Almost four years ago, nine first-year students — largely strangers at the time — formed a band to audition for the Gigs on the Green campus concert series. As an icebreaker, several of them wrote a song about Trader Joe’s.
Today, that song, “TJ,” has more than 400,000 streams on Spotify. On April 28, Orange Guava Passion returned to that same concert series and played “TJ” once more, this time as headliners.
The concert came as the second-to-last performance of the band’s three-year tenure as a mainstay of the campus music scene. In the more than 30 shows guitarist Maya Polsky ’22.5 estimates OGP has played for the Brown community, the band has graced stages from Fete Music Hall to 80’s-themed basement parties on Armstrong Street.
The eight-piece ensemble’s staying power on campus reflects its character as a quintessentially Brown band. Named after a juice offered in the Sharpe Refectory, Orange Guava Passion oozes Brown influence: youthfulness, idiosyncrasy and an aversion to the cardinal sin of taking oneself too seriously. Their lyrics fill the bingo card of things stereotypical liberal arts college students enjoy, from Subarus to Trader Joe’s. And, completing the final square, their lead singer, Jackson Jones ’22, met the other members over a game of spikeball on the Main Green.
But don’t let this air of goofiness fool you, said keyboardist Danny Silverston ’22.5.
“Take ‘Dino Disco,’” he said. “It’s an absolutely absurd song about this fantasy land where there are dinosaurs dancing at a disco party. But I do believe that musically, the song really holds up. I believe that making quality music that’s ridiculous might also be a very Brown notion.”
“Dino Disco” is one of six original songs released by OGP that have garnered over 1 million cumulative plays and more than 25,000 monthly listeners on Spotify. In 2019, OGP released “Enjoy!,” a four-song EP. Since then, they have put out two singles: 2020’s “Eagletown,” which has over 600,000 plays on Spotify and, more recently, “Dino Disco.” All of the band’s songs reflect a heavy pop, jazz and disco influence. Jones, not one to shy away from vocal flair, nails plenty of falsettos to complement the syncopated guitar grooves, pogoing bass lines and grand choruses.
“The OGP way of arranging a song is having (drum) hits before a chorus in a very specific way,” said bassist Ben West ’22.5. “It’s a washy pre-chorus and a disco groove on the second chorus.”
This particular blend of influences is reminiscent of the band Lawrence, a popular soul-pop group that features seven Brown graduates and that signed to the label Capitol Records. Clyde Lawrence ’15, the band’s founding member, recently facilitated communication between a Japanese record label and OGP to potentially license OGP’s music for distribution in Japan.
Despite achieving a level of professional success not typical for college bands, OGP’s achievements hold little sway with their members. In conversation, Silverston is quick to demur, stating that though they have seen relatively large online success, “at the same time we’re a college band. It’s not that deep.”
Instead, OGP is somewhat of an anomaly: a band with enough potential to license music in distant countries, but also one that derives much more pleasure from the moments they share onstage.
“When we talk about having fun together or being happy together, it’s never about the big venues. It's always basement shows packed with people, and everyone is having a really good time,” said West, who recently took to the Gigs on the Green stage in a knee-length purple parka, matching purple cowboy boots and no visible pants.
The band’s recorded music comes as a product of their live performances. All of their original songs were initially arranged for the stage, then cleaned up for the studio, Silverston said.
In rehearsals for the Gigs on the Green, their arrangement abilities shone. Described by drummer Wills Guggenheim ’22 as “the heart and soul and energy of the group,” Silverston led the band through a retooled version of Corinne Bailey Rae’s “Put Your Records On.” Perched cross-legged and barefooted on an amp, Silverston sang new riffs repeated by the horns and bass until the band came away with a funk-inspired take on a classic. The song fits right into the OGP’s typical setlist of crowd-pleasing pop music that West jokingly compared to “bar mitzvah music.” What makes them unique, Silverton added, is the arrangement. Polsky described the trademark OGP style as “funkifying the familiar.”
OGP’s rehearsal dynamic is one reminiscent of old drinking buddies: familiar, relaxed and punctuated by spills and laughter. This comes as no surprise for a band that has played together for such a long time. But it also reflects how music has kept a group of individuals who met during the indiscriminate friendship dash of freshman year together, even as they occupy very different sectors of campus, West said.
“People come from different backgrounds. Some people (focus entirely on) music outside of this, (whereas) Eliot’s a CS genius,” Guggenheim said, referring to the band’s alto sax player Eliot Laidlaw ’22.5. “People definitely have their own things outside of OGP, but it's really nice that it has stayed a consistent space.”
Now, the ensemble is winding down. Their final concert will take place May 27 at Campus Dance. While some members are committed to pursuing music full-time post-graduation, others are going down different paths. West and Polsky are working on a side project aptly titled Polsky West. Silverston’s other band, Couch, has enjoyed considerable commercial success touring the East Coast. For the others, the end of OGP may be the last time they perform on stage.
For this reason, the mood of the crowd at Gigs on the Green was decidedly nostalgic. After Jones mentioned it was the last concert for trumpet player Peter Sage ’24, the crowd indulged in a collective “aw.” During a cover of John Mayer’s “Gravity,” friends put their arms around friends, forming swaying chains the length of the stage.
“That was soulful. You could tell there were a lot of emotions,” said attendee Nealie Deol ’24. “But it was more joyful than sad.”
To end the concert, OGP played the song that started it all, “TJ.” After four years since they first performed the song on that stage, the band’s arrangement was a little tighter, their stage presence a little stronger and their members a little more adult. But some things have not changed. One of Jones’ falsettos was drowned out by the crowd’s cheers. People danced. The horn section shared a laugh between songs.
For a group whose name has been synonymous with music at Brown, it was a fitting full circle moment. Now, with college mostly in the rearview, Orange Guava Passion will go their separate ways, still looking to squeeze every drop out of what comes next.