Photo: Eric Scott Russell
Stephen Chai & The No-Nation Orchestra
Stephen Chai – Keys/Vocals/Woodwinds
Josh Dickson – Drums/Percussion/Trumpet
Mike Sasich – Guitar/Recording/Mastering
Weston Wulle — Bass
Whenever I hear someone complain about the music scene in Utah, I just want to scroll through their Zune to see exactly what it is that they are looking for, because they clearly either don’t like good music, or they are in a hair metal band and they are still too pissed at grunge to recognize talent. If you are one of the many good-music lovers, or if you are finally ready to cut the head off of Whitesnake, go chalk up Stephen Chai & The No-Nation Orchestra on your list of “Reasons Utah is a Flourishing Music-Lover’s Community.”
You’ve likely heard of at least one of the myriad of projects the members of the No-Nation Orchestra have been/are currently in. From Laserfang, to Thunderfist, to SLAJO, to Righteous Audio Werks, to the Night Sweats, to Mammoth and on and on—the No-Nation Orchestra have come together to create some ridiculously catchy, dancey, jammy, falsetto-ridden music that will get stuck in your head like a mnemonic device for at least three days after Craft Lake City.
The No-Nation Orchestra—a moniker they claimed only a few months ago—shouldn’t be considered a new band. These are seasoned musicians, comfortable with each other’s quirks and capabilities. Think of the Orchestra less as a new band, and more as a super group—and if the words “super group” made you think of Velvet Revolver, then I’m sorry.
The term “orchestra” generally doesn’t evoke images of just four people. However, Stephen Chai and company have created just that. “The thing that makes it tough is we put so much stuff on the recording that it takes a whole bunch of people to play live,” Sasich says. After listening to the track “More More More” (which can and should be listened to on Soundcloud), it’s clear what he’s talking about. Between the drums, rhythmic percussion, horn sections, vocals, bass, guitars and who knows what else, these four guys have created enough music for eleven people to play on stage. “Getting eleven people together is difficult,” Chai says, which means that Craft Lake City, their debut gig, is that much more exciting. Lucky for us, it will be members of SLAJO that will be making the Orchestra an 11-piece when they perform live.
The No-Nation Orchestra recognizes that there is a big community of like-minded, jazz-oriented, collaborative musicians in Utah, coming from all different schools of music. “It’s a lot bigger than you think. There’s like one degree of separation from you and a completely different genre,” says Chai. This is the great thing about these types of projects (SLAJO, Joshua Payne Orchestra, etc.)—if you check these guys’ Facebook pages, you’ll find that they like Gaza and the almighty Eagle Twin as much as they like the Daniel Day Trio and the Rubes. Basically, these are musicians’ musicians. They know good music, and they play good music.
In the wake of listening to the No-Nation Orchestra’s brand of self-described afrobeat for the first time, and after Googling “afrobeat” (yeah, I know, eff me), I felt like I had just heard music cultivated over the course of weeks of practices in a room full of Fela Kuti posters. In actuality, the band only needed to rehearse a few times before recording, which is pretty amazing. On second listen, I realized that this is more like afro-jazz-pop-Latin-soul-Cuban-Talking Heads-doo-wop music, with a dash of Mike Patton in case all of that can’t keep the listener excited. “I don’t call it ‘afrobeat,’” adds Wulle. “I call it ‘albinobeat’ due to the lack of afros.”
On the record, which should hit the streets sometime in August, the Orchestra was “pretty straightforward, with a few solos,” says Dickson. “For the live stuff we’re gonna add some longer solo sections which can be improvised.” This makes sense to them, given that the live show is more energetic, and a live audience can embrace a four-minute solo much more emphatically than they could while listening on iTunes.
When asked about their musical backgrounds, I got a resounding “everything” from everyone in the group. At first I thought they were kidding, but after a brief discussion about the possibility of a touring Garth Brooks cover band, I dropped the subject. However, it’s this very diversity that makes the Orchestra such an oddly cohesive group. That, and they seem to all genuinely like each other. (Just in case they weren’t kidding, keep an eye out for Stephen Chai and the Garth Brooks Trio later this year).
So, go “Like” them on Facebook, and be sure to mark Craft Lake City in your iCal on August 13, because on top of everything else, you won’t want to miss Stephen Chai & The No-Nation Orchestra’s inaugural performance. In fact, I’ll give you my Zune if they don’t put on a great show.