The Esther Caulfield Orchestra at South Park Tavern
By Kyle Melton
While the myriad of music that emerged from the 1960s continues to inform and inspire modern practitioners, there are those acolytes that seek to faithfully reinterpret the tones and production values of that bygone era. As one of these acts, the Esther Caulfield Orchestra may look back for its sound, but looks forward to a new era when musicians more closely control the means of production and distribution of their music.
Following the release of his 2005 anti-war screed “Modern Gomorrah,” guitarist/vocalist Michael Perkins founded the Esther Caulfield Orchestra in early 2007 and began performing solo acoustic sets around Dayton to mixed receptions. With an unabashed love for 60s British pop, West Coast psychedelia and Bakersfield twang, Perkins set to work creating the tracks that would become the band’s first full-length, “Good Morning, Whiskey Breakfast.” While much of the album was tracked by Perkins, he enlisted the help of Andy Gabbard and Joseph Sebaali of Buffalo Killers on guitar and drums, respectively, for a few tracks.
“The record was supposed to be this mix of what I was listening to at the time and that stuff tended to be a little bit more intricate than I could do by myself,” explained Perkins. “On the record, I had help from Joey and Andy, who are in the band now. Joey played drums on six out of 10 tracks. Andy played guitar on three tracks. The rest was all me.”
Upon its completion, Perkins presented “Good Morning, Whiskey Breakfast” as a download directly from his website, allowing visitors to name their price for the album. His success demonstrated an artist’s ability to connect with an audience directly by circumventing the traditional means of physical distribution.
“My goal in doing this way with ‘Whiskey Breakfast’ was to get this record into as many hands as possible, maybe make a little bit of money,” Perkins said. “I think it was successful in that it got into thousands of unique visitors’ hands. I made a little money and I established the foundation of what the band is supposed to represent, which is kind of a new ideology, which is ‘if you’re good enough, people will listen to you.’”
By making his music available for free, Perkins allowed Esther Caulfield Orchestra to gain listeners and still generate income to support the band. His willingness to give audiences a chance to sample the music achieved its desired results.
“To say that you can’t hear this until you pay $10 for it is like holding your material hostage – you’re going to pay a ransom and then you can hear it,” explained Perkins. “The way I looked at it was that you make your material available for free because the way that peer-to-peer works and the way the internet works is that your material will be free, whether you like it or not. So, you might as well make your material available for free on your own site so that people that want to listen to you don’t have to go to bunk sites where they’re going to get a virus.”
While the record continued to sell, the Esther Caulfield Orchestra remained a strictly studio venture until late 2010. Perkins enlisted Gabbard and Sebaali, as well as local musician/engineer John Lakes on bass guitar and began to play live. Lakes’ departed shortly thereafter, however, and Perkins sought out the third member of Buffalo Killers, Zach Gabbard, to come in on bass.
“I called Zac and said, ‘I’ve never thought to ask you before, but would you want to play bass?’” Perkins recalled. “So that’s where we’re at right now. The response [for the new line-up] has been really good. Their tone that they’ve worked on for eight to 10 years, it’s really refined and it goes really well with what my songs sound like.”
As the line-up moves forward, work is wrapping up on the Orchestra’s sophomore effort, “Cheerio!” which should see release sometime in 2011. With contributions from all members of the Buffalo Killers, Perkins is extremely pleased with the direction of the album.
“I think it will be the best record to come out of Dayton in a very long time and I don’t mind saying,” boasted Perkins. “It’s very psychedelic. There’re some country songs on it, but it’s not as country-tinged as the last one. It’s more Beatles-y than the last one. I’m trying to write lost Beatles songs.”
Above all, Perkins is an artist looking to the past for inspiration and attempting to create a new model for the future.
“The Orchestra was created with the idea of going back to these older standards that I like more than the standards for modern music,” Perkins concluded. “I just want to make records, that if I found an album in a record store and bought it and it sounded like ‘Whiskey Breakfast,’ that I would like. I try to make records that I would want in my record collection and they would fit with everything I listen to.”
The Esther Caulfield Orchestra will perform on Saturday, March 12 at South Park Tavern, 1301 Wayne Ave. Also on the bill are Human Cannonball [formerly Jesse Remnant & the Trainwrecks] and Dan Raridan & the Calientes. Doors open at 9 p.m. Admission is $5. For more info, visit www.whatistheorchestra.com.
Reach DCP Music Editor Kyle Melton at email@example.com and visit his blog at www.thebuddhaden.net.