This week during our summer City Hall Presents series, CHP has got a little something extra coming your way. Tonight, the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts will be putting on what will most definitely be an awesome show. Everyone loves a good acrobat, am I right? This will take place from 5:30-6:30pm in the City Hall courtyard. Reserve your spot here.
While the series traditionally only takes place on Wednesday nights during the summer, an extra performance has been added for this coming Friday. As a way to celebrate Make Music Philly Day, the Philadelphia Jazz Orchestra and local favorites Norwegian Arms will be putting on performances you do not want to miss. Reserve here. PJO will play from 5-6pm and Norwegian Arms will play from 6:30-7:30pm in the City Hall courtyard.
Aside from the fact that these performances are absolutely, 100% FREE, we’ve decided to run a fun interview we had with Norwegian’s Arms’ lead singer Brendan Mulvihill to help further pique your interest.
Voted the Best of 2012 Emerging Philly Artist by the Deli Philly, Norwegian Arms consist of Mulvihill (vocals/mandolin), Eric Slick (drums/percussion), and Andy Molholt (everything else). Their unique, stripped down, complex, weird folk pop style of music is nothing short of awesome. Check out two of their songs “Wolf Like a Stray Dog” (the title track of their 2012 debut album) and “Tired of Being Cold.”
Photos by Mark Likosky
two.one.five: So, the last time we chatted you guys were getting ready to head out on tour and play South by Southwest. How was that?
Brendan Mulvihill: It was just a really nice positive experience, really nice to get out of town. Played a bunch of shows with Grandchildren and Dangerous Ponies. SXSW was wonderful magical madness. It was great because I was there for my job and as a performer; there was professionalism mixed with debauchery. It’s the first time we’ve broken beyond the east coast. It was really nice to see places like Texas and various other states that I’ve never visited before, even if it was just for a night.
two.one.five: Have y’all started working on anything new?
BM: Yeah, we’re slowly putting together some new music.We’re finally assembling different parts of different songs which is exciting. I sort of experience this lethargy where I don’t actually work on songs for a while, but I’ll have pieces of songs that I’ve recorded or written. We’re hoping to have put together one or two completely new songs by Friday, but we’ll see. Definitely aim to roll more songs out through the summer. We recorded some stuff in March that we’re currently mixing. Maybe we’ll be able to put out a 7″ by late summer. Definitely striving to being the recording process for the new album by the end of the year. That’s a rough plan, but it’s what I’d like to do ideally.
two.one.five: So Norwegian Arms is your baby pretty much, right?
BM: Yeah, it’s my baby.
two.one.five: How long have you been working on music for this project?
BM: Well, I guess it really didn’t start to take any sort of form until the summer of 2009, but at that point I wasn’t playing in any bands. I had at that time just broken up with the high school/college band I had played with for a while. You know how everyone has one of those bands from their late teens into their early twenties. Yeah, I had one of those. So, that band ended and I just thought, “Okay, I’m just not going to do that for a little while,” but I was still writing songs. Eventually, I met Eric Slick at a party and we were like, “Yeah, we should hang out and make music together at some point.” We started doing that and then the songs just started to take form. We only played about 2 or 3 shows in 2009, but shortly after we started playing together I received a grant to go to Russia for a year. So that’s where the bulk of the current material comes from, from that year while I was gone. I wrote a bunch of a songs while I was in Siberia and Eric joined Dr. Dog in that time and, once I came back, we got back together and started putting together what eventually became the album.
two.one.five: I think that’s so cool you were able to spend that time in Russia and continue writing. Weren’t you a Fulbright scholar?
BM: Technically yeah, I got a little Fulbright thingy. I got to go to Siberia which I don’t regret at all; that’s an irreplaceable experience. At the time when I was there, though, I did kind of hate everything about it. You know how it is, when you’re in one place you want to be in another, and when you’re in that other place you want to the other one. I consider Russia my nemesis a bit at this point because there are these things about it I can’t stand, but at the same time I admire and love those same things. It was awesome to have steady pay and the hours I worked were pretty flexible so I had a fair amount of time to myself. I also lived in an apartment by myself for the first time in my life; I had just moved out of a DIY art space called the Ox that I started with my friend. So, I basically went from this massive communal living experience that was a weird experiment with my friends and immediately got put into this town of half a million people but felt so isolated, especially socially. I’ve lived abroad before – I lived in Germany for a little while – but this was something I wasn’t prepared for; it was really the first time I ever experienced a culture shock. I wouldn’t say it was as much of a shock as it was me being slightly confused and really curious. In another language I always feel like I’m a different person. You could have an IQ of a hundred billion, but if you don’t know the language you sound like a stuttering idiot. I always find that amusing. I guess all those feelings crept into the material on the album.
two.one.five: One of the songs that I really like is “Tired of Being Cold.” I mean, when I think of Russia I think of really, really cold temperatures. I mean, I would think if I were going to write a song about living in Russia that’d probably be one of the first songs I want to write.
