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“Writing songs – it might be like venting at times. It’s a complicated world”
“If you’re out there on the road worrying about making money, I don’t think you’re going to have a lot of fun.”
On a rainy night in New York City, and after a hard day’s work, drummer Josh Harris and guitarist/vocalist Mike Nesci, two of Brooklyn’s fine young musicians, sit in their humble rehearsal space discussing their latest venture: their band The Aviation Orange. The group is rounded out by Alex Beninato (guitar), Kate Rogers (bass) and Cherie Hannouche (keyboards and vocals).
The band’s list of accomplishments includes the release of their first full-length CD, The Aviation Orange, in the summer 2009, and a follow-up six-song EP East of Here, released this past August. For a band that has been together for a shorter period of time than most, they have an impressively lengthy performance history. As the group carves their way through the plethora of musical acts the Big Apple has to offer, they know no boundaries and have been on a steady course, accumulating more than just mileage. They are accumulating a vast fan base after steady touring of America’s Heartland and making several appearances at some of the nation’s biggest venues for unsigned acts.
The Aviation Orange is, as they refer to themselves, a “self-contained” unit – producing, booking and managing themselves. The band continues forward as they map out a plan to reach their ultimate destination: success – hoping their arrival is right on schedule.
I have to ask, how did you come up with the name?
Mike Nesci: I had an uncle who was a fighter pilot and used to use the term. He always said it with a smirk and never told me what it meant, so it became the name of the band.
How would you best describe your sound?
MN: We’re indie rock. We say this because we have a variety of influences from bands of the 1980s – the Smiths, New Order, and the Cure. We have a lot of different tastes, but those groups gave us the most inspiration, and are at the top of the list.
What about your artistic approach?
MN: We use a lot of guitars and vocal harmonies. Fender amps for the clean tones; Alex uses a lot of chorus, delays, and reverbs on his guitar sound – these sounds are what influence us. Bands like the those I mentioned [use them], which is why we use those particular types of effects. There are a lot of synthesizers, and ambient sounds, specifically KORG, Nord Lead, and Roland Juno 6. Josh just smashes the shit out of his drums. I like to mix drum samples when we’re playing and recording. I like the effect, and I use that to try to achieve a certain sound.
How do you approach songwriting as a group?
MN: I have a guitar part I’ll start playing, Josh will fuck around, and Alex will start playing along. Sometimes we come out with a melody flushed out from what we’re messing around with, sometimes we work on the arrangements. If we like it, we make it a chorus or a verse depending on what we think of it and then add the lyrics. We either come up with music or words first, then figure out the mood.
What are the main themes or topics for most of your songs?
MN: It is a group effort, me writing lyrics and melodies, Alex coming up with melodies, and Josh with his drum parts. When we write songs, we use a process of elimination; we go over it and wonder, ‘Is this cool or tired?’ We keep messing with an idea until we are happy with it. It might be like venting at times – it’s a complicated world – just venting frustrations, voicing your opinions, and feelings at the moment. I think about the isolation and city life, trying to fit in with the masses. Sometimes it can be a lonely feeling. I think it’s tough to just write a song like ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ these days.
How has your approach evolved since you first began playing together?
Josh Harris: Now it’s like different layers. I think we were playing a bit more straight ahead prior to the two girls joining us. Just four years ago this was an all-male band; with the girls, it’s a lot different. It changes our sound to be a bit more mature.
MN: The new album was started last year and was just finished a few months ago. We are happy with how it came out; it represents what we’re about.
Where have you performed recently?
MH: We have been playing around New York. Mostly we open for bigger acts; we opened for Ra Ra Riot in New York City. When we are gigging around [our hometown] we are matched with other bands, switching with them between being the headliner and the opening act. We were at CMJ [in 2010 and 2011], and we played at SXSW 2009.
We had a great time playing in front of new audiences like MidPoint [Music Festival] in Cincinnati, and KahBang in Maine in 2010. We’ve also been performing around the Northeast, from Philly up to Maine, including a few shows in the Midwest en route to Cincinnati.
What’s it like for you going on the road?
JH: We travel well, but being in small vehicles for long periods of time can be, you know, it gets intimate, I guess. It can also be very challenging with so many of us together traveling like that, but we get used to it. So much goes into it and having to pay for things like gas, or just the expenses [in general] – it’s hard to be a touring band. It’s worth it to us because we enjoy what we do. If you’re out there [on the road] worrying about making money, I don’t think you’re going to have a lot of fun. It’s more about having fun and doing what you like to do.
What makes a show a success, in your eyes?
JH: When the crowd is into it, I’m happy. Just going out on the road, you never know what to expect. You wonder, ‘Is anyone going to be there? What’s it going to be like?’ As long as there are a few people there watching us, we’re glad to get out there and play.
What has been your biggest challenge as a band?
MN: Doing it on our own, I’d say. It’s cool being our own band. We manage ourselves and it’s nice in a way because it’s good to be in control; you know where you’re going with your stuff. Sometimes you just want to be creative, and not be about the business shit. It would be nice at some point to give up some of the power, to have someone handle the business end of it. We need a manager; that’s something we know will help us.
What do you do when you’re not playing music?
JH: Not only are we the band, but we all have 40 hour a week full-time jobs. Mike is an engineer at Stratosphere Sound in Manhattan where we do our recording. It’s a privately owned studio by James Iha from The Smashing Pumpkins. Cherie is in advertising for an Internet company, Alex works as a video editor, and Kate works in marketing. I am a tattoo artist’s assistant. You can say we have quite a diverse background.
What lies ahead for you guys?
MN: We’re planning on going back to the studio in the winter to record some new songs. We’re also working on a new music video, one song from the new EP.
JH: We’ve done that in the past; we made a video in 2009 called “Radio.” It aired on mtvU. On MTVmusic.com it reached the number eight spot. It also aired on a show called The Freshman that features up-and-coming bands.
Any last words or anything you’d like to say?
JH: We’re all about sex, drugs and rock and roll. We’re a drinking band with a rocking problem. [laughs] Seriously, in New York City there are so many bands – we’re still trying to find ourselves. We have our own niche, and we’re trying to make it work. We invite the criticism because we know it will make our band better.
photos by Sasha Charoensub