One of the notable aspects of AroarA’s new album is it based of the poems of Alice Notley, is that correct?
How heavily did the poems influence the songs? Are the lyrics completely derived or more of a framework?
Well, it’s kind of in between that. Basically the whole work itself is derived from Alice’s book, In The Pines. There are fourteen poems in that book which tell this super psychedelic, visionary story, so I made fourteen songs. What I would do was go through these poems, which are not necessarily narrative based, and I would find a phrase or a word, maybe just two words. Then for each poem I started to create what could be like a fake song. I made the lyrics before there was any music. When I had finished making these “songs”, me and Ariel began to put music to them.
Do you think each song tried to capture the feel of the poem it was based on?
The music is related in a way because I wanted the music to feel like part of the poem. There are some constraints on the music. For instance, there is very little bass on the record. A Lot of it was done just on my laptop in the living room in really lo-fi conditions. That all led to create a palette that matched with the hallucinatory, cepia world of In The Pines.
What exactly drew you guys to these poems?
Well I am a big poetry reader of Modern American poetry and I think Alice Notley is just one of the best writers around these days. I was just reading this particular book of Alice’s and while I was reading it the idea just basically dropped into my mind.
Was there a dialogue with Alice Notley throughout the process?
I let her know in many stages. I would send her my lyricized version and any of the demos. I definitely kept her informed the whole way because this is the type of thing where if she said no go, it would be no go.
AroarA is a group made up of you and your wife. Is this the first time you have ever collaborated and how was that process?
When me and my wife began playing together we were actually doing a very different kind of music. It was still just the two of us but had a very different feel and purpose. This In The Pines thing just kind of happened. It had so much energy so we just went with that. Basically our friend was going away and she invited us to her country house and suggested we just record a record there. So that seemed like the thing to do. Now that we have done In The Pines we will start getting back to the other stuff we were up to.
You are part of both Apostle Of Hustle and Broken Social Scene, but as of now would you say AroarA is your main focus?
Yeah, it is. I don’t think Apostle Of Hustle will happen for awhile. Broken Social Scene might start working again next year. So this is my main thing for this fall, writing a new AroarA record.
Now, will this new AroarA record be based off any existing work or completely original?
Were going to move in a little different direction. Its a very heavy situation to be singing these songs to people. Its pretty heavy stuff. I think the next record might kind of a nursery rhyme theme to make it a bit lighter.
Walk me through a little bit of the recording process for In The Pines?
I had actually done a bit of soundtrack stuff recently so I had gotten MIDI, which I had been in the dark about. All of a sudden I had this world of sounds, like “whoa! I can have anything I want here”. So I just started making stuff up on that and just recording straight into the laptop. Ariel also has a cigar box guitar which she plays a lot on the album. We even rolled up socks and put them on the end of drumsticks and hit things. Just having fun with it.
How does all that transfer over to touring with this album?
What we do is have a little 404 sampler on stage. So I put a lot of the sounds in there. We both sing and play guitar. We put the sampler right up front in like a suitcase because I want people to know that it is just a glorified drum machine and this is what we’re doing. We just think that the audience ought to know what is going on.
What exactly went into the decision to move on from Fruit Bats?
You know I think it was kind of a decision just based on history. I done it for about 14 years and it was actually going really well by the end there, so I think it was sort of an attempt to go out on top, as they say. It was also that I had just done it for so long. I think some of those songs were from the past and I just wanted to sing some new songs.
Was Fruit Bats a solo project also, or was there more of a band behind that?
It was always ostensibly a solo project. It was initially intended as a band and kind of became a solo project for the first nine years of it. By the last five years it had been more a less a pretty solid band. But I had always written everything so it was kind of more a solo project by accident and this [EDJ] is much more planned.
When you were making the decision to end Fruit Bats was it with the knowledge that you were going to move on directly to another solo project?
