by Mark Anderson
Orin Portnoy is a mystery man to me.
I only say this because he fits the definition perfectly: “A man about whom little or nothing is known”. And while it may be true that every person I don’t know is a “mystery” person,” the idea of the term is a sense that deep down, you know, something much bigger resides within them.
I’d hear things, tales and stories from different folks that knew him better than I, and I began to put some of the pieces together. I didn’t even realize he was in bands that I had seen before! Finally, I had to find out more about him so I asked if he would like to answer some questions so I could try to get to the bottom of all that mystery.
YabYum: How long have you lived in Phoenix-area? Did you join the Phoenix music scene right away or was there a certain amount of “feeling it out” before joining a group?
Orin Portnoy: I moved to the Phoenix area in 2001 not knowing anything about the music scene or knowing anyone here so I answered an ad looking for a guitar player. The band was The Half Empties (this is where I met Wes of Big Vinny). After a period of time I left the band and started to put my own bands together.
I met Ward Reeder (of Shovel) through Craigslist and we started to make music together. After going through a few members we found Ryan O’Sullivan (of The Wipers and Garage Shock) and started The Automatic Erasers. When the Automatic Erasers disbanded, Ward and I started The Odds and Sods.
The Odds and Sods eventually disbanded and then I started playing with ex-members of Death Takes a Holiday, Andy and Richie, as well as Eric Guthrie from Fluidrive and Pinky. We called ourselves HI FI LO. About a year ago we also disbanded so Eric and I started a new band with Michael Parkin from Blanche Davidian, we are called Skink.
Skink is currently active with me singing and playing guitar, Michael on bass and Eric on drums.
How did U.S. Depressed come about? Could you name the other members of the band and what each of you play?
OP: U.S. Depressed arrived when Pete Hinz (of JJCNV) posted on Facebook looking for “High” Men! Immediately Mike Dee (of French Girls) and I thought we fit that description. Pete plays guitar and sings, Mike plays bass, noise and sings, I play drums and sing.
Could you describe what the New York City garage/punk scene was like in the early/mid 80’s from your perspective? It’s just such a glamorized time, both good and bad, I’m sure many of us are interested…
OP: This was fantastic time in both music and in my life I was just becoming a teen and started to get involved in music both watching it and playing it. I have seen some of the greats – The Ramones, The Cramps, all in the late 70’s and early 80’s. I remember once going to see Johnny Thunders and he was so messed up he fell off the stage on me! My friends and I helped him back up on the stage. New York was alive! There was always something to do; it was 24 hours 7 days. That is good and bad! For instance, I remember being at dumpy bar in the East Village and my friend said, “See that drunk passed out at the end of the bar?” I said “Yes.” “He is Wayne Kramer [of Detroit rock group MC5].” Of course we bought him a beer.
How did the scene there progress (regress?) going into the 90’s?
OP: I was born and raised in NYC. There was great music that came out of NYC in the 90’s, just like the 80’s. There has always been great music happening no matter where or when you live it may just not be recognized by the masses, bands like The Devil Dogs and The Sea Monkeys were thriving in NYC in the 90’s.
What do you make of the Arizona/valley music scene now? It seems like this scene is always growing and getting better and you can try new and different things because there are no set parameters, but I could be way off from your point of view.
OP: The Arizona music scene is great. There are so many great bands and so many great musicians to collaborate with; unlike bigger cities there is a real willingness to create something new instead of trying to fit in with what is in vogue.
How has your songwriting process changed over the years? Or has it?
OP: I have always and still consider myself a band member no matter what instrument I play, be it bass, drums, guitar or vocals. I believe that every member is equal to each and everyone brings something to the table and the more the other members feel this way the better the band is and the more prolific I am.
What’s upcoming for U.S. Depressed? Any show dates? How ’bout a music video?
OP: Our first record will be released in March we do hope that it will go platinum or at least tin foil, we will hopefully be playing shows in the year to come.
Listen to U.S. Depressed below. You can also keep up with Skink and U.S. Depressed on Facebook. For a more complete understanding on what Orin has been a part of and played on over the years, check out his Discgos page.