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Interview: Arms and Ears’ Rocco D’Angelo on local roots, the importance of album art, and playing under the influence

 

I’m looking out my window right now, from the lofted portion of my apartment. It’s 7:22 a.m., and it’s dark in here, except for the soft, blueish light filtering through the bay windows. My linen sheets are warm and feel like the beginning to the perfect autumn day — and the tree out front, with all of its even more perfect orange leaves, is winking back at me. I’m listening to Boston-based indie-pop band Arms and Ears, and it dawns on me that something in their music is almost reminiscent of my current perch in this season’s tendencies for the transformations, leaves and all. Singer/guitarist Rocco D’Angelo’s vocals resonate at that perfect octave: one that screams at boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, boy and girl spend lots of time jumping in puddles, and holding hands in a New England fall. Arms and Ears’ music entertains a kind of sound that is at times theatrical and pop-driven; however, in those moments of impeccably produced sound, one finds a sort honest and raw outlook through each piece of instrumentation.

I first met D’angelo last summer at The Last Safe & Deposit Company in Lowell, Massachusetts. I was sitting at the bar, drinking a disgusting amount of Fireball. He was, thankfully not. I woke up the next morning with terrible acid reflux; Rocco probably, I’m assuming, did not. However, we spent most of the night discussing our love for Gwen Stefani; how incredibly old school No Doubt was, and what a babe the femme is. Somewhere in this conversation, I may or may not have admitted to the fact that I would most definitely swing the other way, if it meant getting to make out with Gwen. So outside a common love for Orange County’s best band, and a common connection to Chase Johnson of Open Air Stereo (a fellow Laguna Beach High alumni), I knew there was something special, energetic, and youthful in D’Angelo and Arms and Ears. It took a long time to coordinate, but Vanyaland and myself finally got to catch up with the artist right before his show, tonight with Young Rival and Born Ruffians at The Sinclair in Cambridge.

Madi Silvers: Why did you decide on the band name Arms and Ears and not Eyes and Toes or something like that?

 
 

Rocco D’Angelo: [laughs] The band Arms and Ears came about because it was a really funny thing. As a kid I used to work with someone who, and this is when I was in another band, was asking me, how do you write a song? And I was just kidding around and I was like, oh with my arms and ears. And I always thought that was like funny and clever. So I always said I wanted to eventually name one of my bands Arms and Ears, and this is kind of an outlet for that.

How did the band Arms and Ears come around then? and how did you start with music in general?

Well, I started playing guitar when I was like 10, like super young, and I started playing in bands when I was in high school. The drummer for Arms and Ears, his name is Alex [Martin], we went to high school together. We always kind of jammed, but never really had another band, so we didn’t really do anything. But through our life we always jammed, and finally it got to a point where we were like, lets just start a band. So we started Arms and Ears, and pretty much it’s just an artistic collaboration between me and our drummer Alex.

 
 

Where did you grow up?

We both grew up in Everett, so Everett High School.

How do you think that environment has influenced your music?

I don’t know if it’s so much growing up in Everett, but that it’s growing up in Boston, and what was popular at the time. I was in a band playing emo, indie, and even sort of on the border of screamo and [Alex] wasn’t really into that at the time. So that’s why we never really started anything. But eventually, both of our musical tastes matured and we kind of met ways in our influences. We both started listening to different types of bands. Then we kind of also grew our own musical tastes like based upon each other. Like he would show me a punk song, or a hip-hop song, and I would show him a rock song, and it kind of stemmed from our own personal taste in music. So like, what our parents’ listened to. A lot of it was what was popular in high school at the time. I have a huge love for rock and like emotional music and what not.

 
 

So in listening to your music, the most recent track I could find was “Lead Me Out”, but what do you have planned for the future?

Well right now we are in the middle of recording a full length. So we’re just kind of compiling, instead of releasing singles like we did with “Lead Me Out” and “Laugh It Off”, we decided to do that for a while. We decided to release singles, because it’s easier. A full album is kind of a lot to absorb at one time for people. So we were doing that for a while. But, I’ve always wanted to release an entire album for my whole life, so I was just like let’s just do it. I’ve wanted to do this for my whole life, and I would be so mad at myself, like if I die before I ever recorded and released a full length. I feel like it’s kind of at a point in my life where I have enough inspiration and drive to do it, and that’s why right now we’re really going for it. It’s probably going to be done summer of 2016. So it’s going to take a little while. But, just because based on our funds and what not. It’s kind of hard to fund an album, especially for an indie band. So I’d say spring or summer of 2016 we should be releasing a full length, that I’m super pumped about. A lot of the songs that we’ve come up with so far, it’s just a cohesive idea. The songs come from the same place that’s really great right now.

