In March 2020, The Orielles were in New York. Fresh off the back of a successful UK tour in support of their second album Disco Volador, the West Yorkshire trio were set to play a string of North American dates which included SXSW festival in Texas and a run of headline shows along the West Coast. That was the plan anyway. Instead, SXSW was cancelled, The Orielles’ headline dates were postponed and the band were booked on an early flight home. We all know what happened next.
Now that the dust has somewhat settled on COVID-19’s brave new world, the band are back with a renewed sense of purpose and a new project – an experimental film and accompanying live album entitled La Vita Olistica.
“It was such a weird time,” singer and bassist Esmé Hand-Halford tells me over Zoom. “Getting to America felt like something we’d been aiming towards and looking forward to for years and it was over within a week.”
For The Orielles, reaching the US had been nearly 10 years in the making. It was back in 2011 when sisters Esmé and Sidonie Hand-Halford met Henry Carlyle-Wade at a house party in Halifax and, the next day, decided to start a band. After signing to Heavenly Recordings in 2016, the indie band began an intense period of touring and recording, playing shows across Europe, releasing two acclaimed albums (2018’s Silver Dollar Moments and 2020’s Disco Volador) and topping the UK vinyl charts in the process. America was the next step.
The Orielles used the enforced break to take stock. “I think the self-reflection that it brought along after the initial grief of losing stuff was important,” says Carlyle-Wade, the band’s guitarist.
Previously, the trio had balanced the demands of being in a band with school and university, so this was The Orielles first real opportunity to pause.
“It’s been such a shit thing in one respect, to not be able to play shows and to not be able to live life normally,” says Esmé. “But it’s genuinely given us the time to sit down and realise where we want to go with our music, making films and art.”
It was during this period that the seeds of La Vita Olistica were sewn. Initially, Heavenly Recordings wanted The Orielles to make a lockdown livestream, but the band were reluctant, mainly because the idea of livestreams, Zoom quizzes and other forms of organised online fun were fast becoming tired.
“We were in a conversation with [Heavenly Records], going back and forth saying we didn’t really want to do a typical livestream,” remembers drummer Sidonie. “We decided to take it one step further and make a film out of a livestream.”
The Orielles’ love of film is no secret. Their back catalogue is peppered with cinematic references including everything from Tarantino’s Death Proof to Greek drama Dogtooth. For La Vita Olistica, the trio looked to the 1960s and, in particular, to the Expanded Cinema movement. A type of avant-garde filmmaking that explores the dynamic between film and its audience, Expanded Cinema uses projectors and multiple screens to create immersive environments and to challenge perceptions of space and time. It was from here that La Vita Olistica began to take shape.
At its core, La Vita Olistica is a live performance by The Orielles but, instead of the live performance being the focus of the film, it exists on the peripheral. Rather, short films and projections assume centre stage.
“The camera takes the position of an exhibition-goer or spectator and captures glimpses of this band in a warehouse, and you don’t really know where its situated and you don’t really know why the band is there and it is as though they’ve come across this moment that’s happening,” says Esmé. “It’s quite experimental, really.”
For La Vita Olistica’s soundtrack, the band revisited the songs of Disco Volador, reworking and breathing fresh life into them to create a live album.
“It’s kind of rejecting the idea that you put an album out and then, if it’s not hitting the top 10 lists of ‘best album of the year’, it’s forgotten about,” explains Esmé. “We want to create something that’s constantly living and evolving.”
The process, and the fact La Vita Olistica is a film soundtrack, afforded the band the freedom and opportunity to channel some of their more understated influences, allowing ambient, jungle and even slowcore to become more prominent in their music.
Carlyle-Wade says: “We’re kind of expanding more on the influences that probably weren’t as clear on the album [Disco Volador] because we were trying to make this kind of pop-ish record.”
But for The Orielles, making La Vita Olistica has been about more than just creating an album or making a film, as Sidonie explains. “Encouraging people to keep up creativity through this time was something that we really wanted to do. As well as keeping ourselves busy.”
Directed by Esmé and Sidonie, La Vita Olistica proved an opportunity for the band to try their hand at several new skills from creating projection art to building stages and rigs. “There are a lot things we can now add to our CVs,” says Carlyle-Wade, with a smile.
The band were also able to call upon a cast of trusted collaborators, including filmmaker and photographer Neelam Khan Vela and projectionist Raz Ullah, to help bring their vision together.
In true Expanded Cinema fashion, The Orielles are hoping to bring La Vita Olistica to life in the future. In addition to submitting it to film festivals and streaming online, the band hope to tour the film around independent cinemas and also recreate it as a live installation piece.
“It’s something we really want a lot of people to see,” says Esmé. ” I think it’s a really good representation of where we’re at now, so the more people that see it the better.”
Main image: The Orielles by Neelam Khan Vela
The La Vita Olistica soundtrack is out March 26, 2021. It is available to pre-order now.