Since the day I announced the creation of American Arson, I’ve received many inquiries regarding what I have in mind for this new project and how I plan to carry it out. First off, I want to say that I’m incredibly humbled and thankful that anyone even cares what I have up my sleeve. All the questions I’ve received via Facebook message, text message, email, etc. have been an encouraging reminder that there are people out there who have been impacted by my music, and I can’t emphasize how grateful I am to those of you who have shown continued interest.
Admittedly, I’ve been less than transparent about what exactly American Arson is all about, in part because it took me awhile to figure it out myself. With some major announcements regarding the future of American Arson set to be made in the next few days, I figured it was finally time to answer a few of the questions I’ve received. So without further ado, here
1. Is this a band or a solo project?
I guess the best way to answer this is: both. I am currently the only member of American Arson, but the music I’ve just finished recording has everything you’d expect to hear from a rock band: guitars, drums, vocals, etc. – all the good stuff. Perhaps I’ll record some solo acoustic stuff in the future, but it won’t be on American Arson’s debut album. My personality has always been more ‘roar’ than ‘whisper’, and that’s how I plan on introducing this new venture.
2. What is it going to sound like?
This will be a lengthy response, but bear with me. Rock music today has become a celebration of excess. Bands enter the studio intent on cramming every possible instrument into their recordings, regardless of whether or not they can actually play those instruments. To an extent, this has allowed rock music to expand in scope and possibility. For example, when I was in Good Luck Varsity, one of my favorite things to do was to sit down at the computer and program out an entire string quartet to beef up a certain part, with violins and violas to reinforce a melody, and a cello chugging along underneath. Or perhaps we’d start off our set with some electronic percussion sounds, backing up the drums with synthesized drums meant to simulate a person banging on a piece of sheet metal.
But as time went by, I watched more and more bands force synths or other non-organic sounds into their music where they weren’t necessary simply to cover up holes in their performance or deficiencies in their abilities. I heard producers and engineers tell stories of bands who exited the studio on the final day of recording with instructions to the producer to “throw some synths or strings or something in there to spice things up.” I watched countless bands perform “live” with their backing vocals on tracks, sometimes sending non-singing members of the band up to the mic to lip sync the harmonies, or other times being so unashamed of their forgery that they didn’t even bother to pretend. At a major festival last year, I saw a signed, well-known band whose recorded music I had previously enjoyed “perform” their songs with all of their vocal harmonies and all of their rhythm guitars on backing tracks, and it left such a bad taste in my mouth that stopped listening to that band altogether.
When I had the chance to start from scratch with a new musical project, I immediately knew that I wanted to rebel against the current trend of excess in rock music. I wanted to do something that focused on the roots of rock music and challenge myself to focus on its base elements. In a world where things like auto-tune and on-stage choreography have managed breach the walls of what were once the most organic genres – rock, punk, metal, and hardcore – I was determined to create something raw and real. Could I push myself to write vocal melodies strong enough to stand alone with minimal support from harmonies? To write riffs that could stand alone without layer upon layer of leads and hooks? These were the challenges I was most interested in addressing with American Arson, and the music will reflect that.
As far as a specific genre goes (which is probably what everyone who asks this question was really driving at), I’ve always been terrible at coming up with accurate descriptions of my own music, so I’ll hold off and let the listeners decide what it sounds like. What I will say that I’ve found the most inspiration for American Arson in the music of the giants of each of the many sub-genres of rock music: the guitar work of Underoath, metalcore pioneers; the vocal passion and versatility of Every Time I Die, technicians of originality in hardcore and punk; the melodies and song structure of Anberlin, Thrice, and the Foo Fighters, masters of modern rock; and the building/releasing tension of As Cities Burn, indie legends. And of course, the pop-punk/post-emo/post-hardcore scene I came up in wouldn’t have existed without bands like Taking Back Sunday, Brand New, and Thursday, so you’ll hear a splash of all that here and there.
3. So if it’s just you, how are you going to perform live?
One of the most challenging but rewarding questions I had to answer upon creating American Arson was this: how can I celebrate simplicity and raw energy without making these songs boring? In an attempt to answer that question, I spent countless hours in my rehearsal space experimenting with amps, pedals, and gear of all sorts. While many bands attempt to expand their sound by adding a new member to play a new instrument, I found that a simple addition to my pedal board could be just as effective. After months of tinkering, I was finally able to dial in a sound that is both, a) completely created live with minimal musicians, and b) large enough to rival the sound created by a traditional band.