What is that place?

 
 

I don’t know, just like an inspiration from like things that are effecting me, and then it’s just like you know, my urge to kind of inspire and to create.

So the inspiration is more or less, the want to put something out there that’s a representation of yourself?

Exactly, and being able to express myself, while also being effected by everything outside of me.

You’ve also had a lot of experience writing music for other people, haven’t you?

 
 

Yes. I helped Chase Johnson and Open Air Stereo write a couple of songs. It’s funny because I’m writing lyrics and these are totally, you know, about me. But, then you hear someone else singing them, and you’re like this is kind of weird and crazy.

How do you like that? Do you see yourself continuing writing music for other people?

I think it’s something that I can definitely do and I like doing. Although, there is always going to be a part of me that’s like, alright this is my song. Especially with the Open Air Stereo stuff, I was writing more to cater to their sound. They are more pop driven and pop influenced. They have a formula that they are kind of going after, which isn’t to say that I don’t use that sometimes in my own songs. But, definitely, you know I kind of catered more to that sound writing for them. It’s almost kind of easier doing something like that, because you have an idea of what it’s going to sound like. With some of [Arms and Ears] stuff, it’s kind of all over the place. One song might be a pop song, where another one might be a more slow and folky one. It’s definitely different.

 
 

That’s really interesting, so then in your upcoming show at The Sinclair [tonight], do you plan on playing some of your new material that you’ve been in the process of recording?

I think we’re going to play two new songs, along with the singles and stuff that’s on our three EPs before that like “Call a Search” and “Hammer and Feather”. We’re going to play two new songs that I’m really excited about, and I think it’ll react well. They are very like rock, ’60s driven. Or like ’60s rock, so I think it’ll kind of fit in with that crowd, Born Ruffians, and Young Rival.

Word. How did you wind up booking this show? It’s so cool you’re on the same bill as Born Ruffians.

I know, I’m so pumped, Born Ruffians is awesome! I got the show because I had booked previously with Carl [Lavin] from Bowery beforehand. We used him to book through Great Scott. So, I was on The Sinclair’s website, and I saw that Born Ruffians was playing, and I just emailed [Carl] over and over and over again. I was just like literally non-stop. I was like “Carl, we really want this show, I think it would be really great.” I probably emailed him about five times, until he was finally like “Let me see what’s up.” Then a month later, well then I would remind him, and be like, “Hey any news about that Born Ruffians show?”, and he would be like “Nothing yet.” But then he was finally like, “The tour manager liked your stuff, you’re in.” So that day I was like YESSSSSS!

So persistence is the key?

Yes, oh my god. I’m pumped, I’m just nervous, I hope we don’t sound like shit.

 
 

You’re not going to sound like shit.

Uh I know, I know. I’m just always worried about how our live sound is going to be. But when I get up on stage it won’t matter. Then when I get off, I’ll be like did we sound good, did we sound like shit?

Do you get the butterflies before you do get up there? Any pre-show rituals.

Uh, no, but for pre-show rituals, I just drink.

So you perform better when you’re under the influence?

 
 

Just a little bit. I like to have just a little buzz on. Like a couple beers. I’ve been playing shows since I was 16. So at this point I might get like a little anxious beforehand, just organizing everything that day, and making sure that everyone is there. Making sure it’s all running smoothly. But, then when mI get on stage, I’m like alright I know this. I know what to do now.

Alright I have one last question, that I’ve been dying to know, because it’s absolutely perfect… who does your cover art?

Oh dude, that’s our drummer. That’s Alex. He’s also an illustrator, and he’s fucking amazing.

Yeah, they are beautiful, especially the “Lead Me Out” one— there is kind of a grittiness under the sugary, pop kind of aesthetic all in the mix.

Yeah it’s so cohesive and I love that. And Alex knows me, and everything about my life, and I know everything about his life. So when he hears a song, it’s pretty transparent to him what it’s about, because we just know each other so well. So he’ll be like “I want to do artwork for this,” and as soon as he says that I get so pumped. Because, I just know that he gets it, and it’s just so perfect. It’s beautiful, when I saw that [cover art], I was like, “Dude I love you — you’re great.” It was amazing, he’s so good, and he just got everything. I think with the songs you know they’re romantic love songs. I mean not all of them, but they’re personal. But I think the songs are something that everyone relates to. They are personal, but then they are unpersonal. Everyone is a human being, and everyone experiences the same things. And I think that certain people react the same way to certain things, and I think it’s universal.

ARMS AND EARS + YOUNG RIVAL + BORN RUFFIANS :: Thursday, October 29 at the Sinclair, 52 Church St. in Cambridge, MA :: 8 p.m., 18-plus, $15 :: Advance tickets :: Bowery Boston event page