Music Interviews

Interview: The Orb

The paths of The Orb and Pink Floyd have seemingly been on a collision course for decades – so it comes as little surprise to find the two camps have now made it into the recording studio.

When they were released, classic Orb albums u.f.Orb and A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain… received immediate comparisons with Floyd, due largely to their sense of elongated structure and a sense of ambient timelessness running through the music. These comparisons were leant further weight by the Orb using Battersea Power Station in their live posters, countering Pink Floyd’s floating pig with an inflatable sheep for the promotion of the Live ’93 album.

So was it really a matter of time before the two got into bed in the recording studio? When we talk to Alex Paterson, Orb head honcho, there is inevitability in his reply to the question. “Weirder things have happened, I’m sure! It happened through Youth, because we were working on some remixes of David Gilmour‘s stuff at the time. He suggested David do a collaboration, and it snowballed into something else – which was where Metallic Spheres was born.”

Metallic Spheres is the name of the collaborative album, released with impressive speed after the collaboration took place. Paterson talks us through the musicians’ shared aim. “We wanted to bring a real ambient feel to it, but also to keep it as something that was distinguishably his. That wasn’t difficult at all. It was more a case of developing stuff round his work, and making it sound live, and I take my hat off to Youth for doing it. The record is in two parts, but there are five songs in each. We did it in two parts so that it fits on iTunes better, so that you get more for a track. All the monies are going to the Gary McKinnon trust.”

The album uses the innovative concept of 3D60 sound, which Paterson describes as being “a bit like watching a film without the 3D glasses. You don’t have to buy a second pair of headphones, but it all becomes apparent when you do listen to it closely. The sonic panorama can have a real effect on you, and the picture can jolt in from in front of you to just behind your chin!”

“It was more a case of developing stuff round his work, and making it sound live”
– Alex Paterson makes David Gilmour’s collaborative album with The Orb, Metallic Spheres, sound like a simple operation

Delving beneath the surface of the collaborations reveals deeper links between the groups. “I think it’s a journalist’s dream to be honest,” laughs Paterson, “as there are so many heads up’ along the way. One of our friends is married to Rick Wright‘s daughter. The fact we used Battersea power station on the front of our first album vinyl is another connection. There were the Bad Side Of The Moon remixes that we did, and also a couple of interviews with Gilmour in the 1990s where he was very complimentary. Then there are the journalists themselves. “The Orb is the new Pink Floyd”, they claimed!”

Soon he finds himself in fantasy land. “The ideal place for us to do a one off gig would be Battersea Power Station. On a completely different level, though, there’s a fair chance that we will be there in a live capacity, as we’ve been making a film with Malicious Damage Records. We’ve got shots of the power station working, and we’ll show it in a small gallery in Brixton before Christmas. If the proposal is solid that we can take it more seriously, and we can hopefully perform there ourselves.”

Regarding future additions to the Metallic Spheres canon, he says, “I’ve got a mate in who wants to do dubstep versions of Metallic Spheres. We’ll see how it gets on. It’s all about having a fresh approach, isn’t it? There are some very nice oddities; it’s so much easier to do it that way”.

So does he think the Orb have succeeded in bringing their music to a wider fraternity? “I think the slight elements of Pink Floyd that you’ve referred to are as a result of working with people like Steve Hillage on Blue Room. In Glastonbury early on we were trying to bring a rock audience to a dance tent, with the tribal drum roots bringing you in, and then at the last moment string arrangements would appear.”

“It’s not like I’m sitting on my arse at the moment, far from it!”
– Plenty of irons in the fire for The Orb’s Alex Paterson

As to future projects, Paterson has many options open to him. “It’s not like I’m sitting on my arse at the moment, far from it! I’m working on a reggae album with a star from the 1970s, who I couldn’t possibly name yet until it’s done – I wouldn’t like to jinx it. There are lots of green lights though. Jimmy Cauty wants to rejoin the Orb, and as I’ve hinted we would like to revisit Space, we have to do that in January. I have my own radio shows, which are a couple of times a week on”

An extremely talkative interviewee, Paterson goes on to talk about his future of his principal moniker. “The Orb has always been primarily me by myself, but I want that ethos to go to my daughter or my son. No pressure though! It might be that we find Youth’s son or Jimmy’s son can run with it. If you scratch the surface, we are a family of friends. We do tend to hang out, and we’ve always got some sort of contact with each other.”

It helps for Paterson that he has previous record label experience. “As you probably notice, where I’ve been coming from in this interview, I’ve been an A&R man, and I’ve run a record company. Pretty much as soon as we started with Killing Joke, we set up our own label. The big labels have the money and the tour support, and you find that people appreciate you playing places like Middlesbrough. We probably wouldn’t be able to do the gig with Gilmour, but Battersea Power Station would be the obvious place to play. If not there, maybe a meteor crater in Arizona, or an island in the Thames – he could chug up on his barge! I do have this pipe dream of playing in Space,” (the nightclub rather than the vast black entity!) “and we would play Metallic Spheres, A Huge Ever Growing Brain and Little Fluffy Clouds.”

The Orb’s collaborative album with David Gilmour, Metallic Spheres, is out now through Columbia. More information about this and future activities in the world of The Orb can be found at their MySpace.

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