By Hailey Nuthals, Highlighter Editor
Fresh of the heels of the release of their latest EP release for “Terrible Things,” The Orphan The Poet got to jettison themselves off to New York for a limited-date reunion run with the much-loved rock band Conditions. A friendly, energetic four-piece with David Eselgroth on guitar and vocals, Dakota Johnson on guitar, Jake Floyd on bass, and Sam Gordon on drums, the band has been together (albeit with a few different lineups) since the late 2000’s, and has impressively been independent of any labels the entire time. The boys, originally hailing from Columbus, OH, took time just before their show last week at NIHIL Gallery in Brooklyn to speak with WSN about their career, and what it takes to be a band in the alternative scene. (This interview has been edited for brevity.)
WSN: As a purely independent band, how do you guys plan to make money to sustain this as a career?
David Eselgroth: I wish we knew.
Jake Floyd: Yeah, that’s a question we should ask you!
Sam Gordon: Merch. Lots of merch.
DE: I think there are different avenues for different types of bands. For us, in this scene, it’s always been tour-heavy stuff. If you’re not on the road, you’re not necessarily making money. So touring is a big part of it… Funny you should ask that – we just stopped into Spotify today to talk with them. Spotify’s cool but… that’s not in the equation for making money for bands. They definitely have some cool stuff going on over there but for me, as far as my perspective goes, if we’re not on the road, we’re not doing it.
JF: And I think it goes for kind of the attitude of coming from this alternative music scene. All the bands we grew up listening to weren’t on the radio, like, you grew up going to those shows, and then you start playing those shows. So I think that kind of mindset is put in early on with people that grew up in this alternative music scene.
Dakota Johnson: On that same note, though, we don’t know where it is but some radio station has been playing us, and we get ASCAP royalties for that. So we got that check in the mail and it’s like, “heck yeah!” It’s like Christmas. We don’t know anything about that world. That’s like, fairy tale world.
DE: So whoever’s playing us on the radio, thank you.
DJ: Please keep doing it!
WSN: What do you think is making it hardest to make being a musician a sustainable career – the lack of record sales, the skewed royalty percentages from Spotify…?
DE: Both… I think in times of change – we’re still in a time of change, with this whole revolution from streaming and things like that – I don’t think the monetization is locked in. The way that people consume things is changing rapidly. Everyone’s still figuring it out. It’s a time of flux… It’s just a lot of change. Being able to have every song in your pocket – when iPods came out, that was a huge thing. But now it’s not just every song that you bought that’s in your pocket, it’s every song ever. And you have instant access. So I think that’s a big thing that’s making it hard.
JF: I mean, that is a big thing that’s making it hard, but I don’t necessarily see it as a negative thing as much as it is just a change. It is, from a fan standpoint, really cool that I can have every song in my pocket. Before, it just wasn’t possible and I think it comes down to change…
WSN: What, for you guys, is the hardest part when writing a song, and what do you do to cope with that – what are your best songwriting strategies?
DE: I don’t know… I think writing good songs is the hardest part.
SG: Getting from part to part in the middle of the songs is what I struggle with the most. I’ll be like “oh, this is cool. I don’t have anything else. I need three more minutes, I have fifteen seconds.”
JF: Not being afraid to throw out ideas. Something I think we learned, especially with this EP, is not being afraid to try out a million different ideas.
DE: I think that’s it, especially for me personally. For so long I was gun-shy, just thinking like, “I’ve gotta be in the right headspace and sit in my right chair with my right pen so then I write the good songs so it all comes out perfect because that’s the only way to write a good song.” But then it’s like, you get so worried about having the perfect circumstance that translates into the perfect song when you really should just be writing every day and throwing out 99% of what you write. I think for me, I was just scared to write bad music. Getting over that – I think one song on this EP, I swear we re-wrote it five times. But it’s my favorite song on the EP now.
WSN: What’s been the most educational experience you’ve had as a band?
DJ: Seeing how some of the bigger acts we’ve toured with can either be really nice or really mean. Because it can go either way. And I don’t wanna be the mean guy.
SG: Yeah, I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve pulled from playing shows for so long.
JF: It seems not worth it to be mean!
DE: It’s just less fan interaction, because they don’t like you. No one likes you! The fans don’t like you, the bands don’t like you, your own team doesn’t like you… I definitely think that’s it. Just being out with other bands and picking up on stuff – not having them directly teach you and be like “this is how you do it!” But just observing, staying out of people’s way, fly-on-the-wall type stuff.
JF: I think some of the biggest lessons we’ve learned have been just seeing someone else do something and being like “oh, we should just do that now,” instead of being like “hey, how do we do that?”
DJ: Sometimes you learn the most from just playing local shows. Being around people that you know and getting honest feedback because they’re not scared to say it. The people who are brutally honest with you, who’ll be like “you guys, you looked like real cocks up there. You’re coming across real douchey.” And we’ll be like, “okay! Time to take off our matching jackets.”
DE: That was a jab at a band we played with last night. They were all nice guys, they just had these matching jackets. It was funny…
SG: Another thing I’ve learned, just as a piece of advice for musicians, is just practice. Don’t beat yourself up at the shows, just practice your parts. You’ll be so much happier at the show, because you won’t have to worry as much about nailing it. It’ll just come to you naturally.
DE: I feel like when you don’t have to worry about playing your parts, you can have so much more fun on stage.
SG: Exactly. Then you can do what you want, and if you mess up like, a part, it’s whatever.