For all the dime-a-dozen self-aggrandizers popping up like weeds in the digital space, a steady, humble band like Lewiston’s Arborea has learned the value of patience.
Buck and Shanti Curran have been cultivating their project for five years, and because they insisted on their art before their status, they are capable of preparing a record like the focused “Red Planet” for release in April.
It’s not every day a band can claim a tour de force on a scale with “Stairway to Heaven” (tongue-in-cheek as the comparison may be), especially when the fast track to stardom is built on three-minute, 30-second hooky ear worms that sell because they refuse to leave your brain.
But Arborea is committed to sharing its hard work, so much so that Buck and Shanti brought their kids on a nationwide tour, not knowing quite what to expect besides adventure. True performers have no set schedule for success; they are just incapable of imagining the world through a different lens.
Before they perform at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Oak & the Ax in Biddeford ($5 cover), GO talked to Buck about the alt-folk duo cast in an old-school mold:
You just spent some time in Philly. Down any cheesesteaks? Tell us some tales.
No, sadly we didn’t down any Philly cheesesteaks, but we got takeout from a fine Mexican taqueria in Philly.
This blog of yours (arboreamusicblogspot.com) is pretty cool. How do you use it?
Our blogspot is our official archive for touring photos and music videos, and on the right side of the page are links to all Arborea’s music sites (Myspace, Facebook, etc.) and our favorite music- and art-related sites. It’s very easy to maintain and it’s constantly being updated, so in a way it’s like a living project.
There are several Arborea music videos now. Is it easy to add film to your creative output?
Filmmaking, shooting video and taking photographs is something Shanti and I are constantly doing. Most of the time, when we create songs, we are thinking in a visual sense anyway, so it’s very easy to make videos to accompany the song.
Our songs (lyrics and music) are meant to represent moods, people and landscapes. The songs and videos are very sensual pieces of art.
How has the compilation CD you produced, “We Are All One, In the Sun: A Tribute to Robbie Basho,” been received so far?
The compilation CD that I created/produced has done very well nationally and internationally. It just made Acoustic Guitar magazine’s Best Acoustic Albums of 2010 (bit.ly/bestAGCDs2010). It also received a four-star review from Mojo (UK), Top Editors Pick for the December issue of Guitar Player magazine, great reviews from Pitchfork and Wire magazine. It made two Uncut Magazine (UK) playlists this year as well.
It took me three long years to get everything organized and I’m really honored to have worked with the folks that ended up on the compilation, and glad that Important Records decided to release it.
The lineup includes an international cast of players, including Steffen Basho Junghans from Germany, Iraqi-born and Grammy-nominated oud player Rahim Alhaj, Fern Knight from D.C., Philly-based musicians Helena Espvall and Meg Baird, Arborea, Glenn Jones from Massachusetts and Cian Nuget from Ireland.
Shanti’s vocal performance on the Basho song that we recorded is one of my very favorite performances by her.
What was the biggest challenge of 2010?
I guess the biggest challenge of 2010 (though incredibly rewarding) was living and touring across America for two months. It takes so much money and resources to do something like that.
We also took our kids with us, so it turned into this incredible homeschooling experience. Our kids got to meet so many amazing people and see so many historic places, and all the different landscapes around the country. We visited as many historic parks as we could along the way.
We all learned quite a bit on that journey.
What are you most looking forward to in the new year?
We are most looking forward to the release of our new record, “Red Planet,” and hopefully a full year of touring throughout the U.S., U.K. and Europe.
We are also looking forward to playing more live shows with Helena Espvall, who played cello on the new record (as well as our 2008 self-titled release). Helena is an amazing musician and she loves to improvise, so it makes for an incredible musical experience when performing with her.
How does “Red Planet” sound in your ears?
Shanti and I are very satisfied with “Red Planet.” It’s our fourth record, and it feels like our best record to date. We’ve definitely matured a lot in the last five years, both as people and musicians.
For the new record, we got to do some things that we’ve wanted to do for quite some time. We arranged and recorded the song “Black is the Colour,” a beautiful Appalachian traditional song of Scottish origin that we felt we could really turn into an Arborea song.
We also covered our favorite Tim Buckley song, “Phantasmagoria in Two,” from his 1967 album “Goodbye and Hello.”
We have new songs, like “Spain,” a song I wrote about longing and love, and about wanting to be back on the road, traveling in Spain (we’ve toured there three years in a row now).
The song “Wolves” is a nine-minute-plus song that feels like an intense old folk tale set to music. Musically it starts out with a simple hammered dulcimer, then eventually Shanti’s voice enters, then another hammered dulcimer part is added, and a classical guitar a minute later. The song just keeps building as a haunting sawed fiddle part is added, more vocals, then electric guitar. I guess you could say it’s like Arborea’s “Stairway to Heaven,” because it’s so texturally layered and expansive.
Shanti has also been intensely working for the past six months on a video for “Wolves” that will be released when the record is released in April.
Mike Olcott is a freelance writer who lives in Portland and Boston.