Streetsound hi-nrg interview (11/96)
Bobby 'O', one of the true founders and pioneers of traditional HiNRG. He gave us way too many dynamic and classic HiNRG hits from the 80's to mention. Some that we all remember would be: "Take
A Chance On Me" - Waterfront Home, "Danger" - The Flirts, "Native Love" - Divine, "Shoot Your Shot" - Divine, and "West End Girls" - The Pet Shop Boys. That was the 80's, now this is
the late 90's. Bobby Orlando is back in action with his new HiNRG label Reputation Records. With teasing slogans like "The War for Disco Truth" and "It's all a part of the Great Plan", we're sure to see
Reputation give the HiNRG dance world a run for it's money. Bobby was a joy to talk with, and he certainly has lots to say about HiNRG, life, and the music industry in general. Streetsound caught up with Bobby Orlando via the
telephone at Reputation Records in New York City.
I must tell you Bobby, it's truly an honor to be talking with you, seeing that you are one of the true pioneers of HiNRG dance music worldwide.
Well, if's my privilege to do it, I think your magazine and your website is fantastic. It's a true salute to the power and glory of HiNRG.
We're trying our best! So tell me a bit about how your day has been so far at Reputation Records.
We´ve been getting a lot of phone calls today about our new release by Chicks Inc., I don't know if you got your copy yet or not, but if you haven’t gotten it yet you should soon. There was a really nice review in last week's Billboard Magazine, it was a pick hit and it's really getting a tremendous response. It's called "So Many Males, So Few Men”, and the theme that laments there are so many males in the world but very few men, in the old-fashioned traditional sense. The girl is lamenting that she can't find a good man, but she's meeting a lot of males. It´s a really cool song, great HiNRG track, it's 136bpm, we're getting a lot of strong feedback on that... as we have been getting from most our stuff from Reputation that is in the strong, higher BPM range.
It's always goog to hear a HiNRG track with good vocals and a great story.
Exactly, I'm a song man from the old days. HiNRG is a medium of music which is so intricate, the arrangements are almost classical in a sense, they're exotic When you couple that with a strong lyric it just serves to illustrate the musical nature of HiNRG that some of the other forms of dance music can't even come close to. Like certain forms of techno where the concentration is on production value rather than on musical intricacies and lyrical content.
And also about reeling good!
Exactly! The whole purpose of HiNRG is not only to feel good and positive, because that's the kind of music it is, but also it celebrates life, it celebrates existing, if celebrates the wonder of getting up in the morning and having a cup of coffee! That's how tremendous it is. HiNRG not only celebrates that, but it embellishes that.
It personifies it, basically.
Exactly, it's also a culture, a lifestyle, a state of mind, a passion, it is the passion to live and to live well in the sense that everyone is happy, and everyone is doing positive, good, strong things.
You should write a book, I´d buy it!
[laughter] You know, througout my career, I´ve had lots of hits by God´s grace. I’ve been able to work with really good artists who have really fulfilled my musical talents. Some hits I’ve had throughout the years the Pet Shop Boys, The Flirts and so forth, they were not necessarly HiNRG. A lot of it was in the 120bpm range but the music I did throughout my career that really always struck a VERY powerful chord in me were the ones that were more HiNRG because they were happy and I knew that ____ e I was associated with that with the records, the artists, the singers, they were also very happy, HiNRG type people. I'm a cyclist, I ride 40 miles every day, to be a cyclist peddling 40 miles away, you can only imagine the amount of endorphins build. You know, you see a hill coming, you shift into gear and go. That's all part of the HiNRG mind set which is one of focus, positive, and happiness.
Perfectly said. With me, I workout five days a week, pushing weights and stuff. I'm addicted to it because if feels so good. Then on the way home, I listen to HiNRG on my walkman, if's such a great feeling!
Beautiful! It shows and indicates that the HiNRG mind set is not just musical, but also physical and mental. What you just said shows that HiNRG transcends just music, it's a brotherhood, kind of a ... the word "family", it's kind of wishy-washy but I'll use it because that's what it is. People who are true HiNRG-ites like ourselves, I am convinced that it's the kind of thing that you will know when one of them is in trouble and will be there. Likewise, when we're feeling well, we rejoice when we're around us, rather than some of the alternate forms of dance music in terms of a mind set where people are negative and think of destruction whereas the HiNRG person couldn't even contemplate that type of thinking.
