The diversity and wide range of styles Arum Rae uses to make up her impressive catalog would make any songwriter envious. Her styles range from Americana and folk-based singer-songwriter kind of material to heavier garage rock with urban flavored beats you would hear Kanye sampling. So what makes the Virginian creative fuel burn with such fire? As a songwriter for some songs in season 1 of Nashville, Arum has worked closely with the Black Keys, Gary Clark Jr, and The Civil Wars, and performs as part of a duo or three-piece band across the country.
So how has Arum been able to cast such a wide a net across so many genre styles successfully with her mature sound at such a young age? I sat down with Arum before her show at Mercury Lounge, during a stop on her mini east coast tour performing with a new full-band (which includes Pavement’s Steve West on drums) to talk about her two 2014 releases, upcoming material, and how she comes up with and pulls off her musical diversity.
P&W: So how are ya?
Arum: I’m good. I mean I’m in good company
Arum shares a laugh while referencing those sharing the dressing room with her which include bandmates and family members
P&W: Doing a little mini-tour/east coast tour?
Arum: Mini tour, yeah
P&W: Nothing too overwhelming? Five or six shows on this one right?
Arum: No this is great. I think it’s six. It started because, ICE Festival in Virginia Beach asked us to play at dinner one night recently in Lexington where I’ve been staying. When I got home I texted Steve (West) if he wanted to play this one random gig with me, and he said sure. So when I told my agent we’re in and then they thought we should book some shows around that one, then it became this tour. Then it became Steve West playing with Arum Rae and then became a full band which is Summer from the band Baroness, he’s in the original lineup, and Lulu who is a jazz trombone player who would practice at the same house with us. So we put this band together and it’s like yeah this works or whatever.
P&W: And this is the first night/stop of the tour?
Arum: (Laughs) Yeah, yeah.
P&W: So you have a new project that you’re promoting on this run?
Arum: There is a new project but not out until 2016. I got to record it October 1st in Austin.
P&W: So you’ll be testing some songs out on the road that you hope to put on the album?
Arum: Yeah for sure. I’ve been doing that for the past few months with some random shows but we’re doing three new songs tonight. That’s the best time to do it. I feel like you go in and record then you go on out on tour and play the songs live and say ‘Oh man I wish we had recorded it like this’, so it’s nice to play a few new ones before recording.
P&W: So are you pretty pumped to play some of the new shit?
Arum: Oh yeah. I just got the okay for the album deal, so I’m very excited for all that work ahead of me with that.
P&W: Are you nervous to play songs live for the first time?
Arum: Of course. There’s two things that happen. When you know you have new stuff, you play an excitement to it as opposed to playing the same songs you’ve been playing for the past few years. So I’m nervous in the sense that I want it to be good, but I feel fresh when it comes to playing them and wanting new things and showing them off.
P&W: You released two EPs last year, Warranted Queen and Waving Wild. Were those two separate projects, or was there a huge group of songs that you just put out separately?
Arum: They were actually recorded opposite of how they were released. I had the project that would become Waving Wild just sitting on the shelf but I wanted to move forward musically, so I released Warranted Queen and then decided to put out Waving Wild. The reason Waving Wild had gotten put on the shelf is because I was in the process of signing with a major label the confusion of taking care of that while keeping the music coming out while also writing new material, while not wanting the Waving Wild material to just sit there was just like ugh.
P&W: Isn’t it such a huge pain in the ass as an artist, having to deal with all those external factors?
Arum: It is, it is. They’re motherfuckers and it’s a heartbreak is what it is because it kills so much time and momentum creatively too. So I was just like ‘You know I don’t care, let’s just put this out.’
P&W: Can you really hear a difference in the musical personality between the two?
Arum: I mean not to me, I can’t. I feel like I have such a significant vocal sound, but sonically yes because one was programmed and one was via live band. I mean all the songs were written at the same time, and they were all supposed to be on the same record. When I recorded Warranted Queen, we wanted to get that out and it just came to the realization that we were just going to do an EP, even though it was supposed to be a full album.