It was super weird. I thought the future was really wide open. I did the last shows in November of last year and was like, “I don’t know if I’ll ever do anything again.” I guess I knew I would do something, but had no songs or anything. But then in like six weeks I was writing a record just kind of unbeknownst to myself. I just started to write in January and was in the studio by February and it was done by April. So it all happened super-fast and kind of took me by surprise a little bit. There was no plan but it just happened anyway.
Was the songwriter process much different than writing Fruit Bat’s records?
Yeah and I think that is how I realized how much of a new thing it was. The songwriting process with EDJ was more of an immediate thing rather than with Fruit Bats where we took a long time between records. This was something where I just wrote what I was feeling on the spot. I had never written anything that fast, not even close. It all came out in just a few weeks and it had always taken me a couple years.
Was that a conscious thing or just happened by accident almost?
I think I was just feeling it. It was in the moment and just a little rush for me.
EDJ is a solo record but you did bring in collaborators; James Mercer, members of Califone and Vetiver. What went into that decision?
With Fruit Bat stuff I had always brought people into guest and just surround myself with people that I like hanging out with, so that was no different. I just like to have my friends around so that was all pretty natural. I also had a great band of guys from New York; Sam Cohen, Josh Kaufman and Brian Kantor making up the core of the band. It was an opportunity to work with old friends and new friends.
How do you plan on touring with EDJ?
The touring is going to be with looping pedals and samplers and stuff like that, so it will be completely solo but also completely full sounding like the record. It’s a brand new thing for me, doing these full band songs but without a full band, which has been a crazy learning curve.
Would you say that is more exciting or nerve wracking?
Oh, it’s terrifying, super scary. But I have done a few shows now so I am getting less nervous. It’s totally exciting though just because it is something new.
This record seems to have a wide range of themes throughout, was that intentional?
It is a wider range and also kind of a narrower range in a lot of way because I am going less universal and a little bit more personal. Of course, when you write personally it is for everybody too and for everyone to make their own interpretations. It was just a new set of themes.
What attracted you to your work in film scores?
It seems like everybody wants to do that when you reach a certain point in the indie rock career, it is sort of a dream job. I was really lucky to fall into it. I had a friend who is a director and who got lucky enough to get funding for a relatively biggish movie. He ended up hiring me as the composer and it went off from there. I have now done nine movies since then which was like five years ago. I always had interest in film, even before I joined bands I always wanted to write and direct movies. It felt like a natural full circle thing, almost like a childhood dream.
Do you think you drew from this experience, especially in some of the wordless tracks on the record?
Definitely, yeah. There are those three tracks on there that are straight up where I was one hundred percent going for that. Just in general I think working on movie scores really informed even the stuff that is not instrumental on the record. I have been working on a lot of movies scores and in that situation it is very collaborative. In a lot of ways you're just a mouthpiece for someone else. So going back to write a record you get this incredible rush of freedom. It made me approach everything differently just from working on those movies.
Do you see EDJ as a long term project?
Yeah, this will probably be what I do for a while, at least as far as a recording artist goes. I’d love to collaborate at some point and do a band with somebody someday. But right now I see this as my thing for the foreseeable future. That being said I don’t think it will become this massively big thing, just something to add to the pile of stuff I am doing.
Cloud Control front man Alister Wright discusses writing, touring and the search for a veggie cheese steak
By Sean Fennell
Cloud Control recently released an unplugged, stripped down version of their 2013 sophomore effort, Dream Cave. They now embark on a tour alongside fellow London based band Metronomy. I recently caught up with lead singer, Alister Wright before their show at Union Transfer to discuss, among other things, writing, touring, and where one can find a veggie cheesesteak.
Can you tell me about a little bit about you all came together to form Cloud Control?
We formed a really long time ago. None of us really knew how to do music really well. We hadn’t played in bands, I hadn’t sung before. Heidi just entered a band competition at the University of Sydney. She kind of roped us all in. I was really good friends with her little brother, who's the drummer. Then Jeremy was another guy who just also grew up in the same area, The Blue Mountains. Then we entered the [competition] and it was fun, but we sucked and got kicked out. But we kept practicing, for like a year. We didn’t play any shows for a whole year while we were just learning to write songs and stuff. The next year we came back and we won the band competition.