How did you select the name "Reputation" for your new dance label?
We had a few different names to choose from originally, Reputation was not one of the first. We picked ten names and Reputation was maybe number eight on the list. We were going down the list, I asked my friends what they thought of this or that... the thing that I wanted to do with Reputation was I wanted this company to not be specifically based upon the success I had in the past. I didn't want people to think I was trying to trade on my past successes, so I didn't want it ever mentioned that I was affiliated with the company. You know, the early ads and press releases we did never indicated it '"as a Bobby Orlando label. I wanted to cast out there the idea that this is someone coming in who has at one time been in the business before, who has been a part of the HiNRG culture because Reputation is strictly a HiNRG label. So the name Reputation is a name I came up with.
If worked as a good name, it worked that nobody would know it was me, and finally what made me decide to use that name is from one of my favorite songs I wrote in the past callced "Reputation" from the Bobby O album called "Freedom In the Unfree World", it was never particularly a hit as far as a single or anything goes, but it was a very strong track that touched on the HiNRG feeling that I talked about.
So the word Reputation is very you, but to the general public, they don't know it's you.
Right, I didn't want to say, remember me, I did this, I did that ...I really wanted Reputation to be a growth of HiNRG. A lot of people who work at Reputation right now are totally aware of what
I've done in the past. I've very fortunate and blessed to have people who have followed my career over the years, and to them if was a great surprise to see I was behind this label. But my main drive was to make sure that
whoever heard our product, they would either love it, or they would hate it. That happens all the time with HiNRG, because nobody says they
Yes, it's true - they either love it or they hate it.
You wonder why, and I think a lot of that has to due with the fact that only people who are truly positive in nature and full of energy to begin with are going to he attracted to HiNRG.
When you listen to the dance music stations and read the magazines, what do you think so far of HiNRG in the 90's?
I think HiNRG in the 90's has the potential to be the largest Pop renaissance that the music industry has ever seen, which the music industry desperately needs. It's no secret in the corporate world that music sales and CD sales are down dramatically. In the US there are a record number of retailers who've gone bankrupt. I don't believe this is because of changing demographics, it may have a little to do with it, but a lot of if has to do with the inundation of really, really, really poor unhappy music that doesn't drive the consumer to the store. It isn't
Interesting you say that, my mother is in her early 50's, and recently I brought her a tape with Modern Talking and Fancy on it from the 80's. She loved it!! She had never heard that stuff before.
She loved if! Interesting, and intriguing, because you could do the same thing with a 10 year old kid, and get the same reaction. You'll see the kid jumping and smiling. Then, if you turn around and play something that would be more club level or more serious, they'll kindly say, "oh ya, that's nice, that's interesting". HiNRG has the potential to become a tremendous, tremendous force in the pop music culture. Of course, trying to convince the record companies that would take an act of goliath. I think that, looking forward, those companies that are really focussing on HiNRG who can use a good form so that people are interested in hearing what their songs have to say, a-la the 50's and 60's, and package the music with attractive artists, artists pleasing to the sight, that are dynamic and fashionable, I think HiNRG could become tremendously strong in the pop sense, in the culture sense. It's the kind of music where you can celebrate life rather than celebrate death.
Out of interest, what's your favorite song on the radio now'?
I would have to say "Touch" by France Joli.
Excellent choice, being that I'm Canadian!
The song also has such a tremendous producer and I think France Joli is a wonderful person, she's got a great voice, and it's good to see her back.
I think it's going to charge up the charts really fast in the States.
Oh yeah, I think so.
There was a period between '90 and '94 when we didn't hear much HiNRG around in the mainstream at all. What was the cause of that in your opinion?
I believe that without a doubt, the period between 1987 to 1995 even, HiNRG was pretty much squelched, also "disco". I believe the reason is because there are powerful forces in
society that were trying to unite the actions of what was happening in our culture to the Aids crisis and Aids problems during that time. I believe that was a form of prejudice, and I'll even say cold heartedness that made a
segment of society - perhaps the power brokers of certain cultures - to say that they weren't going to give you good, up HiNRG, pop music. What they
Obviously the momentum for HiNRG right now worldwide is snowballing I guess you're a VERY happy man these days!!
