If we’re ever to be free of all the hirsute, earnest young men bearing banjos and fiddles, something must replace Americana, and the nostalgia of choice may be retro-soul. Over the last half-dozen years, more and more performers have emerged, from Amy Winehouse and Adele to funky rockers like Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings and Antibalas to would-be crooners like Mayer Hawthorne. Leading the West Coast charge has been Ubiquity Records and one of their flagship groups, Orgone.
Formed in Los Angeles during the late ’90s, Orgone started out as an instrumental backing band for hip-hop artists like Little Brother and Pharoahe Monche. Their first self-titled release came in 2002, setting the early template for a sound blending Afrobeat, deep soul, jazz, and groove-laden funk. Over the next couple years, they’ve added a full-time horn section and a saucy frontwoman in Fanny Franklin. She keys their breakthrough 2004 hit “Funky Nassau,” a cover of Bahamas-based the Beginning of the End’s early ’70s single.
“It kind of circulated and got worldwide in terms of recognition,” explains guitarist Sergio Rios. “That song had legs by itself for like three years. We had nothing other than our first CD, and that song got us out there. Then, in 2007, once Ubiquity Records picked us up and The Killion Floor came out, that was what really started it rolling.”
Since then, the group has become a touring machine, playing over 200 dates a year. They recorded extensive over the last few years for their sixth full-length release. It features new vocalist Niki J. Crawford, who replaced Franklin last year when she left to work on her solo debut.
Orgone’s music continues to dip into disco-funk and the “Soul Cal” ’70s psychedelic/soul sound that characterized 2010’s Cali Fever, They’re moving away from the Afrobeat and greasy soul of their prior albums.
“There’s a lot of that element on the new record. We’re really proud of it,” Rios says. “It’s our first record with Niki on it, and she just killed it. There are a couple dance floor disco-funk bangers. That’s a big influence — mid ’70s dance floor classics. We have kind of a [’70s acid jazz icon] Ray Ayers tribute, and a tribute to the Funkadelic aspect of the band, the guitar heavy stuff. It’s a good array.”
Though they enjoyed their three-album run at Ubiquity, that deal’s done, and they’re keeping their options open for the new album’s expected fall release.
“We’re just going to shop it and see what bubbles up,” Rios says. “Ideally, September or early fall is when we’ll most likely see it. The songs are done. We’re going to brush off all the debris, bang the drum, and see what happens.”
In the meantime, it’s more face time with the audience, including this Pour House show, part of a two-month tour that included performances at Wakarusa Festival in the Ozarks and Bonnaroo in Tennessee the last couple weeks.
Rios is excited by Orgone’s growing success — and the possibility that soul could indeed be the next big thing. Like Americana, there are a wide variety of styles that fall under the “soul” rubric.
“There’s a lot of room for a lot of different bands without rubbing elbows too much,” he offers, before turning his thoughts back to his own band. “We’re definitely living for it, and it’s been steadily inclining for a while. We’re just grinding it out there and taking it to the people. Hopefully, they’ll come get a taste.”