interview by Michael McCarthy
Arth and Arth make what I would call mood music. To me, mood music is music that can change the whole tone of your day or evening. In the case of Arth and Arth, their trippy and often ethereal music is rather intoxicating, coming on like a painkiller. Your brain basks in the feeling, soaking it up for all it’s worth. It calms and downright sedates you, like that stuff they injected you with the last time you had surgery. They suggest you listen to their music at night and it definitely has that mood. I’d further suggest that you play it with only candlelight in the room. I did that recently and it felt as though I’d stepped into another world, some other plane of existence. My breathing and heart rate slowed. My anxiety lessened. But my ears perked up, wanting to absorb even the most subtle sounds of their multi-layered tracks. It’s difficult to compare them to other artists because their sound is truly unique. Musically, their beats remind me of trip-hop, like the classic albums Mezzanine by Massive Attack and Pre-Millennium Tension by Tricky. The vocals, however, are more like Britrock or even Britpop. As heard from outer space. Or pouring down from the heavens. There’s an interesting contrast with their songs because the music can be unsettling, although hypnotic, but the vocals are usually light and euphoria-inducing even though the lyrical content can be rather deep. Some of their songs remind me of the French band Air, particularly their soundtrack to the film The Virgin Suicides. I suppose there’s a hint of early Cassius about them, too. But enough of my comparisons. Listen to their songs below and draw your own conclusions, preferably while reading this interview.
First off, just out of curiosity, how old are each of you, if you don’t mind my asking?
I don’t have a problem with answering that at all. In fact, it’s on our website. I’m 44 and my brother is 38. Later starters I guess. But he’s the older one really. House, settling with a woman, mortgage, proper career and all that. I’m the perpetual student bumming from one thing to the next, one country to another, one home to another. And I would say from relationship to relationship, but as William Burroughs would put it: I’m getting told to cut the mustard.
How old were you when you decided that you wanted to make music with the intention of releasing it?
My brother has always been in bands off and on, and been interested in sound recording and engineering and has been writing his own songs. But me, I just got into making music properly about three years ago when I had a shed load of back tax to pay off and I thought I’d buy some music making kit to keep me out of the pub. A new hobby so to speak. I write fiction, but that I always do in public places and public places mean pubs, bars, cafés. So this was to save money and keep my work on track (i.e. no hangovers) so I could pay back that tax. And at first I was meant to collaborate with another friend, but he was really fucking lax. So I suggested doing something with my brother to him. There are songs of his that are 17 years old that he’s carried around with him forever. And then partway through this project, I remembered that I had actually made music with him back in our 20s in the 1990s when I lived with my brother. But it was just stoned noise. Also, there is some fun music me and my mate Jake made when we lived together in Prague four years ago. It was to amuse his two/ three-year-old daughter (search for Emperor’s New Socks – there’s some stuff out there).
Were you really into music when you were a kid?
All the kids at my school were into poodle rock and shite metal. Me, I had my dad’s vinyl to play. He had an amazing stereo set up. Nad amp. Linn Sondek turntable. Modern Short speakers. All bought in the early eighties. We weren’t rich but he worked his ass off and saved for years to get his kit. The music I was brought up on was quite an odd mix. Things like Roxy Music, Tomita, Harry Chapin, Billy Joel, ELO, Gary Newman, Pentangle. Quite folky, singer-songwriter and quite synthy without being too prog or too rock. So I was just contained in that world until I started buying music myself. SoI was the odd folk synth kid at my school.
What age were you when you started asking for music for gifts instead of toys (if applicable)?
I never really asked for gifts of music. I just started working when I was young … like 13 or 14 and started buying music myself. When I started buying music I was into my indie type stuff and Prince. Really into Prince. I had to have all the CDs.
What music were you into when you were a kid? How about when you were a teenager?
But then it was all about going to six form college and expanding my palette past my dad’s collection, chart indie like The Smith, The Cure, and started to get into more American Indie like the Pixies, Sonic Youth, Iggy Pop, Mud Honey, Janes Addiction. But also expanding into the sort of beautiful noise sort of bands like Ride, My Bloody Mary, Jesus and the Mary Chain.
What do you listen to today?
The simple answer is everything but fucking Reggae. I hate Reggae with a passion but then when I lived Prague it was with a mate that was a Reggae DJ. And you want me to say that he changed my mind. He fucking didn’t. But there are a few songs that are alright I guess. Like this oldie: Hemsley Morris & Phil Pratt – Little Things (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CTrGxTxSsPk).
So on any given day, I can be listening to a bit of Grime, a bit of Classical, a bit of Indie.
What is the first album you ever bought with your own money?
