This past Thursday I was on hand for the release of King Orchid's second record "For Battle". For those of you who don't know King Orchid is a local rock duo consisting of guitar and drums and they use a uniquely original idea of layering sound to craft their highly complex and progressive music. The essence of the band is not so much in play right now so much as it's spirit. Like all endeavors in music this one started with an idea. Two people who wanted to work together got together and played around with their different ideas and struggled to find a balance between their full-time jobs, second jobs and sleep schedule. They practiced late, woke up early, went to jobs they hate (and still hate) and struggled to make a lasting relationship. So far this is the usual story of any band starting out, but here is where they are different: they have succeeded.
King Orchid consists of Zack Fierman on drums and Doug Wortman on guitar. Both are classmates of mine from the trenches of Berklee College of Music between 2006-2008. The trenches is what we always referred to as the basement of the 150 Mass Ave. building where students did most of their practicing. Now most people are aware of Berklee, but few can understand the atmosphere it creates and the work ethic it inspires. Right now it's 11:52am on sunday. Starting at 12pm there will be 59 practice rooms at Berklee that will be booked solid in 2-hr increments until 2am tomorrow morning. Do the math and that leaves you with at least 7 different bands in each room with a total of 413 groups (give or take a few) that will potentially rehearse today at Berklee. With an average of 3-4 people per group that means that 1200-1650 people will be rehearsing new music and trying to get something started. This does not include faculty and staff rehearsals and it does not include individual practice rooms. This is only the sunday schedule.
The atmosphere that surrounded us, and still does, was thick. It was extremely competitive and a bit vicious at times. 300 or so bands were fighting for the right to play anywhere they could on any given night. There aren't even 300 venues in Boston that foster new local music so the battle to find a place to play your music is tough. Hence King Orchids new record "For Battle".
This is very much a record written on experiences. The first record was fun, but they had no idea what it would take to get that record promoted and to get people to appreciate their music. For a year they couldn't even find a gig outside of Greater Boston. In year two they were able to break in to newer markets like New York and Philly. Year three took them to Ohio, SXSW and New Orleans. Now in year four they are taking each of those major cities and playing them all in two-and-a-half weeks.
The music they play couldn't be farther from our more modern classical music, but that isn't the point. It's what you need to do these days to succeed. Whether its rock, pop, jazz, classical or something in between the pioneering spirit should be the same. If there is one thing I learned from my time as a student, and now as an employee, of Berklee it's that there is absolutely no substitution for live performances. Performing live consistently sharpens your senses and hones your craft to a level that just can't be reached with practice or rehearsing. Classical musicians need to adopt this mentality and embrace it. I know most would love to play 3-4 nights a week, but some don't see how that is possible. Find some people you like, learn some music and find a place to play it. Then find a second and a third. Learn more music and repeat. Finding venues is tough, but not impossible. Forget money for now. You're not going to make money performing right away. Accept that and you might find yourself willing to do more and go farther than you originally thought.
King Orchid is the story of an endless struggle to balance a career with your own art. At times the lows are so low you want to give up, but the highs are so high you just can't come down. Either way you have to keep working towards your goal. To quote the late Henry Gaffney, "Hard work and a pioneering attitude are all you need. Everything else works itself out. If it doesn't work out you're not working hard enough."