ABLE HEARTS (aka Tom Arsenault) is the newest breed of Shinkoyos, with his debut release I’m Worried scheduled for April 2009 on the Shinkoyo Free Juko Jukebox. Beautiful melodies, fractured song structures, jittery electronic loops and melancholy folk guitar: whether youre a noiser, a teeny bopper, a folk purist, or an avant enthusiast, the music of Tom Arsenault is bound to surprise, excite, move, twist, shake, and dissapoint you – all within a single show. Tom does not fit in – but he’ll make you wonder why anybody would want to. We met up with Tom before his Paris London West Nile show to see if he could explain himself…. – Doron Sadja
DS- Hello Tom and welcome. A pleasure to have you here. Can you introduce yourself? Who are you where are you from?
TA- I’m from Montreal, Quebec. I lived in Brazil a while, in Ohio too. I Like to say I’m from Elyria, Ohio, they are both such nice words. I am Thomas Arsenault.
DS- Where do you live now?
TA- I live in New York.
DS- How does montreal compare? I hear such good things.
TA- I don’t really know. I don’t even know the bus roots or any real details about Montreal. I know Sao Paulo much better. I usually see family when I go to Canada. But I hear really good things too. They have that Mutek festival… the French too, they live there. That is a huge thing, a different outlook a different language. But I’m anglophone, not my name or my family necessarily, just where I was raised and went to school. But the French Canadian scene has got to be cool. I’d check Quebec city out too. Yeah I wanna go play there a bunch.
DS- What do you do here in NYC?
TA- I try to make music. Perform it. Some stuff is for video or dance. I like to work on other peoples projects with them. I make videos too. Mostly little poems of videos. Yeah, music and videos. I work at Roulette doing sound reinforcement and recording, and sometimes volunteer at Issue Project Room. I go to new music shows and rock shows and work on art with Shinkoyo family and others.
DS- You are performing at ParisLondonNewYorkWestNile, how does that feel?
TA- Scary! No, and yes. I’m nervous for sure. I get really nervous to perform, for a week or so. And it is harder to play in front of a community of people you know, ya know. And this is a new project this solo singing with guitar and electronics. And I think I’m gonna have to tone it down, we’ll see how this show goes. But really I’m writing and producing and performing the songs all up there with a bit too much gear and it is improvised but it isn’t supposed to sound that way. I just don think I can be really emotive if I have a bunch of things prepared and just play them back. That might change though. I just want to get a bit lost, in the song not the choices. Well, if the song is the choices, then in the spirit of the choices. So I make choices and then try to distill their spirit and transmit that, instead of communicate a song I already know. That all sounds cooler than the results I guess but thats why I improvise them.
DS- Does the music you write fit into a genre?
TA- It could I guess. Like “adult contemporary country noise”. Or something that will pop up for someone and I can just snuggle in. I’ve been called anti-folk, but thats not true. The thing is that is not for me to decide. I think a lot of people are sort of successful doing things that I relate to. Mostly I think the pop aspect really changes it from the rest of the stuff I’m into. There is pulse and words and chords. I’m still really into the texture elements and the changes in fadelity rather than in structure, that isnt really too pop minded. I wish I was Van Morisson, so that is pop. We’ll see how this show goes. I’d like to see the songs get narrative and get some clothes on and some dancers and get some other concerns going. CAuse I’m not much of an instrumentalist so I’m not going to pull out a raging guitar solo. But I might. But really these are kind of country songs and with a slow techno beat. Ya know, guitar and 909.
DS- Do you use a computer?
TA- Not live. I record with one, and edit, but try not to. Not that I against them, cause I use them a lot for music. But I end up, in my solo pop stuff at least, sort of butchering the event by trying to edit it around too much. And live, well it might be easier but for now I’m using hardware. And just getting pushed into thinking the way they are set up and what they can do.
DS- I have a flute would you like to play it?
