Band Interview: The Orphan The Poet

We got the chance to talk with frontman / guitarist David Eselgroth from The Orphan The Poet about their new EP Terrible Things, their writing process and how being independent has affected the band. You can keep up with the band here and preorder their latest EP here.

One of the things we like to do is find out some random facts about the people we talk with. That being said, do you have any quirks or unknown tidbits that you’d be willing to share with readers?

Well it’s far from unknown for anyone following me personally on social media, but I pride myself in being quite the cat dad. I have two cats, Teacup and Earl Grey (yes, I am the guy with themed pet names). Any time I meet someone new, I think my natural instinct is to immediately start telling them about my cats. Who doesn’t love cats, right?

June 3rd sees the release of your latest EP/creation, Terrible Things. If you base it off the name alone, it feels like the message of the album would be about, well, terrible things. Where did that name come from and does it truly represent the message conveyed within the album?

I’d like to think we had some master plan all along with this EP, some over-arching concept we had from the onset; but honestly, we wrote the song “Terrible Things” and just thought that it sounded like a grabby title so we went with it. Also, we’d never done a title track before, so maybe that was the concept– doing things we’d never done before. I definitely think there are plenty of instances of that throughout the EP.

It’s been mentioned in other interviews that the sound and direction for the EP is meant to harken to a reinvigoration of sorts for the band, or at least, a fresh direction. Is there any particular reason you felt a fresh direction was needed or did it just sort of fall into place?

It was definitely something that just kind of happened– very much a product of timing, really. We’d been going through a couple member changes during the writing period, so more often than not, I was left on my own in sketching out the songs. This EP is probably the least collaborative work I’ve been a part of. That’s not to say that the other guys didn’t add their own touches to the EP, but I was bringing entire songs to the band and working from a complete structure and identity rather than us jamming riffs and smaller sections to create a song.

With Terrible Things taking the band towards a more alternative rock sound reminiscent of UK bands like Young Guns & Mallory Knox, do you feel that this is a sound you could continue to pursue and push forward with or is there still a desire for further searching and experimentation of your overall sound?

I’d really like to live in that “alternative rock” world, at least for the foreseeable future. I’ve always been a bit of a late bloomer, and this EP was such a personal writing experience (many times a grueling one), I think it really made me evaluate how I naturally write and what I’m good at. Honestly, I think I was aiming at the wrong targets previously and not playing to my own strengths.

Additionally, getting to work with such a prolific producer as Machine, both in pre-production and mixing, only further helped us realize our potential as a rock band. We really let him take the reigns in shaping the sound of the EP.

As a fan of yours over multiple releases and the years, one of the things that’s always sat on my mind is why there has yet to be a full length album. Is it easier to explore your sound by doing EPs and singles instead of just going into the studio to write 10-11 songs?

This is a question we get all the time. A lot of it is rooted in the fact that we are an independent band and it’s less financially viable to undertake a full length album. I realize that this can be sort of a fuzzy concept for anyone not keen on album budgeting, so I’d like to explain it using some rough figures from this release. Also, I just want to note how dumb it is that bands are guarded with this information, considering artists need music fans to truly understand how they, the consumers, fit into the viability of creating music. Anyways, this is what this release looked like for us:

I think we spent around $7000 on production which included tracking time, mixing and mastering. We shot two music videos, which we did *SUPER* DIY on a shoestring budget, and probably still spent around $1200 there. Factor in a publicity campaign, printing discs/merch, and other random expenditures, you’ll be tacking on another $5500. Ballpark, I’d say our budget on this EP was roughly $14,000. Granted, I’m super proud that our band is financially stable enough to support that through touring, festivals, and radio play. But when you consider that to do a full length, a minimum of $10,000 would be needed on production alone, it just doesn’t really make sense for us.

While you’re writing, and eventually once you’re in the studio, what’s your overall recording process like? Is there a method that you feel fits the band when it comes to creating your music or does it vary?

