Every time a website or fanzine puts together a year-end list of top releases, there is bound to be one or two records that get left off simply as a result of the sheer amount of great music that comes out in any given year. The Arrivals' Volatile Molotov, is in that category…a great record made by an incredibly talented group of musicians hailing mostly from Chicago. The Arrivals have been around for over ten years, but in that time they've only released four full-lengths, their most recent arriving in October on Recess Records. Issac Thotz, singer, guitarist, and songwriter for The Arrivals, spoke with Punknews' interviewer Sean Jain about Volatile Molotov, how it took the band the better part of 2010 to write and record the album, working on a farm in the Florida Keys, and why, at the end of the day, all that matters in life are the simple pleasures.
Hey Issac, thanks for doing this interviewâ¦I hear that you are currently down in Florida working on a salt farm, is that correct?
Howâd you get hooked up with that?
Itâs through this organization called W.W.O.O.F.âWilling Workers on Organic Farms, have you heard of it before?
Itâs an international thing where people go and volunteer on farms and they get room and board and you agree to do a certain amount of work on the farm. My wife and I, weâve always thought about doing it and weâve known people whoâve done it and we had the time this winter and wanted to get out of the gnarly Chicago winter so we came down to the lower Keysâweâre just east of Key West, Florida. Iâm actually in Key West right now, we had the afternoon off so we came out to the beach todayâ¦itâs about 75 today and sunnyâ¦itâs perfect.
That sounds awesomeâ¦like a great way to beat the, "winter blues".
Yeah, itâs also a little bit hardâ¦we were just talking aboutâ¦there are a bunch of volunteers on the farm and everybody but us is actually homeless and they just kind of go from farm-to-farm and find work and, you knowâ¦thereâs a lot of politics between the people who own the farm and run the farm and they make the rules and everybody else is kind of beholden to them. My wife and I can always go homeâ¦ we have an out but it is a little bit stressful to. Weâre having a good time though, everybodyâs real nice and hard workers and respectful.
So how long have you been down there?
Weâve been down here for a week, but weâve only been working on the farm forâ¦maybe five days. Thereâs a guy who has been down here for a month, thereâs a lady whoâI think sheâs been here for years! (laughs). Weâre all just camping out, itâs pretty, "wild wilderness" on their property, itâs just a bunch of crazy trees and shrubs and she lives outâthereâs a kind of tree called "poison wood" and itâs all over the place and you canât touch it, and she lives in the middle of this little poison wood forest and sheâs a bearded lady, like this wild naturalist who knows everything about every kind of plantâand sheâs got a celebrity catâ¦have you ever seen that YouTube thingâ¦Surprise Kitty?
I canât say that I haveâ¦no.
Actually I didnât really know about it either, itâs one of thoseâ¦thereâs like 40 million hits on it and itâs something grandmas send to their grandkids and stuffâ¦she tickles the cat and the cat looks surprisedâ¦just check it out after this, but her cat is the surprise kitty and so she also manages this catâs career (laughs). The kitty is going to be in a movie with Justin Bieber. So yeahâ¦thereâs a bunch of characters out here.
Thatâs awesome manâ¦sounds like a great way to spend the winter! Anyways, you guys just released your fourth full-length Volatile Molotov on Recess Records and after listening to it and reading the lyrics, it seems like kind of a dark album and I was wonderingâ¦what has you guys so spooked?
I donât think anybodyâs spooked, and we definitely didnât mean to set out to write a dark album and I donât know how dark it really is. The first song, that was Daveâs song and itâs kind ofâthereâs all the 2012 stuff, all the end of the world stuff and he wanted to write a song that just kind of likeâIâm sure you remember all the Y2K scare before this, and I know that when I was in grade-school I remember there was all this talk about Nostradamus and a prediction about the end of the world in the 90s or something like that, and so Dave wasâthat song is not really an end of the world song, itâs more â¦heâs kind of making fun of the conspiracyâ¦like the lyrics are, "Waking up and rinsing off the night in acid rain" and it kind of points toâ¦ we come up with these wild theories and scare ourselves into thinking itâs the end of the world and meanwhile there are all these real problems with acid rain and weâre destroying the world slowly ourselves. I think he was just pointing to the irony in that.
