“My biggest fear was that it wouldn’t make sense”, admits emerging Brooklyn star Richard Orofino when delving into the creative process behind his new EP Spell. “As I put these together and took a step back, I realised the thread is my voice, words and messages, and that’s enough of a vein to course through this project.”
The 22-year-old DIY pop talent throws himself into a kaleidoscopic trove of styles, sounds and influences for his latest output, ranging from 80s-tinged synth-pop and guitar-led indie to 90s alternative.
Songs like the Elliott Smith-esque opener How Does It Feel, the anthemic Rather Die, and deliriously catchy dark pop banger Fall Apart, show Orofino is not afraid to jump out of his comfort zone, displaying his immense musicianship across an array of genres.
“I have influences from all over the place, from film and books. Literally anything. Conversations I hear on the subway”, Orofino tells Daily Star Online.
“Anything I find is inspiring to me and being able to shape shift a bit while remaining true to myself.”
After starting his writing and musical production path from his parent’s attic in Northport, New York, Orofino established a wide fanbase thanks to his prolific output, which boasts more than 20 releases on his Bandcamp page, and past singles Redeye and i heard you were looking like the moon notching more than a million streams each.
Orofino’s talents don’t stop there. He’s also established a major following on TikTok through genius videos like titled “picking things up and turning them into songs”.
Daily Star Online’s Rory McKeown caught up with Orofino to talk about his latest EP, its influences, and his newfound TikTok fame.
Hi Richard, how’s 2020 been for you so far? How have you dealt with lockdown?
“For me personally I found myself thrive in quarantine. I’ve always been a bit of a loner in an OK way. I’ve seemed to prefer spending time on my own and working what sort of craft I was into at that moment in time.
“This gave me that opportunity to really get into it in a tonne of different ways.”
Did you have to overcome any challenges at all?
“Definitely. There were moments where I found myself thriving but underneath it all I found myself ignoring really important things I should have been dealing with head on. I ended up writing about that moment on one of these tracks on the EP. Some of the other songs don’t really talk much about that. A song called Fall Apart was one of the last additions.
“When you find yourself only creating and not dealing with anxieties and mental health issues that are very much real and present, that becomes really problematic.”
Do you use songwriting as a form of helping with certain ways you might be feeling?
“Yes – for sure. It always has. Even if I don’t realise it, I find myself writing about such specific things. It’ll be a voice memo with an idea and I’ll start saying gibberish in a Freudian way. Whatever feeling comes out on the memo, I’m hinting at words and trying to make out what I’m saying. I think being able to deal with it I’m very lucky to have this as an outlet.”
You mentioned your new EP Spell. What was its writing and recording process like? When did you start penning it?
“It was a different approach. My last EP, I had two co-writes on it with one of my songwriting partners. We went up to LA and would do some writing. The other three songs I wrote on my own.
“We had old demos. What we did was this classic approach. We went into a studio, we had this many days. We did the whole thing from scratch.
“For the Spell EP – it was very different. I had songs from four years ago that I completely redid in my apartment. I had a song like Fall Apart that I literally did four months ago.
“It’s a bunch of scattered moments that piece together this timeline.”
It’s a sonically varied effort, ranging from huge anthemic, synth-pop of Rather Die, 90s alternative of How Does It Feel, to the funk-driven Be With You. Do you enjoy delving into different styles?
“Totally – it’s something I never really did to this extent. I’ve always been really scared of that. I felt like I was so pent up on keeping a thread of ‘this is the sonics, this is the vibe’. I had to take a step back and look at this whole discography of year of songs and demos. I had to think ‘this can sound like this big anthemic thing, and this can sound like this Elliott Smith, whispery track’. Or like Be With You, this funky, uplifting, really sad song.
“My biggest fear was that it wouldn’t make sense. As I put these together and took a step back, I realised the thread is my voice, words and messages, and that’s enough of a vein to course through this project.”
Do you think this EP is the best representation of who you are as an artist?
“I think so. I love my last (EP), of course. I spent so much time on that and put a lot of love into it. This is a different thing and it feels more organically mine.
“I have influences from all over the place, from film and books. Literally anything. Conversations I hear on the subway. Anything I find is inspiring to me and being able to shape shift a bit while remaining true to myself.”
