Interview: Brent Arnold

interview by gordon downs

For the better part of the nineties, Brent Arnold was a name you would come across quite frequently if you were ever one to read the inner liner notes of the various CD’s and records that came out of the Pacific Northwest. Some of the bands he has helped create music with are Modest Mouse, 764-HERO, Quasi; the list goes on and on. A self taught musician and composer, Arnold is perhaps THE renaissance man of the Pacific Northwest, possessing an uncanny ability to play any instrument in his hands. With a bevy of album credits dating back to the early nineties, it’s now finally come to fruition in 2004: Brent Arnold has finally released a solo album! Up Records is celebrating its tenth anniversary and their 101st album with the release of “Last Boat” by Brent Arnold & The Spheres. Although I’m sure a lot of folks must be wondering, “Why’d it take you so long to record a solo album?”

“ Let’s just say I’ve had a lot of musical interests and so I’ve gone in a lot of different directions over the last few years.” Arnold humbly states. Hailing from Seattle and living in an area where suicides and ferry rides are a common occurrence, I would’ve been extremely remiss if to not inquire as to the despondent title of his charming debut album: “Last Boat.”

“It’s named after one of the songs on the album.” explains Arnold. “I know a lot of friends and musicians who live on islands here [Seattle], and they’re always running to have to run to catch a ferry to get home; like to catch the last boat home or whatever.” Though he also adds, “But really, that song is mainly about the fact that I tend to be late all the time. I’m trying to get better,” he says jokingly. “It can be a problem in relationships or business dealings, so it’s sort of about a person who was late one too many times. It’s sort of like a self-criticism.” he says as he laughs through his words. “It’s like all the times when you’re a little bit late, and everything works out fine and you’re like, ‘What’s the big deal? Everything’s fine.’ Then there’s that one time where you’re late, and it’s like you screwed up everything! So that’s kind of what it’s about.”

Arnold’s lackadaisical manners aren’t as awful as he may think. With a numerous amount of credits for compositions and arrangements, plus his many solo endeavors, Brent Arnold may be casually late at times, but he’s certainly on top of his game when it comes to writing and recording music. His sound is laid back; laconic in the best sense of word. The strings and keyboards, which occupy much of “Last Boat”, are delicately constructed around rhythms that can only be described as “Lawrence Welk on mushrooms.” And that my friends, is a good thing.

His backing band The Spheres is shaping up to be an amazing group comprised of some of Seattle’s most talented musicians. “Ben Blakenship worked with Modest Mouse,” explains Arnold. “He played on ‘The Moon And Antarctica’ and toured with them a little bit. He plays some piano, steel guitar, guitar and bass in The Spheres. He does it all! It’s actually kind of a funny band because almost everybody in the group can play just about every instrument.” And though his band is certainly coming together as a cohesive unit, he’ll honestly admit that The Spheres have only played live a handful of times in their two years as a band.

“In the past I’ve kind of been in the habit of under rehearsing things to try and be pleasantly surprised when you play live.” explains Arnold. “But, there’s also something to be said for really working together where you’re really comfortable with each other and you develop something collectively. And that’s a cool thing, when you play live and you’re able to do unexpected things and surprise everyone else. That allows new things to happen.”

Having recently completed a brief stint accompanying Modest Mouse on cello and viola during their recent tour, Brent’s now looking towards the future and taking The Spheres out on the road in support of “Last Boat.”

“I’m just starting to try and get [the tour] set up now,” he sighs. “We’re really dying to tour.”