Getting to Know... Oryx and Crake

Music Features Oryx and Crake
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Hometown: Atlanta, Ga.
Members: Ryan Peoples, Rebekah Goode-Peoples, Matt Jarrard, Eric Wildes, Anna Wildes, Keith Huff, Matt Gilbert, Karyn Lu, Chris VanBrackle
Album: Oryx and Crake
For Fans Of: The Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens, Lost in the Trees

Atlanta’s musical identity is spread across many disciplines; it’s a hip-hop capital, a bastion for garage/punk/art rock, a singer-songwriter’s haven. Despite the lack of a distinct indie-rock or orchestral-pop scene in this city, Oryx and Crake offers a distinct glimmer of hope for that type of music. Since the band’s eponymous debut dropped last August, O&C has quickly amassed an army of local music fans throughout Atlanta in support of its sound.

These newcomers have found a sweet spot through their combination of traditional pop songwriting, orchestral arrangements and sound-design techniques. As the nine-piece ensemble sets forth into what could very well be its defining year, Paste spoke with Oryx and Crake front-couple Ryan Peoples and Rebekah Goode-Peoples in their living room in Decatur, Ga. about how their band swelled to such an unorthodox size, their roots in sampling and their curiosity of how art inspires art.

Paste : How did Oryx and Crake originally form?
Rebekah Goode-Peoples: I teach high school. We met teaching high school. We both taught at Decatur High School right down the street. I taught English in the high school and I had inclusion classes which means there were special-ed kids in the room and [Ryan] was a special-ed teacher. They matched us together to team teach in the hood. It was kind of awesome—we had to gang up on them and we were a good team. That’s how we got together.
Ryan Peoples: We went gangsta.
Goode-Peoples: [laughs] We went gangsta. It was pretty great. We had the best kids of all time there. George Pettis, who’s now in Wowser Bowser in Atlanta—I taught him my first year. Andrew McFarland, who is the drummer for Reptar of Athens—they were in the same class together. They didn’t really like each other at the time.
Peoples: That’s on tape!
Goode-Peoples: Well, I mean, sure, but there’s always been a healthy competition… But it was a great place to teach. Then we moved to Savannah and he went to grad school at SCAD for sound design and then we moved back up. So now he’s teaching sound design and I still teach English.

Paste : I was curious about your background in Sound Design. How do both your experiences in more traditional songwriting and Sound Design mesh together? Do you see yourself as a songwriter first and then accompanying your songs with sampling? Or is it the other way around?
Peoples: It’s very electronic and very synthesized—lot of the drum tracks for sure. Sound Design definitely had an influence there. My long story is that I’ve been playing music forever and thought that’s what I was going to be doing forever. I graduated from UGA and was planning on being in bands for a while. But if you could see through this wall, you would see a sleeping seven-year-old that kind of changed that plan. So music got put on the backburner for a while. Then I heard of the Sound Design thing and it seemed like I could maybe even make a living through it…The synthesis part is definitely carrying through with Oryx and Crake in a big way.
Goode-Peoples: It kind of merged the two interests in a way. You can take what you’re doing at home and put it together with what you’re doing at school with the Sound Art stuff. That’s going to be more important later on too.
Peoples: We’re definitely looking to integrate that more. And also meeting [cellist] Matt Jarrard who was so willing and able to integrate those things too.

Paste : So it was you two first? I’m guessing Oryx and Crake didn’t start off with nine people.
Goode-Peoples: No.
Peoples: No [laughs].
Goode-Peoples: It’s all Ryan, really, and Matt.
Peoples: The album is mostly Matt and I. We recorded that in Savannah. I would say it’s probably 85% us.

Paste : And the other members? How did they fall into place?
Peoples: Well, Eric [Wildes] and Anna [Wildes] I’ve known forever. I’ve known Eric since the second grade. They actually played a show with us when we were still in Savannah. We came up here and played at the Red Light Café and they joined us onstage at that one… We convinced Matt to move to Atlanta, and he was here for year before we got back which was kind of amazing. [With] everyone else, we just ran into at [Atlanta’s annual musical event] the Happenstance.
Goode-Peoples: It would be easier if we could clone 37 Ryans and 16 Matts.
Peoples: That would be the most annoying band.
Goode-Peoples: It would be—and I wouldn’t even want to go see it! But there’s so many layers and layers and layers of him singing and him playing and doing every instrument and then all of Matt. So then we were like, “What are we going to do onstage?”

