In a memorable sketch for the second season of I Think You Should Leave, an actor gets prickly and pretentious during a press junket interview about his new ultraviolent action flick, referring to it as a “cosmic gumbo.” Oh, and said actor just so happens to be Santa Claus. Incidentally, Cleveland music project Orefice Roth‘s new EP, Please Protect Me, lays far better claim to that descriptor, as it successfully layers homey and intergalactic, along with a few other captivating elements.
The band might agree with the tag “cosmic gumbo”, as they tag their music as “space country” or “cosmic country.” But it’s less Forbidden Planet and more Solaris in terms of presentation; its anthemic choirs perfect for giving a drive at sunset an extra smidgen of atmosphere. Pretty soon, you’ll be trying to harmonize with the choruses on “Nest of Eight Bells” and humming along with the synth break of “I’d Do Anything For You”, if you aren’t feeling too choked up to do so.
Founder Skylar Keffler is a remarkable presence, with vocals ranging from commanding to wounded, and lyrics simple in terms of information but complex in terms of turns. On opener “I Hope You Find Your Heart”, he imparts a well-wishing so aggressive it eventually reveals itself as a condemnation, both outward and inward. Similarly, the instrumentation hits pleasure centers right on target but never falls into a rut, especially not with prolific Philadelphia musician Mike Brenner playing lap steel on two tracks. And it’s just a thrill to find country and folk seemingly being pushed out of a comfort zone so successfully. The road doesn’t go on forever, but the sky certainly does.
Stream Please Protect Me below then scroll down to read our Q&A with Orefice Roth.
You expressed that this EP is about the individualism that pervades American culture, and your attempts to actively divest from that way of life. How is that working out? What have you found in your search for more communal living?
American… certainly, but really more specifically talking about maleness. Divesting from behaviors and thought patterns that are in larger society, accepted as truth and the correct path, when really they’re clearly and deeply flawed. It’s a wild phenomenon that so many things obviously based in opinion and unexplored emotional reaction are referred to as truth and fact. They remain unquestioned and protected by generations of indoctrination. I guess I’m pleading to be protected from these poisons instead of shamed for being honest about the damage done.
When you talk about the songs being about asking for help, my mind immediately goes “Help!” by The Beatles. Do you feel that the songs on Please Protect Me share any sort of kinship with that classic song?
Hmmm… on the surface I can see “Help!” having a kinship with what I’m exploring thematically, but I do see a big difference. “Help!” very clearly talks about a transitional point in life where you start to feel vulnerable and self doubting after a more fiercely independent and surefooted youth. I know it’s a stereotype for young people, and maybe even more so, young men to feel that way, but I can’t say I’ve ever felt that way and I’ve always found that stereotype to be more hurtful and false than true. I did not grow up a boisterous liverpudlian in the 1950s. I grew up a severely depressed and confused Ohian in the 00s. LOL
Songs like “Tennessee Change” really reinterpret the country sound of songwriters like Hank Williams into something a little more modern. What does the “high lonesome sound” mean to you in the 21st century?
First of all, I’d just like to thank you for saying that “Tennessee Change” is a modern interpretation of something that Hank Williams would’ve written. That’s an incredibly sweet thing to say. And to answer your question, I’m absolutely stretching the meaning of ‘high lonesome sound’. I’m being very loose with it because I believe that “hyper reverence” is one of the main pillars of masculinity that I’m deeply interested in divesting from. I sing about angels, I sing about the stars, I sing about love and sobriety and I sing about it in a way that makes me fight tears. That’s what makes it a ‘high lonesome sound’ to me. In the past, it had to do with a certain instrumentation, but that’s all just symptoms of the time and I refuse to let some old white dude gate eep a genre because I don’t have a mandolin in my band. I swear to god I would fist fight Bill Monroe. and that’s not the first time I’ve said that. ask my wife.
For a long time, the cowboy and Western sounds in general have been seen as sort of an archetype of rugged, American individualism. Are you hoping this EP helps to break down that “loner” mentality to instruments like the pedal steel?
It’s that American Loner character reexamined. I’m not sure the world is any less full of loners… but romanticizing being a loner is bullshit. You’re not rugged, you’re a scared little man. You’re not a patriot, you’re a nationalist colonizer who still leans on some tired trickled down version of manifest destiny. It’s not shameful to feel like you’re alone, but to posture your total unwillingness to do work on yourself and grow as a person as a badge of honor… and to hold your symptoms of self isolation up above your head like a golden shining Stanley cup of shit… is just truly unacceptable. Not sure how to wedge pedal steel into that statement, but yeah wow I love steel guitar.
What was it like working with Mike Brenner? If you’re as into some of the projects he’s been in as I am, I’m sure that was an amazing opportunity!!
I would be lying to say that getting to work with Mike doesn’t put some extra gas in my tank. I’m a huge fan of him as an artist and many of the songwriters he’s worked with over the years. It’s an honor to have my songs adorned by the best and he’s been incredibly generous and supportive of my work. I can’t wait to continue to work with him on future projects and get out and support his work with other artists.
What’s next for you? Where can listeners expect to find you in the coming months?
As far as live, for now we only have regional dates on the books. I was slated to hit the road for a week in mid-September, but with the surge of the delta variant, postponing seemed like the responsible thing to do. We have been back in the studio already. We collaborated with another Ohio songwriter, Ray Flanagan, who contributed slide guitar and some vocals and with Coloradoan drummer Austin Latare on a single to be released in the fall. Besides that, we have about two albums worth of material we’re currently working through as a band and I’m sure we’ll be laboring in the studio through the winter on those recordings.