Santa Cruz fixture Marty O’Reilly says that pretty much everyone who listens to his band’s new album Stereoscope for the first time has had the same reaction.
“They didn’t really get it,” he says.
More often than not, though, fans of O’Reilly and his Old Soul Orchestra will say that they understand the new music better on the second listen. “Everyone that loves it says, ‘Oh, I had to listen to it a couple times,’” O’Reilly says. “Or ‘Oh, I figured out how to listen to it,’ or ‘I figured out that I had to sit down and not do anything while I listen to it.’”
The new songs are more introspective than his previous work, and O’Reilly says that while writing them, he had to get comfortable with a different “level of vulnerability.”
Members of the band sometimes find it difficult to describe Stereoscope, or explain how it fits into their larger body of work.
Chris Lynch, violin player for the Old Soul Orchestra, came up with an analogy to illustrate the album’s significance, but he’s unable to relay it with a straight face.
Lynch has heard that in the realm of astrology, a person’s “rising sign” refers to how someone presents themselves in the world, whereas the individual’s “moon sign” describes who that person is on the inside, at their emotional core. The band’s 2014 Americana release Pray for Rain could represent the band’s rising sign, he says, while Stereoscope reveals something deeper.
“This is like our moon sign,” Lynch says, before putting his face into his palm and laughing at himself. “But you know what I mean? It’s heavy. It’s genuine. It’s who we all are.”
The songs’ lyrics are dark and emotional, and the music veers gently back and forth between bluesier, folksier and more rocking songs. There’s a melancholy vibe that pulses relentlessly through each movement, holding the whole collection together.
The challenge for a band like the Old Soul Orchestra—a group with so much energy on stage—is translating its energy into the recording studio, which the band worked hard to do. That often involves laying down recordings when each song is fresh, and channeling as much energy as possible into each track. Some of Lynch’s solos feel so raw that you can almost hear his emotive wincing as he shreds the hairs on his bow.
It’s fitting that an album that’s difficult to describe will soon be interpreted in front of a live audience by Motion Pacific Dance Studio, which is partnering with the Old Soul Orchestra on Oct. 11-13 for a three-night run of live choreography while the band performs the entire album.
O’Reilly and company have already toured in support of the album across both Europe and the U.S. The collaboration with Motion Pacific will serve as their local Stereoscope release. The group will share the stage with local dancers, who have developed new choreography for each of the 11 songs. The event will showcase an artistic exchange of passion and creativity between all of the evening’s performers, says Motion Pacific Director Abra Allan.
O’Reilly and the Old Soul Orchestra already have set their sights on their next release, which may bring the band back to its Americana roots. This next project may involve laying down some almost-forgotten classics, like the stripped-down acoustic song “Going to the Country,” a personal favorite of mine. There isn’t a recording of it available anywhere, even though O’Reilly wrote it years ago. As it happens, the tune is also a personal favorite of Matt Goff, the band’s drummer, who didn’t even realize the song was an old O’Reilly original until after a year of playing it at Old Soul Orchestra shows.
“Going to the Country” is no sure thing, as O’Reilly says that the band hasn’t decided how best to arrange it. But either way, the band’s happily diving back into their craft.
“We’re going to take a step back toward traditional songwriting that feels folksier and more genre-specific,” O’Reilly says. “We’re returning to that world with a lot of tools we picked up from recording Stereoscope.”
Marty O’Reilly and the Old Soul Orchestra will perform alongside dancers from Thursday, Oct. 11-Saturday, Oct. 13, at Motion Pacific, located at 131 Front St. # E, Santa Cruz. Tickets are $25-$35. motionpacific.com.