- Courtesy Of Dana Tarr
- Arc Iris
Arc Iris released their debut self-titled album in 2014. Full of acoustic instrumentation and pop-inflected, New England singer-songwriter vibes, the record showcases the band's predilection for augmentation. On the one hand familiar, it largely upends existing notions of what contemporary folk music can be through off-kilter, surprising arrangements.
But if you've seen the Providence, R.I., group perform at any point in the last two years or so, you're probably thinking, They're not really a folk band, though. That's because, in a relatively short amount of time, the group has shifted its sound away from acoustic territory into nebulous art-pop, where synthesizers, electric guitars and electronic production accentuate mind-bending songwriting.
The band's folk origins make sense, given that its front person, Jocie Adams, was a longtime member of fellow Rhode Island indie-folk outfit the Low Anthem. But, as Arc Iris' new album Icon of Ego suggests, their creative vision — full of confrontational compositions, effervescent climaxes and mystifying lyrics — can't be contained or even easily classified.
Arc Iris celebrate the release of Icon of Ego on Saturday, November 10, at ArtsRiot in Burlington. Benjamin Lazar Davis and Aubrey Haddard add support.
Seven Days caught up with Adams by phone.
SEVEN DAYS: You recently performed your interpretation of Joni Mitchell's Blue in Burlington. Are there other albums you'd consider reimagining?
JOCIE ADAMS: I don't think it's in the plans as of right now. It was a really wonderful experience, but I think that album and Joni Mitchell in particular called to us in a way that might be challenging to find elsewhere.
SD: What is it about that album that made you want to reinterpret it?
JA: One of the big [reasons] is that a lot of people know those songs. If you're gonna reinterpret songs, you hope that there's some point of reference. But also I think that it was exciting because [Blue] was sort of before she got more experimental. The songs themselves are slightly simpler, which leaves a little more room for our interpretations. The arrangements were smaller, but the lyric writing was still so poignant. It seemed like the right combination of factors for us to work with.
SD: In a conversation with Philthy Mag, you said of Icon of Ego, it's "more explicit in its warnings about the possible future we may be headed toward." Can you elaborate on that?
JA: [Icon of Ego] is about looking at the perspectives of leaders, followers and rebels — the egos of those three categories of persons — [and] pointing out how they may be interacting. When we look at an idol as something so godly, there's so much of ourselves we're putting onto that. The blame goes both ways. The process of defining our country [and] who we are is so complicated. And it's just important for everyone to take care of making sure that their own perspectives are seated in a place of knowingness rather than a place of blind following or believing.
It just seems like right now we're in a really important place to be taking care of ourselves and making the best decisions that each individual can make. Because everything starts at the individual level, and individuals create the Donald Trump monsters of the world. One doesn't come without the other.
SD: I've read that your music is very conscious of tension. How do you manifest that concept on Icon of Ego?
JA: It's focused on tension in multiple ways. [When] it comes to this record, there's a lot more tension in the record, musically and lyrically. "$GNMS" is maybe a good example. At the end, it lets you empathize — or sympathize, depending on who you are — with the protagonist and celebrate them, in a way. It's hard to have an emotionally evocative release without having tension. I would say that tension is vital when it comes to any kind of art or storytelling or reporting. Tension doesn't have to be a bad thing.
SD: Speaking of "$GNMS," it's a reworking of the title track of your debut self-titled album. Why did you choose to reinvent it, and does its placement as the first track signify anything?
JA: We definitely chose to do that to make a point of showing that the sound of our band has significantly changed. And the emotions surrounding that song have certainly changed since the first time we released it and the second time we released it. I think there's, unfortunately, a lot less hope in a lot of ways right now than there was [in 2014]. You have to fight a little harder to find the hope, which is sort of the musical narrative of the new version.
SD: Can we talk a little bit about Bwahaha, your collaborative band with Guster's Ryan Miller? How did that come together? And will the band return?
JA: It came about because I did a show [in Port Chester, N.Y.] called the Complete Last Waltz [based on the Band's famous farewell concert and documentary by Martin Scorsese]. But instead of just what was in the movie, it was all the songs that were done at the  show. It happens every other year or so. I met Ryan there quite a few years ago, and since then he's come to a bunch of Arc Iris shows in Burlington and become a big fan of ours.
He was going to play a solo show, and he wanted us to accompany him. And he wanted to cover a record just to kind of do something easier than writing a bunch of songs. I got on the phone with him and was like, "If you want this to be a onetime thing, then, yeah, sure, we'll just learn a record and bang it out. But if you want to keep doing this, then we should just write some music." And he got really excited about that. So we got together for a few days and wrote a bunch of songs.
I think they're pretty awesome. I'm excited to at some point release something. Ryan just released a new record, and we just released a new record. So we're all pretty busy right now.
SD: What's something you could never live without?
JA: Never live without? That's so dramatic.
SD: I'm very dramatic.
JA: I love biking. Realistically, I could live without it — but I'd be really sad if I couldn't bike anymore. Biking and playing soccer. Being able to move my body. I think it's the No. 1 way of creating equilibrium in your mind and spirit.