Local Music Spotlight: The Orphan The Poet
For the alt-rockers poised to gain an even greater national following in 2019, Columbus is a place they're proud to call home
On a cloudy fall afternoon before their most recent show in Columbus, local alt-rock trio The Orphan The Poet and I huddled around a little table at Upper Cup Coffee Co. on Parsons Avenue, exchanging chatter above the loud din of clinking spoons and espresso machine whooshes.
My first question focused on the video for their single, “Still Buzzin’,” which features a surprisingly calm lead singer David Eselgroth covered from chest to chin in honeybees as he belts out the energetic three-minute track. As a self-identified apiphobe (I love what bees do, just from a great distance), watching them meander and vibrate across his skin was the stuff of my own personal nightmares.
“Ha! The bees!” he guffaws. “You’re not the first to say that. We’ve heard people say, ‘I can’t watch this,’ or, ‘Oh my gosh, why?’ or, ‘You’ve ruined my day, my year,’ and everything. But, yeah, that was a crazy video – a crazy, crazy video. We’re nerds and like puns, I guess. [laughs]”
“Jake came up with the idea to cover me in bees,” Eselgroth continues. “And it started off as, ‘Oh yeah, that’ll never happen!’ And, so, I was, like, ‘that’s a great idea!’ thinking, ‘That’s not gonna happen. I don’t actually have to worry about it.’ But, I don’t know if it was the next day, or a couple of days later, that I got a call from Jake. And he’s, like, ‘Dude! I got ‘em!’ And I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ And he said, ‘The bees. I got the bees.’ And [he] arranged them and found a bee expert…”
“We made it happen,” bassist Jake Floyd affirms with a smile. “[The bee expert] was surprisingly easy to find. Not as easy to convince him.”
Eselgroth laughs. “I think he said it was a dumb idea. And then I kind of laughed. And he said, ‘No. I strongly…’”
“We had to get liability forms signed,” Floyd explains. “And we had to bring David out to the bee farm in advance to get stung with, like, medics present and stuff to ensure…so everyone knows that…”
“…knows that I’m not allergic,” Eselgroth interjects. “I don’t remember the last time I was stung by a bee, so, you know, things change. You know, you’re not allergic when you’re a kid, but you can develop it. So, it could have gone very badly.”
I winced when I asked how many times Eselgroth actually got stung by the end of the shoot.
“This is my favorite part!” he exclaims. “So, as Barry – that’s the bee expert – is literally dumping these bees on my face, you know, I’m trying to settle in and get my breathing down because it’s kind of a crazy thing. And, I think the bees had been on me maybe a minute, maybe two…I don’t know, maybe I blacked out and maybe it was longer than that. But I get a little zap up here on my ear, and I was thinking, ‘Oh, no. These bees haven’t been on me that long. Is this what it’s going to be like? One here, one there, you know, just kind of peppering me over the course of this shoot.
But, luckily that was the only one. I got stung once with ten thousand – ten thousand – on my face.”
It seems that Eselgroth’s bodily sacrifice paid off in dividends, as “…Buzzin’” would soon live up to its homonymic name by generating a significant amount of airplay for Eselgroth, Floyd, and drummer Sam Floyd, who tipped their proverbial hats to local Columbus station CD 102.5 for being especially supportive of its launch. With the equally infectious follow-up single “Money” arriving late last year, they’ve received national attention with spins on Los Angeles’ infamous alt-rock heavyweight KROQ FM, and inclusion on Spotify’s “It’s ALT Good!” and “The New Alt” playlists.
In 2019, they’ll join Panic! At The Disco, Post Malone, and Death Cab For Cutie at the Firefly Music Festival, a venue they first played in 2017 post-release of their first EP, Terrible Things.
You’re all Columbus transplants, but each of you grew up within shouting distance. When did you become familiar with the music scene here?
David: “My memories of Columbus growing up were coming to [town] for music. We’re all from small towns. It was driving to Columbus, or Cincinnati, or even – I don’t know – Cleveland every once in a while to experience music. So, to me, Columbus has always been…that’s where you go for music.”
Jake: “When I was a kid, it was…there was a concert that day, so, my parents are driving me to Newport Music Hall…”
David: “Yeah, yeah – Newport was my first concert ever.”
And Newport is still a really great venue for music. Those walls have stories to tell.
Jake: “Every chance we get on tours like this, and any tour we do – the old music venues that have history are always my favorite…”
David: “…and you can tell because as soon as you walk in, they have a smell…almost like a taste to them…”
Right. That sort of mix of wood and stale beer…and maybe a little throw up in there for good measure…
David: “[laughs] Yeah, exactly. And also, I sort of like it when you can tell that people used to be able to smoke in there. It’s that musty…I don’t know what it is. But, it’s cool – we definitely like the old theaters and the old clubs. That’s definitely what we grew up going to.”
