MusicMakers is an interview series from Adafruit that explores the intersection of the DIY music and maker communities. We’ll be talking to some of our favorite musicians about art, tech, DIY, gear tips and more. Along the way we hope you’ll find some great new music as well as some ideas and inspiration for your own projects. This week we speak to Eddie Argos of the mighty Art Brut.
Photo courtesy of Alcopop Records
Releasing their now classic “Formed a Band” single on Rough Trade Records back in 2004, I got to Art Brut pretty late. But in the early 2010s, when I was getting weary of indie rock’s occasional propensity for joylessness, Art Brut were there for me in a big way. I found some of the musical excitement that I’d been missing.
Though stylistic similarities and lyrical comparisons could be found within the proto-punk, anti-folk, post-punk and brit pop genres, Art Brut were always something different. The songs were fun, but it was never joke. Singer Eddie Argos always meant enough of what he said for these songs to feel like they mattered. He did seem to miss “Emily Kane,” I do believe the world had him by the throat in “Axl Rose” and as the grumpy owner of a struggling DIY record label I had an affinity for the killer refrain of “Demons Out!” with Argos yelling: “Record buying public, we hate them! This is Art Brut vs. Satan!”. There was so much going on and it all seemed important.
Save for the Art Brut Top of the Pops best of and rarities set in 2013, things went pretty quiet for Art Brut after 2011’s Brilliant! Tragic! and I was really happy to hear that Kassius Ohno’s favourite band would be returning this year with a new album (Wham! Bang! Pow! Let’s Rock Out!) through Alcopop! Records, our pals and Q&A guests from TasteMakers005. This is a real meeting of the good guys and a DIY dream team. The new Art Brut album is terrific from start to finish but that should come as no surprise, after all, “some things will always be great.”
I’m very grateful that Art Brut vocalist Eddie Argos was be able to take the time to answer some questions for us. Read on for discussion on the new album, recording and producing, staying motivated, new media and beyond. Working in music, art, comics and more, he’s a maker who made it happen through love and energy and maybe his story will offer you a little inspiration. Form a band.
It’s been a long time since “Brilliant! Tragic!”, what brought you back together for this new album?
We didn’t really mean to stop, I was looking through my emails the other day and found an old interview I’d done roundabout Brilliant! Tragic! where I insist that from now on Art Brut are going to release an album every year. I think Mike and Jasper leaving slowed us down a bit, and me being sick, becoming a Dad etc. I’m not very good at focusing unless someone (in the past usually a record label) sort of makes me sit down and do it. There was no deadline so I drifted off and inadvertently did other things, a musical called The Islanders, a spoken word show, lots of paintings, a memoir, a comic with Image. I mean I mainly live off being an ‘artist’ so I needed to do those things to get by and even though we were all always writing Art Brut inexplicably and accidentally took a back seat for a while. From now on its an album every year. Promise.
Can you remember your introduction to making music?
Yep, I’ve been insisting that people start bands with me for as long as I can remember. My first band that actually did anything though was a band called the Art Goblins. I remember us all being together in a room and me thinking oh! I should probably learn to sing or at least write some lyrics. I’d sort of got a bunch of people together before I’d even thought about what we were going to do. Like I was really into the gang mentality idea of being in a band and everyone was sort of looking at me like what now then. I ended up playing the hoover in that first iteration of the Art Goblins while shouting lyrics over a guitar with my friend Bob Oblivion. It worked really well live exactly one time.
The first time I actually recorded music was with a later version of The Art Goblins (a more vaguely experimental Britpop version), in a strange fellas studio in someone’s house in Parkstone where I grew up. It had all gone really well and then it was my turn to sing and I really freaked out, probably my only time I’ve experienced something akin to stage fright and I just couldn’t do it. Took all day for me to say the lyrics to a song called I Want To Be Johnny Dean and I really couldn’t do it in time with the music.i just froze up. The accumulation of years and years of dreaming about recording songs coming true had created a lot of pressure. In the end they had to drop the lyrics into the right place after making me sing along without the music. I still have the original CD we made. ‘I Wanna …….be Joh nnydean..getm ypicturein justseventeen’ is how it sounds. I am marginally better now so practice makes perfect-ish I guess.
Photo courtesy of Pedro Hernandez
How have you seen technology change the creation and consumption of music and art in your lifetime?