Currently, my setup is as follows: the main signal coming from my guitar heads into my pedal board (where it’s mashed up and messed with in ways I won’t go into too much) and is split two ways – to a guitar amp, and to a bass amp. The guitar amp’s signal is split to two cabs on opposite sides of the stage, each stocked with different speakers to mimic the sound of two guitarists playing the same part. The bass amp’s signal is also split between two cabs – a 4x10 for a tight, rhythmic punch, and a 1x15 for a deep, thunderous rumble. For leads, I’ve been working with a looper pedal that allows me to play a part live, then kick the pedal to recall the part I just played while moving on to a different part. The sound from the looper is sent to a second guitar amp that is completely independent of the first, thus creating the illusion of a dedicated “lead” and “rhythm” guitar player.
I intend to perform completely independently of any musical backing tracks. While these certainly have their merits and are not always used in a tacky, cheesy manner (refer to Mutemath or The Juliana Theory for examples of how awesome backing tracks can be), they just don’t quite fit what I’m doing with American Arson. For that reason, 99% of what you hear on American Arson’s recorded music will also be what you hear performed live at an American Arson show.
The best part of all of this is that I’ll play all the guitar parts while sitting at the drum kit and using my teeth and toes to play the drums. Ok, I’m completely kidding about that – the drums will be played by a conventional drummer, who (for now) will be a backing musician, rather than a member of American Arson. That could change in the future, especially if I meet the right drummer. I’ve also got some tricks up my sleeve in terms of how vocals and other instruments, but I don’t want to give away too much and spoil all the fun!
4. That seems like it will sound bad… or at very least, like it will sound super weird.
Hey, that wasn’t a question! But regardless, I understand that as music lovers, and especially lovers of all of the subgenres of rock music, our ears are tuned to a very, very specific frequency. I mean, think about this – music has been around for thousands of years, yet the lineups for the majority of the bands on your iPod are probably only 1 or 2 instruments different from each other. We’ve conditioned ourselves to understand that rock music by its very definition must have (at minimum) drums, bass, and guitar. If you go to a show and see a band with no bassist, you notice immediately, even if you aren’t a musical virtuoso. You simply recognize that something isn’t where it’s supposed to be – that the low end just isn’t there. I understand this, so trust me when I say that I wouldn’t be attempting this if it sounded like garbage. I hereby solemnly swear to present one US Dollar to anyone who comes to an American Arson show or listens to an American Arson album and thinks, “man, the low end really isn’t there.” In fact, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with fullness of the sound I’ve managed to create with a single instrument, even if you end up hating the songs themselves.
5. Why not just get some bandmates?
Partially because I’ve been in conventional bands all my life, and I’m ready for a new and exciting challenge. And partially because I’m not ready to entrust the handling of my most cherished creative outlet to the whims and goals of other people. Because of the way things went down with Good Luck Varsity, I now have several intensely personal and meaningful songs I’ve written and recorded that may never see the light of day. Even if they do, my vocal tracks will likely be deleted and replaced with someone else’s vocal tracks, and my melodies and lyrics could be altered or compromised, their intended message erased forever. Additionally, I will never get the chance to perform any of those songs, nor will I be able to continue to perform all of the songs I wrote in the past that have become incredibly meaningful to me. Any artist out there can understand how painful that is. I’m not going to let that happen again, and that means I won’t be expanding American Arson to the size of a traditional band.
As far as the possibility of expanding to a duo goes – I am open to the possibility of a drummer joining me and becoming a full-fledged member of American Arson, but it would have to right person (i.e. - someone whose goals and values I’m able to align myself with completely). If you think you’re that person, by all means, shoot me a message, or email me at email@example.com… though you may want to wait until you actually hear some songs so you can decide whether I suck or not.
6. Speaking of all that, what’s Good Luck Varsity up to these days?
I have no idea. Why does everyone keep asking me that?
7. Oh, ok. Well you don’t have to get all persnickety about it…
I know I know. Sorry.
8. What does the name “American Arson” mean?
The name “American Arson” is a simple reflection of my desire to start a fire in the heart of every person who hears my music. I won’t say much more than that for now, as I’m currently in the process of creating something (non-musical) that will further reinforce just what the phrase “American Arson” means to me. I plan on releasing more information on this topic over the course of the next year, so stay tuned!
9. When will you be playing shows/touring/releasing music?
If I told you all of that, this whole “Four Days Of Fire” thing would quickly become “One Day Of Fire,” so I guess you’ll have to keep coming back to find out more!
Well, I suppose that’s it for now. If you read this entire thing, I’m entirely grateful to you. You’re the kind of person that will form the backbone of the American Arson fanbase, and I can’t thank you enough for caring. I love all of you, and I can’t wait to get this off the ground.