So you are all basically from the same area?
Do you think you think that similar influences led to you guys coming together?
No, it was just totally cause we were friends.
What would you say personally influenced you when you were young?
Led Zeppelin, Michael Jackson, CCR, just classic rock. I guess that’s what my parents listened to, still listen to.
There’s a lot of harmonization throughout the record. Does the songwriting come from a similar collaborative effort as well?
Everyone pitches in. Different songs usually have one person who is kinda in control, kind of puts it all together. Some songs will be one person’s song and will bring the whole thing to the band; other ones will be more of collaboration.
Tell me a little bit about what went into the idea to re-record an unplugged version of Dream Cave?
Well we actually recorded it before Dream Cave had come out. It was just a one day session in the studio. The idea was that when we were writing the songs we actually spent a lot of time playing them like that in my living room in London. Practicing them and trying to get them to work in a small setting. Often I find it easier to write songs like that because in studio it can be so loud that it’s hard to hear the structure and everything. The way the song fits together. So we already had it all done so it seemed like it’d be silly not to just put it down cause we already put in all the work.
Do you like some of the songs better or worse when listening to the unplugged version over the remastered version?
Yeah, that’s interesting. We actually just did a whole tour in Australia that was acoustic shows. Sometimes it does work. To be honest, I don’t know which one is better. Like whether it would be better to just to try to record a really good live album. Cause I think you could put a bit more time into it and make an album like that really special. Not to say ours is no good. I mean I think they do work really well like that; there is some kind sense of authenticity you get from hearing people just play it. I get annoyed by a lot of singer-songwriter music cause I think there’s a lot of stuff that doesn’t really move me. Things are being too pretty.
I really think we could do another acoustic tour like that in the future. We had crown surfing and stage invasions it felt like a rock show. Even though the volume was half what you usually play at, I think you can still have the same kind of feeling if you are putting out the energy and you get people really involved. But rather than beating them over the head with volume it’s more like you are inviting everyone into the room. You really bring them together and it gets a bit more hippy vibe and a very positive experience people can have that might feel more intimate or authentic.
What has changed for you guys as a band since the release of Dream Cave in 2013?
In America our profile is a bit better. It feels kind of the same. It is definitely good to release an album, tour it for a year, then were about to finish touring. Whereas last time we put out Bliss Release and toured for like three years. That was too long. A year is about enough get yourself to try a lot harder to have a good time.
You have been on tour with some pretty notable act, what do you think the most memorable tour moment has been?
Arcade Fire was really good when we played. Interestingly, the stage caught fire during sound check in Milan. They have like really bad wiring, just really dodgy.
Do you think you picked up anything from those bands?
You know I think I’ve actually learned more from playing with smaller bands because once a band is at that level they have so much production and all this other stuff that makes it so the audience is pretty much guaranteed to get a good, consistent show. I learned a lot touring Australia and playing with some of our friends bands. We were supporting them and saw how people could really take control of a space and really dominate it completely with personality. I have always really admired that. I play in a different way to that. I have learned more from seeing small shows cause maybe that related more to what we do.
What are some of the more difficult aspects of along tour away from your home like this?
Definitely, you miss home. I miss my girlfriend. Just hanging out with my mates that kind of thing. I’m pretty used to it I think, we have been traveling a lot the past few years. Living in London as well.
What are cities you are excited to revisit or visit for the first time during this tour?
Well this is our first time here in Philadelphia. We went to a vegan restaurant called “Vedge” last night. So good. We have had a good time here. But that’s the thing; you only get to spend 48 hours in places.
Is there anything coming up as far as plans to write or record new stuff?
I find it really hard to write on the road but we were in Australia recently and we have already started demoing some new songs. We have never been a band who can just go right into the studio and write songs so we will write as fast as we can but we would like the turnaround to be faster this time rather than the three it took before.
