Orion Sun Is Just What Your Playlist Is Missing
Some of the best things in life are moments of serendipity—take, for example, the joy of unearthing a stunning secondhand designer bag or stumbling upon a vintage vinyl album you've been vying after. Chance makes life interesting, but to say that everything is left up to it would be to deny the tenacious nature of rising musician Orion Sun. Making it in the music industry requires a great deal of grit from any aspiring artist, but when you grow up on the East Coast as a Black LGBQT+ woman, you have to hustle to make room for yourself in a crowded industry. Space is exactly what this artist has taken up since her foray into the industry. Orion was first signed to the independent record label Mom+Pop back in 2020 and released her debut album, Hold Space for Me, that same year. The album—which was met with great fanfare—was a fusion of indie beats, R&B-inspired lyrics, and soulful vocals. Each song carried an almost elusive intimacy that you could only find if you were sitting in front of the artist while she serenaded you. The power to make someone feel like they're in the same emotional space through her sound isn't the only thing that makes Orion special. It's also who she is as an artist.
Who exactly is Orion Sun? It was a question we were excited to find the answer to over a Zoom call in early March. Ahead, the artist discusses what compelled her to become a musician, her newly minted EP entitled Getaway, and how her identity informs everything from her songwriting to her personal style. People, it's time to update your playlists with an artist who's carving out her own way, one song at a time.
How did you decide you wanted to get into music?
I decided to get into music around high school. Music has always been a big part of my life. I decided to give it a go around my junior year of high school because my music teacher at the time had passed away. That was my first close death, so it changed my perspective on many things, including what I wanted to do with my life. He believed in me. I believed in me enough, so I was like, "Let me just try it." It also stemmed from the fact that music feels good to me, and it became a habitual outlet for me. Regardless of whether it would take me somewhere, I kept chasing that feeling until I stumbled on my first project.
So would you say that experiencing a close death was a wake-up call for you to decide how you wanted to live your life?
As a student, I did have good grades, but I did notice that I did exceptionally better when passionate about what I was learning. So I think just applying that same sort of energy to asking myself, "What do I want to be when I grow up?" And I know that I do better when I feel better, and I am better when I'm doing what I'm passionate about. Music is one of those things, so it was a no-brainer. I had to do this because I knew I wouldn't be happy if I didn't try. I would regret not at least trying to make it in music.
You grew up in South Jersey. What was that like for you? Do you feel like it shaped your creative process?
I think growing up in a predominantly white area as a young Black woman that didn't, at the time, know she was queer gave me a fantastic head start. I was introduced to dope rock music that inspired me. But other than that, I just never felt like I belonged. So I began to create my own space, my world, very early on. And I think that, in retrospect, it was the seed of how I approach things and in making art. … I'm always coming back to just writing. I'm always coming back to my world and my space. And whenever I feel misunderstood, I can always come back to making music and expressing myself. So for me, I wasn't disassociating, but dreaming. I dreamed of New York, traveling, and yearning to get away from it.
There are a lot of barriers to entering the music industry. And on top of that, once you're in, you're not always given that creative freedom. So for you, was working with the independent label Mom+Pop the best call to create the way you want to?
I'm definitely the kind of artist that needs that. It was never a rush to find the right label. I didn't know much about the process, and after hearing stories about how other artists were treated, I knew I didn't want to go to a major label off the bat. I needed that guidance to find the right label, and none of it would have happened without my amazing manager. I wanted to make sure that I was given the freedom to create something that is an authentic representation of what I want to leave behind on this planet. And now, it's nice to be in the room and know it's possible to work with a great team, do what you want to do, and make sure you're getting what you deserve.
Is there a song you've written that encapsulates your sound and who you are as an artist?
I think it's too early to tell. If I start thinking like that now, I feel like I could potentially box myself. But this question would be cool to ask again in like five years.
So you're very much about exploring every genre.
Not necessarily exploring every genre, but just not being solely confined to R&B, indie, rock, or however people categorize my sound.
You released your debut album, Hold Space For Me, in 2020. What was that experience like for you?
When I first got signed, I remember saying, "All I need is the record." For some reason, in my head, it was like you've made it if you have vinyl—you know what I mean? So when the final album came through and I saw the final cover, the one word that came to mind was "manifestation." I felt relieved and proud that, despite how weird and difficult things were with the pandemic, I was about to put forward a project I felt really good about.
