Arbouretum, with White Tiger and the Bed of Roses
10/25, 9 p.m. • $5
Reggie’s 42nd Street Tavern
1415 South 42nd Street
Hearing Dave Heumann play “when Delivery Comes” from his band Arbouretum’s latest release, “The Gathering,” immediately conjures the same mystique wrapped around songs like The Doors’ “This is the End.” It opens with bass notes creeping among thin picks of hauntingly slant rhythms. It’s acoustically enriching from the onset. Why Heumann has played with Americana folk greats like Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Cass McCombs becomes clear: He’s powerfully hypnotic.
Maybe it’s the depth of his vocal’s bass paired with a strained tenor that gives his music appropriate creaks, kind of like an old home’s 70-year-old pine floors. Maybe it’s his honesty—emitted from the first note and without force. Make no mistake about it: Heumann is rock ‘n’ roll, albeit a thoughtful, purposeful brand of it.
Arbouretum was formed in 2002, and among a mix of lineup changes, they have released four albums. Currently also comprising Corey Allender, Buck Carey and Matthew Pierce, the quartet plug in with as much encompassing electric fortitude, foregoing standard blueprints for a psychedilc song structure. Heumann avoids “linear” songwriting; its outcome provokes gravitational, moody melodies. Sometimes, they’re leavened with echoes of meditation (“Sands and Sands,” “Long Live the Well,” 2004), other times levitated by chords pulsating with tornadic whiplash (“The Empty Shell,” “The Gathering,” 2011).
Arbouretum will travel to Wilmington as they continue touring for “The Gathering,” released on Thrill Jockey Records last February. Having met quite a few friends on their numerous visits to town, Heumann makes it clear he looks forward to playing Reggie’s 42nd Street.
“We’ve played [in Wilmington] a lot over the years,” he says, “and though we see some of our same friends each time, there are always some new faces as well, and it always feels like a party.”
encore spoke with Heumann about his ideas on music-making and his life as a songwriter. Here is how it went down.
encore: Tell me a bit about your music philosophy and how it transposes into your sound.
Dave Heumann: It has to be and feel genuine. There’s no room in our music for doing things simply because we think it will go over well, if that involves any kind of deception; it has be in line with what we actually love about music. Another aspect of this is avoiding irony at all costs, because sincerity is a much more potent force.
e: How do you approach your “job,” so to speak. More specifically, how did you approach “The Gathering”?
DH: When we started getting the material together for “The Gathering,” we had a partially new lineup (drummer and keyboard player), so we wanted to also give the music a clean slate and not re-learn any of the older material. What we ended up doing for the first several months was just jamming, and recording so that we could go back to it if anything good came out of it. The whole idea of recording a record or doing gigs wasn’t even talked about for a good while, just to keep the pressure off. A good portion of the music on “The Gathering” was derived from these early recordings, actually.
e: You were inspired by Carl Jung on this release. Why the fascination with him? How did you map out scores from his inspiration?
DH: Well, the story of what was going on with him in the times leading up to and throughout his writing of “The Red Book” was a narrative that resonated with me and was reflected in some of the lyrics of the record, but it definitely wasn’t the case that we set out to do a “Jung record” or anything like that. It was more that it was among the things I was reading about at the time I was starting to get the lyrics together.
e: You’re known to avoid “typical” song patterns—verse/chorus/verse, coda/bridge, etc. Tell me how you use your own creative tools.
DH: I’m not so sure we’re doing anything remarkable in this regard. I think the “typical” song patterns were maybe something that professional songwriters that may or may not have been based in Nashville were supposed to do in, say, the mid ‘60s, where you had a verse, a chorus, another verse, then a second chorus followed by a bridge, and so on. I’ve heard all kinds of song structures since then; seems like ever since the British Invasion people have been experimenting with different ways of structuring a rock song.
That said, our songs almost never have choruses that repeat, and I don’t think there has ever been an Arbouretum song with a bridge. This isn’t because of any kind of willful stubbornness; it’s just because the song seems to have, within the “kernel” of the initial idea, a direction that it wants to go in, and who am I or we to divert it? My approach is to let the song decide for itself where it wants to go.
e: In looking back at the making of “The Gathering” and hearing it some eight months after its release, do you hear it differently?
DH: I still hear it in my head the way I did when we were finishing the record; reason being that I haven’t listened to it since then. There definitely aren’t any portions of it that I regret. I think we did pretty much exactly what we set out to do with that record.
e: What has 2011 been like for Arbouretum—in regards to touring, release of record, even what you’re looking to in the future?
DH: Well, it started with a West Coast tour with us and Endless Boogie in February. For us it was just after “The Gathering”’s release, and for both bands it was our first time [doing] a tour specifically up and down that coast. Itwas an excellent time; I think our music resonated with the audiences in some of those cities a great deal.
After that, we did nearly a month in Europe and the UK, playing to some of the best and most enthusiastic audiences we’ve ever played to. It felt like we were definitely picking up some momentum compared to our previous tours on that side of the Atlantic.
Since, we’ve been working a lot on songwriting and some more sonic ideas in regards to how to approach our live sets. We’re in the Northeast as I write this, where we’ve been putting some of these ideas to use in our shows up here.
e: Are you guys already planning your next release? Any direct points of reference you’re finding inspiration from in its conception?
DH We’re just kind of in the beginning stages of envisioning what this might be like and are compiling ideas and so on, so it’s too early at this stage in the process to say for sure what will happen. I can say, though, that we plan on building upon “The Gathering”’s strengths and using it as a starting point for whatever aspects will be emphasized in the next release. We’d like to record this winter, and have general plans to do so.
e: Is living your life as a musician everything you wanted it to be?
DH: Well, getting paid more would definitely be nice, and it would be disingenuous of me to pretend that this wasn’t sometimes an issue. One of the really great things about playing music as a “career choice” is being able to contribute to the larger culture of ideas. It’s really hard to do this as a wage slave; even most highly paid business people don’t get to do this. Even if our ideas aren’t making waves culturally to the extent that a larger band like, say, Animal Collective is able to, it’s nice to see these ripples spreading around a little bit and affecting people to the extent that they do.
e: How, if at all, does Baltimore affect you and your writing?
DH: It’s hard to say for sure, having grown up in Baltimore and not knowing what it’s like living somewhere else, but one thing that seems to be a contributing factor is that there’s a lot of support for bands that are approaching things in an innovative and original way. Music that is overly derivative and minimally creative tends not to gain that much traction in Baltimore, which has such a wide variety of genres and styles represented within its multifarious scene. So, in my view there seems to be a considerable amount of social pressure to not conform, rather than the other way around.