It's really fabulous to see HiRNG snowballing and coming back again. I don't think it's come back full force yet, it's still on somewhat of an intellectual level, which is great but it's really going to hit paydirt when you hear someone like your neighbour across the hall or street who knows nothing about music say "wow, disco is making a comeback". When you hear that, that means it's reaching the general culture. Music is the combining force that makes people unite. If you take a bunch of enemies and put them in a room together where HiNRG is being played, they'll start dancing together. What we need more of in the world right now is togetherness and openness and we have to overcome those powers that are trying to do the opposite of that. God has blessed us with musical talents and streaks, and we have to use this music as our weapons of warfare - what we call in this organization "The War for Disco Truth" - we want to go to war against the world, and use our music as our force, and we believe HiNRG will be the striking force in that war.
You know, I think President Clinton needs you!
[laughter] It's just amazing to me Troy that people don't seem to understand how important music really is. It's interesting, it takes 10.000 more facial muscles to produce a frown than to produce a smile. A smile is HiNRG and a frown is House music. The key is to smile, it's our civic duty to produce music that will help people fo feel better and be happy.
That's why I'm doing what I'm doing, my only goal is to promote HiNRG around North America and the world for that matter.
It's a beautiful thing what you're doing, it amazes me how guys like yourself are so committed to HiNRG, even in the dark days when people said nothing about HiNRG, you guys were at the forefront still trying to push it. You are truly one of the great freedom fighters in this war, and you will see as time progresses that your name will become synonymous with the great victory that will be accomplished in HiNRG and the music industry as it grows info a much better period that we're seeing now.
It's interesting you say that. My friend Jason Davis who is another HiNRG reviewer for Streetsound Online and myself... let's go back five years ... we're walking up Yonge Street in downtown Toronto - the main "drag" – and out of stores all we hear being played is terribly dark, depressing, unmelodic House, Techno, Trance music. Today when we take that same walk, ALL we hear is up, happy, bouncy HiNRG and Euro! We never thought we'd see the day that was to happen.
Yes, Jason is a great guy, I've had the pleasure to talk with him several times already. You and Jason have over the past few years I'm sure, kept pushing and pushing for HiNRG. and now you can take some credit for what's happening! /must say it's a blessing to have people like yourselves out there crusading for HiNRG.
Is there any possibility of you taking a stab at remaking "Take A Chance On Me", one of the best tracks you ever wrote?
Thank you so much, yes, "Take A Chance On me" was one of my favorites as well, by Waferfront Home. It really is a good. strong record which we definitely could do a remix of,
Excellent! Speaking of remaking your songs, people are STILL doing it with your past hits. Can you recall who did the latest remake?
Thank you for mentioning that, it's always such a pat on the back when you have other people covering songs I wrote. The one artist which really sticks out in my mind is Jon of the Pleased
Wimmin - with EastWest UK – who remade "Passion". He has a really good handle on the sound, it's kind of HiNRG but a lower style of HiNRG, you know. the negativity isn't there, it's still happy, it's a compliment and
very flattering when people remake my past songs.
Just a little plug here for another group I've interviewed – Capital Sound. They remade your big hit "Desire" in 1994.
Ahh, yes! Really tremendous! That's another one that sticks out in my mind. and I'm glad you mentioned it.They put a hole new “sheen” on my painting, they added other elements to it and it’s even more vibrant in their version.
I also find it interesting that when I hear these remakes of your earlier songs, the artists remaking them don't stray too far from the original sound of the song. To me that indicates the strength of the original track to begin with, and is a compliment to the writer. Basically, these artists a re just updating the song with the latest technology and of course, their interpretation of the track. It’s a big pat on the back.
You're right, it's true. and I appreciate you saving that. It is a pat on the back. It's nice to know that I was a part of musical history, and still doing so at Reputation Records. It's good to know that good people have basically enjoyed something that I've put my hands to, and it's really flattering to say the least.
Okay, now that I've mentioned the 80's ... you know people reading this are going to want me to ask you questions about that era in dance music ... overall, what was best about HiNRG at that time?