I can’t remember. I think it might have been Pop Will Eat Itself – No Cure for Sanity. I was quite into Pop Will Eat Itself at one point … oh, it might have been Lincoln by They Might Be Giants. The Reggae DJ / Emperor’s New Socks friend is a massive fan of They Might Be Giants too.
How old were you when you wrote your first song? Was it music or lyrics or both?
I just started writing music properly about 3 years ago. So 41. But actually, lyrics are not that different from poetry. Poetry was the first thing I started writing when I was 16. You know, to express all that hormone-fueled angst.
What was the first instrument you played? Or, what was the first program you used for music-making?
Never played a single note on any instrument. But I used to mess about with everything. Maybe it was something called Rebirth RB-338 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ReBirth_RB-338) … boy, that used to be fun back in the 90s. And then maybe a hookie copy of Cubase.
Are you actual brothers who share the same parent(s) or do you mean that you’re really good friends when you say that you’re brothers?
No, we are actually brothers. And just like Oasis, we’re on a “hiatus” at the moment – i.e. we’ve proper fallen out with each other. Do don’t expect a third album any time soon.
Do you ever tell people your born names or do you truly just go by Arth and Arth insofar as your music is concerned?
Yeah, we don’t mind telling people we’re James and Logan. We’re not that committed like Daft Punk with their silly heads hiding their identities.
If someone asks you to describe your music, how do you explain it? Is there a certain genre or subgenre that you consider your music to be?
Singer-songwriter distorted through a digital lens, probably explains it best. It’s indie with guitars and synths really.
When did the two of you decide to make music together?
When my mate couldn’t get his arse into gear. It was just a sort of why not moment. We used to spend a lot of time playing Xbox online with each other to keep in touch because we lived in different countries. It was just a replacement for that in some ways.
Did you know that you were making an album as you recorded the songs or did you just record a bunch of songs and realize you had enough material to put out an album?
On the first album we started just making tracks and at some point, we did the maths and realised we could get ten songs in that year and to us that sounded like an album and we did the final mix and mastering when we were together back at our parent’s home over Xmas. It was good to work face to face to do that.
How do your collaborations work? I’m assuming you send files back and forth over the internet, but who usually does what? In other words, does one Arth do the beats for a song and then the other Arth adds synth or vocals, or that sort of thing? In other words, how does the magic happen?
In all honesty, if you listen to the albums it’s pretty clear who’s song is who’s because they mainly sing on that track, also my work is usually darker and his lighter. But musically, it can work in a number of ways … it might start with a loop that gets passed back and forth and see what the other can be put on there. Or a beat with an idea for the vocals. We throw loads onto the track at the start and then pair it back. But for the most part, they’re our individual songs with the other person playing on it and the person who’s song it is has the control over that song.
What programs and/or instruments do you use to create your music? The more specific you can get, the better. Our readers like to know the nuts and bolts of it all.
I’m 100% computer person with my music. So I have Ableton and I have a Push 2 (I love that piece of kit) and a stack of VST instruments. Some of my favourite synths are Arturia’s Oberheim SEM: a nice dirty bass synth that’s on a stack of our tracks; Air Loom I really like too, it’s an odd synth because it’s not designed like most FM or subtractive synths, it has this odd modular design and it has a random button – so I can sit there for hours just pressing ‘random’ till it comes up with something that is interesting to my ears; I like the Arturia old organ emulations as well, they’re good bang for the buck. And I have NI Komplete but I don’t use that much stuff off that, strings on a few tracks, oh, but the Prism synth as well, that’s a massive overlooked synth in their collection. That’s used everywhere on both albums. Some people can go into the rabbit hole of sound design but me, I much prefer to find something that inspires me to start and make the music.
And when it comes to my brother he’s all about his guitars, no idea what he’s playing but at a certain point, he got the Korg Minilogue because he’s completely outboard sort of musician. And he does all the mixing … so it’s him with all the Waves stuff.
Are the two albums on Bandcamp the only music you’ve released so far?
The Emperor’s New Socks album is also on there but it’s unlistable stupidity which was made for a two-year-old and for our own amusement. It was a proper laugh to make. It was completely made on an iPad on FL Mobile Studio.
What years did the albums come out?
2017 and 2018.
I searched for you on Spotify and didn’t find you. Any particular reason why you’re not on there? (I know their royalty rates suck, but they are good for exposure.)
Yeah, we were using DistroKid and you have to pay them every year so I guess my brother hasn’t paid it since we fell out.
Are there any other streaming services that your music is on? If not, why be exclusive to Bandcamp?
I think it’s probably for the same reason.
What do you think about the vinyl comeback? Are either or both of you vinyl junkies?