But yeah, some of the songs arenât nearly as dark as you think they areâ¦but I totally know what youâre saying and with the last song on the album that was actually written precisely becauseâit was one of the last songs that was written for the record and we were looking at the record and were like, "Holy cow, there are a lot of âdownersâ on here," and so that song actually pokes fun at ourselves because sometimes we can write some real bummers.
Well, speaking of the last song, "Simple Pleasures in America,"â¦you sing a couple verses on what you view as some "simple pleasures" but I was wondering, what are some other "simple pleasures" that you relish in?
(laughs)â¦oh man, countless ones!
Well let me narrow it down. Say youâre on tour, besides playing a show and meeting new people, what some other aspects that you really, really like?
Well I guess I would say that I enjoy the same things at everybody enjoysâ¦ Iâm at the beach right now letting the sun shine on my face and I think that part of what I like about that is that, it doesnât matter if youâre a millionaire or if youâre me, Iâm looking at the same ocean and the same sun is shining on my face and thatâs the simple pleasures. I think a big disappointment for me (laughs) in my lifeâwell itâs not exactly a big disappointment, but youâll catch on to what Iâm sayingâI thought that, when I was growing up as a kid and even as a young man, I thought that if you worked hard in school and you worked hard at your job and do all the things that they tell you that you should do in order to be successful and be happy [you would be]. I felt like that, for a long time. Well, for me it was doing well in school. I was a good student and I was a good student for a really long time and then I went to graduate school and I came to a point where I realized that no matter how successful I was, I would still just be a little peon (laughs).
Even the nuclear physicists out there are just turning the crank for some multi-millionaire, you know, empire of the universe and I guess, that realization like, going so far and kind of reaching a point where you see the end and youâre like, "Oh my god!" and then looking back on your life and realizing that it wasnât all for nothing, but it definitely makes you say, "Iâm not going to do this anymore, and Iâm not working for somebody else anymore, Iâm not doing what somebody else wants me to do," and I guess, anything that makes me feel like that, anything makes me feel that Iâm doing what I want to do and gives me that freedom. Like being in a band makes me feel that freedom (laughs)âespecially the band that Iâm in, and hanging out with my band-mates. Itâs the simple pleasures that set you free. When I wrote that song I was riding down Lakeshore Drive on my bicycle and looking at all these really fancy skyscraper condos that line the lakefront and I was thinking, "Iâm sitting here riding my bicycle with my shirt off on a Tuesday afternoon with my daughter on the back of my bike and this is great and everybody that lives in those condosâ is probably at work right now," and thatâs kind of what that song is about, and thatâs why I say that the simple pleasures are countless when you measure it that way.
Right, I guess they can be everywhere at all times.
Absolutely! Itâs stopping at a gas station when youâre on tour (laughs). If itâs a Wednesday afternoon, I feel like Iâm ahead of the game.
Thatâs awesome. So how did you guys go about writing songs for this record, was it similar or in any way different than the writing for Marvels of Industry?
I would say that it was pretty different just because for Marvels of Industry, we basically didnât have a bass player for most of writing that record and we were also learning to record ourselves so we had a really awesome practice spot that was in this warehouse at an oil refinery so it this huge room with high ceilings. Weâd go there at 11:30 at night and stay there until 4 in the morning demoâing these songs and getting drunk (laughs). Most of the time, and it was justâthe writing of that record was just kind of a unique and special experience all in itself and this one was more, kind ofâ¦Iâd have a song, then Dave would have a song, weâd come in and work on itâ¦so in that way it was. I donât know, it wasnât the same kind of special "intenseness" of Marvels. We had to be a little bit more efficient because with Paddy we tried to get the songs ready for him to get to town and then finish them with us, so there was much greater efficiency (laughs). That sounds terrible (laughs) but it wasnât a bad thing, we had a really good time. The other thing that that allowed us to do was a lot more thinking about extra parts. Weâd demo a song and get it ready for Paddy to come to town, but then he wouldnât come to town for maybe two weeks or something and in the meantime weâd, for example, come up with an organ part for "Childrenâs Crusade" and "The Dilemma". Actually a lot of the arrangement for "The Dilemma," happened because we had a lot of time between the first demo and finalizing it. I have Garageband on my computer and weâd use the time to add extra stuff and try and come up with cool arrangements and not just a four dude rock band, kind of punk arrangement. So yeah, that was the way I think it was better than Marvelsâbeing able to add that sort of stuff.
