Interview: Orange Island Breathes New Life Into 2003 LP With Forthcoming Reissue

One can be forgiven for missing out on Orange Island during their early-2000s run. With their catchy brand of "kitchen sink alt.-rock"—boasting not only a sense of surging heaviness, but the ruggedness of indie rock, textural nuances of post-hardcore, emotive vocals, etc.—they would work their way up to Triple Crown and then Rise Records, though shortly before both labels saw their profiles begin to increase. Thus Orange Island never truly gained the recognition seen by some of their friends and peers, and gradually faded away by 2005.

Such tales are why I always appreciate reissues so much, as they resurface and bring new attention to great music that continues to fly under the radar, even decades after its original release. So, here we are, with Orange Island's self-titled second full-length getting a new lease on life as One Night Stay, out next month through Iodine Recordings (pre-order now on bone/green split with bone splatter or green marble vinyl, or digital). I spoke with drummer/lyricist Chuck Young and vocalist Dave Gorman about the band's past experiences leading up to this project, which finds Orange Island coming full circle with Iodine Recordings over 20 years after their debut release with the label...

This album was originally released by Triple Crown Records in 2003, but Orange Island had actually gotten its start with Iodine Recordings back in 2001. How did you come full circle with deciding to reissue this album on vinyl with Iodine almost 20 years after the band's breakup?

Chuck: Casey has been one of our guys since working with him back in the early-2000s. I think there has always been a kinship between Orange Island and Iodine just because we were each other's firsts. We had always sort of been invested in each other's successes (or failures, as it were) even beyond our work together. Casey has been a friend first and foremost. Dave started talking seriously about trying to get something released on vinyl as early as 2016 (even if we decided to somehow do it on our own), so I think we were putting that out into the universe and that desire just happened to coincide with Casey's idea of reviving the label as a passion project. Thankfully, he always included us in his vision, and after maybe two years of working to make it happen, here we are.

Dave: I was always bummed that we never got the chance to have any of our previous albums released on vinyl. As a kid growing up in the '80s, I always listened to my dad's vinyl collection at home. I loved the warmth of the sound. I loved pulling the record out of its sleeve and carefully placing it on the turntable—and that moment when the arm drops and the needle hits, there is nothing quite like it. Today, most people stream everything, and the whole deliberate process of picking out a specific album and actually putting a tangible piece of art onto a spinning disc is mostly forgotten. Luckily, in the scene we all came up in, vinyl was then and is now a highly sought-after way of intentionally listening to music. When Casey first reached out to me about the idea, I was elated. It's been a long wait, but I couldn't be more stoked about how everything came together.

In addition to being remastered, One Night Stay features a new album title, new artwork, a totally revamped running order, etc. Talk about some of those decisions.

Chuck: I think we were looking to breathe as much new life into the release as possible, and looking to find a way to make it feel like a whole new animal (as much for marketing purposes as creative ones). I'll take any excuse to put my brain to work, so I definitely got fired up about being able to have new artwork. I'm not sure we were all that stoked with the original layout back in 2003. I remember personally relinquishing a lot of control back then (having historically been a control freak when it came to every aspect of the band). When the record came out, some of my mom's friends even thought the person on the cover was me, which the idea of I always thought would've been the ultimate baller move. "I'm thinking for the cover it's me lying down in the nude, so when you open it up you see my naked ass." Finding Tom [Bejgrowicz from Man Alive Creative] and his work really informed the new title when I took the visuals and applied them to some of the images and themes that were always present in the material, and our overall vibe as a band. It really opened up a whole new dimension of the record, and I immediately began work on a new story version of the lyrics that envisions purgatory as a concrete place.

We decided to use the original tracklisting just because that's how it was always meant to be taken in, at least from a thematic standpoint. If you notice on the original release, the lyrics are presented in the order we're working with now, even though the songs are laid out differently. That tracklisting was a decision based solely on sonics, really. Our producers were thinking about what would make the most sense as far as the listener's ear was concerned, and I trusted [Matt] Squire and [Mike] Poorman wholeheartedly then. We were still looking to define ourselves, and this record felt like a proper introduction. We felt like we needed to tackle it through that lens in a lot of ways: this assumption that a lot of people that would hear this record would be hearing our band for the first time.