My brother is a vinyl junkie. I couldn’t give two figs about it because when I did have all my dad’s vinyl at one point in my life when I was burgled and lost over 1,000 CD I stratched the fuck out of it all coming back from the pub and putting Roxy Music on. I’m too clumsy for vinyl. My brother is more staid. So I guess that works for him. And it looks good in his living room.
Any plans to release your albums on vinyl?
Nope! Way to expensive for a project that was just meant to be an alternative to playing FIFA … by the way FIFA was crap after FIFA 2014.
Did you take a different approach with the second album? If so, what did you do differently?
We said we would and then we didn’t, which lead to a lot of tension. We were going to be more open with each other but that didn’t happen.
What do you feel are the biggest differences between your first and second albums?
I think the first album is better because it’s rougher and ready than the second. I think the second is a bit too polished and a bit too cheesy sonically because of that. More tension between the band members because of this. But it’s horses for course. I think the second album is probably more consistent though. It had a bit of a more coherent theme. It’s sort of a woozy dystopian concept album. It’s how we were both feeling at the time. Me, I’ve stopped looking at the news and I’m happier for it!
Have you ever performed live? If not, do you have any plans to do so in the foreseeable future?
No and no. It was just a studio project. I can’t think of anything worse than playing in front of people. It’s like public speaking.
Are you currently making new music? Any plans for album number three yet?
Nope. Maybe when we make up Straight Story style (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0166896/) in our mid-seventies if we live that long.
Me I’m getting back to my first love and that’s writing. It’s something I can do down at the pub and it makes me happy because my writing is all about humanity and humour. My music seemed to be very dark. And it takes less time. A three-minute song might take 10 hours to complete. A three minutes story takes about three minutes to write, three minutes to polish and three minutes to do the final editing. So, nine minutes. And there is something lovely about that.
But I have been thinking of doing an audio version of my latest project when it’s finished with I think it will have some sort of woozy bedtime soundtrack behind it. Put some of the things I’ve learned over the last three-four years into practice.
Are you currently binge watching any television series? If so, which one(s)?
It’s all a bit meh, TV. And I do like to do it weekly – old school – rather than binge watching. Like I watch Westworld, now that it’s on again. I’ll watch a bit of shitty tv when I’m hungover. Some documentaries, usually. I quite like watching a bit of football … it’s a good turn off entertainment usually done down at the pub and it’s good patter with my friends, so I’m looking forward to the World Cup.
What are some of your all-time favorite series?
It would probably be comedy series. JAM by Chris Morris was brilliant. He has a new film coming out this year. So looking forward to that, too. In the Thick of It was really funny. Anything that makes me think and laugh at the same time. Readers should go have a listen to Blue Jam which was the original radio show that JAM was based on, which is a mixture of music and dark dark comedy. It’s nightmarishly fun: https://archive.org/details/chrismorris_bluejam
What are some of your all-time favorite movies?
Likewise, like TV I’m not that bothered by films. They’re sort of there in front of you at the time you’re watching them and then when they’ve finished they’re gone. They don’t sort of stick with me. There is a track on the first album called ‘The Mother and the Whore’ which is the title of a French film from 1973 (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0070359/) … I remember liking that film and watching it a few times in the 90s but if you asked me what happens in the film I couldn’t tell you. I just liked the title and it came up in the poetry of the lyrics.
Now, if you asked me what Podcasts I listen to that would be a different matter. I list to quite a few of those. Because I can work my day job and listen to them. So bits of Joe Rogan are good but you need to do some research on the guests to see if they’re worth listening to, Adam Buxton’s podcast is very, very good, but the best one at the moment is Athletic Mince with Bob Mortimer, you probably have to be English and understand football to enjoy most of the jokes but it’s BRILLIANT!
If you could have any instrument on earth, what would you pick?
The most expensive one and then sell it and use the money to go travel. Yay!
What was your first day job?
Designing newsletters for my mates’ dad when I was 9 years old. My first nine-five job was IT support at ICI over the summer when I was 15. And then I really only had one other job which was selling computers over the phone for three years when I dropped out of university. After that job, I went it alone.
If you were super famous and had to check into a hotel under a pseudonym, what would you call yourself?
Toby D Glenn. Simply because that has always been my pseudonym since I was a teenager. My alter ego.
What was the first concert you ever attended? Who took you?
I shit you not, it was Chris De Burgh and my parents, too, me and my sister.
If someone was giving you a million dollars to give to charity and you had to give it all to one charity or cause, which would you give it to and why?
Homelessness. In fact, all the money from all the music me and my brother make goes to Shelter. And the reason why it would be that is because I feel it’s the start of humanity. Once you stop treating people on the street as subhuman you stop treating other people badly. And then maybe animals. But to treat people that have ended up on the street and animals, worse than animals then you’ve lost your humanity, which in turn makes them lose their humanity. I always stop and talk with all the people in which neighbourhood I’ve lived. I know all the homeless people where I live now. Know all their stories. Or at least those that speak English.