As mentioned before, this EP was a bit different for us in the writing process, with me holing up alone for a lot of it. I remember for a stint, I literally just approached it like any other job. I’d wake up at 7 when my girlfriend went to work, get a pot of coffee on, and then literally sit in my writing studio hashing out songs until 5pm. This really forced me to breakthrough the idea of only writing when I felt like it. Working like that made me realize that I had an obligation to myself and my band. I threw out and rewrote more lyrics, sections, even entire songs, than I had in my entire life (it clearly wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine– I wrote some REALLY bad songs during all this). Though it was far from stress free, when it came to finally recording the songs, it was honestly the least stress I’d ever had in the studio.

This one is sort of a three-headed beast. Firstly, with you guys being independent currently and throughout your career, do you feel that has helped or hurt you? Do you feel you’ve missed out on opportunities because you weren’t backed by a label and does the freedom/flexibility of being independent surpass the safety net of a label backing?

Kind of related to the full length question, this issue comes up a lot with us. When it comes down to it, what we’ve realized is that though we are completely independent of label support we are measured in fans eyes as if we were signed. That’s very much a double edged sword. Yes, it is flattering to know that people view us in that way, but at the same time, we have to work ten times harder than other bands purely based upon the resources available to us. In that, I think it is undeniable that there are certain opportunities that would be more attainable if we were backed by certain labels.

That said, however, looking backwards, I’m honestly glad a label didn’t get involved with us previously. We had growing to do, we had our own shit to figure out. Though it was tough at the time and definitely hurt my ego, I don’t think we’d be the same band we are today. Even furthermore, we’ve built ourselves into something independently. At this point, we have a far better understanding of our worth.

Following up the previous question, have you guys had any record label offers that you’ve turned down or has it been more of a DIY mindset the entire time for the band?

Though I won’t name names, yes we have had exchanges with different labels. In certain instances, it absolutely did come down to us knowing the deal on the table wasn’t in our best interest. Though it has left us label-less for the time being, I’m really proud of us for not opting for immediate gratification over our long-term goals. However, if you ever see me out on tour and do want to know the nitty-gritty details– buy me a couple whiskey sours and I’ll squeal like a stuck pig.

Lastly, do you feel like the on-set of backer platforms (Indiegogo / Kickstarter) and a variety of digital distribution methods (Bandcamp, Spotify, iTunes, etc) makes it easier or harder to remain independent? Based off previous conversations we’ve had with other bands, it seems to be a split on the comfort level of asking fans for money to help record new music.

For me, I honestly see the the Indiegogo and Kickstarter platforms as a sort of band-aid when it comes to the music industry, a way for artists to turn a blind eye to the failures of the other outlets mentioned– Spotify, iTunes, etc. Traditionally, I think distribution has been the focal point in discussing how independent music can be viable. That is, how can a band or artist get their music “out to the world.” The thought was that having your music EVERYWHERE was the answer. Looking back, that train of thought lost any viability when Apple decided that music should be subsidized to sell more iPods, and every other online music retailer followed suit. That’s the reason we go around believing a song is worth, at best, the same as a McDonald’s coffee (if you still purchase music on iTunes) and at worst, fractions of penny (thanks Spotify).

So the discussion needs to turn from distribution towards value– how do we make music WORTH something to listeners again? It’s definitely far from an easy question to answer, but I think it lies somewhere in owning your community. That is, relying less and less on contrived spaces– Facebook, iTunes Charts, Spotify Playlists– and making sure that you control as much of the “band to fan” conversation as you can. I know this strays from the question a bit, but in understanding what it is to be independent, this really is where your head has to be.

Presumably the upcoming Summer will see you touring in support of your EP. After that, what is in store for The Orphan The Poet? More recording, more shows or perhaps some downtime?

When it comes to our band, I truly believe downtime is a fairytale. We’re always scheming something. As of now, we’ll be hitting the summer hard with tours but are already talking about when we’ll be recording again.

Lastly, this is your platform to voice whatever, so what would you guys like to say to anyone reading this?

This might have been the most in-depth and revealing interview I’ve ever done! So first off, thank you for taking time to dig into this stuff with me. And secondly, at the very least, I hope some the specifics we got into spark an interest in readers to explore how they play into the greater music community. Also, check out the new EP. My mom said it’s pretty good.

What Are Your Thoughts!

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