A Discussion with Ablehearts (Tom Arsenault)
Interviewed by Corwin Lamm
Ablehearts, a.k.a. Tom Arsenault performed a breathtaking live set at Perfect Wave Gallery’s candelit musical event Devil’s Trumpet in November 2009. The show shortly preceded the release of his album The Flood (Shinkoyo), a masterful work of art long in the making. His performance, though different from his album, expressed his unmistakably unique voice and energy: moving, sublime, and ecstatic. We interviewed Tom after the show in order to better understand the realms he creates, and how he sees his work evolving….
CL: So Explain Ablehearts.
TA: Ablehearts is my solo music project, I sing and write songs. I’ve been fiddling with songs for a few years but not really using any of the material or releasing any of it. Ablehearts is the name of a song I began in high school, I liked the name so I used it for songs, to be like an umbrella I guess, stand under.
CL: Was there a climax to this project? How did you feel it come about?
TA: I’ve always been reluctant to share what I’d consider my “pop” music, but always had a passion for it. I don’t think of Ablehearts as experimental, really. I hear it being called abstract, but I’m not trying to incorporate complexity or new techniques into the way write or play necessarily. The language I use to make music ends up being billed as “experimental” but I don’t do it for the sake of experiment. It’s more of a language thing, not a semantic thing, I think. Though I have used stories and emotion in my multimedia or collaborative work, just rarely was it the work that was cathartic for me to listen to or perform.
CL: Do you plan to keep going with this formula?
TA: For Ablehearts, yeah. It is one thing. It’s solo so I can do whatever I want. I have been changing it up though. I’ve never performed with the same rig twice. In a band you have to keep things more organized in terms of jobs, you need to know your parts and get the song across. But Ablehearts is a solo project, so I have that luxury.
CL: You could bring in revolving musicians…
TA: Yeah that’s something I’m looking forward to doing.
CL: Tell me about the record.
TA: The record has songs that are a few years, four years old, and songs I finished this summer. They are small songs. They feel like post cards. They come from a sort of single mindedness, a certain character I felt part of me. Maybe it’s like exfoliating or maybe it’s like watering a garden, it’s hard to tell now. There is shame and guilt, some pride, some hope. It feels good. I didn’t think I was making a record so the songs come from hours of recording and improvising and writing without the notion of an endgame in mind. It took a long time to release because I have a lot of material. I think only 6 of the original 18 tunes I planned to clean up and fill out made it on this record. It feels right. Some of new songs were left out because the old ones wanted to see some light. And if you add a tune that is more complex or mature or fleshy than the others, the other tunes want to get there, so I kept it as a calm little group.
CL: Can you talk about some of the technical aspects of making this record?
TA: Sure. Two of the tracks are straight live recordings. Some of the other songs I would learn and re record but I would just connect more with the original recordings so I’d redress them and sing over them dry. I pick the songs where the lyrics ring true for me, that is probably the most important part of this record, which may surprise people, but that’s how I weighted this one. I never wrote any of the lyrics down, unless I was trying to learn them. I’d say 90 of the words are sung on the spot. Sometimes I sing the same idea until something good comes out of it and I like when that happens cause I feel like I’m not lying for a moment. Though I recorded the vocals for Ryan 200 times at least and I ended up keeping the first take. That one I moved stuff around, I didn’t improvise that one.
CL: Is that how you usually work?
TA: That’s how I work mostly. Because I put this out I can see my method more clearly and try some new things. Like more sculpting potentially.
CL: How do you explain the title?
TA: The Flood… It felt like a religious record for me, like a love interest, but a devotional love, one that’s involved with a general guilt. It beholds God more than a specific person, I think. I guess that makes things kind of easier because you’re really less responsible if that’s who you address yourself and weaknesses to. You get this divine salvation, white lights and furious angels, not a regular body or a person smoking on a porch too cold and sad to walk home. A flood is so much more eternal than a depression nap. I thought it felt good to say, the songs can be mistaken as small sentiments but I wanted to suggest something larger. Also, it just looked good on the cover. It’s innocuous, but still seems reckoning.
CL: You also make videos for the songs don’t you?
TA: That’s something I like to do. It takes longer than I like but I have a few I’m making at a time. And then I can’t really think of the song outside of the video. I’d like to show them in little frames in a gallery setting. I don’t think of them as music videos and then I don’t think of the song as a song really when I’m done with the video. They are their own media poem you know. Something independent.
CL: Have you been performing the record?
TA: Not really, I got complaints because I wasn’t playing any of the tunes from the record. It’s funny because it never even occurred to me to play any of those songs, I forgot about them totally, I just played, new ones or old ones. Bands tour their albums, but it felt to me like when I made “The Flood” I finished the songs. But I’m excited to play them now that people brought it up.
CL: Is that you being humble or trying to move on…?
TA: I don’t know, I prepare each set specifically for each show, so I just decide what instruments I’ll use and that usually dictates what songs I’m able to play.
CL: Is this something you use in your writing process? This element of surprise or evolution?
TA: I think I was into that when making this record, but now, moving forward I wanna get my hands on some mega polished deathstar arena rock structure, some control and what I would have thought of as pedestrian but now feel it as universal catharsis. I mean something as simple as having a chorus. Having things accounted for and perhaps being less introspective. I’m having relative success. I’m able to reduce the chaos but its hard to keep the process a dream, a self surprise, I’m still looking. I’m trying to get more reliable as a music personality, for my own sake, I’m sure. It sounds silly but it costs a lot to take so much time to make a collection and to perform with extra-musical intention. I want to explore the sounds and frame it a bit now. And then ooze the tears in after, add something for the senoritas.
Download Ablehearts' THE FLOOD at
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