, plug in, play for 45 minutes, etc.
They wanted to make every one of their shows a memorable event. They wanted to make deeper connections with their fans and encourage more audience participation. They wanted to have more control over their performance environment.
Many indie bands share these same frustrations, but they don’t always envision a way to change their live show circumstances. The Orion Experience did. Since they live in NYC, they launched an Off-Broadway production with dancers, glam rock antics, and super funky space-pop jams — a live spectacle where the band could interact with old and new fans week after week in an unforgettable way.
But you don’t have to embark on such a massive undertaking in order to make your own concerts more dramatic and memorable. Sometimes small adjustments can make a huge difference. The Orion Experience experimented with some of those small stage adjustments first, and it helped them build their show to the point where an Off-Broadway production made sense.
I recently interviewed Orion Simprini of The Orion Experience about his vision for live performance, and he had great information to share with indie musicians whether you want to put on a huge show or just add some spice to your local club gig.
An interview with Orion Simprini of The Orion Experience
What led you to creating an off-Broadway show featuring your band and music?
The Orion Experience as a band has been together since 2007, and we’ve played all over the country, mostly in indie rock venues. I think there comes a point when, as an artist and a performer, it becomes a bit routine. I’m not trying to disparage the live music experience at all, but in other forms of entertainment i.e. a Movie, or a Theatrical show, there is a suspension of disbelief that the audience participates in… And by that I mean, the lights go down, the orchestra plays the overture, there is the feeling that something magical is about to happen… A lot of times at an indie rock show, the sound guy says you have 5 minutes to set up as the audience watches you lug your amps onto the stage and tune your guitars… I think we just got tired of that kind of performing, and that was the impetus to start approaching our live show in a different way.
I’ve heard that when you were playing shorter sets in clubs you employed someone to simply dim the lights after every song. Can you talk more about some creative solutions your average indie band could use to liven up a typical club gig?
That was one of the first steps we took towards adding some theatricality to our shows. Even the simple act of having the lights go dark before we take the stage, or after a song ends can have a big effect on how the audience perceives the show. You know, look at your stage the way a painter looks at a canvas… What kind of picture are you trying to paint with your band? It’s important.
Can you tell us some of the details of taking your songs to an off-Broadway setting? What was the process like working with a director? How long did it all take? How large is the crew, and what are the different teams that play a role (dancers, lighting, sound engineers, etc.)?
I went to school for Musical Theater, so the process wasn’t completely alien to me, but that being said, it was unlike anything we had ever done before. The whole show was up and running in a month, which is an insanely fast pace. Fortunately we had an amazing team of people. Travis Greisler the director is a crazy genius, he’s just non-stop ideas, and he just knows how to pace a show’s development. Ryan Bogner, the shows producer worked his ass off coordinating the venue, the PR, and raising money. All told we had a cast and crew of about 30 people. It was really exciting, i’m not gonna lie.
How do you encourage audience involvement? Why is interactivity important?
When we we’re coming up with the concept of the show, we thought it was important to have the audience participate in the show the way they do at a “Rocky Horror Show” screening, or a KISS concert… I love the idea of getting dressed up, like REALLY dressed up for a show, so we came up with the idea of the STAR CHILD, it’s kind of like your inner most fantastic self. We strongly encourage people to come dressed as Star Children to our shows, and they do, and it’s the best thing ever! The interactivity is important, because the energy is shared with everyone in the room. It becomes more about the sum of the experience instead of just the band’s experience.
Playing three nights a week in the same location over an extended period of time is very different from a typical band tour. How did the PR campaign differ?
It was actually really fun playing three nights a week at the same venue, it kind of felt like a Vegas residency… The theater was on 42nd St. in Manhattan so it was pretty surreal walking out after the show and being in Times Square. The PR was challenging, because the show was a lot of things but not one particular genre, if you get what I’m saying… There were elements of a dance show, elements of a rock concert, and also Drag performances, so we kind of had to come up with a way to describe it, which I’m not sure we ever did quite honestly.
Any plans to tour with this show? Is it scalable, or mini-scalable? Any chance of setting up a run in Vegas? How about an appearance at Burning Man?
Man, I would love to do it all, we’re definitely exploring all of those options. We’re going to be playing some scaled-down shows in New York and LA this spring. The plan is to find a permanent venue for the theatrical show, and have a touring element as well. It’s a bit of an undertaking to say the least.
How has CD Baby played a role in your band’s success? Were you at all surprised by the mechanical royalties you’ve earned from international download sales?
CD Baby has been an instrumental part of the bands success, not just as a distribution network, but also as a tool to gauge who our audience is, and where they are. It’s been really cool to see downloads coming from places like Mexico, Europe and the Philippines. CD Baby has really helped us reach a global audience.
Since you’ve never toured there, what do you attribute your popularity in Europe to?
I’m not really sure… Maybe we have a Euro-pop vibe? who knows what the kids like these days… It is a major goal of ours to make it to Europe this year.
Any predictions for the next 5 years in the indie music industry? And how will your band fit into that?
I think that with the ease of having a global distributor like CD Baby, it allows artists to focus on creating great products, and being more prolific. I’m hoping that revenues from streaming services will start to level out in a more artist friendly way… I think a lot of the PRO’s (ASCAP, BMI) are making that a focus, so i think that eventually streaming services will be a great source of income and exposure. That will be good for us as a majority of our audience is now streaming our songs.
Will you ever go back to a smaller-scale performance setting? Do you miss anything about the more “I’m on stage and you’re in the audience” relationship?
Absolutely. I love the intimacy of a smaller scale performance setting. Linda Horwatt, my counterpart in The Orion Experience has been releasing some really cool solo stuff that she’ll be performing soon, and I’m putting together a piano based collection of songs that I’ll be performing in the near future as well. As far as The Orion Experience show is concerned, we’re gonna see where this road leads us, and continue to push the envelope, because that’s what makes it fun.