For some reason before I ever heard about the band I always associated the name Soundarcade with some indie band, not noteworthy of my attention. I was very wrong however on this subject. It was at Fonofest 2010 that I got to see this band live and enjoy that very unique sound they make. After the performance of Skyforger, I ended up chatting to various people near the merch stand. I was just in conversation with my friend Andis and a guy from Lassie The Cat when the sounds from the stage made me stop in my tracks. Mystical, heavy and enthralling sounds they were from the band Soundarcade, playing late at night.
Ever since, I’ve been listening to their albums 12 Songs Of The Jackalope and Daughters Of Molestia ever since and enjoying them greatly. Recently the new album was released in 2012 titled Moving the Great Hadron. This album is a bit more feisty and to the point that the previous records, which had more eclectic soundscapes and dreamy repetitions. The band is not afraid to use psychedelic elements to enhance their postrock sound or even slightly tribal or folk elements to generate the more mystical atmosphere. You don’t have to be surprised to find Mogwai or Mono style postrock combined with neo-folk like music in the vein of Current93 or strange industrial inspired occult rock like Coil. On the latest release the sound shifts to the intense sound of postmetal bands like Pelican and Isis with the same bravery of Tool. I don’t think I’m treating anyone unfair if I add to this that the band soundwise places itself as heirs of Latvian music like Ilgi, Tesa and Perkons generating a unique Latvian sound.
The band draws their inspiration from history. Pagan and Christian elements and motives that have blended with the culture of Latvia since the Livonian Brothers of the Sword arrived in the 12th century, but on the other hand the Spaghetti westerns that were shown on TV during Soviet times. That makes the sound of Soundarcade into an expression of escape of fantasy on one hand and also deeply rooted in the reality of history.
Thankfully, the good folks from Soundarcade are willing to answer a buch of questions. We have Lauris Ābele, guitar player in the band, answering some questions.
LA: “Thanks for this opportunity. Soundarcade is doing fine, jamming in our rehearsal room. We are taking a new approach, without the intent of making a nw album. We’re just exploring new riffs, themes and sounds. Generating new moods and looking where this is taking us. We started out when me and my brother Raitis both played guitar and somehow got in tocuh with other people with more or less the same interests and views on music as us. After some time our lineup just came together, sometimes giving eachother hard times, or having the best of times. We lived near Arcadia park, so we made our rehearsal space there.”
“For all of us, Soundarcade is the first serious band we are in. Our vocalist Martins is working on some solo material and me and my brother play in a more mellow folk infused band named Das Sonntagslegion, with violins and cello. (Check it out here)”
GS: From your biographies and other texts I gather that your musical influences are drawn from a spectrum between Isis and Ilgi, in a sense from folk to post-metal and somewhere beyond.
LA: “Well… when we started to play ten years ago, we hadn’t heard of Isis. The band Ilgi is good in some aspects, but only some, that is when they don’t play dancing folk music. I know that some older progrockers may disagree with me on that, but we always considered ourselves a progressive and alternative band drawing from something between rock and metal. We never stressed the roaring post-metal vocals, that are such a trademark for the genre. We’ve always chosen toe be more melodic in the vocal parts and not emphasize the metal elements. We feel more connected to the psychedelica of the 1960’s really. If you’d have to describe the musical taste of our band it would range from Burzum to Arvo Pärt”
GS: Am I correct when I say that you draw your inspired by the Livonian Sword Brethren up to Spaghetti Westerns in your music? How does that translate to sound.
LA: “That mainly goes for our first two albums. We have a lot of medieval heritage here, growing up in a country with castles from the Sword Brethren, pagan religious sites and such. It leaves a mark in time, that is hard to understand and put to words. The Latvians were the last pagans of Europe and if you ask me, there’s no real Christians here in this country. There are a lot of pagan traditions and elements that have been translated and transformed into our culture. Many bands nowadays follow popular trends and neglect what can be found in many cultures. I know it happens in many countries, also in Scandinavia. I hope bands will turn back to that, but I can say that sad melodies and themes are a trademark for Latvian music.”
“The Spaghetti Westerns is a different story altogether. Besides Soviet propaganda, those were the only adventure movies along with some Bollywood crap that we could see on tv as kids during the Soviet times. We didn’t feel that regime for too long, but when they started with the Disney cartoons we had already outgrown that. So the Spaghetti Western music is something that works for us on a different semantic level. At the time the Soviet Union was collapsing, we knew it was a forced regime and we never felt the ‘Iron Curtain’ like the generation of our parents did. Those films were a glimpse of the other world though, it wasn’t like kids now, that can enjoy adventure movies every day. When one of these films was shown, all the kids would go see it and talk about it. They’d re-enact their heroes in abandoned construction sites, pretending it was a desert. Later, action movies became available, but it wasn’t that unique thing. We watch them still sometimes and get connected to what seems like an alternative reality.”