Let's talk about your most recent EP, Getaway. What was the inspiration behind it, and how long have you been working on it?
First of all, I knew that I wanted to have an EP because my next album will be special, but I just needed some time in-between. I was thinking about the pandemic a lot and how it has changed me so much. I used to be more introverted, and at times, I still am, but the pandemic put a battery back in me. It made me want to see people more and hold to experiences, and I just wanted to get away because we've all been so trapped, right? We couldn't go anywhere, and I remember the point where I was googling state parks to go to that I'd never gone to before, but I just wanted to get out of my house. So we all were just trying to escape the harsh reality of the pandemic as much as possible, and I kind of wanted to score that. It also, in many ways, was a score to how I've gotten away from thoughts that don't serve me as an artist anymore. As a young artist, I had a chip on my shoulder because I felt like I got fucked over. So working on this project, I had to sit down and be like, "Hey, you proved your point." As a Black woman, you walk into a room, and you feel like you've got to prove that you're not the enemy. So once I dropped those doubts and felt like my vision was respected, it translated into the music. I was able to open up more and had the fantastic opportunity to work with so many people that I didn't think I'll be able to work with so soon in my career. This project was about me getting away from some of the beliefs that brought me here, bowing down, and telling myself, "Thank you for getting me this far. But I reached my new destination, and I'm just [going] to run full throttle in this direction." It can be so easy to hold on to habits or beliefs that you felt you needed to survive whatever you were going through, but I feel like I'm at the point now where I'm just grateful for the good or bad. Everything got me here, but something's got to change.
In addition to inspiring the EP, how do you feel the pandemic has changed who you are as a person?
I feel like I know what I want out of life. I thought I wanted to be the best artist or whatever. But now, I just want to be the best mom to my puppy, and the best daughter, the best friend. Music will always be first for me, but I feel like approaching life that way is affecting my music positively—I always want to be growing with my music.
Do you feel like you are reaching a point where you're no longer attached to the outcome but just enjoying the fruits of your labor?
It's getting back to that. When I got more popular, it got a little stressful because I felt the pressure. But now, I'm just back at this point where I'm like, "Yeah, everything's just flowing through me." I'm really on some vessel shit right now. Whenever I tried to control how something should look or turn out exactly, it's more of a disappointment than not. But sometimes, it goes a different way, where it's similar and not exact but better, and I'm like, "Oh, thank you, God." I'm also just sitting in my skin, which is just helping everything. It's just… It's like a trickle-down effect of being comfortable with myself and whatever comes next that's made enjoying the process easier.
What role has spirituality played in your music?
It's loose right now. But that's my foundation. I grew up in a strict Christian household. And with everything, I just take what I feel makes sense to me and what can be applied. Do I agree with everything? I don't know. But does faith help me at this moment? It does. And I'm grateful for that. So I don't think it will ever disappear. I'm a very spiritual person in general. It's not how it used to be, but I view myself as a servant in general. Whether through my music or in my relationships, I feel that stems from my spirituality and just wanting to take that role in the life of serving a higher aim.
Since you grew up in a strict household, do you feel you've had to grapple with your spirituality versus identifying as queer? How do you balance those identities?
As a Black woman, it's got to be in my genes at this point. In general, I feel like Black women tell you their stories, and it's just like, "Girl, how?" But it was a struggle. I felt I had to learn how to love myself again, which is scary because I never hated myself. But I realized that, almost to the point of brainwashing, I was always told gay was bad. And I had to be like, "Look, you have to work through this." Because even if I had a choice, I'm not even sorry that I love women. And it's interesting because I see God in my life in so many ways, but maybe he's just kind of like moody about this one thing about me, but I'm not going to let it dictate my whole life, dictate what makes me happy. So it took time even to say that, and it took some fails, but I think I'm at the point now where I love God, the earth, and the universe, but I also love me. And this town is big enough for both of us.
And for you, do you feel like music was one of the vehicles to get to that form of self-acceptance?
I feel like that all the time. I was pretty insecure and stuff growing up where I did. So I had to work through that, but the music was a cool catalyst to the journey of my self-actualization, and I feel like I'm in a good place now.
You've struggled with anxiety and depression. So how is your relationship with mental health evolved since entering the spotlight?
