Art, filmmaking, psychology: three college majors that usually cause parents to cringe when their progeny indulge them for more than a passing, philosophical whim.
Even better is graduating with one of these degrees and answering the dinner-table question of "What're you gonna do with your life now, Johnny?" with: "I'm gonna go tour with my band, which, while making gorgeous music, will probably never be fully accepted by the mainstream establishment."
That's exactly what the four Encinitas natives in Roots of Orchis did, and continue to do. After attending UC Santa Cruz, they're travelling the country plying their soft, enchanting post-rock, the instrumental genre that may best be defined as not jazz or classical. It's a genre that includes touchstone bands like Tortoise, Tristeza and Album Leaf.
"I wasn't really out to make movies," says Justin Pinkerton, essentially admitting to wasting his film education in the traditional sense-that is, steadfastly dedicating to one's major with studious diligence and immediate, real-life application. "I didn't concentrate on the movies themselves, just my music."
Pinkerton sounds like he couldn't have given a damn about the traditional routine, college or otherwise. The ex-punk chose to drop the noise for instrumental bliss about six years ago, a decision that wasn't exactly the route du jour among indie musicians. In 1998, RoO's ...When the Mosquito Bit the Crocodile became the third release on Slowdance Records, the label founded by Ezra Caraeff, who used to help run UCSD's all-ages venue, Che Café.
Now, the band is four releases into it, and last year's Some Things Plural peaked at a modest No. 129 on the CMJ charts. Not good enough to quit your dayjob, but good enough to keep plugging away at making some beautiful music.
Pinkerton's not apathetic-he'd like to score films later down the road, thus putting that education to use. For now, however, Roots of Orchis are living in San Francisco, touring as much as they can. Pinkerton had been a regular at the Che and "was privileged" to see seminal local bands like Clikitat Ikatowi and early Three Mile Pilot, but moving back to San Diego just wasn't an option.
"Going back was like us coming back to our earlier childhood. You'd feel like you were regressing," he says, asserting that it didn't have anything to do with the local music scene, which he sees as still thriving. "It was more about moving on."
RoO's earlier releases were more straightforward, with gentle guitar melodies that were deep and sonorous, brushed drums and subtle electronic ambiance. Things took a major shift on Some Things Plural when Pinkerton inserted his longtime love for hip-hop. The processed beats and unobtrusive scratching put the band more in line with DJ Shadow or RJD2.
Being an instrumental band is tough. Jimmy LaValle, arguably San Diego's top instrumental artist, has recorded with Sigur Rós, but few outside musician circles know who he is. The casual music listener connects with a human voice, and is hard put to find emotional resonance without it. Yet Pinkerton disagrees that the people, especially kids, need voices to connect.
"The human connection is what the audience member makes of it," he says. "We've had plenty of people tell us how much they like our music and it's almost a hippie-ish new wavy kind of thing, where they just feel the music. I don't think human connection is an issue with or without a singer.
"It seems like the all ages shows we play are the most successful," Pinkerton says. "A lot of times that's the first time they're really hearing the style of stuff we're doing. A lot of the older crowds are more apathetic or into hearing new stuff or giving stuff the time if they haven't heard anything about.
"When I was younger seeing bands that were doing new stuff was awesome for me. It makes it more exciting."
Roots of Orchis perform with Via Satellite, Champagne Kiss and Decibully at The Casbah, 8:30 p.m. on Nov. 9. $7. 619-232-HELL.