TA- (PLAYS SAD SONG)
DS- Beautiful tune. That one is hard to play isn’t it.
TA- I like that one it sounds good. I play flutes and shakers in my studio a lot. I think I’ll play flute at this show. I use some flute samples. I like flutes and shakers. DO you have a shaker?
DS- I have makeup, would you like to put some on? What is your involvement in Shinkoyo?
TA- Working on my music really. Helping people work on theirs. There is a lot of sharing and feedback. People listing to recordings together of shows or getting the order of tracks on a record together. Just getting and giving piece of mind and support. And jamming together, and helping out. I’m wasn’t around when Shinkoyo was conceived so I’m not really an administrator or anything, I do have a studio and I record Shinkoyo stuff at an all time low cost of free. The future has secrets. I think we are provide each other, even the family on the west coast, with a group of people to trust and go visit, and work with. Music and life stuff. It is hard to say, it is a day to day thing, a project to project thing.
DS- Is your work effect by where you are?
TA- Of course. I wish it wasn’t. MAybe depending on the type of work your doing. CAuse you can start something somewhere and have a complete vision for it and then finish on a beach and it is still about a cold lonely mountain girl. But I still think the best music I ever made was in my home, with a little sampler and a flute and turntables, but this is where my mom lived and I was still in the kid under the roof phase of life. So it was thew end of the safe days. And I can hear that in it. NYC has challenged me in that way. I thought I might have to pick between art music and pop noise stuff. And all the success and the lives clashing here and all the lure and all the work being one. I really questioned a lot. Thinking what am I doing, what do I want from this. In the end the only songs I finish in the studio are the faster ones. The ones that just happen, and I don’t have to think about them too much and measure them against my day. Well I don’t have time to. Then they have the secret ingredient. But that is just for my work about or from myself. Not working on animations and what not or videos with music to them. Those have more certain goals or desires of their own and don’t make me so sick of myself.
Zeljko McMullen - What are you in love with?
TA- Nice. I love sine waves and wood sounds and cold voices. At least in my songs. I’m easy to please outside of that. I love anything that points to salvation and dramatic righteous victories. And small things too. I don’t really rock things that inform me in like a philosophical or aesthetic way or even in peoples approaches, I’m not about that kind of influence right now.
DS- Do you have any major influences?
TA- Manitoba (before Caribou) that record “Start Breaking My Heart.” That influences me everyday. That changed everything for me in high-school. Before that I only listened to hard techno and hip-hop and Neil Young. And this was all of that and spaces a place for me. Anything that helps absolve me, or inspire gratitude. Paul Simon can come across as a bit Disneyland, but if you say in a song “I love you because I believe in you” and you mean it and there is a vapor or focus about it, then your influencing me, to just more, or to just bother. To trust and to love and all that, or repent, face shame, little things like that. Devotional music is always inspiring and connecting, and inclusive, those things. I don’t really like rock clubs for that reason. The format is dismal, the night the lights that whole thing. Dance Clubs work much better I think. But I like records better anyway usually than performances. Unless it is acoustic, usually acoustic records are not as good as performances. LIke strings and percussion and stuff, I like that stuff live. Not rock drummers though. Not usually live so much. I love Radiohead more and more, and it is a big influence to have friends love other musics and get seduced by them and their music, they make and listen too.
DS- To bring it full circle.
TA- I guess I’m more interested in being 65 and safe with few regrets than any of this music or art stuff. I guess I live my life on a field searching out convenience, but to have to sing a song live is sort of inconvenient and I’m learning a bunch just by being nervous about it. But to be old and safe… that is full circle. And music to help absolve what I’ve become and help me change…. BUt it is different to bring these things to other people. I don’t know what my role is but I make this stuff I will make it in front of people. Maybe performance will be a whole new factor, it has to be no? It makes me all kind of sad.
I don’t think very much…
DS- That’s not true.
TA- Yeah but… it’s not thinking