from part 1:
...one of the more poignant themes of Arms Forest – the fall of an empire - Detroit as an Empire, and the bemoaned antipathy from the rest of the world...
"...this mentality of ‘Let Detroit die…’ I just think It represents a close-minded American perspective. Yeah, ‘let Detroit die…’ Ya know what comes shortly after let-Detroit-die? ‘Let New York die.’ Ya know what comes after let-New-York-die? ‘Let America die.’"
Part 2: Made To Last (An interview with Augie Visocchi from the Hard Lessons)
[Arms Forest] centerpiece “Roma Termini,” a flamingo-flavored dance/rock epic (with mandolin solo) also references the fall of an empire. “…the fall of this empire [Detroit] and here we are in what used to be the Paris of the West.” And the decline-inducing hubris referenced above is quickly expanded beyond a city or GM, and applied to the music industry.
Augie sat down with his father, an auto-industry worker, and reflected that he felt the two of them were in the same boat. He said to him, “You work for an industry that has been very standoffish against developing greener technologies, and now that’s coming to bite you in the ass because of a failure to accept new means to do business…And, look at the record industry; suing their fans? Instead of looking for ways to meet these new and changing demands, they clung to their old ways tighter and tighter. “
I don’t know how, but I bring up the MSU talent show back in 2003, that I was at…I bring up how different he and Korin must feel now, going from the local popularity and now deep into the spinning cogs of tours, SXSW, festivals, sold out shows and on and on…Being now, “in the biz…” Whatever this biz may be, now…
“I think the hardest thing for a band like us…who had people paying attention from day one, is sometimes I feel like it’s impossible to grow. It’s impossible for people to deal with the fact that their little brother is growing up, he’s going on dates, he’s got a steady girlfriend. That’s the closest thing I can say to dealing with this…the little brother who forever has to be relegated to that. We can’t play every show like we used to, we can’t play every bar, there’s just all these opposing forces that we’re placed under… It’s something that we can’t pay attention to…I don’t have time to worry about things like that.”
(Life in the Dickies-House, during SXSW - a morning wake-up-performance)
(Recording Arms Forest)
Let’s shut up about Detroit for a minute. This band’s been all around the country twice over in the last year alone and were recently put up in a house sponsored by Dickies – (with a sort of Real World blog-like-diary-accounting their experiences at the festival). Let’s move away from the little brother of the scene-shit…and into SXSW.
“Awesome shows…a ton of people coming out…the line wrapped around the block with the show we played with the Hold Steady and we had a lot of fans who put up with that to see us and that was really cool. This was the first year that it sort of feels like ‘a band.’ It feels like all the hard work and finding our footing, the first four years is starting to pay off.”
It must be weighing on his mind. Because we start to, again, reflect on the band, the progress, the battles, the scene …
“We didn’t have any elaborate plans when we started this band, we were just kids at school that wanted to rock out because that’s what we liked seeing our favorite bands do. So we just hit the ground running and we never really stopped until (2007-08)’s B & G Sides…” (EP – a four part series of EP’s, complete with unique, original artwork, with songs spanning from softer, fuzzy synth-led ballads, to hand-clapped pop hurrahs, to murky N. Young-twang to shreddy-indie-rock). “B & G was the first time where we were like, ‘alright what are we doing here? We’re all over the place cuz we have all these songs and they all sound different and we don’t have time to try and make some sort of…’album.’ So, let’s just go in every direction, go 100%-no compromises, when we wanna go raw and loud, we go raw and loud, when we wanna go quiet…push it all down.’”
The experience provided growth, but it was also stressful…”draining,” in fact, because the band felt stretched in all these different directions. But…eventually, came growth, and soon after, confidence. But, I offer, it must have felt like chaos…was there any uncertainty…any panic at the chaos?
“Not really. I wanted chaos. I started feeling suffocated by the ‘retro-garage’ label. [04’s Gasoline] was definitely a product of our upbringing.” Raised on rock and brit-pop, Augie dove head first into garage rock during Detroit’s boom in the genre at century’s turn. Their debut reflected this new-found reverence for energy, for a healthy spaz, for a hard driving blues style…but (06’s) Wise Up’s songs, though still fiery, was considered some dramatic shift. Frustration quickly followed, especially when one critic called them another garagey-blues in a press preview admittedly without listening to their more pop-flavored 06 EP. (Ya know, a band from Detroit…so it must be…)
He brings up the “Neil Young mentality…no matter if it’s a rockabilly record or a slow country record or the rawest Crazy Horse records – it’s still Neil Young. That pushed me to think, ‘let’s just do whatever’ and that’s what B & G Sides was about, throwing off the shackles, going as far in the opposite direction as we could and discovering ourselves as songwriters.”
He says Arms Forest is “the first time that I feel like we’ve created an album’s worth of music that stands up to the live show…that runs deeper sonically, or lyrically than anything we’ve ever done. And, that’s because we’re growing, because we’re evolving.”
