ANDREW WHITEMAN & ARIEL ENGLE: AROARA, BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE
Canadian indie-folk duo AroarA are a force to be reckoned with. Comprised of Andrew Whiteman and Ariel Engle, their musical partnership is stuck in the past while hurdling uncontrollably into the future, ultimately synthesizing a truly unique blend of a twenty-first century folk that calls to mind surreal images of Harry Smith compiling out-of-print American blues and folk recordings via GarageBand on an iPad in the year 2013.
Take for instance In the Pines, the debut release from AroarA. Conceived as an ambitious fourteen-song recording spread over an EP and forthcoming LP, the project is directly inspired by the writings of American poet Alice Notely, who released an anthology of poems under the same title in 2007. Despite such literary inspirations, the music itself is equal parts American folk and sonic experimentation, not unlike the musical terrain explored by Whiteman in his previous bands, Broken Social Scene and Apostle of Hustle.
chorusVERSEchorus recently had the opportunity to catch up with both Whiteman and Engle to discuss the origins of AroarA, the inspiration behind In the Pines, as well as the group's plans for the rest of the year.
In the Pines is the debut release by AroarA, a largely self-released affair inspired by the work of American poet Alice Notely. What was the motivation to breakaway from your previous work with Apostle of Hustle and start a new project with AroarA? Similarly, what is it about the poetry of Alice Notely that inspired such a surge of creativity to write the lyrics and complete the five songs that comprise this EP?
Andrew Whiteman: Actually, In The Pines comprises 14 poems, so there's a full 14 songs. We've decided to split them into two parts: a 5 song EP, and then the 9 song full-length. I've been a big podcast fanatic for a long while, and one of my fave sites for material is Penn Sound at the Univ of Penn. They host a shit-ton of recordings by a great many modern and contemporary American poets. Alice Notley had been on my radar for a while, but when I first listened to her poem "At Night the States", I just lost it. This was a number of years ago, and so I began to find and read everything I could.
In The Pines is filled with quotes (and mis-quotes!) from old folk songs that I knew from listening to the Harry Smith Anthology, and the 'narrative' as such, has a distinct sepia feel to it, dust bowl mystery. I had the flash that maybe it would be cool to somehow turn the Alice poems back into folk songs from which they are partly inspired. Well, it turns out AroarA doesn't make folk music. Faux-folk. Digital pluck.
AroarA have been playing a number of shows this month with Martha Wainwright in support of her new album, Come Home to Mama. Are you and Ariel playing in Martha’s band as well as playing AroarA material as the openers?
Also, it was evident from the “Love Over and Over: The Songs of Kate McGarrigle” tribute show at Massey Hall back in June that you guys have been friends with Martha for quite a while. How did this friendship and musical kinship with Martha Wainwright come to be?
Ariel Engle: Martha asked Andrew to join her for a fall tour of the eastern US and Canada and a run in Europe. The opportunity and timing were perfect. Not only to be able to play as AroarA for her audiences, but also sing backup for one of my oldest friends.
Martha and I met at 14 during a production of Hair that our friend put on. The rehearsals were held in Kate's studio at 10 Pins in Montreal. It was the kind of raw space I imagined artists would have- all white with big windows, a grand piano, a futon, sink and clothes rack. Martha was unlike anyone I'd ever met. She'd just moved back from a year in NY. She seemed worldly and wild and I couldn't wait to catch up. We hung out obsessively as teenage girls do.
Your musical career has been significant both in its length and in the variety of projects with which you’ve been associated, playing an active membership role in The Bourbon Tabernacle Choir, Que Vida, Apostle of Hustle, and Broken Social Scene. Having made a life-long career out of playing music, what has your membership in each of these bands taught you about yourself and your abilities as a musician?
Further, having witnessed the changes that have occurred in the music industry over the past three decades, do you find the current digital-based musical climate troubling, or is it simply a natural evolution of how societies produce and consume music?
AW: I find the digital world of music totally liberating. Finally, we can ALL be house music producers!! It obviously really changes 'the game' in terms of putting value on the various 'products' of what pop musicians make, and this is kinda troubling, but only in the sense that the competition is much steeper for the audiences' valuable ear-time, and of course gig-dollar. How are we all gonna make it? Because we're all sensitive people with so much to give....right?
I come from band culture. I think I was in a band even before I played an instrument, it was a family substitute, wasn't it? I suppose the BTC was a long slow come down of a first LSD trip; QV was whatever I liked at the moment and wasn't able to re-vision; BSS was like going to the best Ivy League school, my gold passport on Tom Vu's sloop; and AOH my first time being a "leader". Its impossible to remember all the lessons.
Ariel has provided supporting vocals in the past for a wide variety of artists, including Montag, Melissa auf der Maur, Plants and Animals, and most recently Martha Wainwright. Is In the Pines in fact her debut recording with respect to taking on a role as lead vocalist? Given that her voice is so powerful both live and on record, I find this almost impossible to believe.
AE: I always sang a little but never enough to say that I was a singer. Of course it's all I've ever really wanted to do, but I convinced myself that I shouldn't, and pursued school and different jobs with equal distraction. I think I work best collaboratively.
The first night Andrew and I re-met at Osheaga music fest in Montreal, I boozily asked him if he'd like to collaborate with me. I was surprised at my brazenness - he said "I feel like those things happen organically". Despite the rebuke, here we are. It took a year for me to feel I could sing in front of him - once you say you're going to spend your life with someone, it feels ridiculous not to sing together. I decided at some point to give fear the finger. Here's a refreshing image - A naked cartwheel. It's also known as YES TIME.
Once the support shows with Martha Wainwright reach their logical conclusion, what’s next for AroarA? Are there any shows or tours planned for 2013, and is there anything else that chorusVERSEchorus readers should know about that’s coming up for AroarA in the new year?
AW: We'll release both parts of In The Pines. They are sequenced according to the tempos/keys/feels etc, as most records are. But there is another way to sequence them as well: really interested fans can import them into iTunes and then put them into 'narrative order' i.e. the same sequence as Alice's book, #1-#14. Although more jarring, it allows another way to listen to the story of the whole cycle.
Hopefully we'll be down at SXSW this year, and then of course back in the van, literally wherever the road takes us. In between I oughta try to post some mixes up online and continue the work on the interrupted album AroarA originally started making before In The Pines came along. We actually began as an Arabic disco cover band.