Members of Orange 9mm know how to take the bad with the good.
Three years ago, the New York rock trio was seemingly on top of the world, having survived a major purge of acts at Atlantic Records and making its major-label debut with the prophetically titled album “Tragic.”
When the album failed to take off, the band fell on hard times.
“I think what ended up happening was,” singer Chaka Malik said recently, “we missed each other at a turn. There was a tour support situation that came up and that threw kind of a wedge between us and the label, and that was the only thing that was negative at all.”
Leaving Atlantic turned into a blessing more than anything, says drummer Matt Cross.
“It was a strange experience,” he said. “All of a sudden, it was ‘We’re not on Atlantic, now what do we do?’ We started writing and decided to worry about a label a little later. (Atlantic) is a great label for certain bands; the way we are and the way we built a fan base and the way we would tour, those things didn’t mesh with what that label really was about. The connection also wasn’t there. Yeah, sure, if you’re selling 2 million, you can talk to anybody up there, but when you’re at a level we were at the time, it just wasn’t a great situation for us.”
Shortly after signing with Michael Chambers’ independent label Ng Records, Orange 9mm – Malik, Cross and guitarist Taylor McLam – found itself one player short: Bassist Chris Vitale left the band. Rather than sulk, the three buckled down, with Malik and McLam sharing duties on bass and all three shoring up their songwriting skills.
They then holed up in a Los Angeles recording studio with producer-mixer Neil Perry (Smashing Pumpkins, Everclear) and came out the other end with “Pretend I’m Human,” a wildly inventive album of pop, hip-hop and metal elements where Faith No More left off. The group’s label debut was released July 13.
“We tried to focus on trying to flip what we were doing,” Cross said, “and kind of come out with something that was super fresh and not a rehashing of the old stuff or trying to sound like Korn, trying to follow where the music’s going on the radio.”
Malik said Orange 9mm and Perry worked so hard on the album, they didn’t have time to worry about cabin fever.
“There was no time to question anything,” he said. “If we stopped at all to question anything, I think we all would’ve collapsed after working so many hours. We were out there for 10 weeks and we intended to take Sundays off, go out on Saturday afternoons and have a good time. It ended up us working 10, 12 hours a day; into week two, it was 15 hours. After week two, we realized we couldn’t take Sundays off. The studio was occupied 17 hours a day for a while with people coming in and working in shifts.
“We didn’t know anything but the studio and we didn’t know anybody else, so it was the three of us and Neil. Michael Chambers, who runs this record company, came out and I remember thinking, ‘God, this guy’s an outsider. What’s he doing here?’ and he’s one of our best friends. The fact that we had developed such a bond and had been locked in such an intense vibe, even a good friend coming into the mix, sitting there just listening, was almost threatening.”
Orange 9mm has come a long way, Cross said.
“The band has definitely matured,” he said. “Stylistically, we started listening to a lot of different music outside our genre and take from people like Miles Davis, stuff people wouldn’t necessarily know we listen to. We were listening to drum ‘n’ bass and bands like Radiohead, people who are doing something new and interesting and how they went about doing that. That’s the direction we’re headed in.”
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: Malik – ” ‘Sucker MC’s’ by Run-D.M.C. ‘Sucker M.C.’s,’ that song at that point set the streets on fire. I lived in the projects and I remember people having boxes and putting their speakers in the windows and pumping the song. I guess it was our version of college radio back then, because you could literally walk around and every courtyard hear at least one stereo, and ‘Sucker M.C.’s’ used to get banged like you wouldn’t believe.” Cross – “Back in the ’80s, I had a tape deck and I bought ‘Signals’ by Rush. I was a big Rush head. I started out playing drums, and I learned everything from listening to Neil Peart.”
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: Malik – “My father is a photographer, and Central Park had their sound stage series; it had something to do with South Africa, like a USA For South Africa something and I had just bought the Rush record, ‘Power Windows,’ and my dad had me meet him in Central Park. He got me onstage and I saw U2. It didn’t faze me; I wanted to go home and listen to ‘Power Windows.’ ” Cross – “It was Rush, too, probably during the ‘Signals’ tour. My brother took me to the show, and it was in a stadium. It was rock music at its finest, with lasers and everything. Even then, I was thinking, ‘Man, this is just three guys up there making all this noise.’ I have so much respect for Rush; I’m not into what they’ve been doing lately, but up until about the ‘Power Windows’ era, I thought everything they did was cool.”
BWF (before we forget): Set your sights on Orange 9mm on the Web @ www.orange9mm.com.