GS: So, how does Soundarcade go about recording and writing a new album?
LA: “Usually that takes up about two days, someone brings in a riff or theme and then that either works or breaks down into pieces. Sometimes it just happens during rehearsal, which is very inspiring. Sometimes we just get stuck on this idea or that arrangement, which we turn into a psychedelic piece. Right now, we just explore where to go next. This has never happened before, so we are kind of lost and excited at the same time.”
“Normally, we arrange songs collectively but me, my brother Raitis and our vocalist and main man Martins bring the more or less constructed ideas. If our drummer would suddenly come up with a song, it might be time for us to break up…When we started out as a band we had the feeling that we moved together like a movement. We were never flag bearers, but we tried to be original. It felt that people were happy with bands creating music in this style. Now this is a well established field and we are trying hard to reinvent ourselves. We don’t want to focus on mannerisms, we have to find some new inspiration. We don’t want to be trendy, we just need open waters.”
GS: Soundarcade has been touring in Europe and has shared the stage with many other bands. What are the best memories? What can people expect at a live show?
LA: “The best times are when you get a shower… or visit the open air baths in Budapest! But seriously, a good gig and the people you meet along the way is the best experience about touring. We enjoy playing with most bands we meet on the road. Sometimes things get weird though, like on the first tour we played with various ska bands. Later we went on tour with the awesome band Tesa, and that was really cool. Another band we enjoyed sharing the stage with is the Austrian band Fiction play, who do some good acid rock stuff.”
“What we do live is try to get a certain mood in our music and visualizations. We are not a meditative band, but I suppose that is the feeling that the music can achieve for it’s listeners very often. A rock concert can be like a ritual. I’ve experienced that myself and that’s what we want to create for a mood, music that takes you on a journey. If people like to expand their experience through certain means, imbibed before the show, than we have no problem with that. We hope to keep playing for people that are interested in what we do. Once that is done we’ll start doing 20 minute psychedelic jams for ourselves.”
”Of course, it would be really nice to play for a bigger band that reaches a similar audience, I would not name a certain band however, but opening for your idols would be pretty hard. The Roadburn festival is one we’d love to visit sometime as listeners, but it gets sold out way to quick, it’s insane (GS: I brought up the topic with regard to the 20 minute jams). Sometimes in jams there’s more interesting things in it to play than it would be to listen to it. David Gilmour from Pink Floyd himself once said that he couldn’t imagine himself listening to a guitar solo of seven minutes.”
GS: Is it harder to get known as a Latvian band outside of Latvia? And what is typical for the Latvian music scene?
LA: “Yes, I think it’s harder for bands from a small country with now world renowned musical heritage to get known outside of our country. Why would anyone care about promoting the gigs and such? It all comes down to more or less managing it all by ourselves, but that’s good. That keeps you responsible for the music you make.”
“The Latvian scene is rather introvert. Historically, the Soviet regime took a big hold on musical progress that didn’t adhere to the strict guidelines they set for it. It was clearly not a healthy thing. So later, people started to follow the western trends in such exaggerated ways, but nowadays I see that this is in decline again. Typical might be for now that we have one or two bands in every style that are really good, but that’s all.”
GS: What’s the difference between your three albums and which song would really represent you now as a band?
LA: “I guess you should listen to the latest album to hear where we are now, ‘Moving The Great Hadron’. Our first album, ’12 Songs Of The Jackalope’, was a bit of a psychedelic compilation fo what we did at the time. ‘Daughters of Molestia’ was much darker and we had some dark times as a band ourselves. I guess the latest one is more adventurous and probably a bit ironic as well.”
“I think Carl Jung said that artists shouldn’t be allowed tot talk about their work, since they only tell you bullshit. I agree with this, because I believe that the listener determines the meaning in the music. I don’t believe in the aesthetic view that the artist and his thoughts are such an important part of the artistic expression. I just described the progression between them, that’s our honest advertising. When someone wishes to buy an album, I tell them that.”
GS: Can you tell me a bit more about the last album then?
LA: “We tried to make it as a classic prog rock album, though older progrockers might disagree. It revolves around the story, where the protagonist goes on a quest for ultimate knowledge, but finds himself back at the start at the end of it. The last instrumental parts leave room for the interpretation of the audience.”
“The artwork was done by the legendary Latvian psychedelic artist Edgars Folks and it has a lot to do with the songs themselves. When we were kids, he made a lot of picture books, which were very dark at moments. There was one with horses, with first some pretty images and then a page with an old horse in the snow, with wolves in the distance, approaching… It’s very strong, we are very he agreed to work with us and we found we are soulmates from different generations…”
Soundarcade is more than just a band, they embody a musical ideal, though hard to define. All of their albums manage to amaze and dazzle the listeners. I am hooked on their music, definitely. I can’t wait to hear the unchartered terrains that this band discovers from now on.