ABO: How's North Carolina treating you? What was the motivation in coming to NC for the summer? You guys doing any writing while you're there?
North Carolina has been great. Everyone in the band has been able to dig their fingers into the soil of the city we're living in now, Asheville, and bask in the chilled-out pace, the mostly progressive social/spiritual vibe, and good natured company it affords us. The mountains are nice; lots of little magical spots to sit and write music. I haven't written that much new stuff, but the rest of the band has been going crazy. I feel like it's probably just a matter of time before the plasma tentacles of the vortex reach out to my sleeping mind and massage my creativity centers. It's nice to be somewhere that is consistent, and on the whole very positive, and we also have found that people down here are really drawn to what we're doing through our music.
It's very gratifying to see local musicians find ideas in our music, or our production, that they feel they can use to enrich their own music. A teenaged musician from Raleigh recently sent me an mp3 of a song he wrote for a friend's movie that started out as a cover of "Some Kind of Chill" and one of the first friends I made down here already knew how to sing/play most of our songs. That sort of desire to bring aspects of someone else's music into one's own music is something we didn't experience in New York City, where lots of musicians (ourselves very much included) seemed to be competing for an imaginary "most unique and un-influenced band" award. While we've witnessed some catty/back-talking elements down here that are universal to all music scenes, the overwhelming openness and lack of pretense is very refreshing.
We were doing very well on the local level in NYC, and we made a decision to leave during a time when the gatekeepers to that scene were just starting to consider forging us a set of keys, which a lot of people found weird. New York City spawned this band and nursed us on high-octane, transsexual breast milk rich in psyche-spiritual nutrients. Its where we learned how to speak and take our first steps, broke our first bones, and had our first kisses (you know, with people not in this band). Many of us got to a certain level there where we felt deeply connected to the city, a relationship that was passionate and dynamic, and city imagery more than any other thing besides maybe the Sun has informed the lyrics and concepts behind our songs. But we're a globally minded band that can't afford to be tied down to or associated with just one geographical location, and certain folks within the band also weren't able to sink their meat hooks into the prime roast beef of NYC for whatever reason. We all love the NYC scene and the great friends we've made there, but we want to show the world we're more than just a Brooklyn-based indie rock buzz band.
ABO: I know many of the tracks on "Fameseeker and the Mono" were completed before this tour, but did playing those songs live change the final versions of them? And what was the crowd's response to those new tracks?
Just about everything we did for Fameseeker and the Mono was finished in 2006, months before our first national tour, so unfortunately none of the nuances we picked up from our audience were translated to the recorded version. Live, we've found that "Street Sweeper" has a lot of resonance with the crowd, and when we play it right, "Thimble" seems to turn a lot of heads. Those are the songs that have evolved the most in our live arsenal- we've added lots of dramatic moments or guitar layers live that would have been nice to get onto the record. In general, we've never gotten live-audience feedback before unleashing an album into the wild. Virtually nothing from Welcome Back Dear Children saw the light of day before being released- but we recorded that album as a way of saying 'herro there!!'- you know, introducing ourselves to an audience. So fortunately, those songs do very well with both veteran and virgin Arizona audiences.
Fameseeker was more an album we did for ourselves, to get Andrew and James initiated into the 'making an album as Arizona' experience- the songs are more contemplative and exploratory than what you hear on WBDC, and I don't think it was really designed with an audience in mind. I think more cerebral audience members respond to the Fameseeker stuff.
ABO: I can't help but believe that there is a bit of cynicism in the track "Life is Great." I mean as a country right now, we are involved in a senseless war, gas prices are astronomical, and the majority of us are eagerly awaiting election day. Was this track written from that standpoint or was it a more personal take on life…? But the line "this'll get better, let your inner golden heart out for awhile," seems to provide some hope for those of us who still believe that love and goodness will prevail.
This is lyrically probably my favorite song in the Arizona collection, especially since each verse was written by a different band member. The "let your inner golden heart out" line is a tip of the hat to Neil Young. We started writing and recording this song just minutes after we finished listening to Young's "living with war" album in its entirety. I guess our response was to say "yeah, thank you for pointing out all of these things, it's about time someone used the power of music to do it, but we'll go one further: this will get better."
The idea for "Life is Great" as a title actually came from a friend of mine, a girl I was trying to date, who had me wrapped around her finger. One night she asked me if we could do something I really didn't want to do. I said "Of course" and her response was a jubilant "My life is great!!" We're a nation of submissives addicted to being dominated by screwed up rich dudes with a fetish for power. With this administration, as addicts, we've hit our low- which means the only two ways we have available are either total extinction via our habit, or rehabilitation and striving to rid ourselves of the addiction. It's my personal belief that we'll choose to "get better."
The other idea with the "Life is Great" title has to do with terrorists. Ever see one of those post 9/11 shows with kamikaze terrorists? They always have them going "God is Great!!!!" before blowing themselves up, or if they get shot in the lungs, that'll be the last words they utter with their dying breath. I was just thinking... yeah, God may be Great, but if God exists, of COURSE he's great and he knows it! You think he needs a murderer to tell him he's great? Life is also great, and it doesn't get nearly enough respect. If these people were dying with "life is great" on their lips well, they probably wouldn't have just killed anyone or died themselves. I'm really pro-LIFE, if you know what I mean. As in, if you're on this planet, I want you to have the best life you possibly can, and I'm going to try not to screw it up by bullying you, let alone trying to kill you. I feel other people could stand to adopt this policy.
