As far as backpacking bands go, it’s tough to find a better fit than Santa Monica’s Opus Orange. Founded in 2010, the band’s membership has expanded to half a dozen members with Paul Bessenbacher (PB) at the center. The band has released several EPs and scored the John Muir Trail documentary Mile … Mile and a Half .
Opus Orange is about to release their latest EP Outside In on January 27th – a reimagining of six of their songs in an incredibly unique environment. The recording is raw and open and just might instantly transport you back to your favorite trail – and the opening track “Out of the Shadows” is streaming first here on Modern Hiker.
We talked with PB as he was gearing up for Outside In‘s big day and asked him about the unique challenges of recording this EP, the band’s source of inspiration, and how L.A. is secretly (or not so secretly for Modern Hiker readers!) a great outdoor city.
Your new EP “Outside In” was recorded in a fairly unusual setting. Can you tell us about it?
We recorded Outside In completely in the wilderness of California above 10,000′ elevation. The majority of the recording took place at the Golden Trout Camp, in the Eastern Sierra Nevada, just south of Mount Whitney. Our good friends (who run the camp) let us tap into their solar power, without which this project would have been much more difficult to make. This area of the Golden Trout Wilderness & John Muir Wilderness is quite magical, and to record music surrounded by the Cottonwood Lakes, New (and Old) Army Pass, Mt. Langley, and the Miter Basin is an inspiration. The only exception was “21 Years Down,” which was recorded around Eagle Lake, in the Mineral King region of Sequoia.
What were some of the challenges of recording an album off the grid? Did they result in any “happy accidents” on the finished EP?
One challenge of recording off the grid was packing in and powering our recording gear. I packed in a laptop, two AKG 414 microphones, a stereo mic stand, cables, and an Apogee Duet audio interface. Golden Trout Camp provided the solar power, so we were able to power the computer and microphones. Another challenge was packing in instruments. I packed in a ukulele (the Flea model from Fluke Ukes), a kalimba, and a melodica. Our friends at Golden Trout are avid music lovers and musicians, so there were various instruments around the camp, like acoustic guitars, a banjo, a mandolin, and even BBQ grates, washtubs, and even a washtub bass! Since backpacking with bulky instruments isn’t ideal, it was immeasurably helpful to have these instruments at the camp.
“Happy accidents” are the unexpected sounds of nature that can be heard throughout these 6 songs. Birds sing, insects buzz, and the wind whistles. As a contrast to recording in the controlled environment of a studio, I welcomed the lack of control and random sonic beauty. For me, this is what makes Outside In truly unique. (I highly recommend listening on headphones.)
Did any of your songs surprise you in this new outdoor recording studio?
Reinventing songs outdoors was full of inherent surprise. Heading into the woods to record, I didn’t have a pre-conception of how the songs would be produced. I love to be open to a song revealing itself to me in the process. Being outside in this magical place, I let the surroundings influence the production. In other words, each step of the recording process was spontaneous.
Many hikers may recognize you from your appearance in the John Muir Trail documentary “Mile … Mile and a Half” and your work on that soundtrack – are you guys always hiking around with musical instruments in tow?
The Muir Project’s “Mile… Mile & A Half” was a big inspiration for me. I originally wanted to record that soundtrack completely outdoors, but it was impractical with the post-production schedule at the time. But that’s when the seed was planted for Outside In.
Yes, we always hike with musical instruments. The Flea ukulele is extremely light and sturdy (not to mention made in the USA), and it goes were I go. Depending on the length of the hike, we might take more instruments, like a Little Martin acoustic guitar, or a mandolin.
It certainly seems like you spend a lot of time outdoors. What about the wilderness influences or inspires you?
Living in Los Angeles is a blessing and a curse. It’s a big city with suburbs stretching for miles and strip malls and too many cars. Yet it’s so easy to get out in nature. Southern California is beautifully varied – the beach, the desert, the mountains. Getting out in the wilderness gives me a setting to reflect, unplug, create, be quiet, be loud, take naps, climb mountains, do and undo. Senses are sharper in the wilderness.
Is there a specific hike or place here in SoCal that you find yourself drawn to?
I am always drawn to the Eastern Sierra Nevada – the foxtail and lodgepole pines, the springs, the lakes, the porcinis. I also really love Sequoia NP, Joshua Tree, San Gabriel Mountains, and pretty much anywhere along the coast.
What’s next for Opus Orange?
We are releasing Outside In on January 27 (iTunes, Amazon, Bandcamp, Spotify, etc.). I’m also writing new songs for our next studio album, hopefully to be released mid to late summer 2015. Though we don’t have any live shows planned at the moment, we will definitely be playing live this year. You can stay updated on our FaceBook page: www.facebook.com/opusorange. We are constantly creating.