Arms and Sleepers

<img src="" alt=" " />QRO chatted up Arms & Sleepers a week into their European tour at Jubez, in Karlsruhe, Germany. ...

  On the tour, the two founding members Max Lewis and Mirza Ramic were joined by Kyle (drums, trumpets) and Ben Shepard (vocals, keyboards).  The foursome dishes on the trials and tribulations of touring through the academic holiday season, pretzels, state-sponsored youth centers, the art of collaboration, and their latest release, Matador (QRO review):


QRO: How many people are in the band, or is it a fluid kind of thing?

Mirza Ramic: There’s four of us.  On this tour we’ve got a guy who’s never really toured with us, who’s singing live, who sang on our last record…

QRO: Who’s that?

MR: His name’s Ben; he plays in Uzi & Ari, another band, and he’s opening every show… [except for tonight]

QRO: And the other members?

MR: Oh, there’s Max… Max and I do all the music; Kyle plays drums and trumpets for us live; and Ben takes care of the vocals and some keyboards.

QRO: Where are you guys out of?  I thought I saw someone from Maine….

MR: I live in Portland, Maine now.  Kyle lives in Boston, so does Max.

[Ben ambles into the interview]

QRO: So how’s everything been so far on the tour?  Any major catastrophes?  Pleasant surprises?

Max Lewis: Things have been solid so far.  This is maybe the seventh or eighth show, so we’re like a week in.  We played two shows, a show in Luxembourg, in Belgium, four dates in the UK, last night in France, and tonight we’re here [in Karlsruhe, Germany].  There’ve been some good shows, some not so good shows, kind of a mix…

QRO: Yeah, what’s been a good show, what’s been a not so good one?

MR: Last night was good… in France.

QRO: Where was that?

MR: In Lille; that was really good, Luxembourg, London, were all really good.  Some of the other cities though, the smaller ones in the U.K. were tough for shows.

QRO: Whereabouts in the U.K.?

MR: We went to Hull in northern England, which is kind of way up there.  It was okay, people were really nice, people were excited, but there wasn’t really a big crowd…

QRO: It’s tough right now; it’s like the holiday season right now… everyone’s relocated from the university places at the moment.

MR: Yep, that’s the tough part about the U.K. shows.

QRO: So, did I see that you guys have been through Europe?  I think I saw that you’ve done European tours before?

MR: Yeah, we’ve done two before…

QRO: Been through Germany before?

MR: Our label is based out of Germany, so we’ve got a bunch of German shows.

QRO: I covered a show in Stuttgart by Caspian (QRO review), who you guys have also played with…

MR: And we’re touring with them in the U.S. in a few months.

QRO: Germany has got this weird thing where there are these "youth organization centers"… [Jubez] is kind of like one of those.

MR: It feels like that.

ML: An all-ages kind of thing…

QRO: Yeah, but it’s like state-sponsored…  So have you guys played in those types of places before?  Because they tend to be kind of a weirder crowd – the one in Stuttgart, whole families would go…  Have you ever seen anything like that?

ML: Have we?

Kyle: Not sure.  Maybe once.

MR: We’ve played in places kind of like [Jubez].  Sort of youth centers.

QRO: I don’t see any parents here.

ML: Not yet. [laughter] You never know…

MR: But it’s nice that they have places like this where they can bring in bands from abroad, pay them, give us dinner and all that….

QRO: Was it some spaetzle?  Some good hearty German food?

K: I think it was more like an eggplant-potato curry served over rice kind of thing.

QRO: Sort of world cuisine.

K: We had some pretzels though, so that counts for maybe the German thing.

QRO: Pretzels!  That’s pretty good – they love them here, they just walk around the streets eating their pretzels.  So let’s talk about the album Matador: how did it come together and all that?  I heard there was a lot of collaboration, within the band, outside the band.

ML: Sure – as we were writing the songs we realized we needed some vocals. 

And we prefer them to be good vocals, but neither of us (Max and Mirza) can sing…

  So naturally we had to go find some real singers…


ML: Yeah, it’s true. (We try, but we can’t sing) So we had to find some singers.  We contacted Ben, who’s with us now, and he said yes.  Also we wanted some guitar in a style we don’t normally play, so we contacted Philip Caspian and asked him…


We kind of wanted to involve more people because we generally like collaboration.

  We’re happy with the record having different people with different ideas that we wouldn’t necessarily have ourselves, so that makes it exciting for us too, to see that difference.

QRO: When was Matador released?

MR: It was released in Europe at the end of November [2009].

QRO: Cool, so where are you guys headed next after Karlsruhe?

MR: Tomorrow’s Frankfurt, then Austria, Switzerland, then back to Germany for a few shows, then we’re also doing Poland and the Czech Republic.

ML: Three weeks to go.

QRO: Alright, good luck guys!

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    Arms and Sleepers

    <img src="" alt=" " />Better to be inside jamming out to mankind's existential predicament over a few beers than outside in the cold, cold night. ...

    Arms and SleepersA large white rectangular backdrop hung at the rear of the stage at Jubez in Karlsruhe, Germany, lending a cinematic air of anticipation to the cold, huddled masses that had braved the winter wind on Tuesday, January 5th to see Arms and Sleepers.  Sure enough, when the houselights dimmed, the rectangle became illuminated.  Grainy visuals – black and white Lumière outtakes at a snail’s pace – moved across the screen with the same dreamy ambiance as the drums and synths that floated out of the amplifiers. 

    One of the recurring images – a man running in slow motion – captured the sense of desolation and angst that lies beneath the surface of Arms and Sleepers’ music.  The dreamy qualities of their music always threaten, but never quite cross over into, the realm of the nightmare.  This is ambient trance for a troubled conscience.

    Arms and Sleepers has always had this cinematic approach.  Partly because the temper of the their music is so naturally evocative of visual imagery; partly because the two founding members, Max Lewis and Mirza Ramic, likely needed to beef out the stage presence of a band that lacks a clear frontman.  Fortunately on this European tour, the additions of Kyle (no last name – like Madonna) and Ben Shepard (of Uzi & Ari) gave the band greater flexibility and spiced things up onstage.  At certain times instrument changes among members began to feel like a Chinese fire drill, other times it worked out just right.

    Most of the songs on the night came from the recent release Matador (QRO review).  Synthesizers, live and recorded beats, and guitar built up gradual layers of sound into a sonic assemblage that hold the listener at the edge of a waking dream.  Here and there a solo instrument would rise up and above the rest (including some virtuoso melodica from Mr. Ramic); the predominant feel of the music, however, was that of a massive panorama of sound.  Good in itself, but fabulous as a backdrop for the right voice.  Mr. Shepard’s presence was especially appreciated on "Architekt", where a simple piano motif becomes a sublimely narcotic riff with the addition of his vocals.  The only discordant note of the night was a slightly out of tune toy piano (can those things even be tuned?…).

    By the time the houselights came back on, the running man had still not found his way home and the condition of modern man still looked pretty damn bleak.  No matter; Germans are use to this sort of thing.  Better to be inside jamming out to mankind’s existential predicament over a few beers than outside in the cold, cold night.

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