Arc Iris is not interested in neat and tidy. In fact, lead singer and lyricist Jocie Adams says that when the Providence, Rhode Island, artistically minded indie trio is “doing it right,” its music is “confusing, beautiful, ugly, mystical, outrageous and exciting.”
Adams, known to many listeners for her tenure in Providence’s Low Anthem before her 2013 departure, is joined in Arc Iris by keyboardist Zach Tenorio-Miller and drummer Ray Belli. They’re gearing up for the Aug. 19 release of “Moon Saloon” on esteemed label Bella Union; it will be the follow-up to their 2014 self-titled debut record, which was released by the indie heavyweight Anti- Records.
“Moon Saloon,” which the band sees a song cycle of sorts, finds Arc Iris blending electronic sounds with acoustic and electric instruments to give voice to the layered and untidy truths that inspired the songs themselves. You can hear for yourself in the lead single, “Kaleidoscope.” (We’ve included the song’s video below.)
Arc Iris, which has shared stages with the likes of St. Vincent, Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, is about to wrap up a residency at C’mon Everybody in Brooklyn, with a special finale show on the docket for Tuesday, July 26. In advance of that performance and the approaching release of “Moon Saloon,” we chatted with Adams.
How has Arc Iris developed between your debut album and “Moon Saloon”?
Our first record was less of a band-brain project. “Moon Saloon” better solidified the flow of our writing process. Not only does it feature a few true co-writes, but it also made more time to explore the personalities of all of the instruments and players featured on the record. Perhaps the most noticeable differences between the two records are the heavy introductions of synthesizers and electric guitar as a song bed, as well as the use of percussion as a consistent driving force, as opposed to a helper.
Tell us about your songwriting retreat.
The songwriting retreat was on an island in the middle of a lake. (Editor’s note: New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee.) During the day I settled into writing in a cabin with no water, internet, cell phone service or electricity. I sat most often on a rock about a foot away from the shore surrounded by and overlooking the water. The serenity and focus of this time was something I hadn’t experienced before. At night, I gathered with a bunch of other songwriters, and we all shared music that we had written that day. The combination of being around inspiring individuals in the night and having time to myself in the day was really special. I am very grateful to have had this opportunity.
How do you feel the retreat impacted the material? Could this album have been written if you didn’t go off the grid?
Every song is a reflection of your experience, even if you are making a story up. It’s impossible to write something that does not somehow come from what you know. In this way, I think this album may have been very different had I written it in my attic. The songs themselves certainly would have reflected an alternative state of mind.
How would you describe the recording process? What did David Wrench, who mixed the album, bring to the table? (Wrench has worked with Caribou and FKA Twigs, among others.)
David Wrench is an absolute wizard of sound. Our recordings for this record were extremely complex. The task of making all of the parts sit beautifully together is an incredible feat on its own. Wrench took this record to the next level by giving the album an unmistakable sound that definitely aids continuity of the whole.
You’re in the midst of a run of shows at C’mon Everybody in Brooklyn. Do you do the same set each night, and are you seeing some repeat attendees?
We love residencies! We love them because they are a tool for people to become intimate with us and for us to become intimate with them. We learn what people react to and how circumstances change their reactions. As the weeks go on, people feel connected to the idea of spreading the word and opening up the Arc Iris door to friends. Often, under these circumstances we play similar sets from week to week, but this time we have decided to try varying the sets in a big way. The first two nights were normal Arc Iris trio shows. … Tuesday, the 26th of July, we will be performing our interpretation of all of Joni Mitchell’s “Blue.”
If we are doing it right, our live show should be confusing, beautiful, ugly, mystical, outrageous and exciting. Most of all, we hope you leave feeling a little bit fuller than when you showed up. The show has developed massively over the last few years. We are more in tune with each other as musicians, and between three people we have learned to create paintings with music that can vary from simple black-and-whites, to colorful surrealism, to gentle romantic garden paintings while connecting the dots and helping you along through a journey in a different dimension.
How did the band get together in the first place?
Zach met me in Providence, Rhode Island. He was playing with a friend’s band. He had seen me play in New York opening for the Barr Brothers not long before. My friend’s band ended up coming to my house after the show, and we played music all night long. After that, Zach and I began playing shows together, which then turned to him inviting Ray Belli, a childhood friend and drummer, to play in the band. Once Zach and Ray come into the picture, “Jocie Adams” was gone and “Arc Iris” was born.
What kind of music scene does Providence have?
In my opinion, we are aliens in the Providence music scene. Providence has many different nooks of music. There are homes for these scenes, as well. The Columbus Theatre, curated by The Low Anthem and their cooperative, has a whole family of bands that revolve around it. There is also a strong underground music scene that grew out of the Noise Music scene, which I admittedly don’t know much about. And there is Aurora, which is new venue downtown that has done an excellent job of helping bring new, often unknown, music into Providence through their Monday night series. AS220, who could probably be considered the grandaddy of the Columbus scene, also has a similar thing going to both the Columbus and Aurora. There is also always The Spot, for all of the jam bands in 2016. It’s a small city, but it seems to be working to become more relevant and a more desirable market for out-of-town bands.
What impact did playing with Jeff Tweedy, St. Vincent and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah have on Arc Iris?
Every tour we have done has taught us about our strengths and weaknesses. Playing with great bands like these has definitely helped us to continue to hone and work on things and make sure that our musical focus is oriented towards a good set of goals.
In addition to the recent single release, what else do you have planned for the run-up to the album release?
We have a couple more tracks that we will release before the release of the album, so keep your eyes on our news feed! We are also very proud of the video that is aligned with “Kaleidoscope” and hope that people will continue to enjoy and share that.
Is there anything I didn’t ask about that you’d like to add?
This record is a beautiful demonstration of artistic collaboration, which combines not only the band and David Wrench, but also Dan Cardinal, our recording engineer, as well as Hieronymus Melchers, who recorded some overdubs with us and had a strong hand in introducing synthesizers to the project, as well as all of the people along the way who had feedback and helped us hone. I feel very proud of making something that feels both personal and like a creative feat that ended up being bigger than any single one of us.