My last question was going to be the obligatory, have you had a Philly cheesesteak but I guess since you are all vegans that didn’t happen.
Do you know if there is a Veggie one somewhere where you can get like the fake meat? There must be. I’m gonna look that up on the internet cause I would like to try that. I used to eat meat so I can imagine it’s delicious.
1. VAMPIRE WEEKEND- MODERN VAMPIRES OF THE CITY
Vampire Weekend burst onto the college radio scene as the unexpected hit of 2008 when they released their self-titled album featuring hits like “A-Punk” and “Oxford Comma”. This time around, they are not catching anyone by surprise. With their third album, Modern Vampires of the City they bring their already eclectic sound and expand it even further. They are band that could have relied on their pop sensibilities to give them a career of radio hits and sold out concerts by the truck load, but this just isn’t there style. They are Constantly introducing more and more obscure instruments into their already vast collection. Even instituting themes usually found in rap or hip hop such as voice modification to give the singer the impossibly low singing voiced found on songs by A$AP Rocky and the like. If they continue to push the envelope on future albums we are all in for a treat.
2. PORTUGAL. THE MAN- EVIL FRIENDS
There is no exact equation for determining how a band is able to separate themselves from the mass of unknown artists that are constantly releasing music, touring, and hoping to one day make it. That is what makes the music industry, specifically college radio, such an exciting proposition. You never know what is going to hit you by surprise and just blow you away. Portugal. The Man is a strange band that matches the strange journey they took to become one of, if not the, breakout hit of 2013. They are a band that how now released 8 studio albums. Many times after a band is on their third of fourth and has still yet to reach wide appeal, they may have to get used to obscurity. But as the year closes I find myself not able avoid Portugal. The Man songs which are being featured on everything from football games on FOX to Taco Bell commercials. Don’t think for a second that this is some sort of fluke. This band has been making catchy, indie rock hits for years and 2013 finally had them find the respect they deserve.
3. OKKERVIL RIVER- THE SILVER GYMNASIUM
To say that an Okkervil River album is a work in poetic storytelling seems a bit like saying that (insert comparison). But 2013’s The Silver Gymnasium takes songwriter Will Sheff’s writing to a more personal place than ever. The whole album takes place in Sheff’s hometown of Meriden, New Hampshire and covers themes of his personal experiences growing up in the 1980’s. The album keeps with Okkervil River’s tradition of vivid lyrics without sacrificing catchy chorus’. Sheff is also campaigning through twitter and kickstarter to get the funds to finish a full-length movie based on the stories told on the album,to be called “Down Down the Deep River”. This means that although this a top album for the year 2013 it will surely be one that continues to make waves into 2014.
4. THE NATIONAL- TROUBLE WILL FIND ME
On this list I’ve discussed the idea of bands using a formulaic approach to songwriting and how sometimes this can make for boring, predictable songs. Well to every rule there must be at least a few exceptions, and in this case The National seems to be this exception. It has been 12 years since their self-titled debut album and almost 7 since their breakout album Boxer, but the band has been able to keep making great music and keep audiences interested without straying too far from who they were from the start. Trouble Will Find Me builds on this and is again able to produce some great, memorable tracks, all while keeping the swooning, depression laden themes that front man, Matt Berninger, has made hid trademark.
5. ARCTIC MONKEYS- AM
There is no doubt that 2013’s AM was to be the make or break record for this now 11-year-old band. After 2009’s Humbug which was both panned by critics and ignored by fans the Monkeys began to gain back some of their momentum with 2009’s Suck it and See, but the band still seemed to be lacking whatever it was that has made them the appear to be on the verge of being the next great British invaders. If AM were to once again fall short The Arctic Monkeys might have fallen into relative obscurity, but luckily for them, AM did anything but fall short. Probably their most complete album yet, AM shows a maturity that the rockers could have only dreamed of when they first began but is also able to capture the angst and edge that made them so appealing to begin with.
