It's been a year since Harlem Shakes broke up, and even longer since their guitarist, Todd Goldstein, released his debut solo album under the name ARMS. Since then, what was quintessential bedroom pop—the good kind; the kind where songs build to wild crescendos and sound like they're two seconds away from unravelling—has blossomed into a full band. We sat down with him to talk supernatural beings and to see what's up next...
The L: There's a note on your MySpace page about an album called Summer Skills that you've been working on. How's that going? It's a concept album... do I have that right?
Todd Goldstein: Yeah, but I don't really want to call it that. I don't want to tell people what to think about the music, you know? But the songs have all the same characters and you could probably lay them end to end, and it would tell a semi-linear story. There are a lot of spaces in the story I'm trying to fill out and a lot of different moods I want to get in there. We're in the homestretch. We're going to record it in October. I'm really excited to record an album the real way. The studio is called Tree Fort, in Brooklyn. We're working with Shane Stonebeck who did the last Vampire Weekend record.
The L: Is it more difficult trying to write something linear like that?
TG: Yeah. I feel like I'm writing a novel out of sequence. It's less intentional than when I'm mapping something out. It's more like I write it, and then I look at everything. It's just really important to me that the mood and the emotion come across—it's the most important thing. The first record I made, I was more focused on the song and trying something different with the songs, stylistically. There would be, like, the "sad-sounding disco song," "the fun ukulele song"—they all sort of had these categories.
The L: It seems you have a fascination with dark themes, but you explore them in an innocent way that reminds me of Arcade Fire a little bit.
TG: I think when I started writing songs, or what I started calling ARMS songs, I found this perspective that really fit. The things that are scary when you're a kid are the same things that are scary when you're an adult, but they take more complicated forms. I feel like when you're scared and you're uncomfortable, you're still that kid. I got really obsessed with horror movies—I think they sort of play on those same ideas, with the monsters and the ghosts and these supernatural elements, and somehow along the way they all sort of got squished together and now there's this kind of world I have where the real dark stuff gets personified in these supernatural elements with characters in the story.
The L: I know some of the material from your latest album, Kids Aflame, dates back a while—2004 I think? With so much time gone by, are you embarrassed by anything you wrote in retrospect?
TG: It was a long time ago. I look at that record like it was written by my kid, you know? Like, "Aw, you're maturing, but that was so good... for you. Man, you really put everything you had into that." There are some songs I'm not wild about—some of the self-pitying stuff on there—but I was in a self-pitying place when I wrote it, so it was all just a result of that. "Shitty Little Disco" is a little sappy, I dunno. But that's what I was going through.
The L: Did you feel like you were giving up control at all, bringing on two other guys to form a band?
TG: Yeah, especially after just working by myself for forever. It took a little while for things to get going and actually start playing together. I prefer this now—it takes a lot of weight off my shoulders. I feel like all I have to do is come up with some good ideas for songs and I can be like, "Guys, I think this kind of sucks?" And they'll be like, "No, it's great!" And sometimes they'll say, "Hmm, I don't know." We just added a keyboard player, actually. It sounds awesome. I really liked playing as a trio, but live it wasn't enough to really grab people by the lapels.
The L: So, in this issue of The L we're looking a lot at the whole idea of the "native" New Yorker... Are you from New York?
TG: Boston. I moved here after college in Rhode Island. I've been here for six years—it sounds like a very long time when I say it. I guess I'm an honorary New Yorker. I was like, "Oh, San Francisco's nice, and Chicago's a great place," but I felt like if I really want to do it seriously, then I needed to move to New York. This is the best place for music—I feel like that's universally understood, you know?
The L: Do you think it's fair to describe a "Brooklyn" scene when everyone is just a transplant from somewhere else?
TG: You know, I really don't know. Honestly, there are so many bands here that everybody's from someplace else. I don't know any bands that think of themselves as a real "New York" band. But your surroundings are always going to be a part [of your music]. I will definitely credit where I am at the time playing a part in the music I make.
The L: I feel like your music doesn't really align with a lot of what's happening around Brooklyn right now. Is that a conscious thing?
TG: I like a little dose of lo-fi and I'm really into reverb, but, honestly, I listen to what we're doing, and it scares me a little bit. Like, this doesn't sound like what a big chunk of the popular stuff is right now or in step with the things that are really getting attention. The "C" word—chillwave—or whatever... I think some of it is so boring. The sounds are beautiful, and I think that's what makes people excited, but they're not actual songs, you know?