Spotlight: Orions Belte
Most future bandmates bond over their shared influences: “Oh, you’re also obsessed with Swedish black metal?” “Oh, you’re an expert in ‘70s prog-folk? Let’s make something!” Instead, Norwegian journeymen Øyvind Blomstrøm (guitar) and Chris Holm (bass) felt a spark from the tastes they didn’t share and the exciting sounds they’d yet to discover on their own.
The seeds were planted in 2016, when the duo toured as part of a folk-pop singer’s backing band, swapping playlists between gigs: Dirty Projectors, tropicalia, ‘60s Wrecking Crew rhythms, Indian traditional music, desert blues and much more.
“It was just hours of driving because cities are pretty far away from each other in Norway,” Blomstrøm says. “We had so much stuff that we’d been listening to separately that isn’t connected. Chris is really into old ‘60s library music, movie scores and stuff like that, and we just started talking about it and saying, ‘It would be really cool to have an open project to do stuff like that.’”
Having accumulated tons of voice memos and unfinished demos, Blomstrøm and Holm decided to try and flesh out all of their disparate ideas in one space. Recruiting drummer Kim Åge Furuhaug, Holm’s friend and collaborator, they set up shop in Bergen, Norway for a weekend of recording—and the results, which nimbly mash up many (if not most) of those sonic reference points above, became the foundation of their debut LP, 2018’s Mint.
“Some of the songs don’t have many overdubs either,” Blomstrøm notes. “It’s pretty raw. Our most-streamed song [‘Joe Frazier,’ which is just over 6 million Spotify plays as of this writing] is a riff I had. Chris added some vocals, and I added some pedal steel, and that’s basically it. We maybe played that song two times, and that’s what ended up on the album.”
Orions Belte were perfectly happy before they achieved their current level of attention— they’re touring and session lifers, already used to operating on the sidelines. “I come from a really small, rural area of Norway,” Blomstrøm says. “The only way to play properly in front of people was to do cover bands or wedding bands. We’re only like 5 million in Norway so it’s harder to be constantly touring, unlike in bigger countries—if you’re in California, you can just play for weeks and weeks in one state. The bands who make it and are really successful in Norway are mostly singing in Norwegian. If you’re playing metal or black metal or jazz, most of those people are touring the world all the time. In Norway, we’re a pretty small band. All the streaming numbers are coming from other countries so, for us, it makes sense to branch out and try to make it to other markets.”
The digital space created that platform, even if Orions Belte broke out with terrible timing just ahead of the pandemic. But they managed to keep up the momentum with a follow-up LP, 2021’s Villa Amorini—a trio of solo albums released under the band umbrella, Kiss-circa-1978-style, and packaged into a 2022 box set—and a recently wrapped North American tour.
It’s a solid framework for Orions Belte’s latest album, Women—a slab of grooving, gently psychedelic earworms that slots in comfortably alongside Khruangbin, Delicate Steve and Altın Gün. The arrangements are bigger, the vocals and more immediate and the sounds are more “organic.” Each song opens up with expertly arranged detail: the jazzy guitar tones of “I Will Always Miss You,” the hushed hooks and low-key Zappa flavors of “Silhouettes,” the breezy soft-funk setting of “Jai Alai,” the dreamy tuned percussion of “Masacote,” the string sections and Blomstrøm’s sighing pedal steel peppered throughout.
“I think the sound from the band is a bit more pure,” Blomstrøm says. “The dynamic range on several songs is bigger than on some of our earlier material, which is more lounge-y in a way. [We’re] just growing. Obviously, we hadn’t played any shows prior to recording [our first album] but, now, we have a lot of stuff so we wanted to make something that felt a bit different.”
They’ve all grown as players on Women: Blomstrøm seems particularly enthused about these latest pedal-steel sounds, though he cautions, “It’s a respect thing—the best pedal-steel players don’t really play the guitar. They’re pedal-steel players. In Norway, everybody is a guitar player who eventually buys a pedal steel and wants to dive into it.”
But none of this is about technique for its own sake—the trio, he says, often joke about enforcing a “no-shred” policy. “That way, we won’t go into places where we play fast just to play fast,” he says. “None of us have those skills anyway. I don’t have much of a theory background, but I love really good players who have a specific voice that you can kind of recognize. That goes for any instrument.”
The key, at least for Blomstrøm, is “vibe.”
“A lot of songs are basically sound documents in a way—it’s not always about intricate parts,” he says. “It’s just us playing a riff or a certain part over and over again, and there are small changes in temperature or mood. ‘Joe Frazier’ could just sound like a blues-rock song or something. But the sound and the way the other two guys are playing makes it a completely different thing.