Orgatroid and Adi the Monk release new albums

UNSTOPPABLE: With the release of their new albums, Orgatroid (composed of Jason Daniello, left, and Jeffrey Richards) and Adi the Monk, right, are doing their part to keep Asheville's music scene thriving during the COVID-19 pandemic. Orgatroid photo by Chela Whiteman. Adi the Monk photo by Sadie Culberson.

Even a pandemic can’t stop music. Large social gatherings remain out of the question, but recording continues — and two Asheville acts are among the latest to release new collections. Electronica group Orgatroid debuts its Future Youth EP, while Adi the Monk celebrates the release of Soul of the Earth.

The future is now

Electronic music is sometimes unfairly characterized as cold, sterile and lacking in emotion. But the music of Orgatroid — the duo of Jason Daniello and Jeffrey Richards — is none of those things. Created almost completely from electronic elements, the compositions on the band’s debut EP, Future Youth (out Friday, Aug. 28), benefit from the very nonelectronic backgrounds of the pair of musicians who make it.

Multi-instrumentalist Richards played with the late, great Vic Chesnutt, and was later the drummer in Albuquerque-based alt-country band Hazeldine. He first met Daniello in New Mexico in 1995, and they played together for a time with singer, songwriter, guitarist and Chimayó holy man Armando Ortega.

Daniello, who relocated to Asheville from Albuquerque in 2006, has long played as both a solo musician and as a leader or member of Asheville rock bands, including Broomstars and Jason and the Argonauts. But his primary instrument is guitar.

The two reconnected after Richards moved to Asheville in 2009. Since then, he’s played in a number of bands with Daniello, usually on drums, guitar or bass — only occasionally dabbling on keys. “But Jason started building up his little collection of keyboards,” he recalls. “So when we were practicing, I just started playing them, and I was like, ‘Damn, I actually have a knack for this!’” The more time he spent with the electronic instruments, the less mystifying they seemed.

Both musicians were keenly interested in pursuing a creative path substantially different from their previous projects. Launched in 2014, Orgatroid — a neologism combining “organic” and “android” — relies on modular and keyboard-based synthesizers, sequencers and loops as its primary sonic elements.

In some ways, Orgatroid’s music harks back to ’80s new wave and ’90s darkwave, but more modern elements combine with the analog textures to make something that doesn’t feel tied to any particular style or era. “I think it’s our own thing, and it has elements of everything,” Daniello says, though he admits an appreciation for dreamy trip-hop/chillwave acts like Massive Attack and Air.

Richards concurs, yet his wildly eclectic tastes cover most every style. He’s as likely to rave about an old, obscure Middle Eastern folk recording as he is to talk about a Van der Graaf Generator LP. “I’m really into a lot of Italo-disco as well,” he adds. “I weird Jason out sometimes,” he says with a laugh. “But we meet in the middle.”

There’s nothing middle-of-the-road, however, about Orgatroid’s songs. The lush sonic landscapes sometimes feature pulsing beats; other times, the sounds are more airy and ethereal. But their consistently unifying elements are sturdy melodic lines and an emotionally evocative vibe. Daniello likens the collaborative creative process to sculpture. “You’re subtracting bits from the palette of the sound,” he says.

Richards — also an abstract painter — compares Orgatroid’s music to what he creates on an actual canvas. “However ill-defined it is, it is something, and then you run with that something,” he says. And eventually, “it starts evoking something a little more thing-ish. And you follow the path to it.”

Depending on the song, that path may be well-defined, or it may be blurry — and the strange and often impressionistic videos made to accompany the songs emphasize the otherworldly feel of Orgatroid’s music. “We want each song to tell a story,” Daniello says with a smile. “But we don’t necessarily know what that story is all the time.” Richards describes the listener reaction he hopes for: “I don’t know where it’s going, but I’m going to go there with them.”

The cosmic thread

Asheville’s music community features an impressive number of distinct personalities. But it’s probably safe to say that only one has a personal history that includes a period spent as a Vaishnava monk. Ādi Puruṣa Das performs and records as Adi the Monk, making instrumental music that — on the surface, at least — has little to do with his devotional practices. But as showcased on Soul of the Earth, his fourth and latest release, his jazz/funk/blues instrumentals are informed by his time in Nepal and India. He will celebrate the album’s release with a socially distanced lawn concert at Isis Music Hall on Saturday, Aug. 29, at 6:30 p.m.

Though 2019’s Soul of the City Streets featured saxophonist Bobby Sax, Adi played all of the instruments on his debut EP and self-titled release. And many of his live performances around Asheville — whether at venues or on downtown sidewalks — were solo affairs as well. Soul of the Earth was made using a similar approach, but was created with the idea that the songs would be played live by a trio. “I’ve just been waiting for an opportunity, really, to put the Himalaya Soul Trio together and to start a group of my own,” he says.

The trio format — featuring bassist Jhon Bellizia and drummer Perry Lavin — brings an energy to the music that builds upon the approach of Adi’s previous releases, including his self-titled debut full-length album from 2018. He says that having a band makes the music “more dynamic, because you have the elements of the personalities and tastes of all of the members all mixed together on the palette.”

Adi says that, for him, playing alone is a sort of prayer or meditation: “It’s a lot like talking to yourself.” He characterizes the experience of leading a trio as “more like being in a conversation. There are so many more elements every time you add a new musician.”

Even though he name-checks Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix among his favorite artists, neither of those influences nor many others manifest themselves in an overt way in his original music. “I wouldn’t say that I’ve put a whole lot of time into imbibing or trying to mimic any particular artist’s style,” he says. But he does acknowledge that both jazz great Wes Montgomery and Howlin’ Wolf sideman Hubert Sumlin have influenced his approach on the guitar.

Echoes of Montgomery’s guitar tone show up across Soul of the Earth’s eight tracks. But Adi prefers to chart his own musical path. “What’s really important [to me] is to be able to express myself through the music,” he says. “So, I’ve really never been one too much for trying to imitate another sound. My thing is making my own music and just enjoying whatever comes out naturally.”

The song titles on the new album suggest a contemplative mindset: “The Cosmic Thread,” “Way of the Ancients” and “The Art of Letting Go” are representative examples. But Adi isn’t explicitly conveying philosophy within the compositions. “I generally name the songs after they’re written, and I usually pick the name based on the type of feeling or sentiment or thought that it awakens within me,” he says. “I certainly don’t expect it to have the same effect on everyone.”

Even so, Adi’s background as a monk does color the music he makes. “My motivation for doing anything is affected by my spiritual path, and the time that I spent pursuing deeper understanding of that spiritual nature,” he says. “The way that I do what I do, the reasons why I play music, my expectations from playing music, and my drive behind playing music — those are all directly influenced by my spirituality, which is still very much a part of my everyday life. My spiritual practice is not something that I left behind in the temple many years ago.”


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About Bill Kopp
Author, music journalist, historian, collector, and musician. His first book, "Reinventing Pink Floyd: From Syd Barrett to The Dark Side of the Moon," published by Rowman & Littlefield, is available now. Follow me @the_musoscribe

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