Interview with Seth • ARMS ALOFT

Many moons ago I did an interview with Seth.
While ARMS ALOFT meanwhile somehow managed to release another amazing record, most questions of this interview don’t feel outdated to me, so have some funs reading this interview, okay?
(originally released in Downpour #002)
Interview: Stefan • Pics: Ruth Krayer

Your latest record came out in 2012.
Do you find yourself going back over material and making realiszations you’d never had before?
Yeah man, most definitely. We write super slowly, and usually record things before we’ve played them out. I’m sort of a perfectionist like that, I guess. But for better or worse, we don’t have a lot of time to apply our habits and shit to songs before they’re recorded. On top of that, some of the stuff we still play live is like 8 years old, so we’ve played those songs 500 times or whatever since we recorded them. Stuff changes still, though, for sure.

In another interview I read that even your former high school teacher gave you positive feedback on your lyrics. Do you write that way on purpose or do they come naturally? Is it harder to write complex lyrics?
I’d be lying if I said I don’t work really hard on the lyrics. That said, if they’re actually praiseworthy or complex or whatever is sort of up to whoever’s listening to it. I just want to keep myself interested and say things as well as I can say them at that moment. It was quite a kick to have a teacher tell me my dumb punk songs had, “literary merit” or some crazy shit, though. He’s a good dude. He used to talk to another kid, who actually started this band with us, and I after school about records and stuff. Big metal head, actually. Like black metal and shit. So it wasn’t totally crazy that he dug our record. Just for me.

Has anyone ever told you that they read something into your lyrics that you never thought was there?
Yeah, in a way. Everybody thinks they’re really fucking sad… and I guess that’s a word for it. But I don’t mean to just be a sad sack all the time. I think I get the release of getting all the bad shit out of my brain, so maybe they feel more hopeful to me than to somebody on the receiving end. I guess it’s ‘art’, so it’s all subjective. Whatever it means to somebody, as long as it means something, I’m stoked. I know what I was saying and it still feels like that when it comes out now.

When you’re doing some of the songs live, does it stir up any emotions?
For sure. If songs don’t do something for the person singing them, they should consider writing different songs. If you’re singing honest shit, it better stir up some shit in you. We do tend to sing songs about uglier times, so there are totally nights where someone really does or doesn’t want to do this song or that one and we change stuff up.

When you look back at yourself then both as an artist and as a person, what are some of the biggest differences and similarities that you see after and before starting ARMS ALOFT?
Personally, who knows? The 8 years from 22 to 30 are a big 8 years. Musically though, I mean, Skinny Love is the first song I ever wrote. I had never played guitar in front of anybody before this band. Had never really tried to write music like this or lyrics either. So now I guess you could say that I at least marginally have a clue what I’m doing with my guitar. I’ve got the riff from “Sultans of Swing” right about 60% of the time and shit. Yeah, pretty gifted. The other dudes have all changed in their playing too. When we started, Alex played drums, and now he’s a fuckin shredder of a guitar player. It’s been a long 8 years, I guess.

I grew up in a small city like Eau Claire and I could not wait to leave that place behind at a certain point in my live. Did you guys ever live somewhere else?
Yeah, totally. I’m actually the only dude left in Eau Claire. Everybody else has moved to Minneapolis at this point. But Eau Claire is definitely still our “spiritual” home. Ha. And we practice there, because the rent is cheaper. I guess for me, tour has been a killer way to get out of town a few times a year. So I haven’t been able to weigh the con’s heavily enough to bail. Yet.

How about your childhood / highschool friends, did a lot of them moved to major cities? How does it feel meeting them again? I’m asking because, my sister is still living in our hometown and when she meet her old friends or former classmates,they always commiserate her, since in their eyes she seems to be stuck in that tiny town and missing out everything that bigger cities have to offer.
A lot of people took off, for sure. But a pretty high number of them either only went an hour or two away or have already moved back. Eau Claire’s a weird place, because it’s nice and safe and whatever to grow up in, say through college… and then there’s nothing… and then when you’re 60 or whatever, it’s a nice little small town by the river again and you can retire here. So like, nobody really does any LIVING here. It’s been getting better, culture-wise and stuff, but still it’s the kind of place where the gas station wins “Best Coffee in Town” in the annual poll in the paper, you know? So big cities are appealing, but I think home is what you make of it. And a lot of the kids who took off for college came back later because they see the potential.

What motivates you to stay in that place? According to the lyrics of “Decline Of Midwestern Civilization” you are not very happy the current state of your hometown.
Well, like I said, I see potential in any place. Home is what you make of it. But there’s also logistical shit, I guess. And, I do really love the town as well. It’s beautiful, right on the rivers, 5 minutes from wild land. Everything’s a half hour bike ride away. But like, I’ve got a great job here and a nice apartment that I totally couldn’t afford in a big city, and my girlfriend goes to school near here, and so on. I just don’t have a reason to take off. In “Decline…” I’m not even as much talking about Eau Claire as some of the farming towns that surround it. Most of central Wisconsin is still dairy farming land, but at this point, all the family farms are dying out and it’s just big corporate plots and factory farms. Then when the mortgage crisis hit and people started losing their fuckin homes on top of it, things looked pretty bleak sometimes. You drive through some of these little towns, where the population is like 400 and all the businesses even on their Main St. are closed up or for sale. It’s a wild sight.

