As he slides behind the piano and the first note sails away into the air, you know this is an artist who will endure. Perhaps it’s because of his reddish tousled hair and mesmerizing sea green eyes-eyes that fill a room and cause ladies to swoon; perhaps it’s because your toes start tapping and your smile grows so wide that you think your face might actually crack; perhaps it’s because his falsetto hooks and endearingly mournful lyrics can make pain feel like pleasure—or perhaps—just perhaps, it’s because of his ultra cool porkpie hat. Either way, Orlando Napier gives the sometimes daunting and heartless business of indie music possibilities. And within those possibilities, it is clear; he is here to stay.
His music is an eclectic mix of poetry laced swagger that brakes and bolts with heartbreaking nonchalance and confidence. It is a sound that alternates between bold and accomplished R&B beats, bluegrass style harmony and a soul drenched voice that resonates beyond his (mid-twenty) years. He engages you in an earnest manner. His style is unaffected; his talent genuine. He sings in a manner reminiscent of Ray Charles, but not replicating it. “My main influence when I first got started was the music of Ray Charles,” he says. “I figured, since he was the main influence of so many other musicians I looked up to, why not skip the middle man and go straight to the source. I studied Ray ceaselessly, all while trying to discover my own sound and style.” And that’s exactly what he’s done; found his own groove, infused with classic piano, beat box driven riffs, bluesy guitar and a singing voice to match.
Orlando calls Los Angeles home and he is often found performing at the best of the local club circuit. His stage presence, ability to hold an audience in rapt awe and raw power, would suggest that perhaps he burst forth from the womb, belting the blues at the top of his lungs. The fact is, he didn’t recognize his talent, until later. “I started getting serious about music after high school,” he says. “I had always been able to mess around on the piano but at around 18 I started to see it as a potential way to make a living. I didn’t really start to believe until I was about 20. I started singing and writing songs. That is when my father, Hugo Napier, started becoming enthusiastic and pretty soon, I had my own band. Hugo was playing the sax and I was singing and playing keys. I was still just finding my chops and we we’re playing small shows up in Santa Barbara. My confidence was growing quickly and I was writing a couple songs a week. Those we’re amazing times,” he reflects.
Those amazing times, were a mere five years ago, and since then life has kicked into overdrive. He was selected by Team Adam on the television show The Voice, where he wowed with a phenomenal cover of John Mayer’sWaiting On The World to Change. Follow that with his newfound, soaring solo career, touring across the nation and a soon to be recorded and released, full band EP. Part of his understated appeal, is his painfully candid manner. He speaks openly about his brush with John Q. Law, his vices, family relations, his heartaches and heartbreaks, and everything in between. And all those ‘in betweens’, find their way into the lyrics of his songs. “I write about everything. I like a lot of narrative driven stories in my lyrics though, usually with a gritty, urban theme. That being said, my music, like myself, is ever changing.”
Orlando is cool and confident in a way that some people are cool and confident and don’t have to prove it. In closing I ask him, ‘what is the one question you never get asked, but have always wanted to answer’? With his trademark blunt honesty, he answers without hesitation.
“No one’s ever asked me ‘why do you make music for a living?‘ The ‘why’s’ are as diverse and individually distinct as he is. “I think that’s because it may seem obvious to non-musicians: It just looks like fun, right? It’s actually pretty stressful in many ways. I never have enough money and I’m constantly confronted with the threat of embarrassment and failure. After you’ve been playing for long enough you start to really ask yourself…why? It’s awesome if you’re highly successful at it, but most people aren’t. But then, most people simply aren’t very good or they just play as a hobby and aren’t shooting for the stars like me. I do it because I enjoy the spotlight, I like being the center of attention, although I don’t wish to be perceived as that type of person. I do it because it allows me convey emotions that I otherwise couldn’t, especially to complete strangers. I do it for the adrenaline rush that goes with putting my ass on the line and giving myself completely to a room full of judgmental faces. I also do it to feel validation from my peers and eventually, my idols. I do it because I want to be recognized as being really good at what I do by the folks that are really, really good at what I do. But then again, I feel like if I was to achieve such validation I would still feel discontented in some way or another. You can think of a hundred examples of depressed rock stars that have crashed and burned all the way from the top. This leads me to believe that the real thrill in all this is the ride to the top, and I’m enjoying the hell out of it right now.” You will either love Orlando’s blunt honesty or you won’t; but one thing is certain, as he transitions from the “OMG, I can’t believe he didn’t make it” one to bankable musician, he will continue to grow into the artist he chooses to be, on his own terms, in his own way. As Adam Levine noted,”… so much of being a singer is timing and within the first line of the song you had this impeccable, smooth timing.”
Next week, Orlando will be launching a Kickstarter project to fund his EP, which he plans to begin recording in October. As he says, it’s “about friggin time”, which his fans and supporters would surely agree. Kickstarter is an online crowd funding platform, which allows creative types of any sort, to raise maoney for their independently crafted projects in return for cool awards. The funding itself is all or nothing, which seems an appropriate mantra for Orlando.
“Maybe it all just boils down to the fact that playing music for a living is a whole lot better than working a nine to five somewhere, getting bossed around by some schmuck with a pencil mustache,” he says. “I chose this path because it just looked like a good ole time compared to anything else. And luckily, it’s something that comes pretty natural. So why the hell not give it my best shot?” We couldn’t agree more.
To connect with Orlando, visit him at one of his online platforms:
Vixen of Vocabulary who likes to wax poetic about the world of street art, music,busking and all things indie. She has earned two college degrees, traveled extensively and written three books. She is currently finishing the multi-media project, The Noise Beneath the Apple Art-Style Book, to be released in NYC, Spring 2013.