Dave: Chuck, who wrote the majority of the lyrical content for Orange Island over the years, always envisioned the storyline of this specific album in the sequence it will be on the vinyl release. So much so that we pushed to actually have the lyrical content in the original release read in the order that the listener will get to hear with this updated version. There was a lot going on around us back during the days of finishing the album, and you can only fight so many battles. At some point you just have to relinquish control and trust the people you are working with to help complete the vision in the closest version of what you, the artist, wants. I couldn't be happier with the new artwork and layout. It's exactly what it should be and more. Also, kudos to Casey for going the extra mile and [having Alan Douches at West West Side remaster] the whole album. There were so many cool parts that ended up buried in the original, and to have the chance to tweak it after all these years is such a beautiful gift.

Old school Orange Island. Photo: Dickie Cummings

As touched upon, the material was recorded with Matt Squire from the almighty Miltown, and must have been right around or shortly before he started to gain more name recognition—certainly years before he would end up working with mainstream pop stars. What was the experience like tracking with Matt?

Chuck: We straight-up idolized Squire because of his work in Miltown. Dave and I basically followed that band around and would make it a point to stand up front right in front of him. The dude put on a show. We knew [their other guitarist] Brian McTernan and [vocalist] Jonah Jenkins from Battery and Only Living Witness, respectively, but I didn't know where this guy had come from. It wasn't until he came in to help us with our first full-length that I realized he had been in Ashes and grew up with Brian in the D.C. area. So, by the time we went in to do this record in 2003, we had worked with Matt a handful of times. We really felt like we had found the formula when we went in to do these songs (Squire, Poorman, Salad Days, Camp Street). At that point, it was like working with your best friends. I was talking to Matt basically every day on the phone, we were hanging out a lot and doing pre-production for the record. He's just a really talented guy, and pushed us in all of the right ways without losing sight of who we were and what we were aiming for. It wasn't a surprise that he went on to do all of the work that he did. He was ambitious as fuck even then. 

Dave: I'll never forget playing a show with Matt's band, Long Distance Runner, shortly after Miltown had broken up at MassArt in Boston. We were just about to start tracking our first full-length for Iodine, Everything You Thought You Knew, at God City. I told him we were going into the studio in a few days and asked if he wanted to come by and hang. I kinda knew what I was doing, but I also had no idea if he would even be interested. At that point, we were more acquaintances than friends. Chuck and I were in attendance for every Miltown show we could possibly get to. That band was—and still is—one of my absolute favorites of all time. In my estimation, they perfected the three-minute rock song while also never compromising on quality. The sickest riffs just poured out of Matt and Brian, and the rhythm section of Jay [Cannava, bass] and Rob [Dulaney, drums] was unreal, and then you have in my opinion hands down the best vocalist in Boston at the time in Jonah as the singer and lyricist. Such a shame they burned out so fast. Luckily for us, Matt said yes. He came by and then never left.

We realized that we had the ultimate team with Matt and Mike together. They were basically part of our band for the last three recordings. The crazy thing is after Matt helped us complete the last recording Orange Island ever did as a band in 2004, he had a mostly-unknown band at the time come in to make their debut album with him. That was Panic at the Disco's A Fever You Can't Sweat Out.

The last thing I'll mention about Matt is he really helped unlock the confidence in my ability to be an actual singer. Prior to working with him, I never ever felt comfortable or proud of a vocal take. He pushed Chuck, Bren [Dickhaut, guitar], and I to be the best we could be in the moment, and I will always be grateful for the time we all worked together.

Promo materials for the reissue cite that Orange Island was "often mislabeled as emo," which I don't entirely agree with in the sense that I think it would be partially accurate to apply that term, it's just certainly not representative of the full breadth of your influences. A number of bands in that early-2000s timeframe were exploring a sort of "heavy" emo sound that was still loaded with excellently catchy songwriting, and I'd place Orange Island into that general category. The work does, however, retain a certain sense of credible ruggedness, not to mention a nice contrast between the vocals and the music. Did Orange Island struggle to fit in and find a place back in the day?

Chuck: I think we struggled to find a place, but it's partially because it took us a while to figure out the sound we were going for. We came from the post-hardcore world as far as taste was concerned, and definitely got pretty heavily into the stuff that people started applying the emo moniker to, for sure, but I think we wanted to maintain an edge and somehow feel a little dangerous? I don't think we liked labels in general (I know that's such a band guy thing to say), but anything that felt necessary solely for marketing purposes or to project the illusion of cool just felt disingenuous. I like the definition of emo that's like "kids trying to be a rock band, but not being good at their instruments." Dave didn't have that higher vocal range. Bren (the main songwriter) was into more abrasive music as a listener. I think I, as a lyricist, didn't want to lean into songs about heartbreak. We also had a faction of friends that stayed in the hardcore world, and I really didn't like alienating them. At its core, the point of this band was to give a voice to the people that I grew up with. I wanted everyone to feel like I was speaking for them or capturing what it was like to come of age in small-town boredom America.

