Orion Sun Makes Her Getaway
In the wake of her triumphant Getaway, Philadelphia artist Orion Sun talks tour, collaboration, self-care, and rolling with the punches.
Spring is breaking, and Orion Sun has bought a bike.
“I live in a four story walk up so I decided to go with like one of those folding ones,” she explains, excited to turn someone else onto two wheels. It’s compact and it’s electric, but even as she waxes on the convenience, it’s clearly more than just a way to get around. Orion’s bike is twofold sign: of motion and stability, advances and retreats, labour and liberation.
She’s settling into her new home in Brooklyn, roaming city streets with an eye for the novel; she’s meeting familiar faces, collaborating with passionate artists and big names; and she’s preparing to tour, bracing for the uncertainties of the road, all the while riding the high of her new EP, Getaway.
It’s a new life reflected in the album art, with Getaway fronted by a blurry bike snap. She’s heading uphill but moving with speed, looking back as the camera tries to keep up. “When I was discussing the EP art, I was mood boarding a lot of movement,” she explains, invigorated. “I was like, I want to be in motion, because it correlates.”
In the two years since her soft-spoken debut, Hold Space For Me, her world — and the world at large — has turned upside down. Getaway finds Orion embracing that change with broadened horizons, renewed clarity, and a sharpened pen, the result a rich tapestry of recollections and responses. As she eagerly elaborates on the peaks, troughs and trials within it, Getaway becomes a mission statement in more ways than one.
“I'm feeling really good,” Orion tells me, disarmingly candid. “I mean, the EP is out, right? Every release sort of feels like a weight off my chest, so that's been evident.” She takes a moment to collect a delivery order, as eating in, she explains, could help her dodge COVID ahead of her tour. Musicians are caught in a strange limbo: the steadiness of normalcy is coming on, but plans are delicate and live shows fraught.
In that same way, the last few years have proved a blend of great growth and frustrating stagnation: the yin and yang of pandemic living. “I'm always growing and moving and evolving in a way, so if anything, this felt normal and didn't feel out of place,” says Orion of the EP’s transformative themes, “but I think Getaway definitely came from a stance of just being in the pandemic, the lockdown part of it.”
In lockdown and under mandate, Orion longed for some distant elsewhere, and all the emotions that adventure brings. “As a kid, I've always romanticised anywhere but the US for travel,” she recalls, her want hampered by circumstance. “During the pandemic, I was looking up a lot of state parks that I don't think I would have ever gone to, especially because a lot of the beautiful nature spots are only accessible by car.” A hesitant driver, the green vistas were out of reach, so Orion found nearer refuge in an unlikely place.
“A lot of the time you can't just pack up and go. It's a mix of being that physical getaway, but also getting away in your brain,” she explains, illustrating the infinite hamlets of her mind. “If I need to relax, I can go to this space in my brain, and it could be being made as I speak: there's grass, there's trees, there's clouds, it's calm, there's water… music has always done that for me, and I thought it could be really cool for me to make shit to kind of get away from the stresses of the world and stuff.”
There’s certainly a serenity to Getaway, beauty within the swelling strings and soft horns of intro, the wandering bass of pressure and the crisp guitar of dirty dancer, but arrangements belie Orion’s unassuming pen. On intro, rhetorical questions like “am I running out of lifelines?” and “is it weak when I say that I need you?” cut to the core of anxieties, and minor recollections — “We sharing fries at the drive-thru / Thinking, ‘one day, I'ma wife you’” — turn tragic, barrelling toward an unspoken but increasingly clear conclusion.
It’s a juxtaposition Orion understands. “The tea on that is, in order to truly let it go, you have to sit in it… people don't want to do that, they want to just skip to, 'I know this thing was traumatic’,” she passionately begins, “to understand what you went through is different than actually working through it, looking at it, and feeling it.” You could just put it down to ‘catharsis,’ but as Orion continues, it pushes past that brute-force confrontation and into a defter kind of introspective understanding.
In some small way, the songs of Getaway work towards that end, the heartfelt vocals and vivid details all too real. We too are “looking at it and feeling it,” as tracks fuse fleeting memories with emotional hindsight: stick-shift lessons are something more in the wake of heartbreak; sharing music off an iPod is all the more intimate when the moment has passed, tinted in rose-coloured melancholy.
“I was so blessed to have the opportunity to get put onto the book 'The Body Keeps the Score,' that really opened my eyes,” she waxes, praising Bessel van der Kolk’s 2014 bestseller. “I did it workshop style, so I really was able to really delve into the book and dissect it, and apply it to my life.” It’s a close reading that’s helped her through not only the challenges of the pandemic, but the difficult breakup that’s lyrically littered throughout the six-track EP. “It's so weird because on one hand, you can trick yourself into thinking that you're over it or that it doesn't affect you, [but] at the end of the day, whether you think so or not, your body knows.”
