Baltimore indie rockers Arbouretum recently released their 4th studio album The Gathering, a psychedelic, fuzz-driven, blistering voyage through tales of doom and disaster, reflection and redemption. With the band touring the west coast I recently caught up with front-man David Heumann to get a glimpse into the hypnotizing beauty that is Arbouretum.
So David, how’s the weather out there in Cali?
“It’s pretty nice, but it’s cooler than you would expect. Right now they’re getting a bit of a cold front while back east it’s nice and warm. It’s funny how that works out.”
First of all, The Gathering is an amazing album, top to bottom every track is phenomenal. It’s said that the album draws inspiration from The Red Book by Carl Jung. Can you explain how the album took shape drawing from that influence?
“Thank you. Well, some people are under the impression that the entire record was influenced by it (The Red Book) or even that it’s a conceptual album, which it isn’t. There may be influences throughout the record that are more directly tied in, but it was more of just a personal inspiration for me as a writer…To be in a point in your life where you start having these inner experiences that in turn shape your outlook towards the world, that’s the thing that I personally drew inspiration from. Here’s this guy in his late 30’s and he starts having these experiences which lead to breakthroughs like the theory of archetypes which really helped to define his career.
So I took inspiration from that, but that’s only one part of it and I think there’s so much on this record that’s more about approaching different ways of being Arbouretum. In that aspect it’s really nothing to do with the Carl Jung influence, it’s more just that this inspiration was happening at the same time. Really it has been about discovering new ways to approach music and this band is different than those of the past. Corey (Allender) and I played together on Song of the Pearl and other Arbouretum albums, but Matthew (Pierce) and Buck (Carey) are new additions to the band and both joined around the same time.”
And how have the band’s new additions impacted the songwriting/collaborative process in the making of this album?
“Well, in general I would say a lot…Specifically there are instances of collaboration, for example, the last song on the album Song of the Nile basically came from stuff we had worked on at practice. We would get together for rehearsals and we wouldn’t really work on songs, but just jam and see what sounded good. We would record these rehearsals and put them up on file sharing sites so we could download and listen to them and go back and work on the parts.
Song of the Nile is a perfect example of that because there are parts in there from maybe 3 or 4 different jams that we put together, I put a vocal melody over top of it, and that’s how the song came about. There were other times when I had a chord/melody idea and we would talk about using different tempos and arrangements, so generally after it leaves the realm of me sitting around with an acoustic guitar while singing melodies and it gets into the collective space, that’s when the collaboration really begins.”
Now the first single off the album is Destroying to Save and you directed the video, which is great and meshes extremely well with the overall mood of the song. Was that your directorial debut?
“Oh thanks, well yes for this band it was… I did kind of an abstract/psychedelic video for Coil Sea, but as far as any live action video of Arbouretum playing it’s the first time I did something like that . I’ve been interested in video more and more lately and have been learning about the process. The thing was we had talked to different people about doing a video for us and for whatever reason it didn’t work out, so I thought ‘well, it would be fun to try this’ so that’s really how it came about.”
Now you mentioned Coil Sea and I understand that was an album that was recorded following a month-long residency at the Windup Space with you sitting in with Big in Japan. How did that come about?
“Yeah, well I didn’t play with them every time, they would get different people to play. Those guys were always the nucleus of the band and they would have different musicians get up and do different things. I sat in with them once during that time, and again on the last night of the residency when we did this “We are the World” cover.(laughs) They invited me to sit in with them and I was really into it, having played with those guys before.
I had played with Matthew a long time ago, when we were members of a short-lived band in college. I had wanted to jam with Michael Lowry for awhile and that was the first time I had the chance. Michael Kuhl played percussion and he was sitting in on the same night I was sitting in and we thought it would be really cool to do an improv thing, because it was basically all improv when I sat in with them.
I also had a few friends of mine that I had played with in the past, including Walker (Teret) who was an early Arbouretum member, and Jimmy Wallace who I used to play in high school bands with. So I had played with all these individuals but not everyone had played with one another, and we wanted to see how it could sound in an improvised situation, so basically the process was an experiment. Of course the end result was different than what was originally imagined, but it was really cool…it took us all awhile to find a collective space to get into where we were really comfortable, but once we did it was great.”
Going back to The Gathering, you guys do an amazing version of Highwayman on the album, a very original take on that song that the Highwaymen used to do. Does the band in general draw from country music influences and, do you in particular have influences in many different genres?
“Well I would say yes and yes to that. We’re all into different stuff and with that particular song the version by The Highwaymen is probably the most famous, but before deciding to do it I checked out some other versions. It was written by Jimmy Webb, who wrote songs in different genres including pop, country, and folk. He’s really a songwriter’s songwriter, one of those guys who just writes and writes. I got his version, checked out the Glen Campbell version, and of course The Highwaymen version. A friend reminded me of it one day, he said ‘you know what song is really cool that not many bands play?’ I was like ‘oh yeah, you’re right!’
When we got together as a band and started learning the song it was a lot of trial and error with the arrangement and it wasn’t until we were in the recording studio, after a few different takes that we settled on an arrangement that worked for us and sounded like Arbouretum. That’s the whole thing with a cover song, trying to do it so that it can pass for one of your own and not stick out like a sore thumb and be an obvious cover.”
So you kicked off the tour at the Ottobar in Baltimore, you guys are playing the west coast right now, and after that you travel overseas to play some dates in Europe?
“Yes, that’s right. We go overseas on the 16th of March, for about 3 ½ weeks.”
Well I really appreciate your time David. It was good talking with you and I wish you the best of luck on the tour and with everything.
“Thanks, I appreciate the opportunity. It was good talking with you.”
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