Circling the Drain

Exploring the beauty of sadness, Orbit Service spins tales best heard sitting down.

Randall Frazier calls the music of Orbit Service a "soundtrack for a dying world." But as the band's frontman and founding member, Frazier isn't your typical gloomy Gus. When he was a teenage goth, for example, bouncing between psych wards in Eastern Texas and Denver, suffering from auditory hallucinations and convincing his mother that he was a satanist, Frazier, diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, took every intelligence test the doctors threw his way. He passed several with flying colors -- and beyond.

"My memory actually tested in the top 1 percent of the nation," Frazier says. "And so did my scientific reasoning skills, which haven't helped me much. But I can recite every lyric to any Cure album. It's weird. I used to work at the Auraria library, and people would check out books and give me their student ID cards. And then I'd see 'em on the bus later, and I could remember their Social Security numbers."

But forgetting three unhappy years in two separate hospitals is another matter altogether.

Sit and spin: Michael Morris (from left), Randall 
Frazier, Matthew Mensch and Jeff Morris.
John Johnston
Sit and spin: Michael Morris (from left), Randall Frazier, Matthew Mensch and Jeff Morris.


With George & Caplin and the Very Hush Hush, 8 p.m. Saturday, April 10, Mercury Cafe, 2199 California Street, $6, 303-294-9258

"They could lock me up and make me take whatever medicine they thought I needed," recalls Frazier. "And if I refused, they'd restrain me and shoot me up with it. I was in isolation for like eight months, eating every meal with a spork, before they started reintegrating me into society. My doctor told me I was leaving against medical advice, but I knew my rights. I just checked myself out when I was an adult, which was right after breakfast on my eighteenth birthday.

"I was on haloperidol, the most potent anti-psychotic on the market," Frazier continues, "and I threw it away. Then I kind of went insane for six months. I was living in a furnace room for a while, basically being a street kid and self-medicating with lots of acid."

Fast-forward a decade. Frazier, now thirty years old and happily married, works from home as a contracted radio promoter, boosting new music to some 4,000 stations nationwide. He also operates the Helmet R00m, a digital 32-track home recording studio in west Denver staffed by longtime pal, bassist and mix veteran Matthew Mensch. But for all the personal freedom that such creativity affords, Frazier can't help but dwell on the more depressing aspects of life -- everything from war, starvation and kiddie porn to the scientific theory that humans start to physically decay by age 28, one minute at a time. During a lively late-night conversation in his studio's control room (packed to capacity with audio gear, bandmates and two rowdy dogs), Frazier smiles as he discusses life on a poisonous planet. But he's dead serious.

"If you think that everything is gonna be okay, you're lying to yourself and you took the bait," Frazier states. "'Cause there's some serious shit wrong with this world. You can't even address it as a single topic, other than 'We're fucked.' People are greedy and evil. We're all alone on this huge rock in space. We've set our rock on fire and poured chemicals all over it. I'm looking at an entire species wiping itself out. Let's all acknowledge the truth here: It's not a party anymore. We should all be crying and scared."

"Now we're tinkering with genetics, which is gonna unleash another nightmare," adds Mensch, a longhaired tech-head who fights hackers and identity theft during the day as a network security administrator. "We live in a time when cows consume their own dead: Kill a cow, grind up its parts, feed it to another cow or chicken or whatever..."

Don't even get the pair started on the Pentagon's secret infrasonic device. Designed to enforce crowd control, the non-lethal weapon apparently produces a debilitating tone that even the creators of South Park have jokingly dubbed "the brown note."

"It's between five and fifteen hertz," Mensch explains. "It causes spontaneous bowel release. You can make people crap themselves if you have a big enough subwoofer. We're talkin' free flow, where you wish you had a diaper. And if it doesn't make you crap your pants, you're gonna puke."

"You can't hear it," Frazier adds. "It just shakes your insides."

Preferring the more mind-expanding aspects of sound, Frazier and Mensch launched the first installment of Orbit Service in the late '90s with guitarist Aron Johnson (aka Ingvald Grunder) and drummer Robert Newman. "The original idea," Frazier notes, "was to do anything but punk rock."

Accomplishing that much and more, the four-piece found the sweet spot between druggy electronica and acoustic melancholy. By elongating notes to the breaking point and layering whisper-thin sheets of guitar and synthetic haze, the early OS created a kind of down-tempo analog trance music, like Meddle-era Pink Floyd on a liquid diet. On its aptly titled 2001 self-released debut, Space & Valium, the group drones and disorients, blending minor-chord passages, glockenspiels and weary vocals for a hyper-extended dirge.

"My whole idea was to make it one continuous piece and have these abstract interludes that go on for seven minutes or whatever," Frazier says. "That was kind of a learning CD for me. We ran out of cash and time. It was rushed and sounds immature; it doesn't have happy feelings for me."

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