Week in Pop: Alpenglow, Arms & Sleepers, R. Stevie Moore

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Arms and Sleepers

Arms and Sleepers' Mirza & Max; photographed by Mirza Causevic.
Arms and Sleepers’ Mirza & Max; photographed by Mirza Causevic.

Boston by everywhere’s Arms and Sleepers have had an epic year. Celebrating their tenth year anniversary, Mirza Ramic & Max Lewis embarked upon their mighty “10 Year Anniversary Tour” where they took on Europe & dug deep into the catalog of their 18 plus releases that represented their span of output from this past decade. Touring material from their 2015 album Swim Team, A&S made the runs across various continents, took in a variety of new & familiar circumstances and begun writing the material that will be featured on the forthcoming album Life is Everywhere available in early 2017. Mirza has recently given us Swim Team Remixed & the Miami EP and today shares a listen to the new single “Time Will Tell” b/w “Sooner or Later” available now on gorgeous clear lathe cut 7″ wax. Gorgeous soundscapes that invigorate & awaken the mind & spirit, Mirza & Max have the uncanny ability to soundtrack those intuitive realizations that make so much sense while resting deep in the arms of sleep and then are obfuscated & all but forgotten upon awakening.

The 10 year tour revelry & reflections have found the Arms and Sleepers moving their electronically engineered aesthetics in all directions without borders & the b.s. of the industry. The A&S philosophy as they tell it is, “Integrity has no borders, and meaningful life experiences have no room for pretenders,” where genuine engagement & proactive involvement is key. Having also spent time working in Chicago’s south side with underprivileged youth for a non-profit educational origination back in the summer of 2015, Mirza Ramic recently wrote about his own moving experiences from tours with reminders of his own upbringing in “The Other Side”. Mirza recounts connecting & reconnecting with enthusiastic fans from all over the world who expressed how the music of A&S has affected them to performances in northern Greece that were close to the refugee camps where the artist reflected on fleeing Bosnia with his mother back in 1992 during the Yugoslav Wars when he was once too a refugee seeking survival & asylum to the international avenues of closed-door consulates & embassies. Taken into the US, and having built an aesthetic entity with Arms and Sleepers; Mirza with Max continue a tradition that started back in 2006 & much earlier.

Tell us what you have learned about the world, yourself & art in the decade expanse of time between Swim Team to the culmination of these experiences & inspirations that have informed Life is Everywhere.

The world—it’s a strangely messy and inspiring place, as beautiful as it is not. Coming from a dark corner of the world that is Bosnia & Herzegovina, my experiences were shaped by negativity and ever since it’s been a bumpy road trying to make sense of it all. Through music I have been very fortunate to travel to places and meet people that otherwise I would have never had a chance to encounter. In the 10 years of Arms and Sleepers and two hectic years of touring behind the Swim Team album, I have really come to understand just how important trust and personal interactions are. There are so many incredible people working in and supporting independent arts and culture, folks that are willing to sacrifice time and money to stand behind artists and their own community. Everyone knows each other, and you quickly figure out who has integrity and who does not. It’s been truly inspiring to meet people all over the world that want to create something meaningful, individuals that put in the hard work but don’t prioritize money over personal relationships. I’ve leaned that the best shows and experiences come from people I know personally, and the mediocre ones from those I only know through email. There’s something to be said about offline interactions and relationships, those that evolve from initial awkwardness to something that potentially lasts a lifetime. In the modern music industry, where making a living from this is getting harder and harder, it’s easy to skip over personal relationships (and trust) and hide behind a computer, and yet to me that seems to be what ultimately creates vibrant scenes and interesting art. So for me, especially in the last two years, I’ve made more of an effort to get to know the people I work with—concert organizers, promoters, etc.—and the people that come to our shows. That is a big reason why I perform off stage on the floor and why I do a Q&A after every show.

Tell us too about the recent 10 Year Anniversary tour and how those experiences you wrote about in “The Other Side” piece about relating to the refugees in the displaced persons camps, and how art shines a light on senses of place & belonging.

The 10 Year Anniversary Tour in Europe was the first time I performed with a live band since 2012, and it was really great to get in a van with friends and play songs I hadn’t played in years. We went to a lot of places that are very special for Arms and Sleepers—mostly in eastern Europe—and it felt incredible to play songs that people hadn’t heard live yet. The response was amazing, and despite the usual ups and downs of touring—our van getting stuck in mud, for instance—it was a deeply memorable experience. Just before that tour, I was playing shows in Europe on my own and I began sharing my personal story apropos everything that’s been going on in Europe as of late. I landed in Amsterdam the morning of the Brussels airport bombings, and that got me thinking about my own human fragility. Then I was thinking about my upcoming shows in Greece and how close I would be performing to the refugee camps. It felt incredibly weird to be a Western artist performing near people that are trying to survive and find an opportunity for a better life, when I had been in that same situation as a child. The whole thing felt surreal to say the least. The main point of that story was my own questioning of whether what I do is worthwhile and important considering how much suffering there is all around us. And not just what I do, but art and music in general. Do we try to feed everyone first before any of us pick up an instrument? My conclusion which I talked about at shows was that both are important—we need to fight for a better life for everyone and we need to make sure meaningful art continues to exist. For me personally, music helped me get through some incredibly difficult times in my life traveling from country to country as a refugee, but I also wouldn’t have made it to a life where I have the luxury to choose to be a musician if other people didn’t help me. Both music and individuals played a significant role in shaping who I am today. To answer your question about art and a sense of place and belonging, I know for me personally my identity has always been in a state of confusion, and I never truly felt like I belonged anywhere. The best drug to deal with this has been music and films, and I am sure this is the case for so many others whose identities and homes have been stripped away by war and conflict.

