I was really looking forward to hitting up ARMS frontman Todd Goldstein for a little Q & A because he’s got one of those projects I’ve just sort of followed over the couple of years and now, with their debut LP Summer Skills completed, it’s great to hear the full band moving forward.
ARMS began as a bedroom project for Goldstein in 2004, writing and recording his own compositions on his own time and alongside his stint in the Harlem Shakes. In 2008 he released the gorgeous Kids Aflame EP, setting the stage with his highly lyrical almost spoken word at times, epic pop songs, and building a proper band behind that release.
With the added man power of the now four-piece, the most recent couple of singles boast a more full-bodied production and weight that comes with the added artistic input. It’s still romantic though, in the sense that Goldstein’s music always conveys strong emotions topped off with flares of idealism–which is an endearing quality no matter how you cut it.
The self-released Summer Skills sees light on November 8th, followed a few days later by an album release party with us at Glasslands on 11/11/11 (I know you won’t forget that date).
I read somewhere that by day you work at the seriously creative company Ghostly International, a label who’s artists seem to be pretty far away from the ARMS sound and influences. It seems like a tight knit community, have you always been versed in that kind of music or did you land the job and have a lot of listening to do?
I worked as the Editorial Director at Ghostly International for three years, up until a year or so ago, actually — I’ve been out of the writing game for a while now. But I was writing about music pretty consistently since I got out of college — reviews, features, press materials, website copy for record labels, all sorts of stuff. At Ghostly, I was the label’s written “voice”, creating all of their written content, which was a fantastic gig.
I love pretty much everything that label puts out, from the more experimental ambient electronic stuff to the dancefloor techno and squelchy hip-hop things. I got into electronic music in 2007 or so, and yeah — I definitely had to do a bit of homework back when I was working for Ghostly, but it was homework I really enjoyed, trawling their back catalogue and schooling myself in the history of electronic music. These days, the majority of what I listen to has some kind of electronic element — I love minimal house and techno, ambient and out-there noisy composers. The Ghostly work definitely helped me get a little more well-versed in that scene, but I was well on my way already when I started over there.
I think there’s a difference between the music you love to listen to and the music that actually informs the art that you create–are there influences in your own music that ever surprise you? or even artists that mean a lot to you but have no real presence?
Songwriting is such a strange, finicky process for me — it’s on my mind constantly, I try to wrap my head around my process, and then something pops out that totally surprises me. As for influences, though, I feel like it’s something I have almost no control over — in the end, I just make the music I’m given to making. The influences are something I’m able to spot in ARMS only after we’ve finished something. Though we’re not a totally electronic band, I like to think we have a focus on texture and mood, imaginary spaces and cinematic emotions that can only be made through electronic means — in that way, all that techno and Eno and Cluster and shoegaze and Sunno)) I love so much get a little sonic nod.
The stuff that surprises me is the music from my adolescence that people hear in ARMS — it always makes me smile to hear that someone catches They Might Be Giants in there, or REM, or Rufus Wainwright. I don’t mean to put them in there… but that stuff is tattooed on my brain. It’s gotta come out somehow.
From what I’ve heard of Summer Skills the production sounds a little heavier, is that a result of really working with the full band or do you have some cool new toys?
My cool new toys are my bandmates. On Kids Aflame, I was working primarily alone as a songwriter and arranger and producer, but on Summer Skills I had three amazing musicians to help pull everything together. Matty’s got a one-of-a-kind voice (his harmonies are one of the best things about the album, I think) and is an incredibly inventive bass player, Tlacael’s one of the most thoughtful, nuanced drummers I’ve ever known, and Dave has a touch with effects and noises that completely blow my mind — his weird fingerprints are all over the album. If the album sounds “heavier”… that’s why.
When I heard your single “Glass Harmonica”, I wasn’t sure what it was in reference to so I looked up what exactly a glass harmonica was and I have to say its more of the more terrifying instruments I’ve ever heard/seen. It’s back story is super eerie, too. Was that the muse for the track?
I’d been wanting to name a song “Glass Harmonica” for a while, and as the lyrics for that song took shape, I realized that was the perfect name. The glass harmonica was invented by Benjamin Franklin — it’s basically an mechanized, playable version of what happens when you run your finger over the edge of a crystal glass. There’s also a legend associated with the glass harmonica in which everyone who mastered the instrument went insane.
It struck me at some point that that was a neat metaphor for a fucked-up relationship… a beautiful, fragile, and difficult-to-play instrument, the mastery of which makes its player lose his mind.
What are you most psyched about with the forthcoming LP? Is there a song or sound or production trick you hope fans really pick up on that you’re really excited about?
Oh man, I’m excited about the whole thing, really. To me, Summer Skills sounds like a completely different band from Kids Aflame (which, I guess, it is). I suppose I’d like people to notice the depth of the whole thing… bigger songs, deeper production, stranger and more implacable emotions and moods.
We recorded the album with Shane Stoneback, who did the Vampire Weekend albums, Cults, Sleigh Bells, and I just think he did a bang-up job. We worked our asses off on this thing, tried to make it as ambitious and emotionally complex and beautiful as we could. I just hope that people catch on to that much.
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