White Arrows frontman Mickey Church approached writing the band's latest, In Bardo, as though it were the end of his musical world on Earth. The result: a playfully quirky, anything-goes-into-a-pop-song groove inhabiting the album from start to finish.
"I didn't really know or care what was going to happen after this," Church says. "I treated this as if this were going to be the last album I was going to make, and I wanted it to be something I was proud of. Beyond that, it's out of my control. It was actually liberating [to think] whatever happens happens. There was no sacrifice. Whatever I wanted to say -- whatever I wanted to do -- on this record, I did. I know it sounds kind of vulnerable, and it's a little bit hard to talk about, but it's all about just going for it."
This Los Angeles indie quintet deftly aligns electro-pop with gritty guitars, dark bass romps with falsetto vocals, synth extrapolations with Latin shakedowns, and assorted one-off sound effects for added depth. Toss in a world music sensibility of beats and rhythmic textures, and the songs feel fresh, airy, and, at moments, uplifting. Despite all the layers, rarely do these mini-epics feel overdone.
"I've always had an interest in a bunch of different things. I'm into psychedelic rock as much as electronic dance music. I guess it was a blending of all those things . . . I don't think it was a conscious effort to do something in a specific genre or develop our own genre, but it happened accidentally," Church says. "But it's also an acknowledgement that sometimes we're sandwiched at festivals between DJs who are going to sound perfect every time they hit the stage. How are we going to get our live sound to be sonically pleasing given that we're playing between two DJs? We want it to be big but not frivolous."
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Church, who with guitarist Andy Naeve, takes a producer's approach to recording -- gradually building each track layer by layer. Unlike the making of the band's first album, Dry Land Is Not a Myth, which was cobbled together over a couple of years between tours, the band brought in producer Jimmy Messer to oversee the project.
"We wrote this like producers, but we also had a real producer, someone we brought in with a ton of experience," he says. "That's the beauty of having a real producer -- it's an extra brain, the brain we're not used to having in [the studio] that functions as an editor. It was good having another perspective and having someone tell us when we're done, or it's time to move on."
Recording In Bardo in a single studio session and a cohesiveness lacking in the band's debut, which balanced two years' worth of mood swings, tour highs and lows, and fatigue. In Bardo is, as Church says, a single "snapshot in time."
"The first album I consider more a collection of songs. The album was written over the course of two or three years without us having any real direction," he says. "In Bardo's a snapshot of one place in time as opposed to a mix of feelings and emotions . . . It was a very natural thing."
How could it not be with a simple go-for-it attitude for what could be Church's musical end-all?
"There was no preconceived notion or plan," Church reconfirms. "That being said, I think In Bardo is a real cohesive piece of work -- thematically, lyrically, tonally it flows together far more than anything I've ever done before."
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