It’s a bit unusual for a band that’s on the cusp of blowing up nationally to stay based in a place like Columbus, and there seem to be a lot that are looking to break out, or have already broken out, in Los Angeles, or New York, or Nashville. What has it been like to work and market yourselves from here?
Jake: “It’s nice being in Columbus and being able to maintain a sense of pride in where we’re from. In the Midwest, specifically, we’ve toured with so many bands and played with so many artists – and everyone’s from L.A., and everyone’s from New York…”
David: “…and when you say, ‘We’re from L.A.,’ it’s, like, ‘No…where you from? Where are you really from?’ – that sort of thing.”
Sure, and you find out usually that almost nobody’s really from L.A.
Jake: “Right. And in 2018, it’s pretty easy to be from wherever you’re from, making the music you make. We still travel to L.A., we’ll record out there, or do some writing sessions in L.A. or New York, or whatever.”
David: “I think it’s easy to feel the pull of those magnet cities, because, yeah, that’s where shit’s going on. But, I love that we’re from Columbus, and I love that we’re from the Midwest. Even if we end up being somewhere else, I feel like I’m always gonna say, ‘Hey, I live here, but I’m from…’ That’s just me, I guess.”
You all mentioned those early memories of Columbus. What was the first major event or concert you remember that fundamentally changed the way you each saw music as an art form?
Sam: “Ooh, so my first show was actually Three Days Grace, Chevelle, Breaking Benjamin, and Chris Cornell. Thirteen-year-old me was, like, ‘I’m shacked!’…”
David: “You were probably, like, in after that…”
Sam: “Oh, yeah. It was so cool watching them and seeing all these bands that I would get made fun of for listening to…everyone was going nuts…”
David: “I remember my first show, as I said, was at The Newport, and I threw a fit to my parents because they weren’t going to let me go, because my older friends were going – I don’t know, it was, like, eighth grade, or something. They were my favorite bands at the time – it was Sum 41 and…who else was on tour…it was this small Canadian band called…Gob? It was that era of punk, and I think Unwritten Law was on it, too, so it was this cred punk and this new pop punk thing. It was awesome, it was fantastic. I remember I rolled up and I saw the tour bus, and I went, ‘Oh my God – this is crazy!’ I mean, it was such a rock star moment for a young kid from a small town. I had never been in the same room where those people were actually going to be – I’d only seen them on MTV, you know what I mean?”
Jake: “My first concert was Blink 182 with Taking Back Sunday and The Used. It was at Riverbend in Cincinnati, and my dad took me. It was a great show.”
At what point did each of you transition from feeling inspired by musicians you saw to knowing that you wanted to actually become one yourselves?
David: “I think I was always a delusional kid [laughs], so I think, for some reason, I always thought, ‘Oh yeah, that’s viable! That’s what I’m gonna do!’ I remember, and this is going way back, in high school where, I think, they tried to get kids on a path of…from freshman year, you had this career notebook where you’d say, ‘I want to be this.’ They tried to put you in that mindset. And I looked back at mine, and I was, like, a 13-year-old freshman, and I wrote, ‘I want to be a musician. I want to be in a band.’ And they had nothing to tell you. My guidance counselor was, like, ‘No, seriously, David. What do you want?’ And I was, like, ‘Screw you, woman! That’s what I want to do!’”
Jake: “It is crazy, though, especially being from small towns – especially around the time later in high school when people are trying to figure out where they’re going to college and stuff like that. And I’m sitting there saying, ‘Oh yeah, I’m going to be in a band and travel and play music.’ There’s always someone saying, ‘Okay. But what do you really want to do?’”
David: “See, like, you were strong and you said, ‘I don’t want to go to college,’ and ‘Screw you, parents!’ We still went, but we still went for music production and recording, so we sort of skirted the system in that it wasn’t a real major, but it looks good on paper, so…[laughs] I don’t know if there was ever an ‘A-ha!’ moment for me – it was always just, ‘I really wanna do that, I really wanna do that.’ And before you know it, you’re just kind of doing it. That increment doesn’t really give you a moment of, ‘Oh, I’m here now!’ It’s ‘Oh, I was in a band when I was thirteen,’ and ‘I was in a band when I was fourteen.’ You never really start – it just seems like a really weird progression, and then you look back and go, ‘Oh, wow! I used to be way down there!’
Jake: “I was thinking about that the other day, and at this point, I’ve been in a band more that I have not been in a band in my life.”
So, what’s great about being in a band in the late 2010s? And what’s the hardest thing about being in a band?
Jake: “There are so many bands, and you have to stand out and keep things fresh. And there are a lot of bands, you know, that jump that line constantly, ‘Oh, we’re the same as every other band, but we have this thing that makes people listen to us.’ Or, ‘We’re really, really good, but no-one’s listening to us because they can’t find us because there are so many bands.’
It’s such a challenge, but that’s also the best part because we kind of owe everything to being able to show everything to everyone.”