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Q&A: Roman Kuebler of the Oranges Band

April 23, 2010

By Jessica Amaya

Read: The Oranges Band recalls The Whole Ten Years

In the process of gathering stories for this week’s remembrance of the Oranges’ first decade, writer Joe Tropea spent some time on the phone with guitarist/vocalist/songwrite Roman Kuebler, a conversation that offered more background on the band that didn’t fit into the story. Here’s the full discussion.

City Paper: So in the beginning it was you, Dan Black, and Dave Voyles? I ask because you guys seem to go from three-piece to quartet to quintet and then back to trio a lot it seems.
Roman Kuebler: It gets a little bit confusing. If we’re talking about the live band, it started out Dave and I and we had Mike Boarman playing bass and Lauren Maddow playing keys. That was our first show (line-up) in March 2000. We did about three shows like that. And then we had a tour scheduled for June and Lauren and Mike couldn’t do it. That’s when Tim [Johnston] got involved, so at first the touring line-up was me, Tim, and Dave. And a week or so before we left Dan [Black] called and said, “Hey do you need a guitar player to come with you?” and I said, “Sure.” We practiced for a week and our first show was in St. Louis. That was our “classic” four-piece line-up.

Art Lavis came in to record the On TV EP with us but he wasn’t really available to be in the band. Art’s involvement was temporary, doing one tour of the West Coast and maybe a handful of other shows. The thing is there were three guitar parts on quite a few of the songs, so I decided maybe we should try to do that [live] and we were developing some new songs. And they had more complex vocal arrangements, so that’s why we added Virat [Shukla] to match the live experience to the recorded experience, and to continue to develop going forward. That began our really busy touring period, too, so the line-up we played the most with was that five-piece line-up. Tim left the band in 2006. After that, Pat [Martin] who had already been involved with the band—he toured with us as tour manager/merch guy. Well actually before Pat, I got Faye Malarkey from Sick Sick Birds to play bass, just as kind of a way to change things up. So that was kind of a failed experiment. It just didn’t really work out, the personalities didn’t match, the playing didn’t really match. So she left after a tour or so and Pat came in. His first shows were in like 2007. His first show was with the Lemonheads at the Ottobar, so it was trial by fire for him.

CP: OK, so why exactly did Dan and Virat leave the band?
RK: Virat left to pursue the Squaaks. Neither Dave nor I are quite sure why Dan left . . . we haven’t heard from him since we played our last show together in 2006.

CP: How many US tours have the Oranges done?
RK: I would say six. . . seven? Something like that, but not quite 10 I don’t think. ’Cause some of them were broken up, where we flew out to the West Coast.

CP: How about outside the US?
RK: No. Canada. [Laughs.]

CP: I think that counts. How has touring changed for the band after 10 years? In other words, is it still fun to hop in a van and eat cheap food and crash on couches–or in deserts–after 10 years?

RK: Each tour is sort of reactionary in the sense that we live up to our touring income. For example, opening for the Hold Steady on this tour provides a consistent payment and we can plan accordingly. Therefore, we are in hotels for this tour and getting fed by the club in many cases so it’s pretty high class. It is interesting how that, sort of, fundamentally changes the experience in that we are certainly more secure on this trip knowing we have a place to be every night. That being said, a lot of the experience of getting the group into the van and driving around playing shows is pretty similar and still a great time.

CP: What are some of the side-projects you guys are involved in?
RK: Pat and Dave have played in other bands over the past couple years but are not involved in anything else right now. Virat, of course, has the Squaaks. I play bass in Impossible Hair and also have a solo identity, Romania, that releases songs monthly on, [which is] re-launching in May. I am doing a solo tour of the US in May and June.

CP: How did you manage to get Doug Gillard to play on your latest album?
RK: Well, when I was in Spoon we toured with Guided By Voices. That was my first meeting with those guys. And then maybe two or three years later, the Oranges Band did a tour with Guided By Voices, so we had been acquainted. And then on that tour, you know, kinda got to know them a little better. The thing is I was a big fan of–do you know the record Speak Kindly of Your Volunteer Fire Department? It’s listed as Doug Gillard and Robert Pollard, it’s not GBV, not Bob Pollard solo. That album is one of my favorite things that Bob Pollard has ever done and, as it turns out, Doug played on it and recorded the instruments—produced the record. So I mentioned to him that I loved the record and thought he did a great job. And I kinda said I’d really love if we could do that together—kind of in this sort of serious way, like maybe this will happen some day. Who knows, ya know? Maybe he’ll have time. But I’m gonna put it out there one way or the other. So he said, “Yeah, that sounds cool. We’ll see.”

So now flash forward to 2007: me, Dave, and Pat are playing [as a] three-piece, writing a lot of new tunes. And when we were writing the songs, everyone was doing their own parts–in the past everyone was doing everything. Dan played some drums, I played some drums on a record, I played bass, somebody else played guitar. Anyway on this new group of songs, I got to feeling like I didn’t want to just add a bunch of crap on top of it. From my perspective, I just wanted to get somebody else to come in and just be a guitar player and fulfill that role. I still remember I was watching YouTube and I saw this clip of a song called “Pop Zeus” from a GBV show and just thought this song is so great. And Doug wrote that song and it’s on the record I mentioned. It just snowballed at that point. I remembered we had talked about playing and I was like, I wonder if Doug will do it? So I decided to write him to find out what he was doing, because at that point GBV wasn’t, he wasn’t with GBV. I said, “I know this is out of the blue but are you interested at all?” He was in North Carolina at the time, moving to New York, so it took a month or so for him to get settled but he was into it. We were communicating through the internet, I was sending him demos and stuff. And that’s how it got started and it just worked really well.

CP: I wanted to ask about the “Finns for Our Feet” video that Virat mentioned. I can’t find it anywhere on the web. What happened?
RK: It’s funny that you mention that, we noticed that, too. It used to be up on Lookout’s web site, but now their site is kind of a shell of what it used to be, more of like a message board or something. I’m sure it’s on a DVD somewhere, but I don’t have a copy to post.

CP: It’s the long lost Oranges video. Did Lookout put up the money for that?
RK: No, it was part of a competition that was called “Turkey Shoot.” They chose one band and paired them with a director, and actually it was an independent director’s competition: who ever had the best idea got to direct the video. It was like a $10,000 or $15,000 budget, I think. A lot of it was donated, it wasn’t hard cash or anything like that, But the company that did it had all the resources to put it together and they chose our song to use–I think kind of in conjunction with Lookout.

CP: I have one last question. Considering all the hybrid, genre-blending music that people are listening to these days, do you think the guitar–or guitar-based rock–is becoming kind of an old-fashioned instrument? Asking this, I’m thinking of bands where other instruments or even vocals take a bigger role than say guitars.
RK: No way. Rock music is about guitars. I can appreciate that artists want to distinguish themselves from what has happened before them by employing new sounds, instruments, or combinations, but rock music will always live through the guitar. The worst part of all this genre hopping though, is that at some point we are going to have to live through the hype of some band who has “resurrected” guitar-based rock again.