SXSW Artist Spotlight: The Orielles

(photo: Neelam Kahn Vela)

360°Sound connected with Esmé Dee Hand-Halford, bassist and vocalist for The Orielles, ahead of their appearance at SXSW 2023. The Orielles, based in Manchester, UK, began their career as a lo-fi dream pop group, but with their latest release, Tableau, have made a leap into experimental electronic explorations inspired by deep house grooves. Henry Carlyle Wade still plays guitar, and Sid Hand-Halford still works the drum kit, but the group have made a stratospheric leap akin to Radiohead’s progression from The Bends to OK Computer. Expressionist waves of sound swirl and churn, as the vocal melodies warble and sigh, while the drums map out a path that’s liberated from time. Yet hooks still abound. Tableau is a challenging and approachable recording; it’s contemplative and meditative and groovy as hell. 

Esmé discussed their inspiration from film and photography, the freedom of producing the record themselves, and the role editing played in creating Tableau. We even talked a little Legend of Zelda. The group will be representing Manchester, opening the SXSW music festival on a bill with punks Loose Articles and the legendary New Order.

I like how you experiment and play with song structure and sounds. The new record has an untethered right-brain feel. Can you share a bit about your creative process?

Recently, writing for us is kind of unconscious decision-making, and making music directed by what is felt. Letting other things decide for us, like how we play or some randomization elements, like the way we produce a record. So I’d say maybe it triggers responses, because it’s something that it taps into that’s more cerebral.

I read a quote from Sid, where she said that you guys consider yourselves editors. That sounds liberating to me. Does that mindset liberate your creative process?

Yeah, definitely. We enjoy taking a step back, making music in a different way that’s very exciting for us. We’re kind of like composing these images. But then the part where the meaning comes from is how to sequence them, and place them next to each other and then decide what the meaning of that becomes. And I think to a degree it was like taking a step back in the air in the studio, from a producer’s perspective, placing all of these elements next to each other and rearranging them in ways where we felt more like editors rather than creators in moments.

It sounds really nonlinear as well.

Yeah, definitely nonlinear. Just following a path that feels natural at the time. We created a lot of the record over different studios, different pockets of time. All of the vocals were written, and the lyrics, in the space of a month, which came after all of the music as well. But we’re kind of all informed by the same feeling and processes. So I think we do enjoy taking which part of the record feels right in each moment, and then discovering that and following it through.

You mentioned film. I know you guys are very interested in film, and in fact, you’re filmmakers as well. [Their most recent film is La vita Olistica (2020)]. How have you brought cinematic elements into the new record?

Again, it goes back to the editing process with this one, rather than any visuals that were explicitly being expressed through the music. More the process of writing a film, structuring a film, storytelling to a degree. But through the musical elements, rather than any kind of narrative form. A lot of times, we would go into the control room when we were listening back to tapes and stuff and watch, I think in particular we were watching a lot of [late American filmmaker] Stan Brakhage experimental films and stuff. It kind of helped the visual sequential thing of that; it helped us figure out how to produce and rearrange the tracks a little bit.

I read a comment that you had drawn inspiration from photography for your music as well. 

Yeah, it was a [American photographer] Lee Friedlander exhibition in Berlin. I just loved the way he was involved in all of the photos. Obviously as the taker, but he also incorporated his shadow that would be reflected in windows or on statues and stuff. And he spoke about rejecting this idea of the decisive moment. Often photographers have this idea that photography happens like such randomization – it’s this decisive moment. Whereas with him, he would painstakingly set up the frames of each moment so it would look natural, but there’s a lot of experimentation that’s gone into it. And, to a degree, there were a lot of random things happening throughout our record. But there was also that idea of taking a step back and fully structuring everything that I think was quite reflected in his photography. I saw a lot of ourselves in that process.

What was your favorite part about making this particular record?

It was definitely first-hand. We didn’t use a producer; we co-produced with our friend, Joel, who we’ve always worked with – he’s engineered other records. It’s been less creatively involved this time, working with him, and doing a lot of it ourselves, allowing that space for experimentation. Also going in without any expectations, because we didn’t demo any tracks, we just had a couple of rough ideas, and knew what vaguely we wanted it to be like. Yeah, just purely going into the studio, and having the freedom to jam these tunes out and let them become what they have become. And to a degree still doing that now as well, with how they grow into a live context. It definitely changed our perspective.

What were some of the challenges making the record?

There were moments where we didn’t really have too much of a plan for a particular day. So, ideas could feel a bit contrived or forced. And if something doesn’t come naturally, I think we basically learned halfway through the process to definitely just give ourselves time off and find inspiration in different ways on those days. I guess it’s like that age old thing of, sometimes doing nothing is the most productive because it teaches what you don’t want to do. There were a lot of tracks that we decided to save in the studio we visited first, for the second studio [an old chapel] because the room was a lot bigger, and we felt a little bit too claustrophobic in a small room. The sound for “Beam/s,” for example, really needed a big space to come to life. And I think we did “Transmission” and “Television” in that big room.

What do you hope people take away from their experience of this record?

We hope it’s a record that people take the time to really experience in different settings and give it a few goes, and hopefully have different responses each time. It’s definitely one that has so many little nuances that it needs a few listens. And it needs a back-to-back and an extensive listen. These days, so much music is consumed as singles or just stand-alone tracks, but with this one, we want people to consume it from start to finish. And then hopefully get a sense of maybe a direction that we’ll be moving in the future.

Will this be your first time at SXSW?

Yeah, first time. It’s been a long time coming. Thankfully, this year we were able to make it happen with funding and stuff. So we’re really excited.

How did the opening slot with New Order come about?

We’re really excited that we’re involved with Manchester Council. So, us, Loose Articles, and New Order – we’re going to be the ambassadors for the Greater Manchester Music Commission. So yeah, should be good.

New Order is a seminal band for me, in terms of introducing me to house music. I hear a lot of deep house going on on Tableau as well.

We’re all big house and deep house record collectors, especially.

I want to ask about the name before I let you go. Because there’s a character called Orielle in [Nintendo video game franchise Legend of] Zelda. I don’t know if you guys knew that.

No, that’s funny you say, though. We really got massively into Zelda on the [Nintendo] Switch through lockdown.

Orielle from Legend of Zelda

I want to read you this bit about the character. ‘Orielle displays something of a romantic side, claiming she dreams of being the village girl portraying the Goddess after the Wing Ceremony with a handsome knight. On a sidequest, Orielle decides to fly off to investigate Fun Fun Island, but ends up stranded on an island in the Sky after crash landing her Loftwing.’ When I read that I was listening to the record and it really made sense to me.

Yeah, that’s amazing.

Where does the name come from?

The name was just picked – when I say fairly randomly, it’s because I can’t remember how it came about. It was just because we wanted a name that emulated what we were listening to, like loads of the Shirelles and those kinds of old ‘60s pop groups. We thought a name like that was fitting.

Check out Tableau on Bandcamp

The Orielles will be playing four sets at SXSW 2023:

Monday 13 March, 9:00 – 9:30 @ Moody Theater
Wednesday 15 March, midnight – 12:40 @ Seven Grand
Thursday 16 March, 8:40 – 9:15 @ Hotel Vegas Patio
Saturday 18 March, 11:00pm – 11:40 @ British Music Embassy at The Courtyard


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