In the 80's, HiNRG was a word that we didn't even coin. It happened when people like Divine and the Pet Shop Boys came around, the good thing about that period rather than today - which I kind of like better - is that the music was accidental in some respect. For example, we'd sit down and say, okay, use this type of bassline that goes like this ... [makes the sound of the traditional rolling bassline]... people said, "oh this feels good", they were good accidents to happen, which we just stumbled upon.
So you were one of the few people, like someone else you know - Giorgio Moroder - who discovered the rolling bassline?
[laughter] You just put me in a league with a great master. I'm truly flattered, that's a tremendous compliment. Yeah, we wanted to use that because if looks good. feels good, and from a musical perspective, it's almost classical in the sense that it's a traditional, quality thing. You can use it with various syncopations in the different octave ranges to create rhythm and melody. This is why HiNRG as a musical form is so superior. One might say that classical music is superior to polka .. however I do like polka ... in the pure intrinsic sense, HiNRG is much more complicated and intricate. That's why all the great artists and musicians should stand up and say "HiNRG is what it's all about, and everything else is just a sample". The octave ranges are so powerful and create such emotion. As human beings, when you hear the bass coming out and hitting you in the chest like that, there is nothing on the planet that can stop that force. It’s infections, it#s got that warming effect on your whole being ... that's the power of HiNRG.
How long did your previous label - "O Records" exist for?
O was around for about a decade. We were constantly putting out product in those years. That was uncommon because in those days we didn't have the computer technology which record companies
and producers have today. I didn't have any sequencers to use back then, most of the stuff I played live ... some of it was performed on analog sequencers, but nothing close to the technology today. There was no way to record a
track into a computer. When you recorded in those days you recorded onto tape, the technology didn't come until much,
But it must have been a lot of fun!
Oh yeah, in those days, in order for you to be a producer, you had to be a musician. Today, the producers come in from a technological perspective, not an analytical perspective or analog perspective. This is what make some of the new music sound different, not worse or better, but different, than some of the older records. For example, the France Joli song "Come To Me" has somewhat of a surreal effect to it, and that's because it's not perfectly in time, it's slightly off because human beings are playing it. The computerized technology sounds so perfect because computers are playing it, again, not that it's worse, not that it's better, it's just different. With O Records, when the new technology came around, our records had pretty much run their course and if was time to move on.
What was the first commercial project which O Records undertook and who was the artist?
The first release was by Barbie and the Kens a song called "Just A Gigolo". Along with that was a song called "Change of Life" by the I Spys, both of those records were our first two charted on Billboard's dance charts in ‘79 or '80 I guess it was. Back then, to be an independent record company was really something, everything was the old way of doing business which would be impossible toda. In those days it required much more effort to being a record company than today - there are so many around tnese days. The family type feeling that existed years ago doesn't seem to exist today, it's much more corporate now. BUT, now that HiNRG is back, we’re going to change all that!
Tell me a little bit about one of the 80’s most visible, colourful and outspoken HiNRG icons...you know who I´m reffering to...
Divine was the greatest. His name was Harris Milsted, a very nice guy. I worked with him for a period of about two years, then he went on to work with Pete Waterman. We did one and a
half to two albums with him, of course songs like "Native Love'. "Shoot Your Snot'', both of them very successful. We would play off each other quite a lot. working with him was a real blessing, and I'm glad that we
did get a chance to work together. He travelled quite a bit. on the road, he did LOTS of club dates, but he and I were fine together- it was his manager.
As I look back to that time when Divine was really big, I kind of think that people today like RuPaul owe you a pat on the back.
Oh ya, when I see people doing stuff like RuPaul today, I kind of chuckle a bit. I was the first, there's no question about it. Divine was more 'in your face', a bit more sleazy but in a fun way. The song "Jungle Jezebel", that particular track, those words really sum of the hilarity that went along with Divine.
Okay, so Bobby ... when you were very young, where did you get your musical training?
I started playing guitar, taught myself how to play keyboards, by the time I was in my early teens, I played in a band. Of course it was a rock band in those days, you know, hair down to
your waist, platform shoe's, the glitter rock period.
We used to play a lot, high schools, it was a local rock band. We developed a really good following of fans. Then, as I got a bit older I got a job as a recording engineer, that developed and developed, then I produced a song on Midsong Records called "Dancin" by Todd Forester in 1977. If you could hear a copy of it
Well that's also when "I Feel Love" came out by Donna Summer / Giorgio Moroder.