They’re growing, not only as individual songwriters, but as collaborators. (This is also due, in some part, to the duo getting married in 2008). The glittery buzz and shunting rhythm of electro-popper “Roma Termini” has almost too much significance to qualify. It’s named for a train station in Rome, where the couple met each day, while studying abroad from MSU. Later on, from said-station, they rode a train that served as the setting for their engagement. It features the interpretation of a hundred-year-old folk song from rural Italy, taught to them by Augie’s emigrated grandfather, on mandolin.
The song was almost a b-side, but the last tweaking placed upon it by engineer Zach Shipps (of Electric 6) in his home studio, facilitated a poignant realization for the duo – that this song was too good to leave off the record. Shipps, whose culinary recording regiment transported Augie’s diet from occasional fast-food indulgence to organic fruit smoothies, also instituted a ‘no rules’ approach – on top of his fine ear to sound and fine touch on the board.
Sometimes rules make it easy to write. You’re a blues-band, so you know which chords to chug. But as Augie said, he wanted the chaos. “When I sit down to write a song I can write anything… being a band that can go anywhere....you have infinity possibilities…”
The rules…rules of a scene…how your band should sound, what your band should look like…which venues you should or shouldn’t play…which label you should sign to (if you should dare to try ‘signing’ and attempt walking that line between mainstream and indie/underground). Rules…
“If I wanted to have all these rules to live by, or write my songs by, or perform by…” Augie shakes his head. “I could go work in a gas station…”
Untitled from heidi vanderlee on Vimeo.
So Forest Arms burns down…Tiger Stadium gets torn down…GM and an abominable amount of its blue collar jobs, disintegrates… is this a phoenix thing? A rebirth thing? Rise from the ashes and all that…
“It’s definitely been a rebirth. Every bad thing that we’ve been through in the past year was a complete blessing in disguise. We came out of it with the record of our lives.”
I sputter out an awkward statement about the album’s imagery of a building burning down…and try connecting it to the past garage-sounding material versus the newer tighter sound. “I don’t know if we’re ‘burning down’ what we’ve done – I’m proud of everything we’ve done. We’re definitely starting anew but I don’t feel the need to get a new name…that would be silly. The Hard Lessons is…the musical output of Augie and Korin Visocchi. That’s what we do. And I can’t help but be excited.”
The boom and stomp, spindly shred of title track “Arms Forest,” features the frying falsetto chorus “They’re pulling me down off the ceiling…” Well, to qualify…Augie has constantly climbed, mid-solo, to many a-ceiling, in Detroit, in New York, in St. Louis even…But it also has a wide arc of meaning, just as the album’s title does… The ceiling that a band hits, a glass ceiling, of local notoriety – followed by the inevitable shit-talking of bloggers and snobs who, inexplicable save for a shrugged suggestion of human nature, have to ‘pull you down.’ But it also is tied to an anecdote…a time when, while home from tour, Augie visited a local art gallery (nestled nearby where Detroit’s 67-riots went down) that featured a popular all-night dance party/hang-out…where he did eventually end up climbing to the ceiling, simply blowing off steam. He was ‘pulled down’ by a bouncer, thrown out, banned for life and verbally “dressed down” as some suburban kid who doesn’t know a thing about the city of Detroit.
“So, here I am…” he says, the air quotes go up and he rolls his eyes, “’local-rock star’ and I can’t even hang out…So, a couple minutes later people around tell [the bouncer] quote-unquote ‘who I am’ and of course I can go back in. Like, ‘oh, I didn’t know who you were, you can come back in…”
“’No,…’” came his answer. “’fuck you, I don’t wanna go in…I don’t need to go in…’”
In my head, I heard him quoting himself as saying ‘I don’t need to go back in…’ and I instantly make said-art gallery into the metaphor for the scene…and the Hard Lessons shrugging off its limited ceiling. But no…(I'd be reaching...)
“The Detroit music community,” said Augie, “from which we came, I can never not be grateful or happy to have been from that community.”
But simultaneously – fuck all those rules. “I just don’t have anybody to answer to…that’s exactly what we want. …completely freedom.”
tour: Michigan dates in bold (for CD Release shows)
May 1 2009
Union Hall Residency / Arms Forest Release Party! Brooklyn, NY
May 21 2009
The Belmont / Arms Forest Release Party! Hamtramck, MI
May 22 2009
Small’s Bar / Arms Forest Release Party! Hamtramck, MI
May 23 2009
Lager House Early All-Ages BBQ / Arms Forest Release Party! Detroit, MI
Jun 6 2009
Riverbend Festival w/ The B-52’s + MORE! Chattanooga, TN
Jun 20 2009
City Stages Festival w/ Janes Addiction, Young Jeezy + MORE! Birmingham, AL
Jul 2 2009
July 2-5 ROTHBURY FESTIVAL w/ Bob Dylan, Black Crowes, Broken Social Scene, Hold Steady + MORE!