We caught up with dreamy indie artist North Arm, to chat about his new release ‘I’m Awake’, Aussie Music, and his new music video (which features invisible skateboards!)
So how did North Arm get started making music?
I’ve been writing songs since I was about 14/5 and I’ve been in a few bands since then. When I started making music, I recorded songs into a cassette recorder. Multi-tracking was playing along to a tape I’d recorded with one cassette recorder into another cassette recorded that I borrowed off a friend. At that time, I started making music with neighborhood mates. We used to rehearse in the basement of this house. My mate’s mum was (and still is) really cool and supportive of what we were doing. There was a community of kids that were into music and that’s all we did. Wrote songs that sounded like Nirvana. We played at house parties and school dances. Fuck it was fun. After a while, my first band finally cut a tape in a shitty suburban recording studio where the mix was bone dry, roomy and rock as -- with a sound engineer that couldn’t give a fuck and hated us. But it felt like the most important music to me at that time. I don’t know where that cassette is now days. I’d love to hear it.
It seems Aussie music scene is going through something of a renaissance at the moment. What’s it like to be a part of it?
I’m not sure I feel so much a part of it as parallel to it. I definitely acknowledge that there is a pretty incredible scene happening in Australia right now. I’ve been fortunate to meet some of the people that I admire most in the Australian music industry and I’m pretty proud of breakthrough artists like Tame Impala, Kirin J Callinan, Alex Cameron, DMAs, Gang of Youths, Rolling Backouts Coastal Fever, Julia Jacklin and others that have made a splash in the U.K. recently. But they’re just the tip of the iceberg. There’s depth here. Follow the North Arm playlist for the pick 😉
What the story behind the new single ‘I’m Awake’?
This track arrived at about the middle of the album writing process. I’d written and re-written a few tracks and the sound of the album was starting to take shape. But this lead guitar part just arrived in my head one morning and I followed it through. It took shape pretty quickly. But it wasn’t until I sent the stems down to producer, Robin Waters, that I could see it’s full potential. It went in a less plaintive and more upbeat direction from there. We decided to keep it simple and fun.
We love the video for the new track! Tell us about how it was created.
I was fishing around for someone to make a clip and my good friend Sean (guitarist in the old North Arm line up) suggested Nick Sullivan, the little brother of our bassist, Jay. Nick and I got talking about watching skate VHS’s from the 90s and thought it would be great to incorporate something skateboardy into a clip. Nick wanted the clip to have a surreal aspect whilst remaining grounded in suburban Australia where we grew up. The clip pays homage to the invisible board scene by Spike Jonze and Ty Evans in ‘Yeah Right!’ and I think it treads the line between absurd and relatable pretty well. Removing the skatey during post production took ages, so I really appreciate the efforts of team that worked on it.
What can we expect from your upcoming album Let Love Through? And how was the process of making it.
I made a self-titled record in 2015 that was a reverbed out surf dream thing buried under a trillion competing delays and multiple drum tracks, tape hiss and tambourines. It was a reflection on childhood holidays spent up in a sleepy coastal town called North Arm Cove. My family went up there heaps in the 80s and it’s basically a spiritual home for me. So, if the first record was a snapchat of an 8-year-old ranga on a BMX in North Arm, this second record is a bit more of a troubled teenager. You can expect it to be more direct, clearer and transparent in themes and lyrical content. It’s also heaps more accessible.
The process of making the record was great. A few distinct stages were involved. First up, I was writing heaps of traditional singer songwriter tracks in alternate tunings. I recorded them into my phone with an electric guitar, then into my computer multi tracking acoustic guitar into set structures that sounded a bit boring when I returned to them. So, phase two was setting everything to a grid and basically remixing the tracks. Cut and pasting them into different shapes. Taking the best sections and playing over the top of them to build the story. Phase three was working with Robin and having him remix them, chop them up again and arrange live drums, beeps and pleeps, pianos, whatever was close to hand. When a sax found its way into one of the tracks, for a split second I was like, “has this just jumped the shark?”, and I thought to myself, “who cares, go with it”.
How would you describe your music to someone who’s never heard you?
Head music? I don’t know. I’m always stumped on questions like that.
You’ve collaborated with names like Robin Waters, Emerson Bavinton & J Walker, how was that? And is their anyone else you’d really like to work with?
Umm shit, I could throw up so many names here and it would be meaningless. I would have loved working with Beck when he was making albums like Mellow Gold and Odelay. Or being a fly on the wall when Wilco were making Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Or when Wayne Connolly was mixing You Am I Hi Fi Way with Lee Ronaldo. But speaking realistically, I’d love to work with Aussie legend, Jonti. I think we’d get along pretty well. Hey, Jonti…just dropping the hint here bro x
Who would you say are your all-time biggest influences? And who are you listening to right now?
Biggest influences. I could try and be cool and rattle off a bunch of names that would be a pretentious attempt at building some flimsy cred factor, but fuck that. Let’s go to the source: Nirvana, Beck, Sonic Youth, DJ Shadow, Portishead, The Beastie Boys, Boards of Canada, Chemical Brothers, Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Massive Attack, The Verve, Wilco, Tortoise, Pullman, Kings of Convenience, Whitest Boy Alive, DIIV, Broken Social Scene, Tame Impala, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Toro y Moi, LCD Sound System, The Strokes…purely off the top.
Right now…HamJam, Steve Lacey, King Krule, Badbadnotgood, Kllo, Fourtet, Gold Class, Food Court, Ariel Pink whatever is on the North Arm playlist. I tend the pick the latest best ovs and put them in there.
What’s been your most interesting or memorable experience in music?
That’s a hard one. Embarrassing experiences? I have plenty of those. One classic one was me going to see The Shins during the ‘Chutes Too Narrow’ tour. I got pretty drunk and I thought it would be a good idea to get in a cab and go back to my share house to pick up a CD that I had recorded into the onboard mic of my old white brick MacBook. I went back to the venue forced this shitty CD into James Mercer’s hand. He was like yeah man thanks, then put it on the bar and turned back the gathering of indie hotties. So I loiter, grab it off the bar and foist it into his hand as he was leaving the venue. It wouldn’t have made it past the bin near the exit. But I was convinced he had to hear it. I’m an idiot.
Where can we catch you on tour?
I’m playing a few shows soon, one in Melbourne on 2 Nov at The Gasometer Hotel in Collingwood and the other in Sydney at the Botany View Hotel in Newtown on 17 Nov. I’m not sure if I’ll get over to the U.K. any time soon, unless someone gets in touch and hits me up to play. I’d love to get over there x
If you’d like to follow North Arm, or invite him to play in the UK: