Sun in Scorpio Music is a “webzine dedicated to promoting the works of post-rock and ambient artists” and they have interviewed our artist Arms Of Tripoli.
If you haven’t listened to their amazing EP “All The Fallen Embers” it’s the time. All tracks are available for free streaming here.
How did the idea of forming a collaborative band of Los Angeles post-rock musicians ever occur to you?
Well, to be honest, it kinda just happened. Robert, Mike and Brian all met circa 2005 while each person’s respective band was playing venues around LA. A friendship was forged between the bands (The Lights From Here, The Half Mantis Group, and Signal Hill) and soon we would ask each other to perform on the bills of the shows that we would put together. As life happened, as it usually does, members from The Lights From Here began to leave the band for various reasons and Robert Oppenheimer (who plays on “all the fallen embers”) and Mike from The Half Mantis Group stepped up to fill the roles of those members who left, essentially meshing styles, techniques, interests, influences into a sort of hybrid of the two bands. Needless to say, the next album recorded by The Lights From Here was decidedly different, but had some fundamental similarities. Again, as things may be, the band essentially disintegrated and the album was shelved. However, the band was reassembled in the wake of an interview done by Andres and R.I.P. Radio Free Silverlake, sparking a renewed interest in the pursuit of generating music between the band’s members. At that time, the band acquired Brian from Signal Hill to fill the gaps that Kimmii, who did not rejoin the band, left behind. That was sort of the birth of the idea of a musical collective, since it really was about just making good music and inviting everyone we knew to participate. It didn’t have that business-like, directional aspect to it as bands sometimes have. It was more like an emotional and artistic release for everyone, an escape from reality and it served as an outlet, but with no specific purpose, like “let’s make an album,” or “let’s put together a show.” It was just a bunch of musicians getting together and playing whatever was on our minds at the time. But eventually, that all ended as real life responsibilities took root and members went off to obtain masters and further careers, or concentrate on building families. Living the American Dream we suppose…
However, Robert, Mike and Brian weren’t exactly ready to call it quits and immediately began building the foundation for what would soon become Arms of Tripoli. We decided from the beginning, that we wanted this to be a collaborative effort. It just seemed natural at that point. We were in a unique situation where each person had previous experience and connections with the music scene in Los Angeles, and so we had this arsenal of great musicians we could call upon to participate in this music making process. Obviously, we knew then that we would be integral to the initial development of the songs, but acutely aware that some of what we consider to be the best music, was accentuated by musicians that weren’t necessarily part of the core band. That was the seed of this effort. It was different from what we had in The Lights From Here in that we had a direction to go in, we had a goal. It was to write these songs and get them down and then have all our friends come join in with us, at practice, on the album, and at our shows.
We went through a couple of drummers in the initial effort to construct a core band which we could later build upon, but no one really gelled long term. Eventually Robert and Mike and decided to just rotate out on drums, and everyone in the group switch up on instruments depending on the song, which is what we do now. As happenstance would have it, Brian answered an ad in Craigslist simply because the ad was written in a manner that would have him believe that it was placed by Robert or Mike. In fact, he even queried them on whether they had placed it. The response to the ad led to the addition of Jaime (pronounced Jamie) to the band. Jaime had actually played in previous projects with Robert in the past and was in a band, called Naked in the Dark, with a drummer that Arms of Tripoli had been playing with, so there was history there. She immediately clicked with the group and brought a whole new style to the band, as well as additional contacts to network with. With this solid core of four primary committed members, the band was then able to effectively and efficiently generate musical compositions at a fairly stable rate. “all the fallen embers” just fell together. The hard part, and most time consuming effort, was actually producing, recording, mixing and mastering the album. But following the inherently collaborative nature of the band, we called on many friends to make that happen. Everyone, from Ken Anderson and Morgan Harrelson, who assisted in the composition of the songs, to Robert Oppenheimer and Erik Dela Rosa, who played on the album, to Matt Luker, who helped set up all the recording equipment and assisted with tracking, to George Tseng, who mixed and mastered the album, all made it happen. Without any one of them, it easily could have not happened. We invited many more to participate, but unfortunately didn’t net as many as we would have liked to due to scheduling conflicts. However, with the relative success of this EP, we’re not so sure that will be an issue for the next album (which by the way… is pretty much already fully composed and in its initial recording stage).
How does the process of writing music work for you guys?
So far, it varies so dramatically, to identify one exact concise procedure really isn’t possible. Songs have stemmed from previous collaborative efforts, whole individual compositions, random small parts… individually composed and then expanded and further developed as a whole band, and very simply, from screwing around at practice. In fact, one of our new songs (Canna), specifically started off as a joke with Robert jovially playing a simple guitar scale in the open tuning on the guitar and the band joining in on the escapade. From that very juvenile carefree horseplay, we went back and wrote a complete, rather intricate song that is easily one of our favorites. There is no method to the madness, which in a way, is very liberating. Since there is no one approach to composing music for us, we entertain all avenues. It would be silly for us to limit ourselves by saying “Hey, this is the way we write, and if it doesn’t follow this model, then we won’t play it.” Also, that seems not very conducive to making music you actually enjoy playing. We think we all really appreciate what we’re doing here and that comes through in our compositions. We honestly highly value the integrity of our compositions ourselves, in that, we aim to please each other first. We all want to be like “wow, this song is awesome,” first and foremost, and then everything else is just gravy.
For each of you, what’s the best part or what was the best experience of collaborating to Arms of Tripoli?
[Mike]: Well for me, it is just being able to bounce ideas off someone. In all of my time playing music, I can’t think of a collaborative effort that didn’t have a positive outcome. It almost always creates a whole new way of hearing a composition. I mean, the songs on “all the fallen embers” were really raw with just the four core members on them. Robby and Erik really changed the whole dynamic of those songs in a way that none of us really could have anticipated. They didn’t necessarily make them better, but made them pleasantly different. Those songs still sound great when it’s just the four of us playing them live, but they also sound really amazing on the album too and that can be directly attributed to the talent of the individuals we collaborated with in making the album. Also, it’s just a lot of fun getting together with someone you’d enjoy being around regardless and creating something new and different musically. There is an energy there that can’t be artificially generated. It’s genuine. Like what would “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” be without Clapton… or what would “Get Back” be without Preston? …Probably not bad, but drastically different. Way back, The Half Mantis Group had the honor and pleasure of collaborating on our EPs with several well-known LA musicians, from Nels Cline, to Dan Clucas, to Vince Meghrouni, to Tanya Haden, and I can honestly say that the band was inspired and thrilled when we had guests in the studio. It fundamentally changes the environment, … it energizes it,… which then filters through to, and is reflected in the music. So, for me, collaborating on a song with different seasoned musicians is always a gratifying experience, as it certainly was with this album.
[Jaime]: I feel that Brian, Mike, Robert and I do our songs justice when it’s just us four playing them, but collaborating with Robby and Erik made our EP a more complete, robust endeavor. I didn’t expect the songs, on which they play, to go in the direction that they did, mainly because I had no idea what they were going to add to the songs, let alone what instruments they were going to end up playing on the album. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised and very happy with the end result. I really look forward to collaborating with Robby and Erik again and hope to add even more musicians into the mix in the future.
[Robert]: My favorite thing about Arms of Tripoli is the fact that sometimes we can be joking around about an idea that sometimes turns into an actual song, that in the end sounds the total opposite of the joke. We have a new song where I do an open tuning. I was joking around about how funny it would be if I just did this cheesy arpeggio in the open tuning. As soon as you know it everybody is adding these different layers and all of a sudden it’s an entire song based off of an initial idea that wasn’t even supposed to be taken seriously in the first place. Now it’s one of my favorite songs. I just really love the whole dynamic, skills and song-writing sensibilities that Jaime, Mike and Brian bring to the table. It makes for really great song-writing. We’ve also had the pleasure of collaborating with some really talented musicians on our EP that added a new dimension to some of the songs. I look forward to collaborating with musicians outside of the core four members on our next EP.
[Brian]: I would not say we are a super group, but we certainly took advantage of our musical relationships and the network of musician friends we have. Although we have us four as the core group and our music is written around what the four of us can do, at the same time we open it up to what other people can contribute to a song, taking it to a higher level on the release. For anyone that see’s us live, versus what they hear on the recording level, will certainly be pleased with both performances.
You said your next album already in its initial recording stage. How will it sound compared to your debut EP?
We think it is fair to say that it will be an accurate representation of the evolution of the band. As previously mentioned, there is no one way we write songs, but the new songs on the next EP do come from the same origins as the songs on the debut EP, from our random and somewhat unique experiences in song composition. In that sense, it will most likely sound, we imagine, as if it is an EP from Arms of Tripoli… However, there will also be a concerted effort to reach out to some friends and have them participate on the EP. That will be where the most deviation from the initial EP has an opportunity to occur. The new songs have just as much energy and effort in them from the band as the initial six, but we don’t want it to be exactly like them… We’re not looking to make an extension of that EP, but rather a new, but similar experience for the listener without digressing so much that they are alienated… It isn’t going to be a country vocoder album or something like that.
Is there anything you would like to say to the fans?
Just that we really appreciate the response and feedback that we receive from them. We never really anticipated such an overwhelmingly positive reaction to the EP, and it really makes us feel good about the band and the music we are creating. It is hard for us to really explain how it feels to be validated like that. We mean, without our fans, we really would not be where we are today. It’s a very symbiotic relationship, and we recognize that. We just hope that we can continue to grow this wonderful thing we have here and that more people have the opportunity to hear what we’re all about… We want nothing more than to make more connections with people and share what we’re doing here. In fact, we just established a Twitter account specifically to be able to communicate directly with fans. We want everyone out there to know that we will always take the time to reach out to our fans and respond to them. We feel that it is the very least we can do!
Interview by Elliot / Sun in Scorpio Music