If you could resurrect any musician from the dead, who would you bring back?
None … that’s a really odd question. Some lived really horrid lives and why would they want to be alive again. There’s lots of missed ones for me. Elliot Smith. Jason Molina. Mary Hanson. Mark E Smith. But everyone has their time and place and story. As we all do.
If you had to go into the studio today and record a cover, what would you do?
Zanzibar by Billy Joel. Or Street Life Surrender by Billy Joel. But most probably Zanzibar. It’s epic and has a really nice breakdown. Liberty DeVitto most underrated drummer ever.
If I get bored of writing and go back to music I might do a Dubstep cover project of Billy Joel songs and call it The Jilly Bowls. And when I say Dubstep I don’t mean the UK Flux Pavillion / Skrillex BRO’step wubwub version of Dubstep. I might do the original UK Dubstep circa 2004 Coki / Distance / Kode 9 / Hyperdub sort of dubstep.
But that old mistress ‘writing’ calls for the moment.
What have you written so far? Any full-length novels? Any titles you can share with us? Tell us what your books are called and what they’re about.
There’s a few short stories up on Amazon Kindle and then one longer book of micro short stories. Which is my last piece of work and I’m pretty proud of it. It’s funny and silly and thought-provoking and it’s had pretty good reviews. It’s called ‘Alien Baggage Allowence’.
Have you posted anything you’ve written online, be it on a blog or Book Funnel or Instafreebie or what have you? If so, give us the link(s). If not, when do you think you might share something with the public?
If I write something I like it to be a finished piece of work and will work on something till it’s presentable to the public really. Like with music. I’m not a Soundcloud look at my work in progress sort of chap.
Is there a certain genre that you write or are you diverse in what you write?
I wouldn’t say I write genre. In the same way, I don’t make music in a genre. I would say it’s closer to literature. But people always have this sense that literature is serious and stuff. And genre is where all the fun is to be had. Me, I would say that’s utterly wrong. Literature just means intelligent. Not obvious Hollywood pap. Like people that think that all art house films are serious. They’re not. And my book isn’t serious, but it should be taken seriously.
Do you write under your real name or do you use a pseudonym? If you use a pseudonym, please tell us so our readers can look you up.
My pseudonym for writing is ‘Humble Nations’ just because it’s the email address I’ve had for ages. I didn’t want my proper name on there.
Is your goal to ultimately write books for a living?
I’ve just been watching ‘The Detectorists’ lately. It’s a lovely gentle sitcom by Mackenzie Crook, about two blokes who go out metal detecting. Just blokes doing a hobby. Getting out of the house. That’s how I feel about writing. It’s something to do. Nothing more and nothing less. It gets me out of the house and it’s something to eat up a bit of time. And if it makes other people smile, laugh, giggle, think then that’s a bonus. I sell my books all for the least amount of money I can on Amazon … $1. I can’t think of anything worse than writing for a living.
Who are your favorite authors? Why are they your favorites?
I am drawn to authors that make me laugh. A few books I can think of off the top of my head would be Me Cheetah by Jame Lever, Anthropology by Dan Rhodes, Grow Up by Ben Brooks, Christie Malry’s Own Double-Entry by B. S. Johnson, Daft Wee Stories by Limmy, Confederacy of Dunces, and at the moment I’m reading The Incomplete Tim Key by erm … Tim Key. He says it’s poetry but it’s more like little stories. And I’m laughing over breakfast. Also, I’m working my way through all of Jeeves and Wooster. And even people like Saki or Oscar Wilde are pretty good for a giggle. If people have never read the Pickwick Papers by Dickens … that’s tremendously funny. But my top writer of all time has to be Richard Braughtigan.
Do you plot out your books or stories before you write them or do you just make it up as you go along?
All my books are micro short stories, so I usually write them in my head before setting them down and then endlessly tweak till I’m happy. So I guess yes, in my head I plot out. But my brain has been so booze-addled over the years that I can just store small bits of information in there. Not a full novel. I’m sure I used to have a comedy novel I was going to write in there years ago. It was something like a Life of Brian religious comedy sort of thing sent in a Nazi concentration camp. I had it all planned out in my head. I still remember some of the jokes and parts of it. But not the overall narrative arch.
Visit Arth and Arth on Bandcamp: https://arthandarth.bandcamp.com/
Buy Alien Baggage Allowance from Amazon U.S.: https://amzn.to/2urqe4C
Buy Alien Baggage Allowance from Amazon U.K.: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Alien-Baggage-Allowance-Humble-Nations-ebook/dp/B013VOHK22/