Exclusive Q&A: Todd Goldstein Is ARMS

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Todd Goldstein, best known for his involvement with New York band Harlem Shakes (RIP), is a solo artist in his own right. Kids Aflame, ARMS‘s debut album is finally getting its US release through Gigantic Music on October 27th. New Yorkers can preview the material this Saturday at the Bell House when he plays a free show with his new band; in the meantime, read what Todd has to say about his inspirations, the direction of the second album, and why ARMS and not legs.

Flavorpill: Where did the name for the solo project come from?

Todd Goldstein: Well, I started doing this five years ago. I started doing this new music that had a specific style and a certain feel. I had been doing very different stuff before that. So I was like, “This new thing needs a name.”

The story that I tell is there’s a British rapper called Ears and the idea of having a body part — sort of plural body part — as a name was something that just struck a chord, so I literally went through a bunch of different body parts. I was like “legs, hands, feet…” ARMS has a silly double entendre within it that I could live with. It didn’t hit me like a bolt from the blue, but I figured I could live with this name. So it has stuck. Sometimes I like it, sometimes I hate it, but it’s alright.

FP: Why all caps, or is not caps, because I’ve seen it —

TG: All caps happened recently. I don’t know I just think it looks a lot awesomer, all caps. When it’s capital A and a couple of small letters, it seems like you’re talking about the actual object of arms, but when it becomes — when it’s all caps it puts the focus on just the letters and the word and I think it’s got sort of a weird authority, seriousness when you put it in all caps.

FP: The solo project came about because of the downtime with Harlem Shakes and all your other projects?

TG: No, it was before I joined Harlem Shakes actually. I’d always been making music myself and writing songs for 15 years now and I — yeah, I don’t know. I was doing that and then I joined Harlem Shakes after I’ve been doing for maybe two years already. And already — I’d just gotten a record deal in the UK and then I immediately started playing with Harlem Shakes.

FP: So, more fun to play by yourself or with a band?

TG: Different. When I play with other people, I can kind of hang up my ego a little bit and just play my instrument, which is something that I really like doing. When I work by myself it’s this very time consuming and energy emotional, emotion consuming experience — trying to write my own songs and do something that, you know, that’s an expression of just my own ideas, but I keep the ARMS stuff a lot closer to me than when I work with other people.

FP: I noticed for your inspirations, you wrote books and coffee. Anything specific?

TG: What, in terms of books or in terms of coffee?

FP: I guess books.

TG: Books… I really like Philip Roth a lot. I just find it really funny and smart and sort of lucid in this way that I really relate to. So I’m getting close to exhausting his catalog, which is weird. I like Nabokov a lot. I’m reading Ada or Ardor right now which is like a 600-gigantic-page vaguely erotic novel. I don’t know, I just really like it. I like these sort of alienated, horny intellectuals.

FP: How’s the second album coming along?

TG: I’ve got most of the way through writing a second record. Now that I have a band, I’m working out the new material with them and getting a new sound together. I think it’s going to be completely different from Kids Aflame. It’s like a totally different band.

FP: Will you be recording with the band?

TG: I hope so. Sort of working it out with them right now.

FP: So will it be less acoustic because there’s going to be a band involved?

TG: It will be more acoustic and less acoustic. With Kids Aflame I had this project in mind where I was like “I’m going to do this thing that sounds like this.” And with this new record, I kind of just took all the restraints off and I’m just going to make the most – I’m going to try to take this as far as I possibly can in terms of, you know, sound and mood and lyrics and the whole thing.

It’s just a lot more complicated than Kids Aflame. In all meanings of the word.

FP: Have you started recording yet or just in the writing process?

TG: Writing, arranging, kind of putting it together. I really want to get in the studio in the next six months.

FP: So, I’m guessing it’ll take less than three years to record?

TG: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, it may take that long to write ’cause it just takes me forever to write. When it’s done, it’ll just be like [sound effects] pooping it out.

FP: I’m curious, why did this album get released in the UK first?

TG: That was just the first person who approached me to release it. I had put it on the internet and this UK label, literally just kinda knocked on my door.

FP: Yeah, it’s been over a year since it got released in the UK.

TG: Which is kind of annoying that now it’s finally — over a year later, these songs are like five years old — it’s finally coming out in the US. Yeah, it was just the first person to show me any attention. I was like: “Yes, yes, yes, let’s put it out, let’s out it out there!” Like, great, so excited to have the opportunity.

FP: Who’s part of the new line-up, because it’s a different line-up than the one you had before?

TP: Yeah, the new one is Kendrick from Harlem Shakes on keyboards; the drummer, my friend Sam who played on Kids Aflame who now lives in New York and can play with me again, and a bass player named Mattie. Everybody sings, everybody has like really beautiful voices, so we’ve been doing a lot of like very intense harmony stuff and just a lot of reverb and really like, I don’t know, it’s got a sound. As of last week, I was like, “Oh, it’s got a sound now, so cool.”

FP: What’s the sound?

TP: Big. It’s just bigger. It’s more dramatic.

FP: Being a multi-instrumentalist (such as the ukulele), is there an instrument you don’t know how to play, but would like to?

TP: I want to be better at drums. I have like big drummer envy, so every chance — every time my drummer steps away from the kit, I like run over and have to mess around for a while.

FP: Any good yet?

TG: I’m not bad, at this point. I’m no longer bad. Yeah.

FP: It’s more difficult than it looks.

TG: Yeah, it’s really hard, it’s like juggling. It’s like all of your limbs are doing different things at different times, it’s crazy.

FP: There’s a lot of musical comparisons for your album in reviews, like Neutral Milk Hotel and Weezer. What’s the weirdest you’ve heard?

TG: Weirdest… well, Weezer would be one. I guess if it’s kinda power-poppy, I guess. There was actually one that was so weird because it was incredibly esoteric and like terrifyingly spot-on. I found some tiny, tiny UK review that compared ARMS to this short-lived band called The Icicle Factory, something like that. And I looked them up and it sounds so much like ARMS, but from like the early ’80s England that it was like finding this sort of long lost artifact. I was so pleased to find it. That was just kind of neat.

FP: What are you listening to right now and any recommendations?

TG: I am listening to —

FP: Florence and the Machine?

TG: Yeah, you found my Twitter feed. I like the Florence and the Machine record. I’ve been listening to my friend’s band Bloody Panda a lot. It’s really arty, kinda doom-metal, sort of like Sunn O))). Really like scary, noisy, a-melodic kind of stuff. So I listen to that, and I like Wale’s Mix-Tape About Nothing; I’m into that right now. It’s like hip-hop about Seinfeld.

FP: Interesting.

TG: Yeah, it is.

ARMS will be playing as part of a free concert on October 3rd at Bell House from noon to 6 p.m.

Photo credit: Elizabeth Weinberg