Its changed in loads of ways, consumption especially even just since the band has started. When we first went on tour iPods didn’t exist yet. I packed a CD player and a load of CDs some comics, some books all just for a two week tour to keep me entertained in the back of a van. All of that is just in your phone now. YouTube didn’t exist if people wanted to watch your video they had to stay up till 2am watching MTV2. Myspace didn’t even exist, Chris Chinchilla built us a website and embedded our songs into it and I never saw it as I didn’t own a laptop. Downloads only started counting towards the charts the week “Emily Kane” came out (part of the reason we forgot to register the song with the downloads to make it chart eligible). We drove around the country playing in HMVs and I would tell the audience to buy all three formats of a single. That all seems very quaint now.
Creation hasn’t changed that much I guess. The second load of Art Goblins songs we recorded in someone’s bedroom into a computer. I guess that set up has probably become more refined. I’m the wrong person to ask to be honest.
Describe your recording or production setup for the latest album:
Pretty simple. We knew all the songs. We’d been rehearsing them with Jim Moray (who produced the album) and he’d been making suggestions that we’d all worked out before we got to the studio. Then we bashed it out over a couple of weekends. I like that way of making records. It feels a lot more honest. I never like to do more than one or two vocal takes as I feel the more I sing it the more it loses its sincerity.
We recorded live choosing the best takes, I don’t think there is very much overdubbing a little for sure, Jim definitely took everything away and tinkered with it, not too much though a sufficient amount and then he added some other extra instruments brass, synthesizers, and even a violin to one of the tracks and voila!
You’ve been able to record at a variety of studios and work with a number of interesting and accomplished producers, has your approach to recording changed much since “Bang Bang Rock & Roll”?
I guess we’ve become more confident. John Fortis and Howard Grey did a great job with that first album. We all recorded our parts completely separately from each other though. I don’t think any of us were in the studio at the same time. Maybe Fred and Mikey as they recorded their parts to tape and everything else was digital. There was a little bit of that with the second album, that we made with Dan Swift, too , I was definitely only in the studio by myself. I think that gave those producers greater control over the sound they wanted.
Recording with Frank Black was a lot different, and a lot more the way I like it ,but I don’t think we’d have had the confidence to do it that way for the first two albums. For Art Brut vs Satan we all played together changing the songs up as we went along with Frank Black taking the reins and making suggestions on the fly a much more laid back approach than those first two albums that created a more sincere sounding album I think. Pretty much everything on Art Brut vs Satan was recorded in one take there are no overdubs. Perfect. Pretty similar with Brilliant! Tragic! too except we really wanted to mix things up with that album so we completely took all the songs apart and played around with them stretching parts out and changing phrasing and stuff. That one really felt like an experiment.
I think with the album we’ve just recorded with Jim Moray we’ve kind of got the best of both worlds, we recorded everything the way I like it in one or two takes but Jim took it away with him to work on to add some pop magic to it.
Do you have any advice for customising your workspace?
Don’t keep the biscuits too close to where you are working, the temptation to eat them is greater than you think.
Creatively you’re very eclectic and quite prolific. Between your writing, painting and music, how do you stay motivated and inspired?
I don’t know, I actually wish I was more prolific. I have so many ideas that I want to do, but never seem to have enough time to do them all. I don’t feel prolific.
What’s one song everybody should hear?
“Roadrunner” By Jonathan Richman. It is perfect. I honestly think it is mankind’s greatest achievement.
Who do you think we should speak to next?
I was going to say Jeffrey Lewis but I’ve seen you already did that (Eddie’s right! MusicMakers003), maybe Jim Moray so he can explain the recording process better than me, or perhaps Jonathan Richman as I’m sure plenty has changed since he started recording music.
Art Brut will be touring the United Kingdom in early 2019 – dates here.
Check out more MusicMakers Q&A’s (feat. Jeffrey Lewis, Frankie Cosmos, Cloud, Pom Pom Squad, Benjamin Shaw, Bedbug and more), TasteMakers (feat. Alcopop! Records, The Grey Estates, The Alternative and more) TrackTalk (feat. Trust Fund, Haiku Salut, Deerful and more) and the Adafruit Artist Spotlight for DIY tips and music discovery. Plus, you can follow Adafruit on Soundcloud and Hype Machine.