We live in a world where distractions are constantly available to us.
A lack of stimulation, even for a few seconds, seems intolerable when your phone is a few inches away. In doing this, however, we neglect our innermost thoughts, avoid our troubles, and fail to truly experience life in its purest form.
Folk band The Arcadian Wild explores our lack of silence and solitude in their song “Silence, A Stranger”.
With the use of an octave mandolin, fiddle, acoustic guitar, and upright bass, The Arcadian Wild blends alternative rock with traditional folk textures.
The Arcadian Wild has not only created a refreshingly new sound, they also illustrate the need for introspection and solitude in a technological age that has robbed us of our spirituality.
“Silence, A Stranger” is a powerful rally against the inundation of the mind. Have a listen, and then check out our interview with them to learn more about their songwriting process.
And you can check our the band’s website here.
A few of you were choir students previously. Has this influenced your style of music at all?
Definitely! Our background in formal, collaborative vocal music has instilled in us an attention to detail, harmony, and unity. We’re always working to lock in more precisely when singing together, and we try to write vocal parts that are unique and make good use of tension and release. Our time in choir is a huge influence on the way we write and arrange.
Who are your biggest influences?
It’s a pretty eclectic list. Nickel Creek, Punch Brothers, Alison Krauss, Sarah Jarosz, Julian Lage, Relient K, Eric Whitacre, The Tallest Man on Earth…
Is your songwriting process organic or laborious?
Our process really varies between songs. Sometimes they come in a matter of hours or days, but they can also take weeks, or even many months. As to organic vs. laborious, we always try to make sure our songwriting feels organic and true to who we are as individuals and as band, but we also try to practice patience within the process, and stick with an idea even if we need some time and space to really chase it down and develop it. So maybe both? We hope the labor of our writing is always organic, and never forced.
How has your music evolved since you first began writing songs?
A close friend of ours, who’s also a songwriter and author, drew attention to the layers he sees in our music in a blog post he wrote recently. He wrote that each time he listens to one of our songs, he finds something new, an idea that sticks out in a fresh way for him, which then causes him to experience the song in a newer and richer way. Layered music certainly isn’t unique to us, but it’s something that we’re finally growing into as a band, and we’re really enjoying that part of journey. More and more, we’re working to write songs like we’re building a structure from the ground up, rather than just trying to get from Point A to Point B. One way that’s manifesting for us is a “do more with less” approach, an ongoing attempt to get as much mileage out of a single idea as possible. As a result, we feel the songs themselves are becoming more cohesive, and deeper and richer.
Many complex songs with various instruments start with simple chords on acoustic guitar or piano. What is your songwriting process?
Ours often looks very similar. We’ve actually never really done a lot of co-writing as a band. Most of the time, one of us will bring a fairly complete lyric and song structure to the table, and then we’ll all collaborate on the arrangement and the fine details. But before that, the originator of the song typically stumbles upon a melody or a chord progression. Then a lyric might begin to naturally take shape, and we’re off. Like we mentioned before, some songs nearly write themselves, while others need to be loved into being over a long period of time. They can be shy.
Do you believe a song has to have meaning, or do you believe in art for art’s sake?
Lincoln: At the moment, my understanding is that we create art for the sake of revealing truth and/or beauty. Truth may be revealed as beautiful, and beauty may reveal the truth. The truth may also be ugly, and beauty may surpass real understanding. It’s hard to comment on the purpose or utility of art, or what it ought to do, as it’s so subjective. For us, I think we just want to make good, substantive music that connects and resonates with others.
What advice would you give to other songwriters?
Keep showing up. Do the work; don’t judge it. When it’s hard, that’s when you’re growing. Read. Read anything. Journal. Listen to lots of different kinds of music and artists. Also hold space for silence and stillness. Be kind to yourself.
Describe the genesis of “Silence, A Stranger”.
Lincoln: I play mandolin in the band, but early last year I got an OCTAVE mandolin. They’re really cool instruments, and you don’t see many of them. Mine looks like an archtop guitar, but folks get confused when they notice it has eight strings. 25% of the time someone starts a conversation with me after a show, it goes: “Hey, you guys were great! What is that thing?”
As I was first noodling around on the instrument, I found the riff that kicks off “Silence, a Stranger.” The lyric for the first verse came while I was just humming quietly to myself with the riff rolling around in my head. I think I might have been on an airplane. I got my journal out and got a few ideas down. About another month or so later, I brought the song to the group, and it slowly evolved into what it is now.
What genre would you say “Silence, A Stranger” belongs to?
That is a GREAT question. If someone figures it out, we sure would like know, ourselves! One of our perpetual struggles as a band is people are never quite sure how to describe us or where to place us. We don’t really know either. People that don’t listen to bluegrass think we’re bluegrass, and bluegrass fans are quite certain we aren’t bluegrass.
