Spinning across a northern Orion’s Belt of Liverpool, Manchester and Halifax, The Orielles have broken through the liminal spaces of everyday travel and escaped atop their own Disco Volador.
Trace the etymology of the word disco, following its origins through discotheque – a library of records – you come to disqué, a derivative of the Latin word discus – further derived from the flat, spherical fish that lends its name to the disk-shaped object that propels through the air when thrown for sport. Alternatively, simply translate disco from Spanish to English and you arrive at disk a lot quicker than pulling up the ancient Latin roots. But the journey isn’t a pointless one. The enduring shape of CDs and vinyl is more than mere coincidence.
Follow the literal timeline of the word disco back to its Latin, Olympian roots and you arrive at a word defined by soaring movement and joyous levitation, all held in a seemingly effortless trajectory generated by human propulsion. Despite the millennium separating their inception, discus still perfectly encapsulates the essence of disco music.
This ancient combination of energy and movement has travelled through the feverous 1970s and been plucked from the sky by THE ORIELLES. The band have harnessed the dynamism of the genre for their own brand of warped disco, manifested in the creation of their second studio album, Disco Volador. Translated in to English as flying disk, the record is a luscious blend of avant-garde groove and psych concocted in the north of England.
“Disco Volador could be a frisbee, a UFO, an alien nightclub or how you feel when you fly,” says vocalist and bassist Esme Dee Hand Halford in the record’s notes, adding “it is an album of escape; if I went to space, I might not come back.”
The desired resistance to gravity isn’t entirely conceptual and abstract. The Orielles’ music and further members – Henry Carlyle Wade (guitar), Sid Dee Hand Halford (drums/vocals) and formerly Alex Stephens (keys) – have been in a state of flux since forming almost nine years ago. Their journey together was launched from Halifax in West Yorkshire, and has since drifted over to Leeds, down through Manchester, before crash-landing in Liverpool’s music scene, where it has resided for the last four years.
In recent months The Orielles’ airborne vehicle has wiggled loose of Liverpool and settled in Manchester. However, the band’s first album, Silver Dollar Moment, and their most recent effort, were crafted while still tied to their adopted home on Merseyside. The city bore witness to their transition from garage rock trio to technicolour purveyors of indie-psychedelia, more recently spiced with samba sensibilities. Their continual state of pinballing between West Yorkshire and Liverpool only adding to the magnetic urgency of their music.
With a musical existence defined by travel, it’s only fitting that a trip to Manchester is necessary on the day we meet to talk about the journey towards Disco Volador. Adequately fed and watered with kale pizza and beer, both Henry and Sid begin to reel in the album from its celestial reaches.
“It all felt really fresh,” Henry starts, when asked if there’d been any overlap from their debut when looking towards the second. “The first set of demos for Disco Volador were in late 2018, so it was pretty quick after the release of Silver Dollar Moment.”
The Orielles’ first album was released in early 2018 to much adoration. In their eyes, however, the album wasn’t the defining, coming-of-age expression many listeners marked it out to be. “After it came out, we knew what we wanted to do and where we wanted to take things musically,” Henry continues. “That was the most exciting point. The turn-around was pretty quick in focussing on the second album”, a record which he describes as “bursting” out of their writing sessions – “we didn’t want to lose the momentum.”
The sense of Disco Volador being a greater exploration of the band’s talents is echoed by Sid. “A lot of the songs on Silver Dollar Moment were written from the moment we started taking the band seriously”, she agrees. “That’s why, in my view, the record isn’t quite as fully formed. It’s more of a collection of what we’d been playing live for a long time,” she says. “The new record is the only time so far that we’ve written for a purpose,” Henry reinforces.
Clicking into gear as a four-piece, adding Alex Stephens to the established formation of sisters Esme and Sid with childhood friend Henry, the band were presented with a fresh canvas to colour with the support of Heavenly Records. The resulting effort is a 10-track cinematic experience that’s more homebound-daydream than full blown space odyssey. While retaining the interlocked dynamism of drums and bass, the songs do feel more considered, as the pairing suggest, with Henry’s once angular riffs more layered, nestling in the warm layer of keys draped across much of the record. Much like the first album, however, the lyricism retains its DaDa-inflected observations, swirling through Esme’s stream of consciousness.
Leaning back towards the band’s beginnings, Disco Volador does represent something of a quantum leap. A statement that carries even more weight given they’re barely into their 20s and already onto album number two.
