Interview: Randall Frazier Of Orbit Service / A Star Too Far
Randall Frazier has been performing solo and in various band incarnations as Orbit Service since the 1990s, releasing no less than 5 brilliant moody albums since 2001. With beginnings in dark psych rock tempered by contemporary influences from Slint to Palace Brothers, the Orbit Service sound has increasingly moved outward into experimental realms. His most recent two albums on Beta-lactam Ring Records 2011's A Calm Note from the West and last year's Stereo Magic (Portal In 13 Parts) are steeped in musique concrete, electronic drone, and inner ear echoes. Randall's haunting voice, however, is always floating atop the sonic wave machines, and somehow uses profound alienation to make the music more accessible. His collaboration with the Legendary Pink Dots called A Star Too Far released Saucers Over Lincoln another astounding album on BLR in 2015 that remarkably sounds more like Orbit Service than LPD.
- KPSU (Portland)
We had the pleasure of speaking with Randall Frazier recently about Orbit Service, the Legendary Pink Dots, gear, touring, COVID-19 and much more. Grab your favorite beverage, dim the lights, turn on some Orbit Service and enjoy this fascinating conversation with Randall Frazier.
- Darkest Wave Magazine
You've been releasing music as Orbit Service since 1999 (correct me if I'm wrong) How did this project begin?
I started out on cassette four track, haha. I was making simple demos of some very experimental/psychedelic stuff back then, which eventually made it's way to a guy in Denver named John Herman, who at the time had an 8-track reel to reel studio. John encouraged me to continue with this project and offered to help me record it for release on his label (Polyfinger), which did eventually happen- We released a 7" record, which is long out of print. Lots of turmoil during that time, which eventually led to that studio and label just sort of vanishing... But I continued on, even though when you look back at the releases I have put out over the years, you can kind of hear me changing band members and trying to adapt to a new group of people playing with me- this happened a few times over the years, until at some point I got to be more comfortable playing music alone. I think at first I was stuck on the idea that I needed a band in order to play shows, which had an effect on the music. The band incarnations of my project never sounded anything like those experimental demos I was making in my living room all by myself- always too many cooks in
the kitchen, you know? Not that I hated the music or anything, but it just wasn't where I was trying to go musically, and never did find that place until I got the courage to play alone on stage.
Of the albums you've released as Orbit Service is there a particular album that stands out to you as a favorite?
Well to be honest, I think What Do You Fear The Most or Don't Get Lost might be my favorite, although I can barely stand to listen to my own music once it's out there.
You mentioned you live in the Colorado mountains. Do your surroundings influence you creatively?
Yeah, I intentionally left the city years ago to get away from the constant noise. Sirens and helicopters all the time, haha. I do enjoy being tucked away in the woods, and heating the house with fire.... It's a nice place to be, although right now I'm pretty tired of winter, haha. So yeah, I think living in the woods definitely influences the sounds of my projects. It's very isolated and calm here for the most part.
I've been listening to your newest release Don't Get Lost quite a lot. It's steeped in a stark, desolate atmosphere that is absolutely entrancing. Tell us a little about your process for writing and recording these tracks.
Well first off, thanks for giving it some attention. I made this release over the holiday break. I'm a sound engineer and producer by trade (22 years) and when the pandemic hit, I kinda lucked out and got a job teaching audio production to high school kids in Denver, which has been a really great change for me. I have lots of time every day surrounded by audio equipment and energetic and excited young producers, and really just an abundance of time to be creative and think about music... Sound engineering has been a good job for me, but there are times that it sort of zaps your creativity, as you are spending so much energy working on other people's music- you know?
When you finally have time to yourself, the last thing you want to do is sit behind another mixing desk, haha.
So this latest release I was on the holiday break that teachers get, which is a good few weeks... So I had ample time and very little distraction. Most of what I do happens very early in the morning... So I wake up and immediately begin working. No cell phone, no email... Nothing. Those things destroy my mood and my creativity. Music production for me is a mixture of traditional elements mixed with noises from my every day environment. People talking, wind blowing through the pines, weather forecasts, no rules, really, but I think those noise/found sounds are just as important as the notes I play on a synth or guitar or whatever.
