Local experimental label Orange Milk Records hits your computer screen with a baseball bat
By W.C. Ruffnel
The experimental nature of music is often largely misunderstood – most people assume something labeled as such is extreme or unlistenable. When one might take into consideration the fact that the psychedelic era of the Beatles was at the time considered the pinnacle of experimentation, it seems less frightening. Those good-natured-and-drugged Brits turned ‘weird’ into pop-culture, but it still remains a vital and integral part of the musical underground. Some folks from Dayton are doing their best to propagate this – Keith Rankin of local prog-rock group Yakuza Heart Attack and experimental-rock-provocateur Seth Graham have joined forces to create an outlet for music that might not be hitting corporate radio anytime soon, but with any luck it’ll be on a Super Bowl commercial.
Who, when, why, was Orange Milk started?
It was started by me and Seth Graham at the end of 2010. The goal was to highlight music we both loved and to get our own stuff out there. It started out pretty modestly.
Where does the name Orange Milk come from – am I to imagine bloody milk?
I like when names inform projects, it gives things a loose conceptual framework that can actually be liberating. Orange Milk was just in my head and I couldn’t get rid of it, so why fight it? I realized later that it probably came from staring at the Clockwork Orange soundtrack cover for a long time. It’s meant to dispel with some of the grave and serious auras some experimental labels have adopted in the past.
Does Orange Milk have a specific ‘sound’ or common aesthetic in the majority of releases?
We love early electronic music and it’s continuing legacy, outsider music, synthesizer or cosmic stuff, drone, ambient, folk — really, genre isn’t that important anymore. I think what’s exciting about new music is the effortless meshing of styles. It isn’t like Paul Simon’s Graceland, for example, where he was obviously borrowing from African traditions specifically. Most young musicians now grow up in an information saturated reality where classical music, metal, indie rock, and other weird stuff sits side by side on their ipod. All of those styles are a genuine part of our DNA, and the music resulting from that is what excites us.
We also share a common aesthetic with a lot of other short-run labels that have been popping up recently, including a strong visual style and open business ethics. In the last few years a legitimate community has crystalized around a new American underground; we feel very much a part of that and want to support artists who are open minded about the meaning of music and art.
It seems you mostly release tapes and/or vinyl with the occasional CD release…tell me about this decision.
Those are just the available options, we would do laser disc but we’d be bankrupt. I still haven’t figured out if CD-R’s or tapes are cheaper to produce. I personally prefer the packaging of a cassette tape, especially when there is printing on the shell, but in a lot of situations CDs make more utilitarian sense. As for vinyl, the 12 inch art alone is worth the cost..
The resurgence of tapes and vinyl has another social layer for sure, though. It seems like an obvious reaction to a rapidly technologized culture, where people surrounded by mass conveniences and quick information are also obsessed with the idea of authenticity. And whether or not it’s true, vintage often equals authentic. So that’s the trend. Also, in the last decade it’s become easy to make high fidelity music cheaply. That ease of access allowed the production of music to become as important as the notes being played, so striving for an analog sound (on tape particularly) was just an attempt to do something different.
The music might not be for everyone. Can you describe a fan of Orange Milk?
That’s difficult to answer. I’ve heard from guys in the army who said they liked our tapes. Your average person is usually a lot weirder than they might seem at first glance, so I’d say anyone who has has a curious streak could be into Orange Milk, which is almost everyone.
Most of the releases or artists involved seem to be getting rave reviews on the internet on blogs, etc. How does one go about this?
Luckily, a lot of the blog culture matured alongside the current experimental music scene, for lack of a better term. So there are plenty of blogs and review sites that love to cover non-formulaic, weirder stuff. We just email them and send out promos.
Describe your relationship with Pitchfork’s Altered Zones blog – you seem to be in relatively good standing with them.
Altered Zones was started by Pitchfork when they recognized the loose community forming around this new underground music/blog scene. They aggregated the most popular of those blogs to centralize coverage. So far they tend to cover the style of music that we release. After covering my Giant Claw record ‘Midnight Murder’ they asked me to contribute a piece to their site about the tape label NNA, which was fun to do.