Do you like that observational take on things with your writing?
“Definitely. Particularly the song How Does It Feel? It’s literally me on the J train looking at this person across from me. Nervously biting their nails, who looks like they may have had a really rough night. I don’t know you at all but I like to imagine that I wish I could do something. It’s this weird want to feel a part of something you’re not a part of. You want to help but you don’t know how. This definitely has a lot of songs about me on this EP.”
How has Brooklyn moulded you living there? What’s the scene like there for artists in general?
“I grew up on Long Island, which is about an hour from Brooklyn. I would come in and visit growing up. I would come into the city. It was always so fun and different. I grew up in a very white suburban neighbourhood. It was a huge change being in a place so drastically different.
“I was able to go to school for one semester in Boston which was also very different. But there’s nothing quite like Brooklyn because it has this weird feeling of home still. It’s close by but still feels like this different world.
“It’s enabled me to be on my own a lot more, and go out and explore, meet many people I wouldn’t have been able to meet from all over the place.
“To talk about the scene, I got here and played a bunch of shows in New York, started to meet a bunch of new people and musicians, it’s just a very collaborative thing. It quickly disappeared because of corona. We can do Zoom writing and still try to collaborate.
“The scene is an attitude, which is cool. I really like that about New York.”
When did you get into music?
“My father was a musician. He was the lead singer of multiple rock bands and grunge bands from high school until he had me. His father was a musician, and his father was a musician. There is a lot of music. Music was a huge part of my life.
“Second grade I had to take piano lessons. I loved it. I was not very good at it. I couldn’t read music, I would learn everything by ear. I went through a bunch of teachers because they’d be like ‘maybe music’s not your thing’. I didn’t like that at all. Until I found the right teacher who made me realise this was something I could do.
“I was the drum captain in the marching band. I taught myself the drum set, then I taught myself guitar. I also loved football. In ninth grade, I broke so many bones through skateboarding, they kicked me off the team. I thought ‘screw this, I’m going to make music’.
“I have emotional things with relationships in middle school and high school, family things I want to write about. That was when it took off for me. I didn’t care about anything else.”
Are there any artists that inspired you?
“The moment I decided I wanted to make music was when I was in seventh grade. I had this really cool English teacher, Mr Kenny. He would make us do silent work. On his Bluetooth speaker, he would play these playlists. It was stuff I’d never heard before. He was playing Wake Up by Arcade Fire. I was like ‘what is this? What is happening right now?’ It sounded like it was created with 20 people in a basement. I wanted to make that.
“I would ask him about bands. He showed be Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, Iron & Wine, and Real Estate, all these 2009-10 indie artists. That catapulted me into discovering music on my own, rather than hearing Soundgarden and Sade, which are band I absolutely love. And Van Halen. My dad is obsessed. That’s what I heard a lot of, hair rock and 90s r&b growing up.
“Being able to discover things on my own just triggered something in me.”
You’ve picked up a following on TikTok for your videos. I especially like the “picking something up and turning it into a song” feature. What do you make of the TikTok phenomenon? How has it helped you as an artist?
“TikTok is like the wild west. It’s this strange anomaly that’s amazing. It’s really scary in an exciting way.
“Being a part of that is weird to think of. I don’t really think you can be a part of something like that. It’s so vast that it’s this sea of small, viral moments. You can try and have a following on it. It’s hard to keep that. I see accounts that post whatever. One of their videos will be funny by accident. But you’re looking through this sea of ‘you’re an established musician, I like you, I like your sound’, or ‘you’re an established artist, who a comedian’, I always end up liking the really, strange cursed moments on TikTok.
“It’s a lot of fun. I get to do whatever I want. It’s to be able to do whatever you want as a creator. You have full control. I have comedy bits on it on there. I will have me playing my songs, or me turning an silly advertisement into an 80s pop song.”
What’s next for you? Do you have an ultimate goal?
“My next step is to start introducing these new sounds I’ve created during this time. I love making movies and directing. My ultimate goal would be to create some short piece that I score and direct and edit. Either narrate or have people telling a story. I think my ultimate goal is to reach out to other pockets of media that I really admire.”
Richard Orofino’s Spell EP is out now
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