So, I would say that the song is of course about all the things you mention- I'd be shocked and awed to find out that someone in this band supports George W Bush's administration. The one thing that they did for us though, is announce to the American public "uh... btw, yeah America was well known for this whole 'constitutional democracy' thing, but... that's not really how it works, as we're making painfully obvious to you now" - which at least tells us where we stand honestly. We're not living in a Democracy, really, and I don't think we have been for a while. We've got generations upon generations to thank for that. But this song is an assertion that every human being has a heart of gold, and you don't need to go searching for it across the planet's surface, just gotta mine for it in the love geography of any person's life.
ABO: The intricate details and sounds on this record seem much more pronounced than on WBDC. How much of your energy was spent on the background tracks, the string and key arrangements, and all of the other wonderful sounds on Fameseeker?
I'd say that the same amount of time and energy is put into every song we do, between 24 and 72 hours of more or less non stop (except for sleep) work. Some songs on WBDC were recorded in way shorter amounts of time- "Waking Up" "Judgment Day" "Old Man With a Bad Back" and "David" were each made in under a day. But most of the tracks you hear from us are done in one sitting, between a day and 3 days worth of time and energy and mind-wracking.
The difference with Fameseeker is that instead of 3 musical psychos running around, you've got 5. And these two guys play every instrument under the sun. Andrew is a phenomenal trombone player, and he plays a number of other brass instruments. James wails on the sax - but more importantly, he's our first permanent drummer and brings a unique approach while providing a sublime fusion of the drum stylings (guitarist) Nick Campbell and (bassist/engineer) Alex Hornbake displayed through their kit performances on Welcome Back Dear Children. Andrew and James are both excellent keyboard players although Andrew really truly scares everyone with how good he is on keys. He took over for me as the main key-man in Arizona, and for the greater good, believe me. Now I get to spend more time playing the erhu! (a 2 string chinese fiddle featured most prominently during the ending of "Thimble")
After recording The Sun and The Room and Welcome Back Dear Children, Alex Hornbake's engineering chops were amazingly sharp and he was very eager to capture the new sound of the five piece Arizona. So you've got this whole new brass element, a lot of stuff with sound manipulation ( Fameseeker's title track), this elegant keyboard playing, a new guitar sound via Andrew's telecaster wailing, and two new brains who can also be processing detail and coming up with ideas. So it's the same number of hours and joules of energy, but the two extra guys is really what makes all the difference.
ABO: Tell us a little bit about the movie score you've recently completed…And will the songs ever be available commercially?
We've now done a bunch of work for movies. We give these projects the full Arizona session treatment and usually turn around mega-quality songs in 12-60 hours. It's actually easier for us than coming up with stuff for our own records, which is why we want as much film work as we can get! It's the most fun we've had in the studio for sure. We've gotten super quick at finding the moments of scenes that have the most "pop" and emotional resonance, and we isolate these tiny little moments and will build an outline around them, and very quickly flesh those outlines out. I like to sing to the actors when we do these sessions, look them right in the eye and serenade them as though my words might actually reach them and change the scene.
We love timing out a song perfectly to highlight these subtle but emotionally huge moments, which can be scattered all throughout a scene. Making something that sounds like a coherent song out of all of this is the challenge, and I think we've done very well- most of these songs sound cinematic, but would be just as happy appearing on a record without the visual accompaniment.
It's unclear if the movies will ever see the light of day, but the songs will. We'll either do a "we like to score" type record, or re-record the songs for the upcoming LP. Or something. The songs will be made available.
ABO: What does the future hold for Arizona?
Danny Kadar and the band are going into the studio again to make another full-length record. We know that this is to be the most adventurous record yet, and I pray every night that I'll be able to write songs for this record that will stand up to what I've done in the past. Nick and Andrew already have some mind-meltingly cool songs up their sleeves.
If the royal light of Art Gods shine upon us, we will create some exciting pieces in collaboration with the terrifyingly talented Deems, who has done all of our album artwork. We are also eager to work on our first properly financed music video, which we'll be doing with our longtime friend and artistic contributor Cyril Besnard (an incredibly gifted filmmaker/editor living in France) along with his collaborative partner Ben and the mysterious Dr. Breint.
Hopefully there will be lots of film work coming our way. We could seriously score movies all the livelong day and we'd be happy. We're doing some production and arrangement for a massively creative platinum selling pop artist who has become a friend of ours, and we hope our work will make the cut for that album!
It is my sincerest hope that we'll start to see Arizona start to become a more distinct presence, something people can understand a little better. We've been such chameleons, I'm hoping that some sort of "Arizona sound" will coalesce in the minds of our audience, which we also would like to see take some sort of shape. We have fans, and the fans we have are usually quite passionate about us, but it's all extremely scattered. The more coherent the audience gets, the better our music will become. Bands like Modest Mouse, Arcade Fire, The Shins- they all know who their fans are, and so they have that dimension of knowledge to draw upon when they are making a record. It's a dimension I feel I lack when I'm working on a record, and it's one I badly want because it always makes the music better in my opinion. But for this to happen, Arizona has to work harder and harder, and we're looking forward to pushing ourselves to the limit starting this September!