Orgone make life-affirming music; their irresistible funkiness and ability to transcend genre will force anyone out of their seat and onto the dance floor. Even the band’s name — a cosmic amalgamation of the words orgasm and hormone — is a reference to a spirit of creativity and universal life force that they hope will have an “inhibition-canceling effect.”
But this is no hippie shit. This tightly assembled group of eight (and occasionally more) musicians have spent decades playing together and have an ear for production. Orgone have released seven albums since 2001 that are heavily influenced by ’60s- and ’70s-era studio bands, bass- and horn-laden funk and disco boogie. With two more records on the way, Orgone aren’t in ascendancy but in perpetual motion.
“Where we are now as a band is a convergence of these particular individuals [and] the best and strongest that Orgone have ever sounded,” says Sergio Rios, Orgone’s bandleader and guitarist. “We’re putting out a whole lot of love and grit and a fire to do something that hits hard and deep. Something that’s basically no BS.”
This deep connection runs all the way back to the 1990s in the San Fernando Valley, where Rios and keyboardist Dan Hastie played together in various bands and bonded over their love of heavy instrumental funk and soul groups such as The Meters and Booker T & The MGs, and studio bands like The Funk Brothers. Along with drummer Sean O’Shea and bassist Tim Glum, the group began to follow in the footsteps of their rhythm-section heroes.
“We started Orgone with a mission to really play and dedicate ourselves to kind of honoring all the music we love; doing something with reverence and legitimacy,” Rios says. “Coming up with bands like Breakestra and The Lions and Jungle Fire, L.A. has been a really great scene.”
After their 2001 self-titled debut — a straightforward funk record with some freakout psychedelic moments, which would come to be a hallmark of Orgone’s shows — the band put out three albums on Ubiquity Records: 2007’s The Killion Floor and Cali Fever and Killion Vaults in 2010, the latter of which was a “library record” of down-tempo funk and cinematic soul. (Killion Sound is named for the street the studio is on, Killion Street in North Hollywood. (The Killion Floor references Rios’ Killion Sound, named for the North Hollywood street it’s on, and also is a play on Howlin’ Wolf’s song “The Killing Floor.”)
Other releases included Bacano, an atmospheric, early ’70s–style record from 2008.
Orgone’s music is mostly instrumental, but a handful of songs featured Fanny Franklin; she added some nasty vocals on top of the honking 2006 single “Funky Nassau.” That single put Orgone on the map among a growing number of funk fiends, hip-hop and R&B producers looking for a fresh sound with old-school sensibilities. The band became a regular on a multiyear promotional circuit sponsored by Toyota, where they backed up artists like Too Short and Macy Gray and met producer Jack Splash.
With Splash, Orgone lived out its studio-band origins, backing Jennifer Hudson and serving as the uncredited rhythm section on Alicia Keys’ “Teenage Love Affair” and the studio musicians on Cee-Lo Green’s Grammy-winning song “Fool for You.”
The band also would work with their idol, Cyril Neville, on a 45 release of “I Sold My Heart to the Junkman.” “That song is an old ’30s song and the only reason [Neville] even knew it was because his mom would sing it and he knew the melody. We got to put our own personal spin on it,” says keyboardist Hastie, calling the song one of the highlights of his career.
By the time Orgone were laying down obscure covers with their musical heroes in 2017, they had been touring for years with their own powerhouse vocalist. A statuesque woman with a crowning Afro and massive vocal range, Adryon de León brought Orgone to new heights.
“I came up on this boogie funk, this ’80s thing. I was born in ’81 and my parents had massive house parties and would play Luther Vandross and Chaka Khan and Patti LaBelle, and that was kind of in my blood,” de León says.
Although de León didn’t know anyone in Orgone when she joined five years ago, her powerful vocal stylings — which find an easy, sexy groove on disco-influenced songs like “People Beyond the Sun” as well as the belting, punchy “I’m a Woman (I’m a Backbone)” — are an easy fit into the familial group’s evolving sound. De León is featured heavily on 2015’s Beyond the Sun, for which she wrote several songs.
“We’re trying to maintain the integrity of the genres that we’re spread across. I think we have a reverence for all the artists [we’re inspired by],” she says. “That’s psychically as well with the instruments we play and our souls with how we create it. That’s on recordings and live; we never sacrifice that for anything.”
Indeed, Orgone sacrifice nothing onstage despite touring significantly over the past six years. De León sings her heart out with a cool power, Rios wails on his guitar and Will Phillips’ percussion comes in hard to create a gorgeous and very studied cacophony. Orgone also has extended musical family with branches all over Southern California and even up north, where psych-funk brothers-in-arms Monophonics guest and regularly contribute to albums.
In between gigging, Orgone and friends gathered at Rios’ Killion Sound to record The Undercover Mixtape Vol. 1, a series of Orgone-style takes on foundational tunes, including a knockout version of Aretha Franklin’s “Think.” While available on YouTube for some time, the vinyl version on Colemine Records will drop on Jan. 19 along with two original singles.
Rios has owned Killion for about 13 years, and all of Orgone’s albums have been recorded there. The studio also has recorded Jungle Fire’s first record, Boogaloo Assassins’ EP and Ikebe Shakedown, among other artists.
“The studio is our home base, the home of the sound. It came out of necessity because we were unhappy every time we went to bigger studios. We needed a place to record and were driven to have recordings come out the way we envisioned them,” Rios says. “A lot of like-minded bands going are after that same gritty, warm vibe.”
In mid-2018, Rios says, Orgone will release another record of new material with “currency and immediacy to it.” The as-yet-unnamed record is another evolution of Orgone’s sound, diving deeper into early-’80s boogie funk with at least one song that sounds like a boogie version of The Cars colliding with a new-wave Isley Brothers. Although the sound will have an ’80s influence, Orgone want the production to sound timeless, “very tight and big,” to reflect the weight of the messages on the record.
“I think we’ve kinda created this platform where we can do what feels good in the moment. I don’t think we’ve finished any of that yet — we’re still evolving as much as possible,” Hastie says.
Orgone will celebrate the release of The Undercover Mixtape with a show on Friday, Jan. 19, at Teragram Ballroom.