Music duo Okapi channels anger into heady music for higher consciousness
On a recent Friday night, the avant garde musical duo Okapi performed for a handful of people at Revolve in Asheville. The only illumination came from two table lamps and a few candles behind them and a string of tiny footlights along the cement floor.
Three years ago, Scott Gorski and Lindsey Miller struggled to get gigs. Today, the bass and cello duo might be Asheville’s busiest touring outfit.
In Louisville, Okapi recently performed in both a record shop and the Speed Art Museum. In Pittsburgh, they performed in an abandoned warehouse. Their current East Coast swing includes house parties, small galleries and a grimy venue known for hardcore shows.
“We played a laundromat not too long ago,” Miller said. “We got some of the most money on that tour from the laundromat, which was awesome.”
“We got to do laundry, too,” Gorski said.
“You’re several days into a tour, and that’s gold right there,” Miller said.
Okapi next performs locally Nov. 24 at Citizen Vinyl and Dec. 7 at Static Age Records in Asheville. Gorski and Miller are planning a busy touring schedule into the new year. They have a neighbor willing to take care of their tortoise, Huey, whenever they’re on the road.
During the pandemic, Miller and Gorski married and bought a home they haven’t yet moved into. Gorski has mostly recovered from a serious car injury that threatened his ability to play the bass. They also recorded their second album, titled “Carousel II.” It’s a sequel to their 2018 album, “Carousel I.”
One thing hasn’t changed—the serious, heady tone of Okapi’s music, both lyrically and instrumentally.
“What we try to promote is individuality,” Gorski said. “We try to promote consciousness, awareness of oneself and of one’s environment, and embracing the true nature of reality.”
“And that’s been the message from the get-go,” Miller added. “But this second (album), I feel like you can hear more of the exhaustion and more of the anger from trying to push ourselves to be strong individuals in a world that’s crazy and with a lot of people that just don’t care.”
They’ve made music together for nearly 10 years, since Gorski placed a Craigslist ad in search of a sax player and drummer. Miller, a cellist, answered anyway. They shed the drummer and Gorski switched from an electric to an upright bass.
Despite playing instruments most associated with classical music, they said they see themselves more aligned with indie rock. That’s echoed in the anger threaded into their music—anger at societal conformity, environmental complacency and limited attention spans.
“I’m kind of always angry when I write music,” Miller said. “I don’t always know what I’m looking for with something, but I know what it isn’t. And then also, Scott has some clear images of what he wants sometimes, and that’s sometimes in contrast to what I feel something needs.”
“If you are angry or emotional and you’re able to articulate that well enough through art, it’s fulfilling and you’re able to momentarily let go of it,” Gorski said.
Gorski and Miller have jobs at separate art galleries, affording them the flexibility to tour in a way they couldn’t before the pandemic. Gorski has pushed through his distaste for social media to cultivate performance outlets off the beaten path. And as they find new, unconventional places to perform, they find new ears for their unconventional music.
“The music isn’t meant to connect on a global scale by any means,” Gorski said. “The goal is to connect with people in a more complex way.”
“And maybe that is isolating in itself,” Miller said. “Because we are catering so much to what we’re feeling and thinking and just our own odd little likes and everything.”