Interview: The Arms Akimbo
The Arms Akimbo formed in Minneapolis in early 2009 and are releasing their debut EP You Want To! this Friday, November 27th at the Kitty Cat Klub with support from The Alarmists and The Invincible Kids.
Mike: Though you are a new band to most people in town, your bio says the three of you were actually in another band here several years ago called The Serfs. What inspired you three to come back together and make music again as a “new” band?
Chris: Well, Nick moved off to London after college and played with a band there called Jack Maggs for about 3 years. When Nick moved back to Minnesota, he and I decided to put together an acoustic set for the purpose of making money playing at local coffee shops and restaurants. That got old pretty quick. Before long Ian was sitting in on drums during our rehearsals and I was bringing my electric guitar and we were doing “This Charming Man” and “Heart in a Cage” rather than working on our acoustic rendition of “The Kids Are Alright”. We started working on our own material and booking “real shows” shortly after that.
Ian: The Strokes – “First Impressions of Earth”. I was working on some of the drum parts on that album and getting sick of drumming alone with my headphones on. Nick had just got back from England so we decided to all get together. The first song we did was “Heart In A Cage”.
Mike: Your bio says that your influences draw from “…both the British indie scene of the past few decades as well as present-day American indie groups.” I’ve seen you guys perform twice and while I agree with that, I’m also inclined to think that you guys sound a lot like early Beatles. Who else would you say has influenced your style and taste in creating music?
Chris: We all grew up on early Beatles and I still listen to that stuff in pretty heavy rotation. I think we all do, really. In fact, “Please, Please Me” is in my car CD player right now. So, Beatles records, as well as a wide range of stuff from that era, have definitely helped shape the way we create music. The Kinks, The Who, Otis Redding. There were so many groups back then writing smart, hook laden pop songs.
Ian: Early The Who, big time. Also a lot of English bands from over the years that aren’t appreciated nearly enough in the US: Tull, Mott, T-Rex, The Small Faces, and The Kinks for sure. Also Motown is a big influence. The Jam was able to pull off a Motown flavored Mod Sound. I think that’s the ticket.
Mike: How has the songwriting process evolved for you as a band, both since the early days and since you starting making music together again in 2009?
Chris: I think we work really well together when it comes to writing songs. Someone will come in with an idea and the three of us work together to make it into a complete thought. Once we feel like the music is there, we send Nick off to write the lyrics. He’s the best lyricists in the group. I think the fact that there are only three of us, and that we’ve been friends for so long makes it easy to write together. Back in the old days, as the Serfs, we used to wait for someone to come in with a complete song, then we’d run with it. Most of that stuff turned out alright but could have benefited from a little extra attention.
Nick: When we first started writings songs they were generally pretty bad from a lyrical perspective. Musically things were always pretty sound, but the lyrics were something that developed over a period of time.
Ian: Before we finish a song, we really try to make sure it’s good from start to finish. We ask ourselves, “Is this one fully cooked, or is there still work to be done?” The whole process has come pretty easy though. We all collaborate on the music and the vocal melody, and then Nick generally writes the lyrics.
Mike: Nick, you spent about three years living and playing in the UK before returning to the states. What kinds of new inspiration and experiences did you bring back to Minneapolis that you would say have influenced your lyrics and the band’s music?
Nick: Musically, I think the British are consistently putting out a higher quality product that we do over here. While its decidedly not fluoride, there’s definitely something in the water over there. I think that the generally stilted, cynical outlook of many British musicians help to shape the nature of their songs. This outlook is nurtured by a lack of sun, too much rain, poor architectural insulation and High Streets that all look exactly the same. Of course, this makes most days into drudgery, but the songwriting seems to be helped as a result. The British are really good at writing upbeat, chorus-laden songs that actually contain depressive, biting, or shocking lyrics. All the way from The Who to the Smiths to Blur this has been the case. I think it’s hilarious and I try to employ it in every song I write.
Mike: You guys co-produced the album with Eric Lovold from The Alarmists, which was recorded at his Instrument Control Studios. How was working with Eric, and what kind of role(s) did he play in helping you create your debut EP?
Ian: Eric was awesome. I think he had more fun than we did making the EP. He and I would have a tendency to go off the wall with ideas and Nick and Chris would generally be the voices of reason. We got a few bits in though.
Chris: Yea, we had a ton of fun making the EP at Instrument Control with Eric. I feel like he knew exactly the kind of sound we were after and had a lot of different ideas for how to go about getting there. He actually played an organ track on one of the songs too. We’ll work with Eric again, for sure.
Mike: Scott Herold from Rock The Cause has been one of your most vocal supporters, even stating that “The Arms Akimbo are destined to be one of the coolest bands in the world,” while also including the title track from “You Want To!” on a recent Rock The Cause compilation. How does it feel to be seeing & hearing things like this less than a year after you guys started this band?
Chris: Yea, Scott has been really good to us. He’s done a lot to help us get our name out there and we’re looking forward to being able to return the favor by helping out his organization in any way possible.
Ian: It’s certainly nice to get some recognition early on; Scott has really helped to get that started. I don’t think any of us thought it would be tough to get established though. We didn’t re-invent the wheel, we’re writing songs that actually have catchy vocal melodies and a chorus! This idea seems to be lost with most indie bands today. I think people want to listen to good music, not some bland, chorus-less crap that was recorded on a 3-track in a cabin somewhere. The Jam, The Strokes, The Smiths, The Beatles, and The Who all consistently wrote great pop songs and they never got any shit for it. Today, especially in indie circles, it seems that writing a great pop song is a bad thing… “If it’s not Avant-garde its not ‘cool'” is kind of the consensus these days. Avant-garde generally equally shit it my eyes. Once you put your music out there, it’s not about just ‘you’ anymore. If writing music is some sort of cathartic release for you, unless it also kicks ass, keep it in the cabin.
Mike: Who are some of your favorite local acts, and who might you guys foresee playing with in the near future? You’ve already gotten to share the stage with what I would say are some pretty cool bands in town anyway.
Chris: Well, I feel like there are a ton of great bands in the Twin Cities right now. The Alarmists and The Invincible Kids are as good as they come and we’re very excited to have them playing the EP release party with us. We’ve been lucky to play shows with really great bands right out of the gate. We have shows coming up with The Idle Hands, The Debut, and Joey Ryan and The Inks, who are all amazing bands too. Joey Ryan and The Inks have a record coming out in December that I think people are going to go nuts for. The few tracks I’ve heard from it sound incredible.
Mike: What’s the story behind the album cover?
Ian: The picture is of our (Nick and Ian) father and a neighbor of his. It was taken in, I think, ’67, on the south side of Chicago.
Mike: And last but not least, what can we expect to see and hear from The Arms Akimbo on Friday at the Kitty Cat Klub? Besides your originals, I’ve heard rumors that you guys know a ton of Mott the Hoople…
Ian: Unfortunately, no Mott. We are covering an old Northern Soul track from George Tindley though. Other than that, we’ll also be debuting a song that we just wrote.
Check out The Arms Akimbo on MySpace for more upcoming shows and to preview more tracks from You Want To!, available beginning Friday, November 27th at their EP release show.
The Arms Akimbo – MySpace