How has that tour continued to resonate with you?

The spring tour, which lasted almost three months, was incredibly long and exhausting. There were lots of mixed emotions and feelings, both from the standpoint of my own personal experiences and from the standpoint of Arms and Sleepers celebrating 10 years of existence. I am back on tour now and telling a new story which has to do with my inspiration for our new album, but I continue to question what I do and whether I should get more directly involved in helping others. I went to school for international relations and am always trying to engage that side of my interests with music, but there is a point when you have to really decide how you can best contribute to the world as an individual. While I’ve heard from so many people about how important our music has been in their lives, I’m still not sure if this is the best way for me to contribute. I continue to self-analyze and we’ll see where that leads me.

10 years forward, what have you noticed about changes in your own creative approach?

Max Lewis (the other half of Arms and Sleepers) and I have been making music together since 2002, and it’s crazy to me that we’re still going. The Arms and Sleepers music catalog from the past 10 years is all over the place in terms of style, and I think that speaks the most about our creative approach – always drastically changing. We change as people every year, and that is always reflected in the music we produce. So the creative approach is constantly evolving, and that’s why our new album is a far cry from our earlier releases. If I can say one thing about the last couple of years, it’s that we’ve fully embraced this tendency instead of trying to resist it for purposes of stylistic consistency, one which helps with marketing an artist but which can sometimes limit creative freedom.

Arms and Sleepers emerging from the distortion & analog static; photographed by Mirza Causevic.
Arms and Sleepers emerging from the distortion & analog static; photographed by Mirza Causevic.

Give us insights on the inception of the “Time Will Tell” single.

The “Time Will Tell” single is definitely one of my favorite tracks we’ve ever written. It might not resonate with everyone as it’s a bit slower and somewhat darker in comparison to our previous full-length album, but it’s a track that we put a lot of care into and that feels very special to us. It’s a bit different from the rest of the album, but in terms of what it’s about, well, it’s kind of a stamp on our 10 years of existence. Hopes and fears, dreams, uncertainty, all of that – we’ve seen so much of the good and the bad within the music industry but ultimately your dreams are yours and yours only and sometimes you have to shut off the exterior to keep moving forward. There have been a lot of obstacles that we’ve faced doing music for a living and even today I continue to be on the brink of ending it all and moving on. But if you can focus on music and expressing yourself in an explicitly and unforgivingly honest way, then you are in control of your dreams and outcomes. Nobody can take that away, and I’ve seen so many music biz good-for-nothings contribute to artists becoming so frustrated with it all that they simply quit. So this track is really about that – keeping the music devils out and letting your own ambitions and hopes direct your art.

Having worked with youths at risk in Chicago, how has that inspired you both on a humanitarian level & your perceptions of aesthetics, politics, etc?

Thanks for asking about this. That’s what I’ve been talking about at recent shows as I mentioned earlier. Spending a summer in Chicago last year was life-changing. The guy on the cover of our single (as well as on the cover of our new album) is a young man from Chicago’s South Side that became a good friend and whose story, personal drive, and incredible talent really inspired me. I was working with a lot of amazing youth that face ridiculous challenges ever day solely based on the color of their skin. These are young men and women that are as talented as anyone I know, and yet cannot fully embrace their talents because their streets are unsafe, their fridges empty, and the society around them (including, unfortunately, many of our police officers and politicians) unwilling to take drastic steps toward meaningful change. The program I worked for was trying to change that and luckily things are looking much better for many of the students I interacted with, but there are millions of others not receiving the help and opportunities they deserve. Obviously a lot has been said and written recently about racial divisions in America, but through my summer in Chicago and these new friendships, I was really inspired and that naturally translated into our music. The album is partially about Chicago and what I saw with my own eyes (including a gang-related shooting right in front of me), and in that sense is intrinsically political. We’ve never explicitly been a political band, but all art is political in a way and I think lately our music is taking more of that angle. At the very least, the new album is inspired by the students, most of them from Chicago’s South Side, that I had the pleasure of working with last summer.

Hopeful words & thoughts for our world?

Phew, after all that it’s hard to feel hopeful! Well, the number one thing I’ve seen through my shows, the people I’ve met in random corners of the world, and other personal experiences I’ve had is that the human drive can be incredibly inspiring. People overcome obstacles that many of us don’t even know exist. Whether it’s refugees from Syria or underprivileged youth in Chicago, people fight for a better tomorrow with all they got and that is simply amazing. I’ve seen it directly through my own mother, who alone dragged me as a small child across the world in search of a better future. Now I’m seeing it again as a traveling musician and a US citizen, and I’m hoping that I can contribute meaningfully through music and other personal endeavors.

Upcoming projects in the works?

New album Life is Everywhere will be out in early 2017, so we’re solely focused on that.

Listen to more via Soundcloud.