Last month Arc Iris put out what is undoubtedly the best sophomore album of the year, if not the year’s full-out best record. August 19th saw the release of Moon Saloon, the full-length follow-up to Rhode Island trio Arc Iris’ 2014 self-titled debut. The album plays like a quirkily poignant postmodern electro cabaret. Although they would seem to pride themselves on their eclectic amalgam of sounds (which have been praised by the likes of NPR, Spin, and Stereogum, among others), I have to say that it’s likely the best dream pop album since The Bird and the Bee’s debut, and similarly laden with chamber pop, synthpop, girl-group, and jazz influences. Arc Iris are currently on an extensive tour, that will take them across the US and select parts of Europe through the end of November, including a stop this coming Wednesday, September 14th, at Boot & Saddle, where they will be supported by both-our-and-their dear friends, Superhuman Happiness. I recently got a chance to chat with Arc Iris founder, songwriter, vocalist, guitarist, and mainperson, Jocie Adams, who told me about the band’s most recent sounds and visuals and what they’re currently most looking forward to.
Izzy Cihak: Since this is a Philadelphia publication, I have to ask: What do you think about the city? You’ve played here a few times now. Have you had a chance to explore it at all?
Jocie Adams: We were able to visit the Penn Museum, which was really special and unusual, given the way our schedule works on the road. It was full of beauty and knowledge and I am so happy that we were able to get there. As a city, Philly seems to be very rich with culture and has many different special corners within it.
Izzy: And you just released Moon Saloon. How do you feel like the album compares to your debut? Do you feel like a significantly different band, or did it feel like a natural progression?
Jocie: Arc Iris has gone through a wonderful natural progression and will continue to do so! If you see the live show, I think that you will see that we have grown in many ways since the album was made. I don’t think that we are excited about being in a band that is stagnant. We are still learning a lot about playing with each other and finding the limits of our abilities, and I hope that that continues to be the case for as long as Arc Iris is so lucky to exist.
Izzy: I think that “Johnny” is my favorite song of the year. It’s such a wonderfully weird amalgam of like Rasputina and The Asteroids Galaxy Tour (And maybe even a bit of Poe, but I think that I may just be getting that subliminally because of the title.) How did that particular track come about?
Jocie: I wrote “Johnny,” on a rainy day. It was the last day of my songwriting retreat and I don’t do particularly well with grey skies or the cold. I huddled up into a cabin that had a fireplace in it, but I don’t think the flue was working very well because the whole cabin filled with smoke. It was as I lost oxygen that I wrote this song. At the time I thought it was a throwaway, and then later realized that its silliness is wonderful, political, and sparkly.
Izzy: You’re on Bella Union, which is one of my favorite labels. How is it working with them? Do you have any particular favorite labelmates? I’m super into Emmy the Great, Marissa Nadler, and Pins.
Jocie: Bella Union is a beautiful label run by wonderfully passionate people. Having people on your team with that kind of passion is nearly impossible to find, and we feel so very lucky to have been adopted by them. We are huge fans of Van Dyke Parks, among others, of course!
Izzy: I really love your videos for “Kaleidoscope” and “Moon Saloon,” especially “Moon Saloon,” which gives me kind of a Tarkovsky/von Trier vibe. What is it that inspires the visual elements of Arc Iris?
Jocie: We are always trying to push boundaries while maintaining elegance. We are inspired by the history of music and art and pull seemingly disparate elements together that blend in new ways, opening doors to the future of our music-making. Even in the silly moments we try to maintain our grace, however, and I think I look to the visual arts to understand that more than I do to music. When people ask what Arc Iris sounds like, I often point to visual artists before I point to musicians, because I think it’s easier to imagine what I mean. For example, imagine if Renoir did his take on a Dali. That’s kinda the way I think of Arc Iris.
Izzy: In addition to that, you have a really great sense of personal style. Do you have any particularly significant “style icons?”
Jocie: To be honest, not really. I am definitely not an expert in visual art. I have studied it as a hobbyist and love it very much. I would love to have the opportunity to be endorsed further into the world of fashion and learn more about it. I think if we found the right co-conspirator on the costuming front, the seamlessness of the whole would be a bit more elegant.
Izzy: You have kind of a ton of upcoming dates. Are there any cities you’re especially excited to visit or revisit?
Jocie: Haha! “Kind-of-a-ton” is a good set of words for it! We are delighted to have a full schedule this fall. I really love playing Brussels, Amsterdam, and French Quebec for technical reasons, but unfortunately we won’t be visiting French Quebec this time around.
Izzy: You’re playing a number of dates with Superhuman Happiness, who I’m also a big fan of. What are your thoughts on getting to share the stage with them? I’m assuming they’re friends of yours?
Jocie: We couldn’t be more excited to share the stage with Superhuman Happiness. Stuart is a really special musical and spiritual friend of mine. We bonded while on tour with The Low Anthem and Iron and Wine and haven’t fallen out of touch since. I think we will be doing some collaborating on this tour, and that is very exciting for all parties!
Izzy: What can be expected of the live experience this time around. It’s been a couple years since we’ve seen you (I think.) and I think it might be your first official headlining show here.
Jocie: You can probably expect to be bewildered and delighted! Beyond that, you will have to decide for yourself!
Izzy: Finally, what’s next for you? How do you hope to spend this December, once you get home, and then the first part of 2017?
Jocie: We won’t be home until Christmas (keep your eye on the calendar), at which point we will be beginning to plot for our next journey and to work on future recordings.