Orange Sky finally back for more
By Naughty Mickie
Photos by Keith Durflinger 

In 2005, I introduced readers to a group new to the United States, in fact I was one of the first journalists in America to nab an interview with Orange Sky. The hard rock/reggae band out of Trinidad, vocalist and guitarist Nigel Rojas, bassist Nicholas Rojas, keyboardist Richard Hall and drummer Obasi Springer, had hit our shores with the album, "Upstairs" (Granite/Fontana, 2005) and one criss-crossing tour and then clinched another national tryst opening for Yngwie Malmsteen. Things were looking great.

But after the tour it seemed they had all but disappeared. I knew they were still trying to make a go of things, yet until I ran into them at the NAMM (International Music Merchants Association) show in Anaheim in January 2009, I didn't know how much they had been through. At this time, the storm clouds were clearing for Orange Sky, as a new effort, "Dat Iz Voodoo" (StarCity Records), was to be released in February and they were working on arranging another tour of the U.S

I caught up with the band on the road just as they kicked off their current tour with King's X. Instead of rehashing old information, I wanted to learn how much they have changed. Nigel Rojas still writes the bulk of their material, but has gone a different direction with the new recording.

"I would say that the last album was more of a romantic, hard rock, dreamy type album, 'Upstairs,' and this album, 'Dat Iz Voodoo,' is a little more political, a little more socio-political," Rojas begins. "It's still an Orange Sky, there's some romantic stuff in there, life and death, but I think it's much more political than 'Upstairs.' I would say it's heavier than the last album, but basically some of the stuff that I try to touch on in this record which is, as I said, the sociopolitical stuff, and we needed to have a heavier backdrop, something a little more dramatic, so I guess it became heavy naturally."

I ask him to tell me more about the album's topics.

"We're just talking about in general the political strife in the third world and the stuff we've been experiencing, especially in the last 10 years. Stuff that we're experiencing in Trinidad." Rojas explains, "The typical myth and the typical image of our island paradise is blue skies and coconut trees and basically a big Hawaiian Punch commercial, but there's a dark side as well. There's a lot of impoverishment and missed opportunity and broken dreams and tragedy. It's tough, it's a murderous little society.

"We have the highest kidnapping rate in the world and murders per capita is more than Jamaica and Haiti. It's very, very tough. Because we are the only oil producing island in the Caribbean so we make money, but the government just misappropriates everything and spends a lot of money on themselves and they're just not meeting the needs of the people who pay taxes and blah, blah, blah."

 The new album is on a new label.

"The last album, 'Upstairs,' was released on Granite Universal, which is out of the West Coast, and it was released in 2005 and after a 44 city tour with Yngwie Malmsteen, just when we were starting to pick up some momentum and build a fan base and all that, the label came and told us that they were bankrupt," says Rojas. "We went back to the island suicidal and very depressed and all that and that's why the material for 'Dat Iz Voodoo' came around and we recorded the album at that time."

I wonder about the effort that came between the two recordings, "Psycho World."

"'Psycho World' is basically 'Dat Iz Voodoo' except it was released in Trinidad independently as 'Psycho World,'" Rojas tells me. "When StarCity signed the album, StarCity came on board and we changed the album cover and the concept of the album cover, but it's the same songs. Jeff Glixman remixed and remastered the album at StarCity. There's two songs that are different, but 'Psycho World,' more than three-quarters of that is 'Dat Iz Voodoo.'"

"Psycho World" was released in Trinidad and only about 1,000 copies were available.

As a fan of Orange Sky, I had to gripe about the fact that they haven't been to Southern California for more than three years.

"The booking was up to the label and they wanted us to sort of marinate one area for a while and try to develop a fan base." Rojas explains, "We've been up and down the East Coast planting seeds since July last year. The album was available online since July last year and we've been touring South Carolina, Virginia, Florida, Pennsylvania, as high up as Buffalo and Massachusetts, just trying to marinate that side of the States in hopes to get across to the West Coast later on this year and that just happened. We just got really great news that we were offered the opening slot for King's X's 2009 tour across the U.S. starting on the West Coast, so we're going to be doing a lot of shows on that side in Southern and Northern California and the upper Mid-West as well, Seattle, Spokane, Oregon and all that stuff."

