A Farewell to Minneapolis Interview with Ari Herstand: Part 2
Mike: We’ve talked a lot about how The Varsity Theater, a very beloved venue in this town, has changed a lot over the years. But let’s talk a little bit about how you’ve evolved over the years with your music, and just being able to create, perform, write, and record. You’ve worked a lot of great people in this town, among the facts that you’ve also added your loop station, you’ve upgraded your loop station, and you’ve worked with literally dozens of different people for your backing bands. So I’m curious to hear a little bit of your perspective on how you think your music has evolved over the years. Basically going from, really starting with those early Steak Knife gigs to where you are today.
Ari: When I first started the earliest incarnation of the “Ari Herstand project,” I was living in Middlebrook Hall at the University of Minnesota. It was my roommate Lucas Shogren as the cellist, and my RA at the time Anthony Brown—Anthony Lamarr, “Soundshaker”, he’s got like 15 different names—was the beatboxer. We started performing around at The Steak Knife and other coffeeshops as a trio initially, and then I found a female vocalist. So it was this kind of quartet; Lucas on cello, Anthony beatboxing, the female vocalist, and I played acoustic guitar and sang. That was my first band as a solo project. Before that I was in a band in high school that I played primarily trumpet in, plus a little guitar and sang backups and lead on a couple songs. So it was very different for me to branch out into a solo acoustic project because I wasn’t doing that prior. But I had been writing a lot of acoustic songs, and I knew that I wanted to start doing that.
I performed around solo a little bit at coffeeshops, but then I had this quartet that was fun for a time. I think that make-up of the beatbox, cello, and female vocals seeped into my musical fiber somehow. I knew that I liked that sound, even though I wasn’t necessarily writing for that sound at the time. All the songs I was writing I envisioned a full band, because those were my biggest influences. All my favorite bands at the time had drums, bass, guitar, maybe some strings and horns or whatever. That’s what I was writing for, cause those were my influences. But at the time it was just kind of getting together with friends and playing music; my roommate was a cellist and my RA was a beatboxer. We did a few of those gigs at The Steak Knife, then I added a bassist to fill out the low end because I wanted to develop, musically, that fuller sound.
Then it was early or mid-’05, I think when I was at an open mic at The Steak Knife someone used a loop station; I’d never seen it done before. All he was doing was just looping his guitar, probably looping the 12-Bar blues or something like that and soloing over it, and that was that. I saw that technology and was like, “Wow, I could take this technology and do something with it, something different.” But more so it wasn’t even that I wanted to do something different, it was that it was very intriguing to me.
So I went to the music store and asked them if they had anything, any kind of loop station or something that could be used for live looping. They showed me this Boss loop station, but I knew I wanted to find something that I could plug a microphone into, because I knew that I wanted to start looping some harmonies and develop it that way. When I got home, I basically locked myself in the bedroom for a month and got to know the loop station the best I could. I wrote the song “Air Cries Wind” for the loop station, and only when we went into the studio to record Baby Eyes did I develop it with a full band.
But that was one of the first songs I did [with the loop], and I performed that at The Steak Knife for the first time. I remember it was packed—The Steak Knife was typically packed back then—and when I started looping this song, people started freaking out because they’d never seen this before. Mind you, it was early ’05 and probably no one had seen this before anyway. I was looping guitars—I had like 15 different guitar parts I was looping—and then I started looping vocal harmonies. This was before I was beatboxing. And then I brought the trumpet out, and that was the first time that I incorporated it into my live shows cause I couldn’t play guitar and trumpet at the same time. People were just freaking out, and I knew that this was something special.
So I started developing it a little bit more, incorporating the loop station a little bit more. But it was more so to compensate when the band members moved away. I thought, “I want a beat behind everything, and I don’t have a drummer, and my beatboxer left, so alright, I’ll figure out how to beatbox.” So I taught myself how to beatbox basically through osmosis from listening to Anthony. And with the songs I was writing I still had the full band in mind, but I made up for not having a band there by beatboxing and having other musical elements like the trumpet or layered guitar parts. Which I knew I didn’t necessarily at the time want to bring to the studio.
Ari Herstand at The Varsity Theater, 9/28/06
When I recorded Baby Eyes it was strictly full band and that’s what I wanted. I envisioned the full band; drums, bass, guitar, some trumpet, cello, female vocals, that kind of stuff. Only over the years… it was very difficult for me to come to terms with what the loop station meant to me, musically and artistically. It seemed like a novelty tool that people remembered me for, but I only used it to compensate for not having a band because I was performing solo a lot. Just being another dude with an acoustic guitar up on stage, that’s been done and people kind of get annoyed by that. Or not even annoyed, but they make their own assumptions on who I am before I start the first note.
So I wanted to find something that made me stand out for one. And two, moreover, I felt that there was this musical element that was missing so I used the loop station to compensate. I was still writing for a full band setup because I didn’t have any influences that really made me write otherwise. Only over the last couple years did that change when people really started latching onto the loop station and saying, “I really like what you’re doing solo with the loop, but the band, it’s just confusing to me… it just doesn’t sound like that.”
That was something that I’ve only started to come to terms with over the last couple years: I need to grow with the loop station. I feel that this is something that really can define me, can be an element of who I am as a musician as much as my acoustic guitar, trumpet, beatbox, or my piano. So over the last couple years I’ve started writing for the loop station and started incorporating the loop station with the band, which was something that I’d never done before. My next full-length studio album with definitely incorporate the full loop station with the band, and that’s the kind of direction my music is going now.