Dave: I will mainly second what Chuck said here. I equally loved and hated that our band didn't fit into a nice, easy category for everyone to consume. I think it definitely worked against us from a marketing standpoint, possibly stunted our ability to get a proper booking agent, and so on. However, we were always authentic, and lots of bands can't say that. We made the music that came from the collective brain of three dudes who liked a lot of different styles back then. I was so in love with singers like Walter Schreifels [Quicksand, Rival Schools, etc.], Garrett Klahn [Texas is the Reason, Solea, etc.], Jim Adkins [Jimmy Eat World], and Jonah Jenkins; but I was also very much into Green Day, Faith No More, Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr., Rage Against the Machine, A Tribe Called Quest, and so on. I could never be on those levels as a vocalist, so once I stopped trying to be somebody else and accepted my voice for what it was, it made things a lot easier for me and the band. There were certainly times when I wanted to fit nicely into a category so we would get recognition, but ultimately I'm so glad we did us and didn't really give a damn if the masses cared or not.

Part of why I ask that is because—despite the fact that I was quite into this style back then—I had only really been minimally exposed to Orange Island through the split with Garrison, so... diving into this reissue has been my first proper exposure to the band, which surprises me. The hooks in tracks like "The Silent Partner, "Burn Off Your Fingerprints," etc. give me this sense of, "Hold up, why the hell didn't this cross my path decades ago!?" I'm told that behind the scenes the band had some impressive opportunities, but was almost cursed with bad luck. Can you shed some light on that?

Chuck: We joke about framing our whole run as the blueprint of how not to be a band. I think we were lucky in a lot of ways in the beginning. It's sort of a miracle we got signed to Iodine and played a bunch of the shows that we were lucky enough to play in those days. It was when we really started making a go of it that things started feeling unlucky. We never had a booking agent, so touring seemed to be an issue. We tried touring our life away after our first full-length, and our plan was to tour our life away after the release of the self-titled record, but all we could ever seem to muster was jumping on things here and there. I don't think Triple Crown put many eggs in our basket. They were mainly going off the word of our friends. I feel like that record was a gamble for them and sort of a favor, and they had their fingers crossed. It also didn't help matters that when they came to see the band play in New York for the first time after signing us, it was a shitshow where Dave walked off like two songs in. We also had asthma attacks, dressing room kickouts, surf and skate windstorms, records coming out that weren't supposed to, and an in-house marketing strategy that could best be described as "playing hard to get."

Dave: I will be the first to admit that I like good pop music. I love a great hook, and so do the majority of us, whether we are willing to admit it or not. I think Orange Island made music that could have crossed over to a larger audience, but we never quite got the proper exposure for that. But then again, take a band like Hot Rod Circuit. They certainly had way more success than we did, but they never got what they deserved. They should've been just as big as every other band they were touring and labelmates with, but it just didn't happen for whatever reason. We were lucky enough to have friends in bands like Hot Rod Circuit, Brand New, The Movielife, and others that were much more popular at the time who wanted to put us as an opener on their shows and would wear our merch on stage in front of hundreds—if not thousands—of people. Ultimately, we made some mistakes, had some bad luck for sure, but also had amazing connections with other bands/artists who did what they could to help Orange Island be heard. I'll forever be thankful to everyone who believed in us back then.

Orange Island, 2022.

The press releases are also touting rumors of reunion shows. Perhaps without spoiling any surprises, are you able to share whether or not anything's in the works beyond the vinyl reissue?

Chuck: We're trying to get our asses in gear to get together and see if the limbs remember what to do. A bunch of us have younger children, so it makes time a severely limited resource. I think we've all maybe tried hard to move on from the band in a lot of ways, so coming back to it in that kind of way involves maybe struggling with some layers that are complicated, but once we find a room and make time to get into it, I think that will dictate to what extent we go after it. Right now, we're looking at maybe a fun local show with friends.

Dave: I would do almost anything to get into a room with four of my closest friends and make music together again. We are working toward that end. For what it's worth, I just bought my first microphone in 18 years. Any chance to create art or spend time with these dudes is something I will always want in my life. Fingers crossed!


One Night Stay will be out September 30 via Iodine Recordings. Pre-order now on bone/green split with bone splatter or green marble vinyl, or digital. Stream more from Orange Island through Spotify, Apple Music, or YouTube; and find the band on Instagram. Peruse more of Iodine's excellent catalog on Bandcamp.