Exactly, that song became a club hit here in New York, they would play it all the time. From there I went onto produce at Vanguard Records, then in ‘79 i started O Records.
Are there any groups or performers who influenced you to write and produce HiNRG music?
Well, with HiNRG if's hard to pinpoint, but there are commonalities with artists I enjoyed like T. Rex, Alice Cooper - but then what does Alice Cooper have to do with HiNRG? What does David Bowie have to do with HiNRG? I think it has a lot to do with those artists emphasized the glitter rock period, the glamour that would soon become Disco and HiNRG. It was fashionable and glamorous, also it was good music, it didn't bring you down but made you happy. That music' was all about life and liberty. Those particular artists weren't HiNRG at all or even people like Roxy Music or even ABBA! ABBA wasn’t HiNRG but everyone celebrates ABBA as HiNRG.
They were the 'grandfathers' of HiNRG in my opinion.
Yeah, if you think about it, and listen to the music, it is as close to what HiNRG is today. At the time they didn’t call it HiNRG they just called it ABBA.
Look at Almighty Records in the UK, they’re remaking all of ABBA ‘s hits into HiNRG versions.
Exactly! I remember back in ‘75 I was in high school and there was a show on called the David Suskind show. It was a local show in New York and it way great.
On his show he did a special once, the guests were Jayne County, Lily Tomlin, Sylvester, Divine, and someone called Hibiscus. David remarked that they were so kind and so nice yet locking so wild and flamboyant. People in the audience were heckling or laughing, but nobody was getting bitter or blown away by it. And Suskind was a very conservative guy at the end of the show he said
Okay - now let's play a little game . word association. I´m going to throw out names of random HiNRG bands, artists, or other producers and I’d like to hear the first thoughts that come off the top of your head.
Dead or Alive
I agree - to take an aside for a second, what did you think of his cover of "Shoot your Shot from 1986?
I loved it... like anyone who covers my stuff I'm always flattered. I love to hear that third opinion, that third view. The production also shows what the producer’s personality is.
He did change his name to Ringo for that release, but he managed to keep the same energy that the original did.
He's a very talented guy, and he's not a newcomer he's been around for a while. He's very gifted and it’s good to see that teh music he’s making today is still just as good as he was doing [in the80’s]. He is very intelligent the way he does his work, he strategically picks and chooses the best pieces to use then just explodes them up, he’s VERY good.
Nicely said, he's actually my favorite. Okay. now, Culture Beat.
Ah, Culture Beat... I'll put that in two words, extremely exciting. Much more modern, and much more definitive than the other groups now, because they kind of had the benefit of hindsight. They took the best elements of each person .. the forefathers of HiNRG... and expanded upon it to where they can really dramatically 'bring it home
True. Now last, but definitely not least... ABBA
Phenomenal ABBA, if you look at their original recordings and listen to them closely, they all have the sensibility of perfection. They REALLY used lots and lots of vocals. If you look at the original multi-tracks of ABBA's recordings, you'll probably find 20 tracks of just vocals, and maybe eight tracks of music. The harmonies and melodies that we’ve come to love came from the vocals And I think that of course Agneta was kind of a...
Also, one of the great things about her and the other one. Frida, is that they disappeared. There is a lot of power to disappearing, her disappearing really supports the 'cult' status which the group enioys. But, I speculate that they had no idea what they were doing at the time. They knew they were making really good pop records, but never ever realizing that 20 or 25 years later, they would be a cultural icon That fact signifies how strong the HiNRG movement will be again once it gets into full swing.
Do you thing there are any groups around today who might have the same impact 20 years from now as ABBA is enjoying?
Great question, that's a really good question. My answer to that would be no. The reason I say no is because the music industry today is no longer artist centred. The music industry today is more executive centred, or corporate centred. Therefore, as the Sony's, the MCA's, and the Seagram's tend to own the whole music industry the focus is going to be on the corporateness of those entities rather than the 'boutiqueness' of the old record -labels. One of the largest artists in the world right now is Mariah Carey, and as good as she is and as talented as she is. I don't see her in the same genre as ABBA, at least not in the cultural level. So it's hard forme to really nail down Also, I think that the technology today makes people less susceptible to achieving cult status.
