Michael Orange’s latest record as Feather Beds – he’s long been a part of the Irish indie scene as a drummer – is entitled ‘Softer Measures’, and, perhaps somewhat obliquely, is a record about memory. Containing loops, spaced-out harmonies and a gentle DIY ethos underpinning the whole thing, he draws on influences established over time living in Montreal, London and Dublin.
I caught up with him ahead of the launch and got the lowdown on the backdrop to his latest work of art…
First of all, tell me a bit about the musical background that led to Feather Beds becoming your musical outlet?
Throughout my twenties I had played drums in various bands in Dublin – The Star Department, Subplots, Autumn Owls. Made albums, toured a good bit, etc. I never really had a huge desire to be solo or whatever, though I was always into production and wanted to learn more about it and get better. The dynamic between doing stuff alone compared to a collaborative project is obviously very different. Both have pros and cons. I still and probably always will see myself as a drummer making solo music.
Has the London/ Montreal/ Dublin experience played into the sound you’re creating?
It has, in so much as your environment influencing anything that you’re doing creatively. Montreal was a nice experience for a couple of years, met lots of nice people, artists/friends that I’m still in touch with now. London is a different animal, really. It’s a trickier place to build a community, but at the same time is a thriving cultural hub with so much going on. Dublin is always ‘home’, even if it feels a very different place now to what it was 15 years ago.
What’s the story behind Softer Measures, and how did it come together for you?
I started work on it probably towards the end of 2018. It came together fairly slowly, in all honesty. A combination of life getting in the way and just starting/scrapping/starting again with some of the songs. I finished the album, fully mixed/mastered, over a year ago. It’s just now it’s finally coming out. I’m still an ‘album’ fan, even if streaming predominantly focuses on/values single tracks more. It’s important to me to have a body of work in an album.
I understand part of the record’s inspiration is memory and the way the brain works. How does that play into what you’ve produced?
During the making of this album and over the last five years, my father was sadly diagnosed with dementia and 2 years ago had to go into full-time care. He was only in his mid-sixties when this happened. Seeing his health and cognitive ability/memory decline made me look at how I take all of these things for granted. It’s a heavy subject matter and I never set out in a ‘this is what I’m writing about’ headspace – it’s a very stream of consciousness approach with me, generally. But looking back over the songs retrospectively and when I’m asked a question like this, I can see a thread connecting all of them to this and my place in it. Making this album was my way of dealing with it all, to some extent, and trying to lift myself out of it. I don’t see it as a heavy album, necessarily. In a strange way I see it as uplifting and me trying to make sense of a heavy situation.
Obviously this is a solo project, but there are a lot of instruments on the record. What does that mean for reproducing it live?
Yeah, the current live line up is myself, Mike Liffey (Mail Order Messiahs), Paul Savage (O Emperor/Whozyerman?) and Ben Shorten (Tomorrows). We treat the live thing as separate to the recordings, which is more fun for everyone. They’re all great musicians and artists themselves, so I’m lucky to have them involved.
Closer ‘Easter Island’ kind of stands out stylistically. Is there a specific story behind that one?
That’s interesting that you see it that way, I didn’t intend for it to stand out stylistically. There isn’t a specific story behind it, as such, it just made sense for me to have it as the album closer. I remember just lots of experimenting with a slide on an acoustic guitar and running it through various things, I wanted to make it sound just the right side of uncomfortable.
How long did it take to create the record, and how do you think it will feel to have it out there in the world?
On and off it took me about 4 years. As I mentioned earlier, I finished it over a year ago and I wanted to have it done before my baby daughter was born in September last year. She’s almost 8 months old now and it’s our first baby, so it’s obviously taken over everything in a lovely way. I’m really proud of the album, as clichéd as it sounds, I think it’s the best thing I’ve done.
Strange Brew obviously has distinctly Irish connections. How have you found working with Gugai from afar?
Gugaí has helped a lot. As a solo artist, I simply couldn’t afford to press the album on vinyl or do proper promotion or whatever without it being a real stress. So I’m really grateful for Strange Brew getting involved with this release.
How did you use looping in your recording?
I suppose it does feature semi-prominently on the album. It’d be a mix of sampling myself and other bits and pieces. I probably listen to electronic music more than anything else at the moment, I’d be a big fan of stuff like Lakker, Plone, Dauwd, Jan Jelinek, Teebs – you’re just hearing how detailed a lot of the production is and seeing how that can work with stuff you’re doing. It’s an exciting process just disappearing off into that production world.
What are your hopes for the album and for Feather Beds moving forward?
As it is with any release, I hope people get something from it and connect with it. I’m a realist and understand that what I do is fairly odd, in the grand scheme of things, and I’m ok with that. In terms of going forward and what’s next, we will see. I have a couple of other collaborative projects in the works separate to Feather Beds that I’m excited to work on. We’re pretty close to having a new live set worked out for Feather Beds as well, so we’re looking forward to doing some live stuff soon.
Softer Measures by Feather Beds is out on May 26 on Strange Brew Records.