Q&A: Jocelyn & Chris Arndt to Play the Hotel Utah

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Jocelyn & Chris are a New England duo consisting of a brother and sister that have a passion for the Blues and Rock, a style of music that they grew up with since the time they can remember.  “We grew up on a steady diet of rock n’ roll, jazz, and Blues, and that helped us hone in on what we liked early in our music career,” they said. Jocelyn brings a Fiona Apple/Grace Potter stage presence to the stage, while Chris’ guitar technique is dynamic and intricate, well beyond his years. In between gigs, the duo was kind enough to answer some questions for us. We talked about what the differences are between East Coast vs. West Coast audiences, where their interest in the Blues first began and what it’s like balancing schoolwork (they both attend Harvard) while being in a touring band.

I understand you’re both from New York. What do you think the differences are between East Coast vs. West Coast audiences?

Yes, we are! We’re solid New Englanders. And having said that, I’m still having a little trouble coming up with a real answer to this question. A tough one right out the gate! Umm… Are west coasters blonder? I don’t know. I guess music-wise, some sounds define each coast. So I think that’s reflected in music audiences as well. East Coasters are a little bit edgier; West Coasters are a bit dreamier.

Luckily, though, we’ve found that there’s a lot of overlap in that people all across the country have been pretty receptive to the kind of blues-rock music we play. Live music seems to be a hit all around, which gives me a lot of hope for the music industry down the line.

But as far as the minute differences between music fans from coast to coast? I’ll have to come back to you after our tour this August. We’re going to be playing from one end of the country to the other, so I’ll have ample opportunity to take some field notes and come to some more concrete conclusions. Maybe our show in San Francisco at The Hotel Utah on 8/15 will school me up a bit on the essence of West-Coast concertgoers.

When did your interest in the roots music and the blues begin?

Honestly, Chris and I have both been drawn to this kind of music since before we can remember. We grew up on a steady diet of rock n’ roll, jazz, and blues, and that helped us hone in on what we liked early in our music career. But I think we started zeroing in on a modern-meets-retro blues sound with the release of our last album, “Edges.” That was our first full-length release and having that much room on a recording to explore let us get more comfortable with ourselves as musicians and songwriters. We’d also already gotten an initial EP under our belt at that point, so the studio process was no longer a mystery to us, and we’d become closer with our producer, David Bourgeois, and the rest of our team.

So “Edges” gave us the opportunity to present ourselves to the world as a unified musical force with a defined sound to call our own. And then came “Go,” our new album, and I feel like this record is even more “us” than the last one was. We wrote all of the material for “Go” from August 2016 to January 2017, and then it came out in April, so it’s an up-to-date snapshot of who we are as artists. I think you can get to know us better by listening to it.

What are some artists that inspired you the most?

Woo! We love talking about our influences. Listening to them made us who we are now, both as artists and as people. And while Chris and I are both blues-rockers at heart, are personal tastes lead us to slightly different sounds within that broad genre, and when we bring those diverse influences back to the table as we write songs, I think it helps us overcome writer’s block and keep our songs fresh. Twice the inspiration, you know?

In general, I love big voices. Freddie Mercury, Janis Joplin, Pat Benatar, Joan Jett, Aretha Franklin. The belters. You get the gist. And Chris digs the guitar gods, both in a modern day and of yesteryear. You can find David Gilmour, Jimmy Page, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Joe Bonomossa, and Jimi Hendrix on his playlist.

When did you guys start playing music and describe the moment you knew you wanted to be serious about it?

We began playing when we were young, but it didn’t dawn on us that being musicians was a professional possibility until much later. I started piano lessons in Fourth Grade, and Chris started guitar a few months later. He would’ve been in Third Grade; he’s the baby. Before too long, we were performing together at local talent shows and fun family days.

In high school, we took the next step and started a band called “The Dependents.” We played pretty much every weekend for a while. Best high school job I could have asked for. And then, the fall of my senior year, we were playing the beer tent at the Fonda County Fair when a guy approached us and introduced himself as a music producer out of Albany.

The gist of the conversation was pretty much him saying, “So, you know you could do this for a living if you wanted to, right?” and is not really saying much of anything to reply at first because it hadn’t ever really occurred to us that music was a career option. I mean, no one had ever discouraged us from pursuing it that way; I guess it just seemed like it was too fun to be our actual job. But we thought it over and decided to go for it. That guy is now our producer and manager, David Bourgeois. It’s been four years since the Fonda Fair, and we’ve got no regrets.

How do you manage your studies at Harvard with playing music?

It’s a pretty tricky balancing act, but luckily we went into college with music already in the picture, so we don’t know one without the other. It involves a lot of work and very little sleep. But as we always say, we love them both, so it’s never really occurred to either of us to drop one for the other.

I just graduated, so this isn’t a balancing act I’m going to have to architect anymore; Chris still has another year. But I think having a lot on our plate has helped both of us learn what’s most important to us. You can figure out a lot about yourself by filling your schedule to the brim and then observing what you end up prioritizing. When you’re on the clock, you always find a way to make time for what you love. That’s how we feel about music. We love it, so we’re going to do it. Period.

What’s the toughest thing about being siblings and in a band together?

Honestly, I think being siblings makes every aspect a little easier. Most people assume there’s a lot of sibling-conflict-type stuff that gets in the way of trying to build a musical career, but it’s not like that for us. We’ve been best friends for as long as we can remember, and while we have our tense moments, we always know that no matter what happens we’ll still end up working together. We don’t have an escape from one another — every holiday and day off, and every work day too; we’re always together.