Because technology today makes it really easy for the common guy on the street to pick up a computer and synthesizer and make music.
Absolutely correct. And, I might say that one of the great prophets of HiNRG was a fellow by the name of Trevor Horn. He said. "Video Killed the Radio Star", in 1982 by the Buggles Prophetic! The whole theme of that song was that'as video is now coming, there won't be any need for the radio star anymore, and that’s why I believe with this new technology, video has killed the radio star. But that doesn't mean we can't create video stars, and the HiNRG theme and format will be able to support that. As I indicated earlier, the good music, good lyrics, the good artistic personality to front them all, I think the power of HiNRG wilt really be able to augment that statement. My generation has already had their icons, the ABBA's, the Divine's, the question is not the current generation because I think they're shot. But the question will be with the next batch of kids getting older now, the 8 years olds, where are they going to be in 10 years? What will things like the Internet technology, and DVD do to these kids? When we determine what that is.. and nobody really knows yet but I have a feeling of what it might be, then what will happen is we'll be able to determine to what extent the pop culture will be able to take over and if HiNRG will be that medium, which I believe it will
What are your long term plans for Reputation Records?
Short, medium, and long terms plans is to keep pumping out HiNRG music. We want to focus more on zeroing in on our artists' identities, that's '97's big goal. We want to actively and effectively get involved in the DVD market when it comes up, which we expect to see in a year. I think DVD will change everything, DVD as you probably know is Digital Video Disk and in my vision it will replace the CD in time. it will certainly become the defacto form of entertainment in the future, along with the Internet. I think those two areas are going to provide tremendous opportunities for independent record companies to create that 'boutiqueness' that has been missing for the past 10 years. So therefore, "great" record companies will have to become great multimedia companies, there will be a much stronger emphasis on video and filming techniques along with audio techniques. I think we have to really push that technology as an independent record company, push it to the limit so that we can be part of the film medium, which is part of the DVD revolution that I believe is coming soon like the Internet revolution which is already here.
Interesting you say that... a while back you worked with the Pet Shop Boys on the song "West End Girls", back then they were very progressive and used their technology well. Now, with the release of their latest CD "Bilingual", they also have incorporated DVD technology on the disc. Here they are 13 years later, being progressive again, still pushing the limits of technology.
Yes, well Neil and Chris are brilliant guys, and not to pat myself on the back, but they learned from the pro. Music was the breeding ground for us, that's how we met, but we’ve also developed strong personal friendships since then. When the Pet Shop Boys and I were working together, 90% of that time was us pontificating about life, then the other 10% was making the music. But it all came out in the music, and this is why over the years our relationship has remained so topical and intense. The new album is incredibly brilliant, andyou’re right, their use of DVD technology is very good. I think the only mistake that Neil and Chris have made, and I've told them this, tI believe that there was great power and ambiguity of the Pet Shop Boys when they were working with us.Tremendous power in that ambiguity. Somehow, when that ambiguity was removed it somehow lost some of it's power, and only to the extent that I don't think Neil and Chris have the personality to present that without the ambiguity. It was alt part of the Pet Shop Boy's mystic. "West End Girls" was very ambiguous, what was that all about? And "It's A Sin" one of the greatest pop songs of all time,. the lyrics in that song really touched really important nerves. I remember when we were doing that. I had done the original, It said "guys we've got to sound like guilty Catholics". In fact, the original name of the Pet Shop Boys was going to be the Altar Boys, but we changed our minds at the last minute. Their music is very intelligent, which is something they both are, very intelligent. The fact that they are now using that DVD technology shows how savvy they are, and at the same time, maintaining their artisitic integrity.
And, being true to their fans
Exactly, that's where they've been able to walk that tightrope.
I thank you so much for the opportunity to speak with you, you're a terrific guy. I thank you so much for giving Reputation Records theopportunity to show our views on HiNRG, we're very passionate about it. We really feel it's a calling, not a career move, but a calling - you understand what I mean by that because you're a part of it as well. We're looking forward seeing this on the web, and wherever else it might be.
Interview by Troy Matthews for Streetsound (11/96)