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INTERVIEW: Archive X

Hi guys, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Great, thanks for asking!

Can you talk to us more about your single “Hard Times”?

Sure. This track is a reinterpretation of an old Ray Charles tune from the early ‘60s. The original track has these dark, dark lyrics set against an almost ironically cheery musical backdrop. I thought it would be interesting to take those lyrics and set them against a somber chord progression and a more ominous sound palette. It was an effort to sort of re-furbish the track for the current national mood in the US.

Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?

No specific event, no, but rather a whole array of things. I live in San Francisco, which right now is being absolutely swamped by technology money, driving rents and cost of living through the roof. There are legions of young tech millionaires about, but at the same time there is still tremendous, deeply entrenched poverty, particularly in the very center of the city where many of the tech companies have offices. It’s very jarring to see sidewalk cafes bounded by a small fence with young techies on their laptops inside and outside as many as 20 or 30 destitute people scattered up and down the block lying in piles of rags. Hard times indeed, right in the middle of insane prosperity. But there are so many other unfortunate inspirations across the country and across the globe right now, in the US pointedly including the intensely ugly political insanity that’s taken root in the last few years.

Any plans to release a video for the single?

Yup. We have a lovely video featuring the dancer/actor Samuel Gaspard, who depicts a prisoner – almost certainly jailed under false pretenses – struggling to come to terms with his terrible new circumstances. During the action of the video he slowly realizes that, given the unassailable physical constraints of his environment, the only path to liberation is through a sort of internal emancipation, and he literally dances his way to a sense of catharsis, a temporary peace through art that will allow him to soldier on towards justice.

The single comes off your new album Some Ungodly Hour – what’s the story behind the title?

My manager suggested that, actually, because he knows I’m the sort of person who lies awake in the middle of the night ruminating about things. My brain sometimes just will not shut up. I try not to look at the clock but I know without doubt that it’s some ungodly hour. It’s the hour in which one feels like the only person left on earth. The silver lining is that a lot of my lyrical and musical inspirations are spawned duringthat god-forsakenhour. The title also plays on the fact that, while a good bit of the music on the album sounds like gospel, it isn’t – I’m not religious and the music isn’t religious music. I just love the sound of old gospel and its willingness to get into the rougher aspects of life.

What role does San Francisco play in your sound?

San Francisco is a constant collision of old and new, always pushing at social and technology boundaries, always evolving and changing within this intense backdrop of very visible history. Much the same could be said of my music. It has a firm foothold in vintage soul and gospel sounds, but I can’t resist stirring in new electronic elements, playing with remixes, blurring genre boundaries, trying to create something old and new at once. During my time in SF I’ve been both a technology reporter and a singer in a traditional black Baptist church, so those very different experiencesadd fuel to the fire that helps meld genres in my music.

How have your army days influenced your music?

I was in the Navy, actually. I got in when I was 18 and I regretted it intensely, but once I’d signed on the dotted line I couldn’t get out of it. I’m a terrible, terrible fit for the military, and I spent some miserable years just trying to get through. I started writing music then as means to survival. When I got out I was really lost – I’d spent those crucial formative years fighting against something, rather than planning for the future or figuring out what I might do with my life. Music was a life raft to cling to, but I ultimately added too much weight to it and we both sank for a spell. It was not a happy period. Certainly that experience informed the sort of musical themes I often now explore, and it primed me to really love and embrace old-style gospel, with its frank and forthright treatment of some of life’s roughest aspects.

How much did he get to influence the album?

Well, I guess that depends on which “he” we’re talking about. If we’re talking about my annoyingly obsessive twin who shows up in the middle of the night to endlessly process things while I’m trying to sleep, then I’d have to say he influenced the album deeply.

What ungodly things get to inspire the lyrics on this record?

I don’t typically set out with the intention of writing a song about a specific subject. Lyrics usually bubble up in dribs and drabs as I work on the music side and I try to follow them stream-of-consciousness style, figuring maybe they’re trying to tell me something that my conscious mind isn’t fully grasping.  Then I’ll suddenly recognize what the song is about: “Aha – this is a redemption tune” or whatever it might be. But certainly my experiences singing in a black Baptist church inspired some of the lyrics, certainly the ongoing effort – common to everyone – of trying to figure out one’s place in the world inspired some of the lyrics. But one of the big quirks of this album is that several of the tracks don’t have lyrics at all. The vocals are hummed, because I felt they were doing a better job of expressing hard-to-express emotions than specific words would have done.

Any plans to hit the road?

No firm plans as of yet, but I’m working up a live show. We’ll keep you posted!

What else is happening next in ArchiveX’s world?

I’m deep into writing new music, pursuing new collaborations and getting excited about seeing where the next project will lead. It’ll be uncharted territory for me, wherever it is, and that mystery is what keeps me intrigued and motivated.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, play guitar, music geek, movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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