The psychedelic sounds of The Orchid Highway

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By Steve Shaffer

At first glance it’s impossible to tell that the members of The Orchid Highway are products of this generation.

After all, showing up in a psychedelically painted tour bus and looking like five contestants in Austin Powers look-alike contest are not exactly norms in the Canadian independent music scene these days. However, to give credit where credit is due, these guys from Winnipeg and Saskatchewan know how to push the limits in every aspect of their music.

“We were never the kind of band that liked sounding the same from song to song,” says Rory MacDonald, bassist and vocalist. “We’re always trying to push our boundaries.”

Rounding out the band are two other MacDonald brothers, Jamie on guitar, Derek on keyboard, with John Woods also on guitar and Adrian Buckley on drums. By the end of a live set, it’s most likely that a mandolin, harmonica, and even a sitar have also worked their way into a few of their songs.

Inspired by ’60s British pop, the members of The Orchid Highway are constantly exploring with instrumentation.

For the band, experimenting with exotic instruments is not only fun, it’s a way to bring their music in new directions.

“I don’t view a sitar any differently than I would sampling technology,” Rory says. “It’s just another colour in the paint box to draw upon.”

When the Orchid Highway began play in 1994, Winnipeg was primarily a grunge and a hard rock city. The band decided to take its pop music to London, England, where greater recognition for their music awaited them. For two years, they immersed themselves within the thriving Brit-pop scene, where experimentation in music was the norm.

Since their return to Canada, The Orchid Highway has recorded its debut CD entitled Fourplay, which showcases the band’s talent and its willingness to push their boundaries.

But if you really want to see what The Orchid Highway is all about, you have to catch them live.

“Since we’ve been touring,” says Rory, “we keep hearing again and again that [Fourplay] just doesn’t compare to a live show, which is really flattering,” says Rory.

During their shows, the band works with the crowd and jokes around onstage, bringing a certain energy to their music that doesn’t come through over the CD.

During the next few weeks the band will continue its tour, ending up in Vancouver to start recording a new album. According to Rory, there aren’t too many independent acts who spend as much time on the road as they do.

However, he adds, all of their hard work is beginning to pay off.

In the last couple of years, Canada has been more receptive to the band and the show in the Quad before frosh week’s parade and picnic was no exception. Rory was pleased with the Ryerson gig, which grabbed a bigger turnout than when they played at Oakham House last year.

“The reaction just about everywhere we’ve been going is great,” Rory says. All over southern Ontario, there’s so much here. Just a couple hours away you hit Guelph, Kitchener, Wateroloo … the universities have been really great for us.”

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