So with you guys having two vocalists, when yâall are writing a song, how do yâall go about figuring out whoâs going to sing on a particular song or is that pretty easy?
Well itâs easy because if Dave writes a song then he sings it, and if I write it, I sing it (laughs). I mean, when one of us writes a song itâs not like we show up and tell everybody what we want to do on the song. We write basically write what youâd sing, the chord changes, what youâd sing over acoustic guitar. Then Ronnie writes, well, sometimes different people come up with different drum ideas or different guitar ideas or different bass ideas, but ultimately whoever is playing the instrument writes the part for that instrument. But, if Dave writes a song, if he writes the lyrics and comes up with the initial idea for the song then thatâs who sings it usually. There have been exceptions in the history of our band but generally thatâs how it goes.
Do you primarily write your songs first on acoustic guitar?
Yeah pretty much. I think Dave does the same thing, thatâs usually where they start. I mean sometimes I have an idea for a song, like, Iâve got it in my head and I figure it out, but I just end up going to acoustic guitar because thatâs what I have in house.
So did you just record thirteen tracks for the album or are there a few you left off?
No, for the last two records we kind of knew exactly what was going on the record. I really like doing it that way. Again, something like "Simple Pleasuresâ¦," I wrote that song in part [before recording]. I always have a couple songs sitting around that we could use at any time and that was one, like I said earlier. The idea for the song just popped in my head because I was thinking about the record as a whole and the story of the lyrics kind of came into my head because I was thinking, "man, for a bunch of pretty happy guysâ¦" Weâre all positive people and it is a little bit of a downer of a record so I thought of the irony of that. Also, I think I speak for everybodyâat least for Dave, I know weâve talked about it before, that itâs just nice to know that the record is going to take you somewhere. Itâs going to be kind of a trip, itâs not justâ¦I know for our first record it definitely just felt like a collection of songs and we were just a little bit dissatisfied with that and we wanted it to be more of a journey, if you will. So even though we didnât exactly know the sequencing of the record, we had an idea about all these songs put together are going to make a full meal.
Do you have a favorite song on the album or one that youâre most proud of?
Well, this sounds corny but I like "Frontline" a lot because itâs simple and itâs a metaphor for anybody whoâs hung out to dry in the world. Nobody asked to be born into this world and in a way weâre all just sent out on the frontlines, so itâs meant to be kind of a metaphor but itâs also the story of my grandpa. I worked for him when I was in high school. He owned a trailer park and I worked for him and I made my living rehabbing houses and stuff and I got a lot of skills from him doing maintenance at the trailer park. He wasâhe didnât talk about his military service very much but he did tell me the story of how he got drafted. They really did line up all the boys at his school and asked if anybody wanted to volunteer to be marines and nobody wanted to (laughs). So they picked a couple guys and he just happened to be one of them and he went and fought in Okinawa in the war in the pacific and it was terrible. He was just a kid. My grandpa passed away, maybe the spring of last year. So I kind of wrote it as a tribute to him. So I gotta say, every once in a while I get a little bit emotionally involved in that song (laughs). I would say that for that reasonâyou know, sometimes you write a lyric because you think itâs clever or because you think itâs somehow intellectually interesting and I like how that song. The lyrics are very simple but it gets its, "oomph" from the emotional aspect of it. I canât usually do that, so Iâm proud of that one.
Thatâs really coolâ¦so what about when you play liveâ¦do you have a favorite song off the new album to play live?
On this last tour we did we were opening withâ¦well let me think, I donât know (laughs). I like playing any song live to tell you the truth. We could play any of our songs. I enjoy playing any of them, thereâs no particular one. I like playing them all (laughs).
