Wednesday, July 17, 2013
All Around Sound-Off No. 4: ARMS
A little known fact is that in addition to giving the All Around Sound-Off its name, Todd Goldstein better known as the frontman of Brooklyn indie rockers ARMS was actually the first interview I ever did right around the release of the band's sophomore record Summer Skills. The interview was lost forever into the ether and while it's been essentially a long-standing inside joke between Todd and I that we would replace it with another, the news that ARMS would soon be recording/releasing a new EP seemed like probable cause to reach out to Todd Goldstein again to see if he would finally be game for another chat. Thankfully he was and we met outside of Pianos after one of their sets earlier this year to continue a conversation that had started nearly two years prior.
Dante (All Around Sound): I'm really excited about your new EP...like SO much. What can we expect from it?
Todd Goldstein: Well, we recorded it ourselves which was a not new but a return to that from working on a big studio album. That was in part because of resources and in part because I really missed the feeling. The home recorded stuff just sounds a lot closer to what I'm hearing in my head and I have more control over it and part of that control is giving up control to like shittily recorded tracks and first takes and just kind of leaving it as it is and just letting the magic of it, if it is in fact magic, be there. It's five tracks and it was most of what I wrote in the last year after Summer Skills. I don't know, it's just kind of in terms of - I was thinking this, because you know I'm an ex music writer and all that stuff, in terms of adjectives: If Summer Skills was - someone described it as sinewy once which I really liked. It's sort of moody and sinewy then this new EP is sort of careening and expressive. It's really high energy and it's really rough around the edges and it's a lot more fun than anything.
Sweet. I've heard some of the songs live so is it kind of a similar thing to that or did you make any changes to the songs when you brought them in to record?
TG: No, it's similar to that but you know, there's more layering and atmosphere and all that. It's just a lot more fun - they're fun songs that I had fun writing and I have fun playing them.
Hah. I wouldn't have used that adjective to describe you guys ever. I mean, you know...
When we talked before, long long ago, you mentioned that Summer Skills actually got its initial inspiration from Kids Aflame. Was there any pre-established inspiration that you drew for this one?
TG: No. Which was sort of the scary and interesting part of doing the EP. I felt like I kind of exhausted this huge creative well with Summer Skills. I basically poured every little piece of whatever I had into it and I started with pretty much a blank slate writing afterwards which is something I hadn't really done before. I think that's in part why it's kind of taken awhile to get the motor revved again. We're in to writing another full length right now because I've kind of got the groove going but the inspiration for making these was that I just needed to find a new way to write that wasn't based on concept and let the concept become what it was going to be. Just writing some songs was the thinking. I've been happy to find since finishing the songs and hearing them together that they're definitely a piece and there's definitely some throughlines and all that stuff but the inspiration was really just writing more about myself.
For this EP was there more of a conscious effort to return to writing or did the songs just kind of come to you naturally?
TG: It was like a real conscious effort. I really had to push it. Songwriting doesn't come easily to me like ever and with these five they really had to be ...I had to sort of force myself to write this stuff because I was like 'I need to make more stuff. I need to get past that record'. I needed to find a new voice after I had done that. That was sort of the way Kids Aflame worked and I was thinking of that kind of relationship where the songs themselves are very tightly constructed and very carefully put together but the performances are very loose and kind of tossed off, you know, in a good way. In the good attitude.
Last year you resurrected a bunch of Kids Aflame songs that you hadn't really played in awhile. Going back to those was there any kind of new revelations that you got from going back to these old songs that you wrote?
TG: Yeah. There was an attitude I had when I was writing those that I had gotten really far away from and that i really wanted to get back to. I don't think we're a band that's been around long enough that the idea of returning to your roots is like a last ditch effort at anything, it was just kind of trying to recalibrate where I was at and just think about things differently. I really like those old songs because they're really direct and they're all kind of trying a different thing and there's a sense of innocent exploration that I had going on at that time that I couldn't get back to completely but tried to think of things that way like 'What if I wrote a song like this?' and not try to fit it in to anything larger or make it mean anything larger. It's just like a self-contained little world and that was kind of something that I learned from them - that I could go back to those songs and playing them realized I wrote some songs that I really love from that time. I don't write song like that anymore but I totally still could if I want to.
I kind of already kind of the answer to this question but who are some of your favorite songwriters? Do you feel like any particular songwriter really influenced your writing?
TG: I feel like I've gotten to this point where I don't even listen to songwriters anymore. I listen to mostly ambient music, jazz, electronic, and minimalist classical stuff and that's sort of where I hang out most of the time. I mean, you know, if I listen to my stuff there's Mark Kozelek in there; Neil Young and maybe a little bit of Elvis Costello and a little bit of Elliot Smith. Ted Leo? I don't know, I listen to all sorts of stuff. When I'm writing songs I'm just writing songs I know to write. What are your guesses?
I mean I knew about Kozelek. I know you have like moodier songwriting likes and whatnot. So for this round was there any change in what you were listening to versus what you were listening to before that you felt defintely impacted what you were doing?
TG: I think I stopped listening to indie rock. That's actually a pretty big thing. I mean, I listen to it still because it's like happening and I like to keep up on things but I stopped kind of strong identifying with it for whatever that's worth. What I play is definitely indie rock, there's no question but I just kind of stopped. On one hand I stopped really giving a shit about indie rock aside from what my friends are doing which I think is cool and picking and choosing here and there but while I stopped caring about it I think I wanted the stuff I was making to sound a little more like it. I was like 'Fuck it.' I made an art-pop album that was maybe a bit impenetrable tone-wise to some people and I kind of want to make stuff that people listen to and I want my stuff to make sense with the stuff that other people are doing so people have a door in. So I switched up the approach a little bit to make it a little more like the stuff I listened to when I was growing up. Just like 90s indie rock; Pedro the Lion and Pavement, Built to Spill and stuff like that. I can say that's like a big influence.
For Summer Skills you said some of the influence came from really intense movies like Brick. Was there any particular mindset you tried to get into when trying to write these songs that you attached to?
TG: Yeah. I feel like this is a little bit more influenced by some books. I'm trying to concentrate a little more on smaller moments and intimate details. I read this book by Lorrie Moore called Birds of America. Every story is really beautiful and kinda sad and about very real people but it's just like so perfectly observed and I kind of wanted to do something that was more impressionistic and intimate. It was less about the widescreen mood and concept.
So it was about two or three years ago when you recorded your other EP, was there any particular way you went about it this time on this new EP?
TG: No. More mics, better mics. We got someone to mix this album. We worked on all the tracks ourselves and got this guy Jason Finkel to do the mixing.
I know him.
TG: You know him? Of course! Through the blog world. He's a really awesome guy and we totally get along and he just gets how to make all this stuff kind of work together. It sounds fucking great - it'll be done by the end of next week. We recorded it the same but I think the years of difference just in terms of how our views have changed and our sensitivities and stuff and the fact that we got someone to really put it together is going to make a huge difference.
Much thanks to Todd Goldstein for sitting down with me (again) to discuss what's one of my most anticipated released. The new EP, aptly titled EP2 will be released September 10th on Paper Garden Records.