ATHENS band The Orange Constant has been creating an intriguing combination of southern rock and prog with jam band sensibilities since its inception in 2012.
The band began in Statesboro before relocating to Athens, and soon started making a name around the southeast. Their most recent release was produced by of Montreal collaborator Drew Vandenberg, and they’ve also worked with legendary R.E.M. engineer John Keane.
In the past several years, The Orange Constant has performed alongside such acts as Perpetual Groove and The Mantras, and they’ve even been recognized for their work in Athens’ beloved Flagpole Magazine - winning the 2016 Flagpole Athens Music Award for best jam/funk band.
The group, who’s bringing their inspired set of songs to Barrelhouse South on Oct. 27, began as a duo before expanding the lineup. That expansion brought bassist Tyler Walker into the mix, who credits founding members Andrew Brantley and Nickalous Benson with keeping their southern rock roots intact.
“They started the band down in Statesboro, and Andrew was into the Allman Brothers, Government Mule, Widespread Panic, bands like that,” Walker explains, adding that the prog-esque arrangements became a factor as the band evolved.
“[Those bands] were really influential to him, and that still holds true to this day. But as more members got added, the songs started getting a little more prog. Especially when Chris got added on keys. But our old drummer is also a huge prog head. Anything from Emerson, Lake & Palmer to Mastodon. So I guess those two influences are sort of rooted in the band, but Chris coming in is what added this other element of experimental [music].”
Keyboardist Chris Freiberg handles most of the instrumental composition, and his approach to writing is almost philosophical.
“He thinks of most of the songs he writes as a journey,” Walker says. “He’s an English major and a storyteller, so he really does visualize these journeys that he’s going on in his head when he’s writing.”
Walker says that Athens has been a good environment for the group, in particular because of its music-centric atmosphere.
“When you think of other bands who’ve come from Athens, you associate [the city] with them. People hear you’re from Athens and they go, ‘Oh wow! These guys are the real deal,’’ he says. “The opportunities are awesome, and the fact that it’s within three or four hours of so many different college towns is really convenient. We’re all music junkies too, so it’s pretty cool to be able to go down the street and see some of your favorite bands.”
On the band’s latest release, 2017’s Point Of Reference, they worked closely with Vandenberg to get the sound they were after and were able to experience working at a major studio - the legendary Chase Park Transduction studio, owned by the renowned David Barbe. The results were less jam-oriented and more along the lines of bands like My Morning Jacket.
“It was really comfortable and it sounds great in there,” Walker says. “And Drew’s the man. His style is really unique. We focused so much on tone, and every day would be fiddling with new pedals or guitar sounds. There was no stone unturned. Every idea we had, we tried. We might have had to add a few extra days of studio time [laughs]. We went down the rabbit hole, and just said, ‘Fuck it, let’s keep going.’”
Vandenberg was involved from the beginning of the process, even going to the band’s rehearsal space to hear the songs in progress and offer feedback.
“From the beginning, he had ideas on not just overdubs but arrangements. He had some major influence as far as changing vocal melodies, adding or retracting harmonies. I think he helped get rid of the fluff, and added fluff when we didn’t have enough. He was very hands on, but super cool and easy to get along with.”
In the studio, Walker says the atmosphere was extremely relaxed - aside from the first few days, when they were nailing down the basic tracks.
“The most anxiety inducing part is when you’re laying down the basic tracks. Especially for the rhythm section, you have to nail the take and if you make a mistake you have to do it again,” he says. “That was the only daunting part, but other than that it was really good vibes in there. Very relaxed and very easy.”
Walker and his bandmates recently released a new single, which they did in Athens with Keane, and they’re making plans to get back in the studio and begin work on a new studio record.
“There’s definitely an evolution,” he says of the new material.
“I think this album is going to be a little more cohesive than our last one. It’s going to be less of ‘Oh, this one has a reggae vibe or this one’s more psychedelic.’ They’re all pretty groovy songs. Some are funkier than others and some are a little poppier than others, but they all have something easy to groove to. The evolution is gonna be in the vocals, too. We’ve got some solid three-part harmonies that we’re working on. I think it’ll be cool because with Keane, it’ll most likely be a little more cut and dry than the last one to try and emulate the live setting.”