I spoke to Aimée Argote of Des Ark yesterday about her new record Everything Dies, knowing when a song is done, and touring as a vegan.
After The Show: Your lyrics seem carefully constructed, like the alliteration in “My Saddle Is Waitin.” How much of a drawn out/thoughtful process is songwriting for you vs. just capturing the words as they freely flow out?
Des Ark: I didn’t actually know there was any alliteration in that song – I never really thought about it, so not very much [laughs]. The songs I try to write, I always end up throwing them away…unlike the ones where I wake up in the middle of the night, or I’m at a dinner party & I tell people “I got a call, my cat’s sick” but really I run home and write it and it’s done. Maybe it takes me a couple of weeks to write it but I don’t remember. Songs that like that one I just remember being there and waiting to come.
You’ve lived and recorded music in a bunch of places like Durham, Philadelphia, and Austin…Do you mentally differentiate your songs based on geography?
Yeah definitely. I grew up in Durham — it’s where the band started/the first 5 years of the band, so the first record we put out reminds me of Durham so much…I always loved Philadelphia so I moved there and stopped writing music because I didn’t understand city life. I enjoyed living there but realized that the things I write about in my music have to do about kind of how I was raised, which was in the woods, or in a really small town, and about the dynamic that exists between communities when those communities are really small.
And something I experienced a lot in Philadelphia is when someone messes up they just disappear and find a different community to be a part of. In the south that’s impossible because people really keep up with each other. After two years of being gone it was interesting to come back home. The environment inspired me to express things that I saw and understood. I did understand Philly in a lifestyle kind of way, but I didn’t identify with it personally.
With the new record Everything Dies, you created a quieter sound to be more conducive to touring outside the constraints of a full band. But doesn’t approaching the creative process with future logistics in mind hold you back or change the actual music you’re creating?
As an accidental habit the quiet songs that I record in the studio are, across the board, impossible to pull off live. I actually don’t think about that at all…I think what I meant is the challenge of figuring out how to do that is really fun. The songs all start as tiny little acoustic things on a guitar, then I go to the studio and build on that with 20 vocal layers or 18 guitars and that’s what’s interesting…to go on tour and say ‘how are we going to pull this off’?
Then it’s really fun again because that’s your challenge, that’s your project. With this band what I’ve realized over the years is I’ll always be on the tour…Recording is a very different thing than touring – on a stage it’s a physical thing. I need to feel like my body is really engaged rather than my intellect.
You’ve got a booking agent but you’re DIY and do pretty much everything else. How do you balance the artistic act of creating with the process of promoting the product of that creation?
I don’t – [laughs] I don’t promote it! It was funny when we got the booking agent, he said “you’d be really surprised -for as long as you’ve been [touring] how not many people know who you are.” The one thing I’ve always done is be on tour. I sort of refuse to do anything aside from that…like I don’t need to actively use my gender to get a magazine cover. I’m just not interested in doing that for myself…and it hasn’t really made sense to do that with the band. I’m not that person – it’s not in my nature to do that.
I hate playing local shows, I just don’t want to know anybody. I always want it to feel like it’s an accident when anyone shows up because when I think about that stuff I get really nervous and start picking the songs apart, and if I know that anyone else is paying attention I stop doing it.
You said that while recording you struggle with second guessing things – how do you finally figure out when a song is done or when to change some lyrics or add a guitar part?
I drive people nuts with that so I think that’s why I ended up playing so many of the instruments myself…The songs just let you know when they’re done. Until they’re done you’re miserable and it’s awful and you feel like a terrible person and then something clicks and it’s a relief that it’s all over, it’s all done.
Is there a connection for you between being a musician and living a vegan, simple, minimalist, health-oriented life?
Huh…yeah I think to some degree. I’m mostly raw vegan – the connection is that I want to play music forever and want to figure out how to be on tour without it killing me. I think it’s totally possible and I’m on the verge of figuring it out. We go to co-ops every single day on tour in Des Ark. We wake up, we go to the co-op, that’s just how we operate.
For the new record are you staying consistent with not playing any guitars in standard tuning?
Let me think….yes!
Thanks for sharing Aimée! Catch Des Ark on tour in July, August, and September (dates below):
7/23 PHOENIX AZ @ YUCCA TAPROOM
7/24 LOS ANGELES CA @ ORIGAMI VINYL *6PM*
7/27 SANTA ROSA CA @ THE FRONTIER ROOM
7/28 SANTA BARBARA CA @ BIKO INFOSHOP
7/29 SAN DIEGO CA @ SODA BAR
7/31 TUCSON AZ @ HOTEL CONGRESS *7 PM*
8/01 ALBUQUERQUE NM @ THE TANNEX
8/02 AMARILLO TX @ THE 806
8/03 AUSTIN TX @ UNICORNICOPIA
9/19 CHAPEL HILL NC @ LOCAL 506
9/20 ATLANTA GA @ MAMMAL GALLERY
9/21 JACKSONVILLE FL @ 1904 MUSIC HALL
9/22 TALLAHASSEE FL @ CLUB DOWNUNDER
9/23 ORLANDO FL @ BACKBOOTH
9/24 TAMPA FL @ EPIC PROBLEM
9/25 SAVANNAH GA @ GRAVEFACE RECORDS
9/26 COLUMBIA SC @ TBA
9/27 ASHEVILLE NC @ ODDITORIUM