Not much is known of the LA-based male/female duo Emotional Oranges, but it has been speculated that when Adele’s vocal coach and Drake’s engineer met at a bat mitzvah in 2017, the band was instantly born. A mix of funky bass, break-beat drums and jazzy guitars creates a refreshing, retro sound with futuristic undertones. Michelle Obama and Guy Fieri have both publicly championed the band. Their debut singles, “Motion” and “Personal” immediately created a cult following, generating over 12 million streams globally. “Motion” was made the official theme song for RuPaul’s Drag Race in 2018.
Gig Economy is a Talkhouse series in which artists tell us about their work histories, from part-time pasts to the present tense, in order to demystify the many different paths that can lead to a career as a working musician. Here, the anonymous producer behind the enigmatic R&B project Emotional Oranges discusses starting a music career while working behind the scenes in the industry.
—Annie Fell, Associate Editor, Talkhouse
I worked at Panera Bread as a dishwasher, and then Patty’s Pizza, which is a little pizza shop on the West side of LA as a delivery guy. [It taught me] my work ethic. When you’re making $7.75 an hour with your goal of buying Jordans, or whatever, you’re really going to make sure you get the right shoes because you’ve been working all those hours towards your goal.
Fast forward to interning at Interscope Records, when I was 18 turning 19. Believe it or not, I posted on Facebook that I was looking for an internship in the music industry. There’s this strip on Cloverfield Blvd. in Santa Monica where all the labels and big entertainment companies are, and I took my resume to most of them. The final one was Interscope, and this girl named Carly was like, “Actually, my boss is looking for someone.” I came up and he asked me a bunch of questions. I’m kind of a music nerd with facts and history so I could easily answer whatever he threw at me. He gave me a job on the spot and it’s been on ever since.
It was the early blog area, so I was scraping the emails of writers and reaching out to them with releases, all the way over to bringing drugs to an artist in a session. You know, buying lunch for the staff, making coffees etc. — all the things that I think the new generation kind of lacks. It’s so easy now to get from point A to point B if you’re good at digital. A lot of that laborious stuff has changed with the times, good and bad.
Learning the business side has made me appreciate the creative side even more, because without the right vision — without, “This is my perspective and I’m gonna stand true to me and my DNA” — I don’t think that business even matters. There’s no business to build without that crucial piece. So, when it came to Emotional Oranges, that ethos really pushed me to hone my vision for it, to make decisions and to draw the line as to what it was going to be. I think the other people involved in this project really helped me to accomplish that. They’re all the best at what they do.
The four of us that are in the band, per se, all still have day jobs.There’s my partner, who’s the co-producer and who opens up the show as a DJ: He’s a full time coder. He used to work at Boston Consulting Group, and now he has small equity in a startup in Manhattan Beach. So we get perspective on the tech side of things. It’s really important and keeps us on the cutting edge. My co-writer, who’s our guitar player, is a music teacher in Oklahoma. He’s actually the program lead for a liberal arts school. He’s fantastic; I mean, this is a guy who’s been involved in major projects like Zhu and THEY., and he believed in this thing before we even had a song out. My female singer also has worked everywhere from washing dishes at TGI Fridays in New York to working at upscale bars around LA, and now she’s also writing for other people. She’s an artist in her own right outside of Emotional Oranges.
So all these people have things that are paying them that aren’t Emotional Oranges, because we all believe in putting those three years of development in when it comes to investments. We’ve invested our own earnings into this tour to get it right, and creating the right merchandise. Our fans are like walking billboards, effectively, so when they’re wearing this stuff, we want to make sure it’s still decent quality after three, four, five washes, not just withering away. We want to make sure we’re giving the fans the best we can for their hard earned dollars because we’ve all been there.
We don’t just work to work; we all love what we do. I don’t think my co-writer is ever going to quit being a teacher, even if he had to just do it during the summer. I don’t think my co-producer is ever going to quit coding, even if he has to just be a consultant instead of doing it full time. I don’t think my female singer is ever going to quit being a writer for other people, or quit being an artist in her own right. That definitely is a love and a passion.
I think there are merits to keeping your day job, but I also think it’s really important that when you decide you want to pursue something if you can, insulate yourself so that money isn’t the reason why your art and your strategy is pure. If you can get to that place as a creative, it’s probably the most fulfilling place to be. It took me a decade, legitimately. People talk about the 10,000 hours thing, and I gotta say, I put in my 40,000 hours. We’re able to make really pure decisions based on what we actually want to do and not because someone’s telling us we can’t afford it. Not everyone has the luxury to do that out the gate, but if you can get there, that’s where I found peace of mind.
As told to Annie Fell