Just over three years ago The Orielles were more closely aligned to garage rock, but played with the careful hands of sincere indie. Casting back to this era and the band’s live shows were watermarked by Henry’s wild head movements when running through fuzzier numbers such as Jobin. Now there’s suaveness to The Orielles’ demeanour that’s more sure-headed than chin-strokey. Although I do ask if Henry is ever coerced into redeploying his whirlwind on-stage behaviour. “No man,” he responds, eyes widening as if to recall things he should never have seen. “Our old tour manager said, ‘you’re not going to do that forever, are you?’ I think I had to make an effort to stop at that moment on, really.”
Coincidentally, the chat remains on head movements. As it turns out, the departure from self-induced whiplash was a watershed moment in their progression from rough-edged garage trio to acid-dipped disco starlets. “The visual metaphor of how we’ve changed as band is in how our necks move when we’re practicing,” Henry begins, with Sid nodding assent with a wry smile. “When we were practicing, back in the day, our heads used to go like this…” Henry proceeds to replicate dialled down Smells Like Teen Spirit headbang. “Now when we’re practicing and writing new songs, our heads move like this…” – the guitarist coolly elongating his neck back and forth as far as possible with the elegance of a peacock’s strut. In this we see the band’s internal metronome for rhythm, held together by the sister pairing on drums and bass. “A lot of the rhythmic, danceable style comes from Es and Sid”, Henry agrees, “just from how locked in together they are. We make music that makes us want to move. Music that keeps us locked in with one another. Have you seen how built my neck muscles are now because of it?” he adds, jovially.
Following the steps towards Disco Volador’s dynamic sonic textures, it’s difficult to ignore the importance of The Orielles’ 2017 single Sugar Tastes Like Salt. Where Disco Volador places its palm on the first reaches of the cosmos, Sugar… was the launch pad for everything that’s followed – an eight minute kerosene drenched exploration in E-minor, with a scrap book of interchangeable endings the band has added to over the years. “If we had an idea for a song in E-minor, the phrase became ‘just stick it on the end of Sugar…,” the pair recall. Just as the etymology of disco takes us back to the flying discus, Disco Volador’s infectious grooves lean all the way back to their first single release on Heavenly Records. A track that widens the eyes and mind with its wild energy – no doubt a sensation felt even more keenly by listeners accustomed to their back catalogue. It’s arguably the band’s first pill moment.
“Sugar… really represents the change in our musical taste. It was a point in time where we’d started to branch out and listen to a lot more,” Sid explains, when asked what initiated the moment of cerebral lift off. “ESG were a big inspiration for me personally,” she continues. “When we were writing Sugar…, it was the time when we realised guitar music can be just as danceable as electronic music. I think that’s what pushed us to go on to write music [that] people could hopefully dance to, on record or in a live setting.” Equally, for Henry, hearing the 1982 disco dancefloor-filler Moving Up (by Toba) was transformational for him as a musician. “The rhythmic guitar that I heared on that track really inspired me to change up the way I was playing,” he informs. “There was definitely more of an urge to play something that made people dance.” On Disco Volador, Rapid I, Memoirs Of Miso and the New York grooves of A Material Mistake are all reflective of this ingrained focus on kinetic orchestration.
“It was never an effort to make our music danceable,” Henry rounds off. The transition from post-punk edge to baggy acid grooves might seem a hard route to sketch out alone, but it’s one that was aided by the late Andrew Weatherall, who even weighed in on The Orielles’ world with signature wonky remix of Sugar Tastes Like Salt. Pull back the external instrumentation of both post-punk and acid house and you find they both lean on raw expression rather than narrative drama. For The Orielles, the raw expression is located in a pattern of suppression and release from the bands travels in their formative years.
“When we were practicing for the first album tour with Alex, I used to do Halifax to Liverpool on a Sunday, with rail replacements in parts,” Henry starts, when asked if the band’s separation across the north fed into the band’s indulgence in a sort of in-the-moment hedonism. “For so much of our early phase we were always travelling to one another across three locations. I guess that pent up energy is captured in the records.”
Experiencing the long periods of separation, when granted time to practice, the three/four piece had little time for balladry and slow burners. Freed from their liminal spaces of travel across the northern Orion’s Belt of Liverpool, Manchester and Halifax, The Orielles’ music burned like oxidised fire as soon as the amps were switched on. But it was all too quickly snuffed out, often in full flow, when required to part ways. But it’s these very constraints on time that forces their work through the liminal space and into a realm free from gravity, where it would remain, spinning like a discus, until they were able to break back through once again.
“All of this record just seemed to explode from constantly travelling and waiting around, whether that’s waiting in the van on tour or waiting for practices and meeting up. I always saw music as an escape from shitty life in a small town. I felt like that’s what really spurred us on to keep travelling”, Henry concludes. “We had to take the jump,” Sid confers. Veering high up overhead with little desire to come down, Disco Volador might be their furthest leap yet.
Disco Volador is available from 28th February on Heavenly Records.