by Philip Moss and Phil Scarisbrick
Having just signed to Bella Union, Ari Roar has readied his debut album, Calm Down, and hit British shores for the first time. Having just hotfooted it across town after a session with BBC 6 Music, we caught up with Ari (real name, Caleb Campbell) prior to his show at The Eagle Inn, Salford.
Secret Meeting: First of all, welcome to Manchester – or Salford should I say! (Ari had turned up at the wrong venue earlier in the day, having gone to into Manchester, not Salford).
Ari Roar: Yes, Salford! (laughs)
SM: How’s your first UK tour gone so far?
AR: It’s been great, man! This is night three. We flew into London – flying took forever and we did a show the same night with no sleep so that was pretty cool! Yesterday we played Leeds – that city is awesome! We just got back from doing 6 Music. Marc (Riley) was really cool and he was dancing along to all the stuff that he was playing.
SM: Did he tell you he used to be in The Fall?
AR: No, he didn’t! I did not know that! But he just seemed to know about every band ever.
SM: So going back to the beginning, you were in The Polycorns. What did you learn during those days, and how’s it that informing decisions that you’re making now?
AR: I was 21 and I didn’t know much then, but when you’re 21 you think you do. I guess I was more… I wouldn’t say I was wild, but my mentality was more care free – just in the way I lived my life. But now that I’m older I have more wisdom about what I can and cannot do physically. I used to jump around on stage, and then I couldn’t play the next song because I’d be panting! I couldn’t breathe and I’d have to catch my breath.
SM: And has your writing changed? You were playing piano then?
AR: I was trying to be a hardcore pianist. That was right before I moved to writing on guitar. I still write a bunch of key parts, but this record I’m in the current process of writing there is keyboard stuff on.
SM: What was the inspiration behind your move to Seattle?
AR: I lived in Denton, Texas, then moved to Miami before going on to Seattle. I guess I moved because I had a huge group of friends who migrated there from Denton. I was really close with them, so my thinking was that moving to a far away place wouldn’t be too hard if I had a friendship group there. And so it made the transition really easy, as we were all experiencing it for the first time together. It’s beautiful, it’s known for the music. I never moved there with the intent of planting roots, I just wanted to experience more of the country, which you can’t experience for flying there for two days.
SM: So the Ari Roar moniker – is it a persona, a character, is it a name or a band?
AR: It’s all of it. It’s kinda hard to separate your ego, I guess, from your own name. It can make promoting yourself and the whole business side of music easier. I still see myself as a solo artist, but it’s much easier to push my solo art if it’s not my own name. I’ve always liked the name Ari, and then I looked up the meaning of the name and it means lion, so I figured Roar would be a good surname to Ari. I came up with that seven or eight years ago.
SM: McKenzie Smith (of Midlake) has been involved – where does he fit in?
AR: He recorded a couple of tracks with me. I sent him some songs, and he recorded some drums for me before I went away and mixed everything at home. He’s on both EPs that are on Bandcamp that I did before this upcoming record.
SM: Was it a conscious decision not to include any of the songs from the EPs on Calm Down?
AR: They’re older songs, and I’d written a completely new record and recorded it in New York with a producer, so it had this continuity to it that I didn’t want to disrupt with older songs. I mean, I may release some of the older songs that I haven’t released yet as a compilation- y’know, b-sides and rarities. So it’s not off the table.
SM: You mentioned the producer, Hunter Davidson. How did that come about, and what was behind the decision to go with him?
AR: I heard he was a big fan of Frankie Cosmos and liked that record, Next Thing. I was playing it all the time, and I liked the ingredients to it – it had really nice sonics. So I just looked up the producer on the back of the record, and sent him a message on Facebook. He was like, ‘Send me some demos and we’ll talk about it,’ so I recorded some demos in about two or three weeks – just phone recordings – and I sent them to him.
SM: Did you have a deal at that point?
AR: I didn’t, no. I just paid for it out of my pocket. I had been doing a bunch of recordings on my own and I decided I wanted to mix it up. I could have recorded the record on my own, but, for whatever reason, the inspiration to contact him was ingrained with the songs I’d written as it all happened at the same time.
SM: For people who haven’t heard the album, it consists of fifteen songs in just twenty eight minutes – what was behind that decision?
AR: I just try and write conducive songs or weird small ideas. I don’t really write long songs – I’ve never written a five-minute song. These just tended to come out short and it seemed cuter – I figured people might play them twice if they’re shorter! I was finding myself doing that with a lot of 60s songs. It has a weird effect live too, because you finish the song by the time people are getting into it. It does keep the momentum going.
SM: Bella Union is a go to label for fans of independent music. How did that relationship come about?
AR: I have been aware of Bella Union for seven or eight years, ever since I started listening to Beach House, Midlake and Fleet Foxes. I was friends with the guys in Midlake – we’re both from the same town – and Eric would always share whatever I was working on at the time. For years, it never panned out for whatever reason, then it finally did. It was persistence! I’ve met John Grant many times too and he’s always visiting Texas. I met him when he was sleeping on my friend’s couch ten years ago, right before he released Queen of Denmark.
SM: What else are you into, music wise, at the moment?
AR: I just started listening to the new Beach House album – I love their last album, Depression Cherry. There’s also the new Frankie Cosmos album and Deerhunter – I love everything they put out! I’ve got everything on vinyl, but I’ve still never seen them live.
SM: And finally, our last question, what’s your Essential Sunday album?
AR: Mild High Club comes to mind. I can’t remember the name of the album, but it’s the one with the blue cover. It is addictive, man! It’s so good!