A name on a map, the stench of shit and tar.
A neglected speed limit, a well-attended church and bar.
We’re a handpainted „For Sale“ sign in a haze 3 decades old.
Skeleton of a place so many once called home.
Hoar frost on a power line.
A million wasted days and as many wasted minds.
When the farming’s done in factories, what’s left to do under gray skies?
Left for dead out here a half-century ago.
Fallow fields like bodies hidden beneath the snow.
St. Peter, please
don’t call us cause we can’t afford to go.
We owe our homes and souls to those on the trading floor.
Sold for pennies
on the dollar just minutes before
we spotted water creeping up towards our front door.
And God knows we’ve been bet against.
We’ve got Monsanto seeds and hands stained a dead yellow.
Hedged into penniless irrelevance.
Only bill collectors ever seem to call.
Existing solely so snow has a place to fall.
St. Peter, please
don’t call us cause we can’t afford to go.
We owe our homes and souls to those on the trading floor.
Sold for pennies
on the dollar just minutes before
we spotted water creeping up towards our front door.
(The Decline of Midwestern Civilization • ARMS ALOFT)

Does living in a rather rural area have effects on your lyrics / songwriting? Do you think you might do something different, if you lived in Chicago or New York?
The dumb answer I guess is no, because of the internet. I’ve got access to whatever some dude in New York or wherever has. But I guess there specific things that sometimes people from small towns can reference that some people who have never left a big city would miss. Not even just for myself so much, but think of like John K. Samson from the WEAKERTHANS or John Darnielle from the MOUNTAIN GOATS… shit, I don’t know. It’s a different perspective, in a way. I have no reason to reference a skyscraper or the subway or whatever. And anyone from Chicago talking about fallow fields or whatever is full of shit.

BON IVER are also from your hometown. Do you have any funny stories with/about those guys to share?
Indeed they are. Ahh, I don’t know about funny stories or anything. I personally don’t know any of the dudes that well. I think the other guys in Arms Aloft may have gone to high school with a couple of them though…? Oh shit, so, the first show I ever played, in a punk cover band called THE JASONS, we played our high school’s battle of the bands and lost to Mt. Vernon, which was Justin’s first band. They did some WEEZER covers and if I remember right, Justin sat cross-legged on the stage the whole time and it TOTALLY pissed me off. Still does right now, a little. Ha.

Some years ago America’s Promise, a foundation found by Colin Powell, named Eau Claire one of the best 100 communities for young people? Would you agree on that?
Ehhhh, I guess. I mean, you’re not going to die here. And that’s probably what some shit like “America’s Promise” would be looking for. It’s a fine place to grow up, just dull sometimes. But I think small towns provide you with the kind of boredom that makes you look around one day when you’re 13 or whatever and go, “FUCK. THIS.” and start playing shows in basements or skateboarding or whatever the shit gets you out of there.

What is the naughtiest thing you did as a suburban youth?
Shit, ahh… I was definitely a nerd. Like, smoking dope out of a Mt. Dew can behind the ice rink was pretty fucking sketchy as far as I was concerned. A couple of the other dudes have some stories, but last time I told one in an interview, Isaiah’s mom found out for the first time that he had been to jail. So I gotta save those, I’m afraid.

What’s the creepiest/ most supernatural thing that’s happened to you?
You ever get sleep paralysis? It’s this crazy thing where your body falls asleep before your mind or something. So you’re like lucid, but not able to move or control anything. And then you start dreaming, kind of. So you like, see people in the room and shit. And you can’t feel if you’re breathing or not, so you panic and usually that’s what wakes you up. Way back in medieval times, people thought it was you being possessed by a devil sitting on your chest, because a lot of the time, you see something right on you, right? Super fucked. Well, that happened to me once and it was the scariest shit ever. I was like 9. I thought 100% that I had been abducted by the same motherfuckers who took Mulder’s sister. For. Sure. It was like 10 years later that I finally heard about what it really was. So dumb. My girlfriend has it happen like once a week. I’d blow my brains out. Scariest shit ever. Wiki it, dudes.

What’s in store for you guys in 2015?
Hard to say, I guess. Doing some touring with GUERILLA POUBELLE in the states this fall, and some weekends and stuff this summer. Probably going to try and put together a new record this summer as well. So if anybody wants to float us a check so we can record that, that’d be tight. Otherwise, just gigs and stuff. Kickin ass. Pissin in the wind. Shittin where we eat. Crying in a bucket. Fuck it.

…that’s it. Thanks a lot!
Thanks man! I have to say, I usually dread interviews because it’s always the same stock questions and stuff. Thanks for actually giving a shit. It was way more fun to do this one than lots of others. You actually set me up to have stuff to say! Haha.

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