Paste : One of the things I was most surprised about with Oryx and Crake was your choice to not have a drum set. Why did you choose not to have a drummer?
Peoples: I’ve been thinking that way for years. It’s what I wanted to do. Drummers are a pain in the ass… You’re not a drummer, are you?

Paste : That’s the main instrument I’ve played most of my life…
Peoples: That’s awesome [laughs]. There are exceptions…
Goode-Peoples: We tried it out, but it never felt right.
Peoples: I’ve been thinking about electronic drums forever. I got really tired of the sound of an acoustic kit for a while. I’m over that now, but at the same time I still feel like electronic drums have so much more flexibility. You can do anything. Part of the original concept [was] to be able to use all kinds of crazy samples—something you’ll see more of in the future.

Paste : Do you plan on incorporating more sampling into Oryx and Crake’s sound?
Goode-Peoples: We’ve been talking a lot about using found sounds and we do some of those things. At the end of “Lullaby,” there’s some samples of our kids screaming their heads off and crying and stuff that we used.
Peoples: One of our favorite artists is Amon Tobin. He’s a Canadian sample artist. When we were first getting into this band’s idea we were listening to that album a lot, Foley Room. And if you know anything about Sound Design, you know that it’s the studio for sound effects in movies. They do clock movement and footsteps and anything else that can be handled. So he made an album called Foley Room and just went out and recorded all this weird crap.
Goode-Peoples: The natural environment. Just stuff and made amazing music out of it. It’s phenomenal.
Peoples: We wanted to do more of that.
Goode-Peoples: And Matmos—they go out and record surgeries and [sounds of] the scalpels. They make something new and unique out of it. They backed Björk for years doing all kinds of crazy shit. I think we still love the pairing of all of that manipulation with violins and cellos. There’s something magical about that to us.

Paste : And moving away from just sample-based artists, who else are you listening to lately?
Goode-Peoples: I will say for the most part that we share musical tastes, which is really strange because that’s rare to find somebody to do that with. There are few things that I don’t like that he likes and vice versa—like Dr. Dog can go shove it for all I care and he likes them. You know there are a couple of things like that—Steely Dan. I don’t get it and he’s trying to win my daughter over with that.
Peoples: It worked [laughs]. She was boogying.
Goode-Peoples: Let’s see this year…Sufjan, Deerhunter, Bonnie ‘Prince’ [Billy’s] new album with the Cairo Gang. I actually really liked The National album at the beginning of the year—I listened to that a lot. What else?
Peoples: What else?
Goode-Peoples: The Books. We went crazy for The Books.

Paste : Did you go see The Books when they were here [in October 2010 at Atlanta’s Variety Playhouse]?
Goode-Peoples: They were incredible.
Peoples: Those videos…
Goode-Peoples: We had been thinking so much about videos. There was this critic in Savannah one time…and he went off on the long thing with us about bands that have movies in their show and how it detracts from the sound. And for some reason, we had that in our heads. We are really into creating a cult—a certain culture.
Peoples: We are interested in creating a cult!
Goode-Peoples: But no, we’re really into how art inspires art. Everything feeds each other. So many of us in the band have other interests in other artistic ambitions. For me, I write—so all of this feeds me writing and vice versa. Other people do other things. I love the way that [The Books] integrated film and video. I thought it enhanced the music—it lent an emotional quality to their music that I had never really gotten before that.

Paste : Moving forward from this year as you work your way out of the Atlanta area and hopefully tour beyond this city, how do you describe your sound to someone who’s never heard your music before?
Goode-Peoples: That’s the hardest thing to do. I do most of the describing because I do all the PR and booking and all that stuff. I usually just go with orchestral pop because it’s easy—we have strings and stuff that we do. But our music is a bit more accessible.
Peoples: We’ve got hooks and rock out some times so it is kind of limiting to say we’re orch-pop. People always ask me too, and I’m like, “Well…we take electronics and we take strings and combine the two.”
Goode-Peoples: And it sounds pretty good. Self-description is a difficult art.