In 2005, Saigopal Nelaturi came to Madison from Bangalore, India, to earn a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering. Since arriving here, he's pursued another interest, too - his passion for rock. "When I was a kid I had lessons in classical Indian percussion," says Nelaturi, 28. "Then I discovered rock 'n' roll, or Western music as we call it back home, and I really got into it."
Today, Nelaturi plays guitar in Orphan Bloom, the most experimental rock band currently making music in Madison. Building on Indian melodic patterns and scales, Orphan Bloom's complex hard-rock and bluesy arrangements are akin to 1970s prog. But in the tradition of bands like Led Zeppelin, Orphan Bloom sometimes turns off the electric power and goes acoustic.
The band celebrates the release of its debut CD next Thursday, July 29, at the High Noon Saloon.
Nelaturi says his interest in rock began about the time he started college in India.
"When I was growing up there, the music that was most prevalent among kids was progressive rock music and death metal," he says. "That's almost mainstream music in the area where I come from."
Orphan Bloom took root in June 2008, when Nelaturi met guitarist Alex Kress at a Memorial Union Terrace open mike. "He was playing these heavy riffs that I loved," says Nelaturi, "so I went up to him after the show and asked him if he wanted to get together to jam."
Last fall, Nelaturi and Kress found their rhythm section in bassist Nate Wiswall and drummer Travis Drumm. The quartet have spent nearly every day together for the past several months working to hone their sound.
"There's not just one songwriter in the band," says Nelaturi. "Anyone who has a somewhat finished idea presents it. The group almost always adds something that complements it."
"It's pretty democratic, almost frustratingly so," says Wiswall of the band's songwriting process. "It's not like it's some obligation. We just generally care what everyone in our group thinks. We ask."
At times, the Orphan Bloom sound is hard enough to be described as metal. But the tracks on the band's new CD reflect a range of influences. "Brindle" is almost entirely acoustic, but Kress' jagged vocals give the song a bluesy feel. Bass riffs and uneven beats help make the track restless and temperamental.
Orphan Bloom's electric-guitar power goes full throttle on "The Waterway." The angular melody and brooding chords brim with originality. "Immune" is heavy on extended instrumental jams, and bass counterpoint keeps the song on emotional edge.
The band's eclectic sound reflects the diversity of the group's musical background, including Nelaturi's. "I started with rock 'n' roll, got into metal guitar and tried to expand my influences as much as possible," he says. "I even got into acoustic guitar and played folk music. At the same time, I discovered music from the 1970s like jazz fusion, which kind of opened the idea of experimenting with scales that were traditionally not really used in rock music. I've been trying on my own to come up with some Indian influences in the music that we play."
For now, the members of Orphan Bloom are thriving on collaboration. "We're all able musicians, and we don't have this idealized sound we have to reach," says Wiswall. "We're like a bunch of 6-year-old kids in a room full of Legos. Some of us want a red one. Some of us want a blue one. And if what we build doesn't work, we tear it down and rebuild it."
"Meeting other people who are as interested in music as you are," adds Kress, "that's half the fun."