What do you think of Thrill Jockey signing all these Baltimore bands, including Arbouretum, over the past few years?
It's fine with me. We've always had good bands here, but I think it took the situation reaching a certain critical mass in order to interest Thrill Jockey. They’ve been branching out more and more from the kinds of bands they started with in the 90's. From a vantage point a little closer to the inside, it feels quite natural.
Arbouretum recently played at Thrill Jockey’s 20th anniversary celebration in Baltimore. What were your favorite moments from the show?
I really enjoyed talking to Ed Schrader, who struck me as an interesting and hilarious guy. It was great hanging with the other bands—Future Islands, Pontiak, Tortoise—and the label folks. Also, the humus was pretty good. I was into all of it. There really wasn't a dull moment from anyone—such a great night of music overall.
A bit like fellow Baltimoreans Lungfish, your music has been incredibly focused and consistent over the years. What accounts for that?
Well I think we've had different emphases on different aspects of our sound on each of our records, but you're right in that there has been a lot of consistency as well. I think a lot of it is just that over the course of various phases of the band, there's been an attempt to refine this sense of an Arbouretum identity. The paradox is that the more we've explored, the stronger that identity has become.
"Coming Out of the Fog" feels like it could be a transitional song, in that it could be signaling a shift in sound/approach. What's the significance of the song/title for you?
There are a lot of different ways of looking at it. One way is commemorative. Maybe someday, people when they are growing up could have a ritual like a Bar/Bas Mitzvah, where they enter adulthood. Then at some point, years later, they could have a "Coming out of the Fog" ritual, where one's aims and ideals have crystallized and the path becomes clear. This might not have an age limit—you could just do this when you're ready and when the situation warrants it.
Your Jimmy Webb cover (“Highwayman”) blew me away last year. Are you a fan of his work, or just that song? Any other covers in the works?
Thank you! I do like his work, though I have only heard one album of his. "Highwayman" felt like it needed to be done. Out of all the versions that had been recorded by different people, there was a side to the song that hadn't been touched on, so we took it upon ourselves. We've done more covers since then—we actually had a covers EP that we did as a tour-only release this past year. It feels like we've done enough of that for now though, and that's why we purposefully didn't include any on the new record.
What's your assessment of the local music scene these days? Any favorite local bands?
It's been consistently great for the past few years. Some newer bands I've really enjoyed lately are Horse Lords, the Sterling Sisters, and Wild Honey. Microkingdom has been one of my favorites around here for a while, as have the Pilgrim and Future Islands. It's not hard to go out to several good local shows a week if you know where to look. If there's a particular style of music that interests you, chances are there's someone around here doing something like that, and doing it quite well.
Arbouretum will play a record release show February 8th at Golden West, with Sterling Sisters and Drums of Death opening.