by Jeremie Fincher
If, by now, you
haven't caught an Orion Donicht set, you are missing out on some of
the most authentic Alaskan music you could possibly get your ears on.
Self-dubbed "Post-punk Americana/Alaskana," Orion breaks the mold
in this great State. Anchorage's music scene has been resuscitated
from a lull in the last couple of years, and even though the snowball
effect has taken hold and new bands and artists are popping up all
over Southcentral Alaska, the scene is still limited by the scope and
magnitude of the small population of Anchorage. Orion pushes the
boundaries of that scope and magnitude, and produces a live act that
is truly unique, and not just to our quaint (but growing) music
Orion was born in Little Falls, Minnesota, he grew up on Hatcher Pass, and graduated from Houston High School, class of 1993. "Go Hawks!" he exclaimed. He was into theatrical arts as a child, but realized his true potential in music, which had always been a part of his life. "My dad was a musician, and actually my grandma was a musician, too, on his side. So we were always very musical. I remember every time we got together at grandma's house, we'd stand around the piano at the end of whatever, dinner, Christmas, Thanksgiving, why ever we were there, and the family would sing...My uncle Mark played a lot of music, too."
"In my teens, it dawned on me that I preferred writing and performing my own material. I love the poetry part of writing songs. There's nothing better than writing a song and playing it for your friends and having them freak out because they love it. Saying something profound that makes people think about the world differently is awesome." Orion's first instrument was his voice, but at age eight he received his first drum set. He was in a gigging band called The Credit Cards at nine years old, and opened for The Wallets in Minneapolis, Minnesota at First Avenue, a club owned by (the artist formerly known as) Prince, right after the release of Purple Rain. Prince actually attended that night.
Orion is a one-man-band of sorts, when he is playing solo. He essentially plays four instruments at once, a bass drum, a high-hat, an acoustic or dobro guitar (electrified and distorted, of course - true punk rock) and strong, clever, raspy vocals that express his cagy lyrics. "I try to come from an existentialist blues type slant...You gotta tell a story about something, so you tell about what you see and what you know. I love Fairview, I've been living here for years, lotsa characters."
His songs are all about Anchorage, and his home and neighborhood in the Fairview community. They are catchy, high-energy, in-your-face ditties that hit home with any citizen of 'Planet Anchorage.' "The one-man-band thing, I think, has grown organically out of what I wanted to do and who was available to play with me, at the time. I was a child of necessity. when you're playing by yourself, growing up in Willow on Hatcher Pass, everything is very guitar oriented. I struggle with whether or not it carries itself strongly enough. When I listen to myself on drums and guitar, I hear the same thing I hear when I listen to anyone else on drums and guitar... I wish they had a bass player!" Donicht laughs. This is, of course, not the case, and anyone who has seen this man do his thing knows it to be fact. By the way, Orion, I'd play bass with you any day of the week.
Orion works at the Spenard Roadhouse, and loves his job. "To make money I tend bar. I'm a very gregarious people-person, and it fits that very well." He's also a bicycle enthusiast (more on that, later), and an animal lover. So much so, in fact, that his charity of choice, when he ran for Mayor of Spenard last year, was the SPCA, and his main platform was TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return) for everyone. He did lose that election to the Great "Wicked Wanda," of the Blues Central and Chilkoot Charlies' fame, but states, "There's no one else I would have preferred to lose to. It was a buck a vote. I think, overall, we raised like $5000 bucks for charity. The campaign and the election for the Mayor of Spenard was a great introduction to politics. I totally enjoyed myself. Wicked Wanda was a fabulous opponent. Mr. Whitekeys had all that history of Spenard that he was spittin', man. It's cool to hear him talk about it." Wicked Wanda was a formidable opponent indeed, beating Donicht by approximately 60 votes.
Three of the Spenard Satans.
Orion has a few trademarks. The one-man-band ability is certainly on the list. When asked about his trademarks, he responded, "Is it the funny bits between the songs? Is it the witty banter? Haha! I hope not, I try and get away from that, but, honestly, I can't stop talking once the microphone is turned on. It's my downfall." He is his own worst critic, though, because Orion is a riot onstage or off.
He's even been seen entertaining bystanders on the streets of Anchorage, and on Youtube, with his bicycle performance schtick. He admits, it's not entirely his idea. "There was this crazy kid down on Spenard, I don't even know his name, but I used to see him around a couple summers ago, we'd do all these festival shows down in Cuddy Park, and he'd bring his guitar. He was nuts."
Orion says, one afternoon, after an employee party that never happened, he ended up at Valley Of The Moon Park with this kid. They were both on bicycles, and decided to ride around together. "He was weaving in and out of traffic on Spenard, playing his guitar. Kid was crazy! He played the whole song!" Orion was thoroughly impressed, and sat on the idea for a few years. He thought it would make a great video. He ended up borrowing a camera clamp from his neighbor and videographer Larry Harris, and fashioning a camera mount on his bicycle's handlebars. It only took him a few tries to get it down, one fine Labor Day. The video you see above is take number two. Very impressive, sir!
This year, Orion is focusing his efforts toward a musical release. He's planning on a nine song recording, but he's not sure what medium to use. "Digital recording has made the whole thing obsolete. I burn my demos at home, print off a cheap cover at the UPS Store and throw them onstage. I say, 'free CDs, right next to the tip jar!' I usually average about $5 a CD. The only thing worth anything anymore is the live show. People ask me, can I burn your CD? I say burn a million copies, give it to everyone you know. Then when I play in town, come see my show." He's also got another idea up his sleeve for his next project about a punk rock version of an old Mexican folk tale.
I've had this musical fantasy for two years now. If I could gather all of the Alaskan musicians I admired, kidnap them and take them on a traveling showcase, like the old Wild West wagon shows...Orion would be an essential capture for that caravan. You can catch Orion Donicht at Tap Root this coming Thursday, March 29th. "I've been digging the four hour shows. Bunch of covers, bunch of country music, bunch of blues music. I play the whole four hours with no set breaks." Orion's shows are something to behold. Catch him this Thursday!
Here's another little bonus treat for you from Orion, because I just couldn't get enough.
Anchorage Night Out would like to thank Joel Adams Photography, once again, for his work with Orion Donicht. Joel, you're the man.
Jeremie plays bass guitar in Anchorage rock band Robots Helping Clones and is an Assistant Editor at Anchorage Night Out. You can reach him at email@example.com.
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