Arbouretum is one of the best bands out there at the moment. Their long, spaced-out rock songs are filled with hauntingly beautiful melodies and Dave Heumann's ferocious guitar playing. The band's new album, Rites of Uncovering, was released on Thrill Jockey last week and is one this writer's favorite albums of the past several months. The album has the same amount of raw energy and eleven-minute journey-to-the-center-of-the-earth guitar solos as the band's live shows. As we all know, it's hard to capture a great representation of a live show on a studio record, but Arbouretum has succeeded with flying colors with Rites. I sat down with Arbouretum's songwriter and lead guitarist, Dave Heumann, last week before their electrifying show at Mercury Lounge in New York City.
How did Arbouretum get to where it is now?
Well, the band was started as a recording project more or less in 2002 and that recording was what ended up being our first record, Long Live The Well-Doer. Pretty much me and our first drummer, David Bergander, were the only real band members at that time and we sort of got other people to help with the album and to play shows. Didn't really have a steady lineup for a while. Walker, who's in the band now - he got involved around that period and a few months into it. He's on that first album. Then it was the three of us who were the core of the band for a while and about a year ago, stuff started getting really busy with David's other band, Celebration, and he kind of left to pursue that full time. Pretty soon into it they had a label deal. The guy from TV On The Radio is an old friend of theirs. He realized that it was going to be a pretty time consuming thing. We wanted this to be a full time thing too so we stopped playing with him. We didn't really have a band for a while for a few months, maybe a year. Then we got Mitchell from Lungfish, he was playing with us for a while and our current bass player, Cory. Mitchell was with us for a little while, he kind of left and we got Dan. It ended up being really quick with Dan. We met him within a week. So yeah, that's kind of the evolution of the lineup. As far as how we got on the record label. The first one was on a really that the band Anomoanon started. It was called Boxtree and it was one of these things where you're on BoxTree, you do everything yourself. You have to find distribution. It's basically a name to put on to show affiliation. Now, Thrill Jockey, they have all these resources like press, money, and all that stuff. It's more of a real deal.
What's attractive about Baltimore? Is there something attractive about the city for musicians?
I think one of the things that I hear a lot that is becoming less and less true is that it's inexpensive. Property value has gone up pretty high in the past couple years and it's made that less so. It still is inexpensive compared to New York or Philly or DC for that matter. One of the cool things about Baltimore is that you don't have to work a whole lot. You don't have to work 50 hours a week and have barley any time to work on band stuff. No real expensive practice space..which is a problem in New York. You have more time to devote to music stuff on the whole. So that's kind of cool. And the other thing about it that some people have mentioned (and it's true) is that there's a lack of pretentiousness. You can't get away with trying to create this ridiculous image for yourself grounded in reality. That's kind of cool because it keeps people's heads screwed on straight.
What's the biggest difference in the sound between the first record and the new record?
Well I think the biggest difference... Rites of Uncovering is predominately tracked live. Bass, drums, and guitar, in almost case are tracked at the same time. Long Live the Well-Doer is multi tracked. On the first record we tried to simulate a live feel. On this record we actually have one. This is more of a rock record also and I think it's just kind of reflective of our changing tastes and how we want to present ourselves or the kind of music we think is fun to play. When we started the band it seemed more fun to do mellow stuff and that was probably because it was different from the stuff myself and Dave had done immediately prior. But I don't know, it is really gratifying to play a big noisy rock and roll show. I can't think of anything that wasn't done live. Actually, the only thing that wasn't was the second song, "Tonight's A Jewel." It was tracked with the finger picked guitar and the drums and I did vocals live. Then I overdubbed the guitar solo.
I'm a big Grateful Dead fan and to me the band sounds like a darker version of the Grateful Dead. Not only because of the jams but also because of the melodies. Do you look to them for inspiration?
Yeah, I mean, it's not a conscious thing where we want to start a band with The Grateful Dead as an influence. I think I'm the only one in the band, well maybe Cory, that ever went through a serious phase with them. In the late '80s early '90s I'd go to their shows and all of that. I think it ended up coming through subconsciously with melodies that sounded good to my ears were sort of left there from my formative years.
How did you get involved with playing with Will Oldham?
Well he lived in Baltimore for a while and it's a pretty small circle of musicians. So I think probably people recommended me to them that were saying, "You should check this guy out. He might play well with you."
How many tours did you go on with him?
I played in the studio with Anomoanon and I played this one off single with Will as well. I think I've been on the last four records playing keyboards and singing back up vocals. I did one long tour with Will and I hadn't really been on tour before that at all. I did that in 2001 I went to Europe and there were a couple of short tours after that. One of them was in Spain.
Are there any new bands out there besides the ones that are in the Baltimore scene that you really enjoy?
Yeah, I actually just posted a whole bunch of them on our Myspace page. They're all different from each other too. I don't really know too many people who are doing stuff in the vein that Arbouretum is doing. I haven't listened to it, but I'm sure there's some stuff. I'll get these ones out of the way because I'm involved with them: Television Hill, Human Bell. There's a really good one called Beach House, we like them a lot. Vincent Black Shadow and they are more abrasive as their name would apply. They're a really good rock band. There's Noble Lake. I don't know what extent there are recordings of them. It's one guy and he wasn't doing the singer songwriter thing until a couple of years ago. He keeps getting better. There's this guy Jason Dove, his music is a little poppier, kind of like a rocked out Brian Wilson or something. I really like that. There's this band Wzt Hearts, a band called Ponytail, there's this girl Liz King, and I like a lot of Daniel Higgs solo stuff too.
Since you've played with a lot of bands, are there people out there that you'd like to work with in the future?
Yes. But I'm keeping that under my hat for now. There are three or four people. I mean, you never know. I could jinx it by talking about it. It could end up totally sucking and we could have wasted a lot of time. But there are three or four people I'm thinking of to write songs with.
"Pale Rider Blues" MP3
Rites Of Uncovering album review