Once I stopped being like "these are all the things that are wrong about me" was when things changed for me. I was so self-aware but not doing anything about it. And more recently, I've started to commit to being like, "What's the first step going to be to like not being this person anymore?" I've done so much, including therapy and meditation, but I feel like what has helped the most has been being kinder to myself and more patient and just being like, "Hey, you know how you treat this person? You need start doing that to yourself." I've learned to give myself that same grace and patience because I can just be my worst critic, you know?
What role can music play in honoring and destigmatizing the LGBQT+ community?
I don't know what it's going to take to dismantle that, but I feel the obvious answer's by representation. I remember thinking recently and being like, "Wow, if I were younger and saw these musicians out back then, I would have been able to believe I could do whatever I wanted to." It never stopped me from pursuing music, but I did think early on that I would never really be successful because of how I look and things like that. But music itself is so important because it brings people together—it scores dreams and your worst day ever. Music is there for it all. It's universal. It connects us all. So my thing is when it comes to my community and my home… If you love my music, you have to love where I come from. You got to respect and love what you fear. And music can remind people to do that self-work. It can remind them that it's all of our jobs to do the work, to love and respect each other.
Do you feel like your identity informs how you approach music too?
I think my music wouldn't be made if I wasn't a strong queer Black woman. I don't even know what I will be singing about. I'm so blessed to come from where I come from, have the perspective that I had, and bring that to a musical space. I'm always trying to bring a perspective that I don't hear being talked about in music. And I think I'll even go as far as to say I think that's everything that makes up who I am. How I identify is my music. When people ask "What's the concept of this project?" it's honestly like they're all one project because it's all me.
So let's talk about some of the visuals for your music videos because they're so beautiful. When creating a music video, where do you draw visual inspiration from?
Growing up, I was pretty sheltered, so I watched many movies. I have vivid memories of going to the local library, getting some books, and getting movies. And for example, the song "Coffee for Dinner" was an homage to so many nights I watched The Twilight Zone. The time I spent with that show and others is very sentimental and inspires how I approach visuals. When creating a video, I'm always thinking about two things—the first being the initial seed of what I saw that was visually pleasing to me. The second is that life is short, so I'm asking myself, "What do I want to do in this life?" So if I want to ride a bike in the middle of Malibu, I'll make that the EP cover. So it's a combination of what I visually love but also what I want to do in this life and experience in this life.
You've spoken about the roles music and films have played in your life, but what about fashion? Has it played a significant role, if any, in your life?
I think so. Growing up, I felt like I was more outgoing with my fashion. I was really into prints and things like that in high school. Now that I'm at this stage in my life where so many ideas and thoughts are running through my brain [that] I've become more minimal. My everyday style is very simple, but I love watching runway shows and supporting my friends that work in the industry.
Would you say your clothing can show how you're feeling and how you want to express your gender fluidity?
Growing up, I used to get upset when I would be misgendered, and I wonder if that's why. I think I've learned that I can shift the narrative any way I want. I can turn it in my favor based on what I choose to put on. I feel like myself when I'm wearing something I love.
So do you feel like music and fashion are two of your favorite ways to express who you are to the world?
Yes, I can say that. Those are two of my favorite things to express how I'm feeling in the world. If I could add one more to that list, I would have to say writing. But those three definitely. And I'm so excited about my tour because I know I'm going to be dripping—they'll need to bring a mop to every show. Being on bigger stages and in bigger rooms this year, I want to challenge myself to embrace more colors and explore my style.
Are you excited to be able to perform again in person?
I'm super excited. It's going to be my first tour. But I feel you're asking me at the wrong time because I'm stressing right now because I want to bring you guys the best show that I've ever done. I'm trying to get the band together. I'm talking about stage design and what that would look like. And so I'm just… I'm so excited. I know it will be great, but I'm definitely in, like, "let's get this one" mode right now.
What can our readers expect from you in the next year?
You can watch out for some shows! I'm always going to be working. I'm always going to be around, you know. I'm not on social media too much. But I try to show you that I'm around by focusing on the art and what's next. I'm always thinking about my fans, and I'm so grateful for how far I've come.
What do you want your legacy to be as an artist? What do you hope people take away from your work?
That I'm fearless. Despite my anxiety, insecurities, and whatever excuses my brain can come up with that will stop me from creating the art I want to create, I've been fearless. I've experienced my fair share of doubts. Sometimes, they've held me back, but most times, they don't. And my work is the result—it is me putting myself out there in the way I want to and making space for myself and others to exist in a way that's authentic to their truest self.
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