Penthouse Retrospective

by Jon Wiederhorn Originally Published: April, 2001

Orgy | 20 Years Ago This Month

“Shit happens out there on the road. And if you trip over something and fall into 14 girls, you can’t help that”

In that case, Gordon must be particularly miffed by today’s hard-rock scene, which has become overgrown with acts that refuse to push boundaries and merely ape whatever’s popular at the moment, be it rap-rock or neogrunge. These groups may scream like their balls are being chewed by rats, but afterward many cash their royalty checks and return to their well-adjusted lives. By contrast, Orgy’s music is its message, and the members’ art imitates their lives. When Gordon sings, “Living in a big-top dimension / You’re the stalker of the miniworld / Trapped in wonderland suspension / Transmissions from the micronautgirl” on the album’s closer “Where’s Gerrold,” you can bet your photon torpedoes that those lines stem from endless hours watching the Sci-Fi Channel, listening to David Bowie, and getting high.

Appropriately, the rented dwelling in Encino, California, where Orgy recorded Vapor Transmission was as much a party crash pad as an artistic center — so much so that sessions often began with band members stepping over the bodies of their passed-out or hungover friends in order to get to their musical equipment. “We have one friend who we called our drug pet,” says Shuck. “We had a chain leash on him, and we would give him drugs and he would answer the door.”

“We had all these chicks running around the studio and these people we call lurkers, which is our loving name for our friends and people who hang out when we’re doing this thing we call Orgy,” adds Derakh. “But instead of having them there taking up space, we would give them things to do. We would say, ‘Okay, you’re here and you’re partying. How about coming up with a drumbeat for this part, because our drummer’s at home with his baby.’”

Such creative chaos rarely results in art, let alone music, but Orgy was focused enough to be able to stumble through the rubble and construct something that’s both innovative and alluring. Vapor Transmission is a cryptic interplanetary treatise on self-reliance, self-indulgence, and nonconformity that speeds by like a levitating skateboarder cruising through a neon-lit city from Blade Runner. The disc was written largely with unconventional instruments, including down-tuned seven-string guitars, new-wave guitar synthesizers, dissonant keyboard samples, and compressed vocals that make Gordon sound like a nasal Katharine Hepburn impersonator.

Despite the unconventional approach, Orgy’s songs are melodic and propulsive, something of a cross between Gary Numan, Bowie, New Order, and Korn. They might not convert the establishment, but songs like the first single “Fiction (Dreams in Digital),” “Opticon,” and “Suckerface” seem likely to further unite those looking for that mysterious missing link between the sterile computer-pop of Depeche Mode and the aural apocalypse of Marilyn Manson.

As visionary as Orgy is today, the group wasn’t always so forward-thinking. Gordon started out as a glam rocker, Derakh played in the cheesy 1980s hair-metal band Rough Cutt, Shuck was a hairdresser, Hewitt was in a Red Hot Chili Peppers — style punk-funk band called Electric Love Hogs, and bassist Paige Haley was a house painter. The first dose of future shock came in 1992 when Shuck played with Korn front man Jonathan Davis in a local metal band called Sex Art. One of the group’s songs, “Blind,” became a huge hit for Korn, and Davis would later be an important factor in launching Orgy’s course.

The seeds of Orgy were planted in 1996 after Shuck asked Gordon to produce his band Supermodel. “I didn’t really dig them,” says Gordon. “I just wanted to jam with him so we could form our own band.”

Gordon recruited his buddy and future roommate Haley as well as Hewitt and Derakh, whom Gordon knew from the L.A. music scene, and in 1997 Orgy was born. Six months later the group cobbled together a four-song demo, and was immediately signed by partymates Korn to their new label Elementree. In 1998, Orgy was booked as the opening act on the first Family Values Tour, and though it was its first-ever tour as a band, the guys rose to the occasion, attracting a legion of Korn aficionados who later became Orgy fans as well. However, Orgy’s real brush with greatness came when it released a cover of New Order’s “Blue Monday” as the second single off the promising, but uneven, debut album Candyass. Of course pop-music fans may forever remember Orgy as the band that aped New Order, but Gordon has no regrets.

“How could I regret something that actually worked?” he says, then insists that the song choice wasn’t premeditated. “It was so funny because we were actually gonna do a Frida Lyngstad song [remember ‘I Know There’s Something Going On’?]. Then we were in a used-record store in Lake Tahoe and I saw New Order’s Substance sitting on a shelf, and I thought it was pathetic that somebody could put down a record like that. So I bought it just to keep it out of there. We listened to it on the drive home, and just decided to do that instead. We recorded it in like 30 minutes that night.”

“Blue Monday” was more than just a launchpad for Orgy. It gave the musicians the leverage to receive major funding from their label for the recording of Vapor Transmission and the creation of high-tech videos, including the recently released “Fiction (Dreams in Digital).” The video starts Matrix-style with a woman breaking out of a mechanical embryo. She descends from a spaceship and floats down to earth, where she lands in the middle of an Orgy concert. After dancing around seductively, she reaches behind her head, unhinges the back of her skull, and metamorphoses into a metallic robot.

“I would say we’re as influenced by science fiction as we are by music,” says Shuck, “everything from Dune to Star Wars. It’s certainly more interesting to us than a lot of the boring politics that’s going on in the world.”

“In a lot of ways, we’re like crazy politicians,” interjects Gordon. “There’s a lot going on inside us that people haven’t even dreamed of. At this point, I don’t want to unleash everything I know. People in general are stumped by what we can really do.”

It seems safe to theorize that many more people have enjoyed the band Orgy rather than the decidedly adult activity orgy. You may learn why.

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