Continuing our series of interviews with unsigned and independent acts, we had the chance to submit questions to US based Dan from Pomegranate County Irregulars. The act is more concept than band. Dan Orias is the only member. “Irregular,” an alternate term for guerrilla, dovetails with the concept that songs are a template through which a musician or ad hoc group of musicians can create a moment in live performance. According to Dan, Serendipity is the goal.
1) How did you start, and where did the name come from?
The origins go back to the 1980s in Santa Barbara, California. I was the primary songwriter for a band called Celebrity City, which was a joke nickname for the town I grew up in. Santa Barbara had a major film studio in the 1900-1920 time period. As Hollywood rose to prominence, it became a place that was far enough but close enough to L.A. for visiting, drinking, etc. While in that band I bought a 16 track tape recorder and would record my songs before offering them to the band. In the early 90s, after Celebrity City broke up, I moved to Los Angeles, lock, stock, and tape deck. I joined a few bands, but none went any where. But I was still writing and self-recording songs and since there were guitar and keyboard parts, I referred to these as by Danny and the O-Tones. One day in the mid-aughties, I did a web search on “O-Tones” and found there was a real band with that name, so, chagrined that I might divert people looking for them, I thought of a new name. Pomegranate County Irregulars just popped into my head. There is no Pomegranate County and a search showed there were no bands with that name. As mentioned above, I like the concept of an irregular. The name also evoked the absurd names of late 60s bands and I especially liked the affinity with Credence Clearwater Revival, whom I revere. John Fogerty, in 1973 and owing one more album to the label he hated, released a recording as “The Blue Ridge Rangers,” filling the album with covers in a style we today call Americana. It is a great album and every time I listen I am reminded of its influence as to my musical aesthetics. He performed all the instruments, so, while I’m nowhere close to being in his league as a musician, I felt PCI was also a loving echo of The Blue Ridge Rangers.
If that answer was too long, the short version is the band is me, so it didn’t exactly form, and one day, needing a new name, I thought of and liked The Pomegranate County Irregulars because it appealed to my fondness for absurdity and history.
2) How would you describe your music?
Americana seems the best label to apply. I like putting electric guitars on folk songs. I like to hint at a twang on rock ’n’ roll. Coming out later this year will be some songs in waltz-time. I love the music of Louisiana. One friend who was an acquaintance of the late Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead sees a strong similarity between the songs Garcia and I like. Myself, I take license from Neil Young to just do whatever style seems right for the moment and the song. I also want music that swings, because I hold in high regard music that makes people dance. I seek having an ironic punch line in my story songs, which I guess is more a folk or traditional country thing.
As I tweeted earlier this year, if I work my butt off, I might rise to the level of cult item. At this point, no one is listening, so I get to please myself and I like a lot of music. I should have such problems as negotiating artistic freedom and fan expectations.
One thing I have been doing with my music over the past couple of years is to use standard chord progressions, as this makes it easy for people to sit in. As fun as recording is, I get the biggest joy from creating a moment with other people and it is a thrill to set it up for a great musician to do something brilliant for an appreciative audience.
3) You’re very prolific in recording, where does the inspiration come from?
Oddly enough, this was an inversion of interest from making music videos for YouTube. I had done television production in high school and was good at it. Right before entering college, I wanted to study film, but I had so much enrichment from working at the college radio station that I decided to pursue that and, eventually, music creation. In the late 90s, I was posting my music as mp3s, but this wasn’t satisfying. I put the recording gear in storage and spent my energies updating the computer science I had learned in college. In 2006, good friends encouraged me to do web karaoke. It was fun. In 2007, I began a now eleven year underemployment phase. Not so great for cash flow, but excellent for having the time to immerse into craft and creation. I got a camera and hammed it up for the web karaoke. I started to track on the computer — the tape deck stayed in storage — and provide my own backing of favorite songs, in my style (and key). I got a YouTube account and put these videos of me doing covers and some of my past originals to the world. The world didn’t really care, but that was okay, I was doing this for myself. The same friend who invited me into web karaoke wanted me to start writing new songs. After some resistance, I did, and recorded these. I got a real book of public domain folk songs, I recorded these for YouTube videos. Mid-way through 2014, I realized that the songs, covered and original, could be gathered into albums with thematic consistency, and since that time, my primary interest was in writing and recording music as a music artist, rather than an amateur video maker.