But that’s honestly a blessing. We know each other well enough to communicate without words, and we’re comfortable enough to share ideas that would make us feel stupid in front of anyone else. When one of us decides to write a song at 1 am on a weeknight, the other one is always there and down to help out. Getting angry and walking out isn’t an option — family doesn’t do that, so we always just find a way to weather our arguments and pick up on the other side. We’ve thought about this a lot, and we haven’t come up with a ‘downside’ to being in a band with each other. I know that doesn’t answer your question, but I’m not sure what else we could say we’re pretty damn lucky!

You just came out with an album. Can you tell us a little about it?

Hell yeah! First off, it’s pretty dope. Can we say that? I know we wrote it and made it so maybe that’s kind of egocentric, but we poured our hearts and souls and lives into this thing for a good while and we’re gosh-darn stoked about the way it came out. So yeah. It’s dope. And it’s not just dope cuz of our work–if we were the only ones involved making the album, it would be probably a solid ‘eh’ at best.

But, as I said, it’s dope, which is obviously way better than ‘eh’. That’s because we’ve got a team (read: a damn great team) and they all put in a total crapload of effort to take the crazy musical ideas we have and make them an audio reality. To give credit where it’s due: our manager/producer/drummer David Bourgeois and our sound engineer Brett Portzer have their fingerprints all over this project and thank god they do because the album is all the better for it. Not only did David work some major production magic, but he also flexed his manager’s muscles and wrangled a whole bunch of absolutely wonderful special guests. These include Gov’t Mule’s Danny Louis and Kung Fu’s Beau Sasser on Hammond organ, Nolan Neal (of the band Hinder and the show NBC’s The Voice) on background vocals, Eric Halborg from the Denver-based Dragondeer (a band of blues and rock and general kick-assery) on harmonica, Brian Barbarin of The Routine (San Diego’s greatest modern funk angels) on lead vocals in our first ever duet, and even more!

It was a little nerve-wracking releasing an album with that much-concentrated talent. We didn’t want to let down any of the people who decided to work with us–what if it underperformed? Luckily, the reception has been absolutely fantastic. The album is in its second straight month at #2 on the Relix Jamband top 30 and has now placed both of its first two singles inside the FMQB triple-A top 100 at 64 and 70, respectively. And the second single is still climbing–we aren’t even halfway through our campaign on that one yet! Hopefully, we can crack the top 50, and maybe even go beyond. Regardless, everyone is pretty stoked about the album, from the people who made it, to the guest players who chimed in, to the radio people who are spinning the hell out of it, to the fans who’ve listened to it and bought it.

What were some of the biggest challenges in recording it?

The biggest challenge was definitely time. We knew we wanted to release an album in the spring, but we got so busy touring last fall that we didn’t really get around to working on it until winter. Even the songwriting was done pretty last-minute. For all our previous projects, we had some songs lying around our catalog that we hadn’t yet used to pad our numbers a bit, so we didn’t have to write an entire album’s worth of songs at once. Not so for “Go”–we were starting from scratch. I remember wondering if we could still write songs at all, it had been so long. We took the week off we had around Christmas and just threw ourselves at our instruments. It took a few minutes to get over that initial hump, but once we hit our stride, the album just came pouring out. We had all the songs written by the end of January. The recording was done from the beginning of February up through mid-March when we went to SXSW. The schedule was uncomfortably tight, to say the least.

We spent an entire week in February working on “Ready Steady Go,” trying to make the parts fit together. We ended up trashing most of our ideas. That was a pretty rough week–the clock just kept ticking by, and we weren’t making any progress at all. After that week we didn’t really have enough time to deal with any mistakes. The recording had to be right the first time, or the song would have to be cut. Somehow we managed to scrape by. We recorded up through and even a little bit on the day we left for our SXSW tour. A mix and a master later, and we had a new album! The whirlwind schedule hadn’t left any time to sit back and process the project as a whole, so when we got the Dropbox link to the mastered files, everyone just about lost it. It turned out so much better than we’d ever hoped for.

Can you describe the songwriting process for you guys?

Sure! The process from song to song varies, although each tune ends up being split pretty evenly down the middle between the two of us when it’s all said and done. They all start the same way, though: one of us has an idea we think is halfway decent, and we take it to the other and build from there. Chris usually writes the instrumentation and chord structure, and I contribute the melody and lyrics. Usually.

Like I said, every song is a little bit different. We just keep whittling away, reworking our initial ideas until we’re happy with how things are coming together. Sometimes we have to leave a song for a while, take a breather, get it out of our heads, and then come back a little later (that could mean anything from a few hours to a few months) and finish the job. Other times, a tune seems to write itself. We sit down with a riff or a melody line and have a finished song an hour later. It all depends. That’s one of my favorite parts about songwriting, honestly; it’s always different, never predictable.

Can you share with our readers one thing that nobody knows about you?

Oooh. Good question. I’m trying to think of a good secret to divulge, but the problem is, I feel like everything I’m coming up with is pretty lame. Like… I like to fold origami stuff? Or, like… Chris can’t stand cantaloupe? I know, lame. Oh, I’ve got one. Chris and I were both winter sports instructors when we were in high school. I was a ski instructor, and Chris was a snowboard instructor. It was our high school job during the Winter off-season when gigs were scarcer. Our ultimate dream now is to do a musical tour of all the major ski resorts in North America. You know, ski by day, jam by night. It’s important to have goals. Eyes on the prize, right?

Jocelyn & Chris Arndt play the Hotel Utah with Anne McCue, Bob Hillman – Tuesday, Aug 15, 2017 – 8:00 PM – 21 and over – $10

With a discography that includes albums on Digital Nations (a Steve Vai imprint), music critic Louis Raphael has always kept a pulse on the San Francisco music scene. After years as the San Francisco Music Examiner for Examiner.com and AXS.com, he decided to start Music in SF® as a way to showcase what the San Francisco music scene really has to offer.

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