So other than writing/recording/and releasing Volatile Molotov, how was 2010 for you guys as a band? Volatile Molotov was 2010 for us (laughs). Basically when we started Paddy was supposed to come down, Super Bowl weekend,which was February last year and we did that tour to Fest and we didnât get home from that until the beginning of November. So basically the whole year, all we did was,we wrote the record, we recorded the record, we did all theâwe try to be as quick as we can in the studio. Matt Allison is an extremely generous man (laughs). He gives us more time than we deserve, but we still try to be as efficient as possible so we got as ready as we could so that we werenât wasting time in the studio, but even so, once we got done with basic tracking with the four of us, we had a lot of work to do. Itâs just a lot of steps.
Dave did all the layout himself. Making a record isâ¦I donât know how most bands do it because this is the only band Iâve ever put records out with, but thereâs a million decisions. I swear to god, I still havenât listened to the record since it came out because I still havenât got over thinking about some decisions that were made. Like you think about the way you pronounce that "n" in that one song when you were recording it and that was a decision. Or, whether a certain way you play a certain note during a certain song was good enough and thereâs just so many decisions and with the artwork and everything it took a long time to put together.
Just to give you an example, there was a thing where the guy who did the masteringâwe made a mockup of what we wanted with all the samples and stuff he didnât really follow the template (laughs). He kind of used some judgment and made it quieter than we wanted, but then we got it back and it was like, "Oh shit man, what do we do? Do we just let it go, or do we re-do it." We sent it to Paddy and he gave an opinion and it was basically, "Okay, we could have it in the can and we can just go with it or send it back to him and we could get it back and it would be too loud." Thereâs just so many decisions and so, it took us a really long time to put it together and to put the artwork together and we didnât get the record back untilâ¦what was itâ¦October maybe or September? I donât even remember at this point, but basically between February and October there was always something to do for the record. Thatâs just the way we do it. The last record was the same way. Months and months of just tweaking and trying to make everything come out the way you want it to come out, but 2010 was awesome though! Itâs a lot of work but itâs also my favorite thing to do in the world from start to finish, so Iâm not complaining by any means. We did a tour with Off With Their Headsâhaâ¦Iâm going to forget stuff and someoneâs going to read this later and be like "Dude, what about thisâ¦" (laughs)âbut we did a tour with Off With Their Heads, we did one with Slow Death, and we did the one with Toys That Kill and they were all awesome. Good times, good people, so it was a very good year and now Iâm enjoying this well earned break (laughs).
Thatâs awesome. Do you have one particular memory from last year sticks out in your head?
Well, I didnât know Mikey Erg very well before we did the Slow Death tour and I really enjoyed hanging out with him, heâs a really amazing guy. That sticks out in my head, just getting to know him âcause I had run into him at a Fest or a random showâhe was in Minneapolis for a while so I would kind of bump into him where Iâd say "Hey." Iâd just say hi to him, but I didnât really know him until we were on that tour so that was really funâ¦heâs a really interesting guy.
So finally, what are you looking forward to most in 2011?
Umâ¦we only have one thing cooking so I guess Iâm looking forward to that (laughs)! Weâre going to Chaos in Tejas so Iâll say that because thatâs the only thing that I know weâre doing (laughs). Iâm sure weâre doing other things, but nobodyâs told me yet.
So other than Chaos in Tejas you donât have any other tour plans yet?
There might be touring plans in the works, but none that I know of. We do have some songs so people who want to do seven-inchesâhopefully we can get them together, that would be really fun. Itâs my fault weâre taking it easy but also, Paddy gets really busy. He bartends at a bar thatâs just a couple blocks from Metrodome, the football field in Minneapolis. So heâs always really busy during football season, and that was the other thing, I didnât feel so bad about making us take a break because usually, heâll come right out and say it, that waiting until footballâs over makes his life a lot easier so weâll pick it up sometime in February I think.
Awesome, well thanks for speaking with me Issac, any last thoughts?
Um…nope, just thanks for the interview!