All that being said, the short answer is playing music is fun and recording is playing music, so I do it as much as I can.
Nowadays, the main driver to record is that I’ve written a new song. I’ve had a pretty good fertile period the last two years. My most recent song “Rosa of Rosario” came from a rehearsal for a Bluegrass group that was playing on May 5th (Cinco de Mayo, a US drinking celebration of Mexico with a dubious relationship to actual history.) I was sitting in on bass for their regular member who was busy that day. We couldn’t decide on a Cinco de Mayo song, so I thought I’d try to write one. Rosa was most likely at the forefront of my mind because I’ve been learning Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys “San Antonio Rose” this spring. Rosario came to mind as a city, and it’s a straight-forward alliteration and an okay title. Had the title in mind for a few days and the first line popped in my head while I was doing something else. “These cowboys are my nerve, and it’s my last” and it became a song about someone missing his love and home. I recorded this three times. The first was in the key I wrote the song, which was too high for me. The next in 4-4 time in D, fun, and a bit angry. The third in 3-4 and C, making it wistful. In all the versions, I used an accordion keyboard patch and had a blast. If you haven’t heard the name Flaco Jimenez, find his recordings. He is great. Flaco plays Tex-Mex and Norteño, and accordions in a master’s hands are cool.
4) Talk us through the process of recording.
90% of the time, for a first version, I use one track/one mike to record me singing while playing acoustic guitar over a compatible drum feel provided by the software (nowadays Logic Pro). Seriously, if I don’t find a way to enjoy performing a song with an acoustic guitar, it dies on the vine. Bass guitar comes next. Then it’s electric guitars, another recording of the original acoustic. At this point, there’s a choice, configure my desk for keyboard work or record miked items, such as percussion, harmonica, and/or clarinet. Then it’s keyboards, generally a piano and then an organ part. Then I explore other keyboard sounds, and it seems to be choosing something I haven’t done recently. About now is when the backing vocals come in. In four to five hours, I’ll have a busy, over-arranged track. Over the next few days, it’s delete things to simplify or for dynamics, move things around (I love digital), and replay leads and parts as needed and hopefully, to make a more coherent arrangement/track. The first day stuff is generally exuberant but sloppy. The real trick is to polish without losing too much excitement and spontaneity. One of my faults, and it’s audible, is I lean to authentic to rather than polished. Which is a bit ironic, because I also love slick pop production.
The good news is that if it works with one person, one acoustic guitar, that’s as much as you need. Losing all the later stuff is always an option.
What differs for the other 10% of the time is I start with a drum pattern I’ve made with an iPad DM-1 drum machine app or a bass line. I record drum and bass, making a loop, and from there I proceed to developing a track, in the same manner as above. Then comes the hard part, writing a passable lyric. If I don’t think of something clever, or I can’t find an old lyric idea among my notebooks, the track goes into hibernation, until a lyric idea makes me check the unfinished music.
I record at home, at my desk, and my motto is “Keep rolling when the dog barks.” Being at home does mean I have to settle for non-human drums. The drumming may be an impediment to commercial success, but, my age, lack of good looks, acquired taste singing voice, eschewing of fashionability, lack of promotion budget, and the massive availability of awesome music from the past and the present are issues of greater impact.
But to quote the old song “In the meantime, in between time, ain’t we got fun.”
Back in the day when I was in a band bound for the studio, we did plenty of pre-rehearsal and if possible, used my B-16 to have our ideas ready to go for when we were in a real room with real mikes and real engineering and running up real bills.
5) Would you ever consider coming to the UK?
Yes, but it would have to be very likely to be a break-even proposition and somewhat likely to be profitable. Because it’s me and a guitar, costs are minimal, venues unlimited.