Do you accept demos, and if so, what does Orange Milk look for in a release?
You can go to orangemilkrecords.com to submit a demo. I think the intent and attitude behind a record is the most important thing for us. Like I mentioned, borders between genres are breaking down constantly, but it’s easy to spot a lazy or an inspired record.
What are some of your favorite releases thus far?
Sean McCann’s Open Resolve was one of my favorite records in 2010… it was a limited release on the tape label Stunned, so Sean let us give it the vinyl treatment. Being able to make art for it was exciting, I hope the album will endure because it’s very good. I’m also into the Piper Spray tape we released, Omnicron Girls. It was a random demo from a guy in Russia that was excellent, and people seemed to like it a lot. Actually, we’ve gotten a few demos from Russia and they’ve all been incredible. There’s definitely a burgeoning musical underground happening over there as well.
What’s been the defining moment thus far?
Breaking even after the McCann vinyl was nice. Also the acceptance of the Giant Claw and Piper Spray releases was good for me, it was vindicating to see unknown artists getting some attention instead of just releasing safe albums from established artists.
What’s in the future for Orange Milk?
We have a new LP coming out from Ashley Paul, and later on the horizon LPs from Ken Seeno (of the band Ponytail) and Caboladies. We’ve got a ton of tapes lined up as well, from people like Fielded (the singer of Ga’an), La Big Vic, Cream Juice (me and Seth’s new project), Maharadja Sweets, Mark Dwinell (from FORMA), and HCMJ (James from The Sailing), among others.
Where is music going in 2012? Is Orange Milk leading the way?
A lot of people seem upset or confused by the streak of nostalgia in music. But I think the use of appropriation and interpretation is a major contribution to art, and one that will continue for a while. It’s about grabbing the heaps of cultural treasure and trash and presenting them in interesting ways. Essentially taking elements that aren’t traditionally musical and placing them in a musical context. The ongoing flood of cultural ephemera is the only heritage a lot of American musicians have — and that’s a big difference between artists now and those in the 60s who were responding to mass culture for the first time. When we sample a clip from an old video game or pop song, it’s not like Andy Warhol making Elvis prints. It’s an expression of a fucked up ancestry that continues to be dictated by a dominating culture and economic system. That saturated pop culture is often young people’s only tradition, so art will continue to be made from it and despite it.
Is there any reason you do the majority of the artwork for Orange Milk?
We want a strong and recognizable visual style. The entire package is important, so if there’s bad art I usually consider it a bad release. That might seem like an outdated viewpoint with digital media in full swing, but I sometimes like staring at a cover as much as listening to the music. For Orange Milk I usually try to work with the musicians on the artwork so everyone is happy
The essential Orange Milk, in their own words:
Ashley Paul, Slow Boat
This record seems to pull out every last sound in the organic world into a context of simple beauty and conceptual interest simultaneously. It is masterfully original and well thought out with superb musicianship that puts hope into a polarized world of conceptual vs. analytic.
Maharadja Sweets, Engines of Joy
Richard Exelbert’s music is so sincere it brings joy and pain simultaneously. There is something undeniable about a man who looks like a distressed bank teller by day and an open mic circuit player by night.
Giant Claw, Midnight Murder
Many groups have been playing with analog synth sounds, arpeggiators, drum machines and sequencers lately, but Giant Claw makes especially confident-sounding choices. And the focus is on composition with dry, clear mixes that stand in contrast to the many reverbed-out improvisations one often hears from neo-psych/Krautrock acts.
—Scott Scholz (killedincars.tumblr.com)
Sean McCann, Open Resolve
A seminal recording of sound collage and experimental synthesizer music from one of the brightest musicians in underground America.
Visit orangemilkrecords.com to buy or check out the music featured.
Reach DCP freelance writer W.C. Ruffnel at WCRuffnel@DaytonCityPaper.com.