I will always remember the interesting conversation I had with Doug Pinnick of King's X after one of their shows. We discussed the history of rock and he shared with me several stories, including one of how when he was a child, he made a record out of a piece of cardboard, even cutting grooves into it. Pinnick is fascinating, intelligent and has a great sense of humor. I ask Rojas what he thinks of King's X.

"I've had the pleasure of meeting him last year," Rojas says. "We opened for King's X for one show in Kentucky at the Phoenix Hill Tavern and it was amazing, we actually got to see them perform live. We've always loved King's X, but seeing them perform live was truly amazing and we got to meet Doug and Ty (Tabor)  and Jerry (Gaskill) and they're just great guys, we can't wait to be on tour with them."

Orange Sky is very aware of the differences in playing in Trinidad and the United States.

"In Trinidad, it's a small island and everybody knows everybody and especially the musicians," shares Rojas. "I'm not trying to be arrogant about it, but we've been in Trinidad performing for over 10 years, so we're pretty much like KISS in Trinidad, we're big fish in a small pond. But when we perform in Trinidad and a couple thousand people come out, we pretty much know everybody in the crowd, not just from coming to the shows throughout the last 10 years, some people we know from school or family or friend of a friend of a friend. When we perform in the States it's a whole different dynamic. In Trinidad we are big fish in a small pond and in the States we are small fish in a huge pond. So even if we perform for 10 people in the States, it's a true challenge and a new experience because it's 10 new faces, 10 new spirits. It's makes the challenge truly unique and it makes the conquest even more rewarding.

"It's been overwhelming and it's unanimous the way people have been reacting to our live shows especially. I know that our real connection is when we perform live and we make that primal exchange between us and the people that are there."

I had read that Rojas' favorite song on the new album is "Alone," so I ask him about it.

"'Alone' is the oldest song on the album. We recorded 'Alone' for the first time in 2004, it was also on 'Upstairs,'" Rojas says. "With 'Upstairs' we never really got the chance to plant the seed and really promote the album the way we wanted to in terms of touring and promotion because the label went bankrupt. We managed to salvage 'Alone' from that album and we decided to put it on 'Dat Iz Voodoo' because we wanted to give it a chance, we wanted to give it a chance to live and breathe. I won't say that it's my favorite song on the album, though I have a special spot for it. I would say the songs that I tend to prefer are the ones that we perform live, that I've seen a serious reaction. The songs that you can really sink your teeth into performing live are the ones that I tend to have a weak spot for.

"Live is our thing, live is our real connection." Rojas continues, "I love the fact that we have an album out. We did our very best to capture Orange Sky as it is, but if you really want the true organic primal experience of Orange Sky, you need to come to the live show. That's what we love to do, we are all very passionate people in this band, all very emotional and when we perform it comes out. We love to play and it shows in our live show. We do make that exchange every night. We have made definitely a couple thousand new fans and friends in the United States because of our live show."

Orange Sky's tour with King's X ends in July and then they will take their first break of the year. In August they will tour East Coast with King's X. After that they are hoping to land some spots on some European festival and see the European release of "Dat Iz Voodoo" at the end of the summer.

Rojas is a big reader, so I had to ask him what he's been reading lately.

"I've read 'Into the Wild' and a book called 'Papillon,' which is a true story," Rojas says. "It's about Charriere, a French guy who escaped from prison in France and was sent to French Guiana, which was a prison island in the '40s and the '50s and his five attempts to escape the island. It's a very intriguing book, actually a movie was made of it a few years after it became a best seller. It was released in 1969 and a few years later a proper Hollywood film was made, with Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman acting. I went immediately to get the film, but I prefer to read the story before seeing the film. 'Into the Wild' was also interesting and I've just been reading a bunch of biographies in the last year or two- George Harrison, Bob Marley, Marilyn Manson, Slash, Nikki Sixx, Aerosmith."

We chat about this and that and soon it's time to let Rojas go, so I ask him for his final thoughts.

"We're just glad to be here in the U.S. It's our second time around and we've definitely been having a really great time." Rojas says, "Nobody should miss the show if you are interested in something new and just a great rock and roll show, our little drop in your bucket of everything else that's great out there right now. Come check out Orange Sky-- it's a deep tissue massage, full emotional exfoliation of the soul. We'll be body slamming you and you'll want some more."

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