6. THE HEAD AND THE HEART- LET’S BE STILL
It seems that The Head and the Heart might just be in the right place and the right time for their blend of folky harmonization to truly hit it big. When they released their debut, self-titled album in 2011 there was no anticipation as they were relatively unknown. This time, though, things are different. After their surprising first album they have gained substantial fan base who were no doubt excited to hear their follow up effort. The Head and the Heart features three main vocalists; Jonathon Russell, Josiah Johnson, and Charity Rose Thielen. If one thing sticks out about this album over their first, it’s the voice of Thielen. This album also continues their trend of harmonization that they established on the first record, trading back and forth seamlessly between Thielen, Johnson, and Russell on several tracks. For those who like to be the music fans who can say things like, “I knew them way before they were popular” your time to legitimately say this about The Head and the Heart is dwindling quickly. For those of you who just want to hear a quality album then it may be time to jump on this band’s bandwagon becuse there are many more hits to come.
7. ARCADE FIRE- REFLEKTOR
No album was more anticipated in the college radio world in 2013 than Reflektor. Slowly information came out, beginning with the fact that the album was to be co-produced by James Murphy of LCD Soundsytem. Next was the report that this album would bring with it a whole new sound from Arcade Fire which pules heavily from their experiences in Haiti. Then came the guerilla marketing campaign used for the album that included the use of street art which showed up all around the world. A lot of bands would not have been so bold because of the amount of self-made pressure this would put on the album, but Arcade Fire is not like most bands and this has been evident for some time. The album on its own also did nothing to disprove this idea. You can really hear the influences they received in Haiti as Reflektor has a kind of island feel to it that was not anywhere to be found on previous outputs. It does however, still sound like an Arcade Fire album, but to me, and many others, there is nothing wrong with that at all.
8. CLOUD CONTROL- DREAM CAVE
Many of the albums that have graced this list took no one by surprise (see Arcade Fire’s Reflektor, or Modern Vampires of the City). Coming in at number 8 on my list this year is the latest work from Cloud Control, a band that not only had I not been on the lookout for, but had simply never heard of. The album is entitled Dream Cave and took me by such pleasant surprise that I hope including them on this list will convince at least one person to give it a listen that it clearly deserves. Cloud Control is able to seamlessly blend the kind of harmonization found on recent breakout bands like Alt-J with more folky sounds of Fleet Foxes. I find with bands that are just starting out that “finding their own sound” can often mean repeating one thing that works until the entire album sounds like a repetition of some formula. Dream Wave could have been a successful record had the band simply duplicated the themes found on “Promises” or “Scar”, the two best songs on the album, but they decided to try something different with almost every track. This gives the album not only more lasting power for the listener but also makes me excited to hear what 2014 might bring for this Australian quartet.
9. KING KRULE- 6 FEET BENEATH THE MOON
I don’t know what the most surprising thing is about King Krule’s album 6 Feet Beneath the Moon, the fact that he has received endorsements by multiple established musicians ranging from Earl Sweatshirt to queen B herself, or that the swooning voice is that of 19-year-old brit Archy Marshall. Either way Marshall unique sound seems to be something that a wide variety of tastes can appreciate. Having wrote the single, “Easy, Easy” when he was only 12 years old it is also no question that he has talent to spare and is going to be an artist to watch for years.
10. CHANCE THE RAPPER- ACID RAP
As you can probably tell from the list thus far I am one not easily sold on hip hop or rap albums, but this mixtape hit me in a way that I just couldn’t ignore. Not since the emergence of Kid Cudi has there been a rapper who has had the ability to mix an excellent singing voice, catchy choruses, and clever rhymes so seamlessly. The mixtape goes from sentimental tracks about the past like “Cocoa Butter Kisses” to marijuana anthems like “Smoke Again” featuring Top Dawg’s Ab-Soul. Acid Rap also features guest appearances from Action Bronson, Twista, as well as Childish Gambino. Chance continued to release music throughout 2013 even returning the favor and adding a couple verses to Childish Gambino’s “Worst Guys”.