P&W: Overall would you say you’re still really happy with how they both turned out even with all the moving parts making it tough for it to be ideal?
Arum: I mean yeah I’m still proud of them and how is it that I want to move forward? Fuck yeah I’m proud and it worked, because I love going back and listening to Tom Waits because he has so many personalities to his music, and I’m the same way the way I’m ever-changing.
P&W: Your style of songwriting is so diverse. Almost in a way, you can pick out each song on both EPs and ask if they really belong on the same project with each other because the genres you’re touching across all the songs are so diverse and different, but you’re able to make it work. What are you listening to and playing to regurgitate such diverse styles in your own voice?
Arum: I listen to everything. I think it’s our generation where all our iPods are full with anything from country, to Tupac and Jay-Z, to Mazzy Star, and all these different artists. Since so many artists and styles influenced me personally, I’m just like digging for what I’m trying for at each moment. I listen to a lot of James Blake, Radiohead, I mean Mazzy Star I grew up on. ‘Fade Into You’ was one of the first songs I learned. I use to sing hip-hop vocals for bands and rappers in New York. Like rappers from the Bronx would ask me to sing the hooks for their tracks at Quad Studios in Times Square. That was like 13 years ago. I mean I love hip-hop because of the beats and the lyrics especially, I mean I’m a big lyrical person, very much so. I’m not going to try and be a rapper but I love R&B too. I’m still trying to find the bulls eye, with this next record I’m kind of there but there are so many things that move me.
P&W: So then what’s the mindset with each song? Do you go into each one with a similar mindset to trying to touch all these genres?
Arum: Not at all, no way. I do try to steer very clear of sounding like anyone, but I know so many lyrics from Gershwin and Cole Porter to Dylan, like I study all these people and if I find something similar that I’ve done to them then I have to go another way. Then I end up maybe in my own field, but that’s the point. They move me so much, but I’m not trying to do anything but really dig into myself. One of the best things is that I saw Billie Holiday go into another singer’s concert, and she was so excited that Billie came to her show, and I wont say who, but this singer was pretty famous on her own, but she was kind of regurgitating Billie the whole night and at the end Billie said ‘I came out because I wanted to see YOU, I didn’t come to see you try and be me.’ That was just like whoa. That quote really showed me so much with just try to be yourself. That’s scary, to me that’s terrifying.
P&W: So what would you want to be quoted as to try and get the same message across?
Arum: Be honest. Honesty is so simple of a cliché without saying, but man just be honest with it. You don’t have to be smart to be honest. I think as humans we all feel and want the same things, so when you’re writing a song about love, EVERYONE can relate to it.
P&W: And you’ve got Steve West playing with you this tour, when’s the first time you saw or listened to Pavement?
Arum: I’ve actually never seen them live, wait no I saw them at their reunion show in Austin. 2004 maybe was the first time I ever heard them. I’d babysit his kids in return for studio time. He mixed and produced my first record in 2004 that was recorded here in Bushwick and hated it so I took it to Steve to remix and fuck it up a little and he did a fantastic job. He just moved enough parts around to make it sound cool.
P&W: You put out the new single in ‘I Love Love’ recently, is that going to be the first single off the upcoming project?
Arum: No, well it’s being released as a single right now because of all those deals and moving parts that were going all over, and the distribution people were very excited about it so we put it out. It’s a very non-descript thing with a style that I never really put out. It was like an accident.
P&W: It’s a great easy-going, melancholy, rainy day kind of song.
Arum: Why thank you. You know I wasn’t going to anything but I actually had to have my friend hold my hand with the way we did it. I’d ask ‘Is this the corniest thing I’ve ever put out?’
P&W: I mean you could say it’s a corny title, but fuck it there have been way worse.
Arum: Oh yeah, but it’s like who doesn’t love love? I mean I guess I’m at the age where I just don’t care. I’ve noticed from reactions with my friends that I’ve never put out a song where I’m that vulnerable because and I’ve been super surprised.
Article: Tom Shackleford