Creator of the Month: Tangerine Rye

Tangerine Rye is a promising young band comprised of childhood friends Jordan Susanto (vocals, guitar) and Hal Abrahms (Fender bass, vocals), with Cambridge born groove-heavy Oscar Reynolds on the drum kit. Their music is soul-based rock, drawing heavily from the blues language and retro pop hooks. Following a celebrated stint of gigs around London’s prime rock venues, the band recorded an exhilarating new EP – produced by the seasoned London blues veteran, Jake Zaitz himself (Dana Gillespie, Alan Darby).

Phi Magazine met with Tangerine Rye lead singer, Jordan Susanto, to have a chat about their EP debut, the band’s musical influences – and much more. 

What inspired your latest album?

The music itself was inspired by an array of contemporary American and British music from the 20th century, but with lyrics pertaining to the emotional issues of today’s youths. There’s classic rock, soul, singer-songwriter stuff and 50’s crooner style balladry, but they’re all tied together by music that’s quite feel-good and emotionally centred at its core. I also wanted them to have pop hooks and memorable melodies. That was the main focus of a first EP. It is a very feel-good and no-frills record all around as I’m going through a period of general disinterest towards intellectual music. Hal (bass guitar, vocals) pointed out recently that when making arrangements for parts or writing songs is he tends to create moments and cues that illustrate atmosphere and emotions.

He had studied classical music growing up, he is very in tune with compositional methods and conveying intention. This helped me narrow down all the options I have from my current harmonic vocabulary, to just write for the sake of that. I’ve then recently come to grips with how music doesn’t have to ‘mean’ anything, and it’s a fruitless endeavour to highlight semantic meaning or put forth notions of logical truth values in songwriting. You could write an essay for that. I tend to let the music speak for itself now, and I don’t get too anxious about trying to fit information in to lyrics an finding that sweet spot between a rhyme and my intended ‘meaning’, because the music gets it across. Practically speaking, what inspired our first and latest album, was to actually have the band put something out because we’d been playing gigs but had no new material to provide and nothing released online to let people listen to if they liked what they heard at the gig. Hal and I have been playing together for about 5 years now in bands with different names, and when we got to London we thought of trying stuff out here but there really isn’t much of a point until we’ve built the band upon a foundation, and that foundation begins with the music, alongside the brand and whatnot.

How much do your songs draw from personal experience?

The songs aren’t necessarily autobiographical, but they are very much influenced by my sentiments. Sometimes it’s because I could imagine myself in a situation each one of these songs presents, because it’s quite a “me”-thing. If my songs were descriptions of my personal experiences they’d be pretty boring. Songs aren’t as narrative as prose, so I don’t really have anything to say in that department. Sometimes you have to be a bit of an actor, and imagine yourself in a situation. An actors’ ability to convey emotions, I presume, would also somehow stem from their experiences of similar emotions or their empathetic abilities. I personally can’t write too far out of my own imagination, but just in case you’re wondering, the lyrics on “Low On Battery” has actually happened to me. “I Know What Love Is” is more outlining the naivety of romanticising life, passion and revel in the extremes of the emotions that come with it all, and doesn’t necessarily agree or disagree with the “narrator” of that song, and that guy singing the words isn’t necessarily “me”. The other two speak for themselves more or less through the music.

So, what’s it like self release an EP?

It’s hard. The EP, out there online, is a needle in a haystack. The submission process came with some new technical terms that we found along the way, but we figured if other people are doing it why can’t we, you know? The scariest part for me was recording it. We had one shot as we recorded the instruments live in the same room at the same time. Messing up would ruin the whole thing. I was so precious about having to play every note with every intended nuance and inflection and our producer Jake had to get me out of that mindset and also allow songs to be affected as much by the composition as it is by the moment it was recorded. It’s helped me let go of my preciousness of every note that comes out of me. This first EP, as mentioned in the previous question was borne out of the need to have content out there. So it was done very quickly. I wrote the songs specifically to record the EP (which means none of them were played live before we recorded them), brought them to the band, spoke to Jake about producing them, had three rehearsals and it was recorded over 8 hours in the studio, that was the first performance of the four tracks, and then I went back in for another day to do the vocals. Since we’re standing on more solid ground now, we’ll have more time to write the next record together. The release itself, was more about relinquishing total private ownership of these babies and giving them to people. It’s theirs now. It was scary as I know I’d face some judgment from people I know, and that was just something I had to face. It’ll hopefully get less scary every release.

Where do you see the band in 5 years?

I don’t think I can afford to think that far as I feel like I’m trying to push this thing forward as much as I can. I’m seeing one year ahead though, and Oscar (drums) has suggested regular rehearsals, not too often but not too sporadic to develop songs down to their little nuances. I’d like to include more cover songs in our live setlist so we can actually play some well paid gigs. Playing originals isn’t really considered providing a service to a venue or their customers, so showcases are more of a portion of tickets sold kinda deal. I’d like to do some video sessions, and eventually a new EP of all new original material next year. We’ve got 2 new songs down for the live set, just got one of Hal’s songs in during a writing session, and I’ve got some riffs I could bring to the band. We’re gonna have more time to develop these now so the next EP will be less stripped back, more produced, more thought out.

What are your biggest musical influences?

To put it simply, mostly Soul, Rock and Blues music. I love Ray Charles. He’s the sweet spot between Soul, Blues, Jazz , Gospel and Pop music. The sound of gospel chord changes in his R&B ballads and that stuff just inherently gets you right in the feels. Beatles over Stones for me for sure, though I do like them both. McCartney over Lennon, though I do like them both. He’s quite a big influence for vocals, songwriting and just my general approach to writing my stuff. So is Sam Cooke. On the heavier side of things, Hal and I are really into Led Zeppelin. I contend they are the best rock band of all time, and that’ll be heard more on the next EP. I got into rock through Guns N’ Roses, when my aunt sang one of their songs at a karaoke thing. She’s a much better singer than I am. All this stuff then, is deeply rooted in the blues language. I love the blues genre, but the language and ‘feel’ of blues that’s present through my primary influences is what binds everything together for myself and many rock songwriters.As a guitar player, my main guys are Jimmy Page, Mark Knopfler, BB King, Slash & Izzy Stradlin, Angus Young, Brian May. Lots of the usual suspects. Then with the internet I discovered modern blues rock virtuosos like Josh Smith, Matt Schofield , and on the pop end of the spectrum, John Mayer’s been an influence for sure. I’m currently trying my best to transcribe some jazz solos by Grant Green, Charlie Christian, Django, Barney Kessell etc. Although these days, I’m finding myself less and less of a guitar geek and more a general musician again after 2 years of intense guitar geeking. I don’t have it in me to be a guitar virtuoso, and I run out of things to say when improvising over a one chord-vamp live and I’m sure I’d get my arse kicked in a guitar battle. Then again, most of the guys who got me in to guitar in the first place were songwriters first and foremost. Though I have a feeling I will be trying to find the sweet spot between being singer, songwriter, and guitarist for a long time.

At the end of the day, what makes Tangerine Rye so fun to play with , is that we’ve found a really, really cool middle ground between all our influences. After our first gig post EP-release we were on quite a high from the energy, and Oscar went on about how he felt the band’s various influenced really gelled together. He’s big into funk , R&B and soul, Hip-Hop and Hal’s into heavy grooving rock like Led Zeppelin, operatic rock like Queen, and also neo-soul. We see the common thread that runs through them all and have found the perfect playground for this band.

Make sure you give Tangerine Rye a listen on Spotify here.