Interview: A Look Into the Universe of Arc Iris with Jocie Adams

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Photo by Bryan Lasky

By Lily Doolin, Blog Editor

After art-pop trio Arc Iris took Oberon by storm with their sci-fi ballet production, iTMRW, lead singer Jocie Adams spoke to WERS Blog Editor Lily Doolin about the creation of and inspiration behind the concept of the show. She also talked about her annual songwriting retreat that spawned the idea of iTMRW, how the lyricism of folk music informs her songwriting, and how Arc Iris has evolved over the years.

I have to ask about the iTMRW experience and the tour you guys are doing right now. I wanted to know what the overall motivation was for doing this kind of experience.

Our music is a little more complex than folk music, but our songwriting has a lot of the lyrical complexities of folk music in it. We're trying to say a lot, and we're also putting a lot out there musically, and I think it gets complicated for people to follow. So, we decided to try to do something where we create a situation where we're both showing what we're trying to say and telling what we're trying to say at the same time to help the story come to life better.

How did the story of this dystopian world come to life? Did you guys collaborate on it together, or was it the brainchild of just one of you?

A lot of the storytelling came a lot from my songwriting, which I did a lot of in my songwriting retreat. It sort of started percolating when Trump started running for president. I was having a really hard time writing songs, because I felt like my mind was really politically driven. I think everything felt very negative, and I was having a really hard time directing that energy into something that was productive. At some point, rather than fighting it, Zach [Tenorio-Miller] suggested we sort of try to write a concept album based in the year 2080, which kind of explodes all of the issues we have if left unchecked. After that, Ray [Belli] and I-we all talked about what was going on and how to develop everything, so it was certainly a collaboration in that. The particulars of what's happening definitely come out of the little songwriting sessions that I was doing, but I couldn't have done it without their help, it wouldn't have been the same.

You just mentioned that you went on a songwriting retreat, and that sounds really interesting to me. Could you explain what that was about and how it helped to not only create this experience but grow you as a songwriter and an artist?

Every year, I actually go on a songwriting retreat with a similar group of people. We go out to this island in the middle of Lake Winnipesaukee, my phone doesn't work, and I live in a cabin with no electricity, and I get to sit next to a lake for-it's really only four night and five days, but just having that quiet makes so much difference in terms of my focus, in my ability to come up with things that feel connected to the Earth. In a way, sometimes I feel it's really hard to trust yourself in an environment where there are a million things coming at you right and left. It's a really wonderful experience not only for writing, but having a group of people that are so supportive of you. At the end of the night, everyone shares their music, and we talk about what's good and what's bad and help each other grow. Yeah, it's a great experience.

I think it's really interesting that you're going to places in nature and drawing inspiration from there, and yet when I listen to Arc Iris's music, it's very electronic and orchestral, but as you said, there's also this folk inspiration. How do you blend that all together to create the identity and sound of Arc Iris?

All three of us come from pretty diverse musical backgrounds. I come from classical music, Zach comes from the world of rock, but he also studied jazz and classical, and has the type of head that's super deep in Tropicália and race studies, classical Indian rhythm and drum kit, and listens to all different types of music and has played in all kinds of different bands over the years. We as a unit, in this album and the last album, have really begun to find our identity as a group. The arranging process just seems so easy all of a sudden, and we just know what it is that we're doing. It's hard for me to explain what it is, it just kind of is whatever the natural digestion of all of our backgrounds and coming together creates. The folk aspect of it is really the songwriting, or the lyric writing, more so than anything else. I used to be in a band called The Low Anthem, and we learned tons of traditional songs and were always listening to songs for their stories and for their lyric writing, a lot of those songs being older music, not necessarily being today's folk music. I really feel that songs are a beautiful mode of delivering poetry and story and talking about what's happening today, and are a platform for looking at a piece of our life from multiple angles. It leaves the door a little bit open for everybody to have their own interpretation and apply it to themselves. There's a reason why people get really nostalgic about certain songs and certain music, and sometimes it really is about just hearing the music they heard when they had their first kiss, or whatever it was, but a lot of times, it really is lyric-driven, it's, "I went through this thing and then this song came on, and it reminded me to think about XYZ things," and that song becomes attached to these feelings for the rest of time, and that to me is so interesting and so special in so many ways. I watched my mom's mom­-she had a little bit of dementia toward the end of her life, but when you played her music-music from her childhood-she would perk up in a way that was just different. It's a really magical art form that is kind of even more magical because it's so abstract and so hard to understand and so hard to talk about, and yet it's so meaningful to us.

You talked about the collaboration you guys have together. How has your process together grown and evolved over the years?

I think it's pretty similar, except for now that we're just better at knowing how to make things good (laughs). At the beginning, it was like we would spend forever trying to figure out a measure of music and how it was supposed to go. Sometimes we still get stuck in that loop, but it's just a lot smoother and a lot easier now. Our instincts are more in line with some magical force out there that's keeping us in this Arc Iris universe. We're just a little more dialed in to the project.

Speaking of that, what's next for you guys in the Arc Iris universe?

We're really hoping to find some residencies for this iTMRW show, but that won't come to fruition-even if tomorrow, somebody called us and we figured it out-the residency wouldn't go on for some time. We have a couple more shows coming up, but besides that, we're gonna keep writing music. We have a little acoustic tour coming up. I think we're just trying to recoup after this crazy show and just figure out what kind of shows we're gonna do next. We're definitely gonna keep making music and keep touring. We manage ourselves, but we're currently finding the path.

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