As for “Silence,” I think we tried (whether purposely or not) to make a moody and aggressive, but tempered rock song packaged in the folk aesthetic. Whether we succeeded or not is perhaps up for discussion. We sure had fun doing it, though.
“Silence, A Stranger” utilizes numerous different instruments that are stirring and evocative. However, some of the vocals and lyrics are just as emotive. Which do you believe is more important in a song; the instrumentals or the lyrics?
Man, these are great questions. At the moment, in our work together, we’re trying to make lyrics and music work together synergistically. It would be a shame to shackle an incredible musical idea to a mediocre lyric, and it would also be a huge disappointment to hear vanilla or tired music drag down a really powerful lyric.
There’s SO much music flying around our world right now, and there are SO many different artists creating it. Many are absolutely amazing. Others are… not as amazing. Seeing as everyone has so many choices as to what and who they listen to at any given moment, we view BEING listened to as an immensely important opportunity. We want to steward that gift well. We want our music to be stirring and evocative, and we want our lyrics to form connections and tell good stories.
Can you explain the idea behind the lyrics?
Our world buzzes in a kind of perpetual noise. The sources of that noise really fall all along the spectrum of good, evil, and benign. Whether we’re scrolling through Instagram, combing through news outlets, binge-watching the same Netflix special for the third time, taking pictures of our quinoa burgers, or listening to music in the car, we’re always plugged in. We’re always on. We’re experiencing our lives almost entirely in this external, visible, public world. Oftentimes, we’re even content to just watch other people live and perform THEIR lives instead of actually retethering to reality and living ours. The grand irony is that the things we do to create connection actually often diminish it. It’s an empty well we keep coming back to.
The lyric personifies Silence, Solitude, Suffering, and Stillness, and the narrator describes and his relationship with each of them. It’s a reflection on our hesitation and resistance to disconnect from the ceaseless motion and noise of the world around us; it’s scary to allow silence and stillness to lead us into our own private, inner world, where nothing can distract us from truly seeing ourselves as we are. Quiet and contemplation can be painful, but they’re much needed companions, and we risk atrophy of spirit if we fail to befriend them.
What’s your favorite line from the song?
Lincoln: Oh man. That almost feels like trying to pick my favorite character from The Office. They all just sort of need each other. If I HAD to pick, this one might be a standout.
Suffering, my mother, she has loved me since my youth.
Human beings have a fascinating relationship with suffering. Most of us make hundreds of decisions to avoid it on a daily basis. We often equate suffering with failure, when it’s really one of the surest paths to real spiritual and emotional growth. One of my favorite books is The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck. The author kicks it all off with one of the greatest first lines in print: “Life is difficult.” The rest of the book revolves around that single principle, and that when we accept that fact, life paradoxically becomes a little easier. When we think we’re not supposed to suffer, suffering seems antithetical to human life and flourishing. But when we expect to suffer, we then see it’s the ONLY way to human life and flourishing.
If you want to get even more specific, consider the biological initiation of life itself. Pregnancy and birth are rife with discomfort, pain, and suffering. It’s painful to give birth, and it’s painful to be born. That’s why Suffering becomes a mother in the lyric. She mothered all of us, and she’ll continue to love us into being as far and as long as we allow her to.
‘Silence’ is a recurring theme in the song. Did this idea come before the music, or vice versa?
The conceptual substance of the song was (and is) something frequently and deeply on my mind. It was probably lying in wait, and was just ready to come to the surface once the music began to take shape.
The song utilizes many different instruments. How do you make sure that your music is expressed in a variety of ways without it being overproduced?
We really try to shape our recordings to reflect our live performances as closely as possible. Sometimes, on this project, that’s looked like gathering around two microphones and performing everything together all at once, just as we would at a show. But even when we’re isolated in different rooms in the studio, we try to replicate the experience as best we can by playing together and maintaining lines of sight, so we can maintain strong connections audibly and visually.
The recording of “Silence, A Stranger” features octave mandolin, acoustic guitar, fiddle, and upright bass, and what you hear on the track is what you’d hear if you saw us perform.
Is there any more new music in the works?
Most definitely. “Silence, a Stranger,” is the lead single off a record we’ll release in just a few months, and we’ll put out a couple more singles between now and then. It’s been a hot minute since we’ve had the chance to produce another full-length album, and we could not be more excited about it.
Are there any touring plans we should know about?
Of course! We’re touring through the southeast and midwest this winter/spring, and we’re playing a lot of house shows right now. One of the things we love about these kinds of performances is the unique intimacy that’s possible between artist and audience. Everyone’s usually really locked in and engaged. House shows have always been an integral part of our touring schedules, and they’re always really special experiences for us. You can find our show schedule and ticket links at http://www.thearcadianwild.com/shows. AND if you think might be interested in actually helping host a house concert, you can visit http://www.thearcadianwild.com/booking/houseshows.