What are some of your go-to instruments for composing new music in your studio and how does your live setup differ?
My main studio space I have 3 Moog Mother 32 synths, a Moog Grandmother, a DSI Prophet Rev 2, and a Korg Minilogue. I typically only take the minilogue out when I'm on tour as it is small and very capable. I have tons of software synths and sampling programs.. Some nice outboard pre-amps and compression and a couple of quality vocal mics. It's really a pretty concise setup, nothing too fancy, but everything I have there has a place and a purpose. When touring, the whole set up is much, much smaller. On tour, I carry the minilogue, a small mixer with FX, a vocal processor and an ipad loaded with soft synths- namely the Animoog. I just love the Moog sound, and as far as iPad apps go, Animoog is unmatched for quality and flexibility. Kudos to Amos and the folks at Moog for all of the high quality gear they continue to create.
In 2015 you collaborated with The Legendary Pink Dots and released an amazing album called Saucers Over Lincoln under the name A Star Too Far. How did this collaboration come about and are there more releases to come from this project?
Yes, I have been very fortunate to work with The Dots for so long. I've been a fan since I was a kid. The Dots flew me out to tour in Europe in 2014, and when I got there I stayed with Edward for the first few days so I could recover from the jet-lag. So every day we'd get up and going, have some tea, and then head to Edward’s music area and hit record. We'd play for a few hours each day and just record it all. This went on for 3 or 4 days and then we hit the road for tour. Once the tour ended, Edward handed me a hard drive with all of the tracks, and so we both had copies of all of this stuff- and we took to editing and adding/subtracting parts on our own until songs started to form... At which point we sent some of those pieces to Phil and Erik (also of the LPD) who added some more pieces and the next thing you know, we have a record, haha.
We have definitely talked about making another Star Too Far release, but it just hasn't happened yet. I'm sure it will when the time is right.
You've toured with the Legendary Pink Dots since 2014. Obviously we're currently living in a global pandemic that has all but ended live music and caused many music venues to close all over. Once we're able to get back to having shows again, do you have tour plans and how do you think the landscape will have changed in regards to touring and live shows in general?
Yes indeed, COVID has had a huge impact on not only my life, but almost everyone I know, especially in music. While we don't have anything concrete on the books, there has been some talk of a tour possibly in 2022, and I really hope that happens. I worry that the smaller indie venues might not survive in some places, but in general, those are the places I prefer to play. I also had a tour with Dead Voices on Air scheduled for May 2020, right when the pandemic hit, so that was called off, but hopefully we can re-book those shows as well. The one positive thing I can pull from all of this, is the time to be creative, if for no other reason than there is nothing else to do. I feel like I have made some of my best material in the past year, and I do have a couple of release slated for later 2021, one on a Denver based label called "Witch Cat Records"and a re-release on the Santiago, Chile based label Templo Sagital. BY the time we can tour again, I am planning on another vinyl release. Follow my bandcamp if you want to stay up on those things. www.orbitservice.bandcamp.com
From your past tours, does any one venue in particular stand out as a favorite to play?
Ah, man, so many great places. I have been really fortunate to play so many nice venues and meet so many nice people. The Echo in Los Angeles stands out for me- very professional place. Chop Suey in Seattle... DNA or Bottom of the Hill in San Fran. Knitting Factory in Brooklyn is always great. Man, it's hard to say.. I love them all, haha. I really love going to Canada to play as well, it's always such a nice place to be. I guess it doesn't really matter where we are- When I'm out on tour with the dots it's just a great adventure with a bunch of friends who just happen to be extremely talented performers. I cherish all of those memories and I do realize how fortunate I am to have had these experiences.
Thanks for taking the time to talk with us. Is there anything you would like to add in closing?
Thank YOU for taking the time to shine a light on what I am doing. None of this stuff happens in a vacuum, we all support one another and we all have a role to play. Thank you for doing what you do.
Listen to Don't Get Lost and visit the bandcamp page to purchase