It doesn’t take much to get Orion Sun to open up. The Philadelphia-born, New Jersey-raised singer is equally as excited to talk about the calming rain in New York, where she currently lives (“If I don’t necessarily have to go anywhere, it can just be poetic instead of annoying”), the music she’s listening to (“I’ve been bouncing around, getting more into Deem Spencer. Still bumping that new Junglepussy record”) and all the videos she watches in her free time. “Me and YouTube are besties,” the 26-year-old musician beams over Zoom. When we talk, a little under a week has passed since the release of her new EP Getaway, which Orion Sun calls a “stepping stone” to how she wants to make music going into the future.
“I [needed] to open myself up,” she says of creating Getaway. “I have tendencies to be a recluse—I really value my alone time. I just wanted to be around people and I wanted to share stories. There's tons of conversations in-between the takes and getting the music right. It was me just trying to get back to that and seeing how I can fit and not lose myself in a collaboration.”
Before anything else, Orion Sun wanted to be an astronaut. Her dreams of going to space like her childhood hero Mae Jemison may have slipped away in middle school, but she still has a bit of a soft spot for her first love. Song titles like “Space Jam - An Odyssey” and “Golden Hour” conjure up images of celestial bodies and Earthly pleasures, songs made complete with heady metaphors about wanting to leave Earth. But it’s the combination of her patient songwriting and slowly unfolding production that makes listening to her feel like peeking out of a spaceship’s windows. Take the Rostam-produced “concrete” from Getaway: Plush keys, soft drums, and a gentle bass groove hug Orion’s honeyed vocals and right as the song closes, a chorus of dreamy horns are introduced. Moments like these, radiant and fleeting, occur across the record and bring into relief the depth of its composition.
Arriving two years after her LP Hold Space For Me, Getaway reflects Orion Sun’s growth as a songwriter and producer. Her lyrics, which pull from observations scribbled in her journal and words she saves because she enjoys the way they “feel” and sound, have grown to be able to support the imaginative extended metaphors of a song like “pressure.” It’s a long way from the Frank Ocean covers and original songs she used to upload to YouTube. But that search for her own cellar door isn’t enough—Orion Sun wants all of her projects to have an element of progression embedded within them. Her earnestness comes out in her music as raw and tender reflections on grief, queerness, family, and love. “I'm always self reflecting, I'm always trying to improve,” she says. “I'm not satisfied with the person that I am. That doesn't mean that I don't love myself. It just means that I know that I can be better.”
The FADER: What's changed for you these last two years?
Hold Space for Me was done in March 2019, so there was some time for me to sit back and be like, "Okay, where do I want to go moving forward?" But it really came to me after Hold Space for Me had come out and pandemic hit. That's when I knew, one, I needed to work with people because I missed people. And two, it's time to elevate. It's time to evolve and step out of my own way. I was hellbent on being like, "I have to do everything myself." I learned that letting go can really open up, not only my mind, but just opportunity and space for really great ideas to form.
What brought you to producers like Rostam and Nascent for this one?
Honestly, even thinking about this question just makes me think about just how fate is so much important in these discussions. I had met Nascent around 2019. Since then our relationship has just bloomed. So it was a no brainer when it came to Getaway. He just really took me under his wing and I really appreciate that.
Rostam, I think he had reached out to my manager and I was like, "Are you serious..." Just even thinking about how I was feeling before going into that session, heart racing. But that link up was really cool. And if you notice this pattern [of] everything just lining up. Outside of the work that I put in, I rely on that also. So I can't really take that credit because it just came together.
I cherish those connections because it's really scary to just connect. If we're moving into a different language, music, it can get vulnerable, it can get sensitive, it can get emotional and you never know how you're going to be. I know how we got together, but I feel like it was just the stars aligning really.
If I go to your YouTube right now, and scroll down, you still have all your covers and original songs public.
I made a promise to myself when I noticed numbers starting to grow: that I'm going to leave it up, because I need these. Even looking at "voicemail," we don't even live in that house anymore. It's a great reminder of manifestation, of “keep going, even though it doesn't really look like things are going to change anytime soon.” Do I sit through and watch? Hell no. It's too cringey. But it has to be there. Because I can doubt sometimes and that'll never go away, but, and also too, it's nice to see where you come from.
I was wondering how you see your own evolution across these three records. Collections, from 2017, is a lot more lo-fi, bedroom poppy style. Hold Space for Me, it sounds bigger, it's way more experimental. But then with Getaway, I felt that it was really patient. There's these drawn out, waltz-y moments where you just have to sit there and pay attention.
I never really thought about that because at the end of the day, in my head, everything that I make is what I have on me, right? My intention was never to be like, "I want to make bedroom pop" when it came to Collections. It was like, "I'm trying to make the music that I'm making now." But with the knowledge that I had then, with GarageBand and with no instruments other than MIDI and ukulele and guitar. So in my head, the evolution, it looks really linear. That's what my evolution feels like, because I never really am like, "I want to make this sound or this thing." With each project, I not only have better gear, I have better knowledge of what I'm actually doing. I have better intention. Instead of just making stuff, I'm going in and things are getting more detailed and things are becoming more clear.
What were some of those things you remembered were really important to you during the pandemic?
If you're going to be in a relationship romantically, it's really important to balance what you put on your partner and what you keep to yourself. I feel like that was one of the things I struggled with, where I was either keeping everything to myself and not wanting to be a burden or [I] just can't contain nothing. With the whole Black Lives Matter movement resurgence and just not even feeling safe to be in my own skin, I had to make a decision. I was like, "Alright, I know all of these things about myself, all of these things that I want to fix, all of these things that I can control. What am I going to do about that?" There's only so many memes I can laugh at, there's only so much shit I can read that's like, "Oh wow, they get me." But that's not enough. What am I actually going to do to change my life?
And in regards to my friendships and stuff. You never know when someone's going to go, you never know. If I have the energy, I'm going to see my homies. And that was the best decision I've ever made because once it started becoming safe, I feel like, this is the closest we've been in a minute. I need to make sure my foundation is solid and I need to make sure that the people in my life know how much I love them. I also lost my biological grandfather due to COVID. So it was just one of those things where it's like, yeah death has always been around me, but this is the present. I don't really believe in time or anything like that, but I love the word, “present” because it really is a gift. The present moment is like a million bucks, man.
It’s interesting that you bring up wanting to make sure that your people know that you care about them, because that's a feeling that I got from this too. It's not just purely about healing here. You also make sure to talk about the love you're willing to give and that you're also ready to receive love in return.
I feel like God really blessed me with that. Sometimes I'll have moments where I'm like, "Yo, I really should be angry with this person. This person really hurt me." But at the end of the day, I've just seen time and time again love win. Love being more powerful than a lot of evil that I've seen. So I'll take being corny, I'll take being cliché. I've seen love, when it's undeserved [and] when it is deserved, given and given without an expectation of something in return. Humans don't do anything more beautiful than that. I don't care that you built the most beautiful building. I don't care if you make the hottest beats. The greatest thing we do is love unconditionally.