BM: Yeah, you know, the funny thing is it really doesn’t get that much colder than Fargo, N.D. I mean, once you get into those landlocked, no bodies of water areas it’s about the same. I mean, when it’s 30 degrees here I feel just as cold as I did there. I guess the only difference is the duration and intensity of it. It’s funny because a part of me kind of resents that song a little bit because I’d definitely say it’s the most direct experience on that album, everything is kind of like a vignette to me on it and everything is based on a certain series of events; everything is a little more indirect in a way as an attempt to make the whole experience a little more universal. For example, on the song “Easy a Lover Goes West,” that song is about the two weeks I got to spend away from Siberia and I went to Europe: Berlin, Italy and Poland. It was so different and so refreshing. It wasn’t meant to be like, “Oh yeah, I went to Italy and it was fucking sick!” I wrote something about a more universal experience of being somewhere new. I like “Tired of Being Cold” but at the same time, I don’t know.
two.one.five: It was too obvious or something?
BM: Yeah! I remember the day that I wrote that song. I used to write everything on these sheets of printer paper, like 8.5 by 11, and I remember coming home from a class I taught that day. I stopped at a cafe where I’d meet with some friends – it was the only place in town where you could get coffee brewed with actual coffee beans, everything else was Nescafe mixed with hot water. It was March or April and it was a month where it shouldn’t be cold anymore, as far as my experience went. The snow started in October and it was long. I was just like, “I am so fucking over this.” I used to go home and write in red pen on these sheets of paper and tape them to my wall. I probably looked like an insane person, but when you live alone you can do this kind of stuff because you live by yourself and nobody cares. One of my Russian friends who now lives in Philadelphia came over to my place and said, “Is this your new song?” and I said, “Yeah?” He was like, “I can tell this is terrible because I can understand the lyrics.” It was really funny and we got into some weird argument about that.
two.one.five: It may be one of the more obvious songs, but I think each song on the album is unique and memorable in its own way. Your sound is so unique, too. I can’t really think of a band that sounds anything like you. It’s very interesting and very different from what other people seem to be doing. It’s stripped down but there’s a lot going on. How did this come to be your style?
BM: There was a point when I had one of those epiphanies where I wanted to be classically good at the instrument I played. I studied mandolin for a long time and became very technically oriented. That sort of carried over into the music, but it eventually became less about how well you could play or how fast you could play and more about how you could create sort of swabs of textures. I brought my mandolin with me to Russia because it was the most portable instrument I could carry with me; I hadn’t played for like 5 or 6 years. Basically, the idea was to re-imagine my approach to the mandolin. Also, the fact that I was by myself you sort of have to fill the space. You can’t just sit down and play a melody and feel completely emotionally fulfilled. What it came down to is that I still like polyrhythm and I still like complexity but I really like good pop song writing. So, the idea was that I wanted to write songs that were accessible yet a little left of center. At the same time, I want to make music that makes you feel a groove. I feel like music is a social thing; it wasn’t invented for one person to keep all to themselves. It was a collective, tribal experience — it’s meant to evoke a certain emotion and move you in some way. For me, I think that’s very important. When things lock in, it feels really good. I don’t want to be Taylor Swift or anything, as much as I like some of her songs…I have a big soft spot for “We’re Never Ever Getting Back Together.” The more I try to own my love for Taylor Swift in front of other musicians, the more they become open about it, too.
two.one.five: Yeah, we’re all there with you.
BM: So, basically, yeah, I wanted to create rhythmic space that kind of has a weird elasticity. When I would write the songs, I really had a solid idea of what I wanted the end result to sound like. Obviously, Eric is an insanely talented drummer and has been able to take it far beyond anything I had ever imagined…but yeah, the biggest influence definitely was me wanting to approach playing the mandolin differently. I don’t want to say non-traditional because that makes me sound like some sort of douche bag or something, but the way I play it now is different. It may be because I’m an idiot for playing it the way I do now, but who knows. It’s definitely not for purist who love playing mandolin and have a very rigid perspective toward the instrument. I kind of want to give those people a hug.
Be sure to also catch Norwegian Arms perform on Wednesday, July 10, at Morgan’s Pier. They’ll be playing a free show with Work Drugs. For more information, click here.