An eye for physicality buoys some of the project’s most liberated moments, from the titular turn on dirty dancer — “I just wanna be the one you want to dance with / forget all the bullshit, let’s just focus on this” — to the stirring affections of without you (interlude) — “something 'bout the way you move, make me feel like I got something to prove...”. Those tracks, falling back-to-back on the b-side, segue into the warm celebration, where Orion relinquishes control, riding on into uncertainty. “This is a dream of mine, a fantasy, but at the end of the day, what will be will be,” she says of that freeing conclusion. “I think when we can learn to accept that and let go of wanting to control everything, and wanting everything to go our way, a lot of the time I've been really surprised.”
The feelings that ebb and flow throughout land as liberation themselves, the loosening of mental shackles and shirking of emotional weights. “In order to be free, I need to actually run into the darkness, run head on to the giant, the nightmare, the demon, and actually slay it, and not have it be wearing camo somewhere in my beautiful landscape.' It's just like… don't squint too hard, or you'll see it! It's like a fucking Monet, you know what I mean? Just step all the way back.” She throws her head back and laughs, clapping her hands at the thought.
In stepping back from an Orion Sun song, you’re even less likely to perceive those demons. As the taut stories recede from focus, they’re obscured by soft chords, sweet melodies, and spacious mixes reminiscent of those studious lo-fi beats. On Getaway, that palette is expanded further with production from Rostam Batmanglij, Rodaidh McDonald, and Chicago-born producer Nascent.
“Personally, I'm comforted by beautiful sounds, but then again, I'm also comforted by people sharing with me what they're going through,” says Orion, bridging aesthetic and intent. “To be able to have to share that intimate feeling with just some random musician, but through a song, made me feel like this is okay, this is kind of what I want to do,” she adds. “I feel like I'm healthier every release. Every song that I don't release but I make, I'm healthier.”
Orion’s all too familiar with exorcising demons on studio time, but diving into collaboration is a new frontier for the singer-songwriter, who crafted sound and style in solitude. “I'm gonna have to talk about gender, because unfortunately it was a factor in this,” she says of shared studio sessions. “As a woman producer, not just a voice, it's a little bit more scary. I've definitely had conversations with other women, musicians and artists, and they've seen videos of me being in rooms and just been like, ‘Wow, that seems like it would be intimidating.’ It's like, yeah, definitely in the beginning, right? I'm with these people that are established or have been doing it longer than me, and they're looking to you for questions… and so you’ve got to deal with a lot of imposter syndrome, confidence and things like that.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s a challenge burnished by ego and navel-gazing. “While you're working through that, hopefully you're like working on trying to get your skills up as well, and then you get to a really good spot, but then you might meet some people that are just egomaniacs. You know what I mean, ‘you don't know anything, if you're not using this specific DAW, then you don't make real music’.” They’re qualities that don’t show on the project, if only because they’re not conducive to rewarding rapports and earnest creativity.
Even as she celebrates her collaborators, Orion champions production as an indispensable skill for all artists. “I don't ever want to be in a position where I have to really rely on anybody, but I always want to be learning,” she explains. “Almost every musician that I've worked with, every producer and artist, it was sort of like a magnet situation… they didn't really force anything, and so whenever something like that happens, it's my instinct to just trust it and be like, 'Okay, we met, let's just see how far this can go'.”
“It's a lot of that kind of learning curve, and just trying to convince myself that, yeah, I belong in these rooms,” she says, the experience itself a huge confidence boost. Orion laughs as she recalls one slice of studio wisdom that doubled as a life lesson: “I'm really like, ‘let's get into it.’ As soon as I get to the studio, I'm like, 'ay, let's pull it up,' but you know, sometimes people like to chill, like, 'Yo, how you been,' and stuff like that, so there was a learning period where I was like, 'Okay, yeah, let me just relax.’” She cheerily puts it down to the coastal divide. “I'm from the East Coast, I'm like, we can catch up while we're working!”
In all honesty, it seems like a good skill to have: talking on Getaway, the tour, and the ever-expanding future, it’s clear that the work never ends. “This is my favorite question,” she gushes when asked what’s next. “I lost a lot of people in my life early on… so maybe that’s where some of my drive comes from,” she wonders aloud. “I just have this desire to just get as much out of me as possible.”
“I'm working on my next album, which I'm really excited about, because I just came up with the concept last month,” says Orion, glowing. “I'm practicing singing and dancing because outside of just my career, I really love moving my body, and so I'm gonna see what that looks like incorporating that into my artistry,” she explains, pausing a minute to think. “Oh yeah,” she adds, “I'm working on a poetry book.”
It seems like a lot, but Orion Sun isn’t daunted. “I always want people to know that I'm working, baby! This is my life. This is my dream. Every day I wake up and I don't have to go to one of the jobs that I had before.” Hers is a contagious energy, the kind that makes you want to chase a dream or take a leap of faith. “I guess I am working more, but it's true what they say: it's not work at all. You'll be hearing from me.”
I feel bad for asking after the next thing so soon, and I try to qualify the implied pressure, but she rebuffs me. “No pressure,” she says, thriving on it. “I love the pressure, because I put it on myself.”
Orion Sun's Getaway EP is out now via Mom+Pop