I am told that Chola Orange is a band from outer space who formed some 327 years ago, on earth for the sole purpose of creating funk music of the intergalactic variety. My sources, the band itself, relay this to me in between distracted bits of laughter and banter amongst themselves. The four members — Kris on keys, Noah on bass, Art on guitar and Greg on drums — seem like a frivolous party, lax in the way of conversation; it’s not until the heart of our interview that the discussion illuminates how earnest they are as artists.
The La Puente band’s origins are like that of many locals. “We’ve been playing music for a while so we ran into each other a couple of times at shows so we decided to start a band together,” says Kris, who, along with conjuring the spirit of futurists Parliament Funkadelic on the synthesizer, speaks through the talkbox on songs like “Dirty Low 2.” “There’s not a lot of stuff to do (in the I.E.), so if you play music it’s something to focus on,” Noah says, and Chola Orange is something they’ve each been focusing on for over two years.
If you frequent shows around Riverside, you might have caught them sharing a bill with their friends and contemporaries, Dreamlover or Shinobi Ghost. “Yeah those foos are all spaced out too,” Kris says. A chief distinguisher between Chola Orange and musicians like Dreamlover, Shinobi or even Daydream Time Machine and Kiki Diago, is the technicality of their music.
Fusion is a brick wall of genre for uninitiated listeners to dig into: It’s fast, can be hard to follow and demands that listeners appreciate dexterity more than they crave melody. Chola Orange’s “spaceship funk” (per their Facebook page) hits the dizzying notes of composer luminaries like Allan Holdsworth and Sun Ra but injects it with groove that they learned from their funk teachers like Zapp.
“Our music is a good mixture of calculation and improvisation,” Art chimes in, breaking his taciturn streak when we get to talking about the songwriting process. His face was gleaming from the glasses he had on that resembled Cyclops’ from the X-Men. Visually driven, the formula for their songs often relies upon a theme to springboard the direction from which they improvise, taking notes along the way. Greater so than the average band is the power of film in inspiring the inception of a song, with film scores like “Naked Lunch” being huge reference points. When writing, they pull “less from musical ideas and structure and use visuals and ideas outside of music,” Noah explains.
Being able to have “an unspoken communication is important” for Greg, too, whose reserve leads me to think he would probably be the straight man in a sitcom that starred them all. Noah jokes, “let’s play a cheeseburger! You be the bread, I’ll be the meat, you be the cheese, Art’s the lettuce. Now play lettuce!” He makes chopping sounds as the band laughs and rolls with the joke. They haven’t yet made a burger-themed song but maybe it’s only a matter of time.
Noah regains his composure, “Nah but it’s like Art said, it’s a calculated measure but there’s … a gamble factor when we start improvising. A song could rise upward or crash down but if you don’t take that risk, we won’t have that explosive factor to go further.” With a song like the beautifully titled “Barry White vs. Michael Myers,” the image comes first: A violent chase scene ripped from an Italian horror movie from the ‘70s or a duel between unlikely opponents fan their creative flames.
While the future bodes ill for the entirety of the planet in the long run, our “Blade Runner” dystopia causes less apprehension among the guys. “The future might be getting worse and worse but there’s always got to be something,” Kris says before Noah finishes his sentence: “ … to hold on to, to continue … we made our bed, people are scared to lay in it.” That’s about as serious as the conversation got for the duration of the time spent with them; it’s hard to bring their spirits down. For Chola Orange, the future is “The Jetsons” but a bit sillier and a lot funkier.