For his first proper full-length in five years, Chicago’s Matt Arbogast, who performs under the moniker The Gunshy, has assembled a robust cast of collaborators and is pulling out all the stops for his fifth record, Silent Songs. A bit of a departure from his Waits-leaning, bar room prophet past, Silent Songs offers swells of strings, horns, gang vocals and tracks with a much quicker pace than the finger-picked ballads he’s known for. As the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Well Silent Songs isn’t a fix, but a reinvigoration of a powerhouse songwriter with time-tested chops.
Ghettoblaster caught up with Arbogast as he prepared for the album’s September 27 release via Sleep Recordings. This is what he told us about it.
When did you begin writing the material for your most recent album?
About three and a half years ago. Some songs came slow and lots of half songs were written. It took a while though. Too long.
What was the most difficult song to take from the initial writing stage through recording and mixing? Why was it so troublesome?
Actually, the title track “Silent Songs”. The acoustic demo had this feel to it that was really hard to replicate with the live band. We played it live a few years ago with the band who was playing with me at the time. It always felt kind of awkward when I wasn’t playing it acoustic.
There are two different recordings of that song. I fucked up and somehow deleted the main snare mic track from the first recording. I was happy with that version, but still not completely convinced by it, so I spent the few days before the drummer could come back reworking it. I rewrote the bridge and a few vocal lines. He came back to the studio thinking he was going to redo the song. We ended up spending like eight hours just working out a new drum rhythm.
The same kind of thing happened when Kara Eubanks came in to record violin. She flew in for the weekend and we started right when she got here. That night we worked for four or five hours and recorded parts to “Silent Songs”. The next morning I woke up early and listened to it a bunch. We ended up redoing everything we recorded the night before. The new violin melodies really became the guts of the intro and bridge of that song and helped to make the rest of the arranging easier.
Which of the songs on the record is most different from your original concept for the song?
Probably “Silent Songs” for the reasons above.
“Mississippi” is also a bit different than I originally was thinking. I had wanted that song to have a pretty consistent kick drum rhythm, kind of like The Weakerthans’ “Left and Leaving”. Mike Oberlin, the drummer, came over and had spent all day recording songs for the new Treasure Fleet record. He was pretty spent, so we decided to just try out some non-conventional parts. We figured it’d be easy to record a simple, straightforward part later in the week, but just wanted to have some fun.
We ended up doubling the more rhythmic initial drum beat, then overdubbing the snare separately, then taping some cymbals to his hands so we could record hand percussion. The song had a much different feel, but seemed to work.
Did you have any guest musicians play or sing on the record?
Yeah. They’re awesome. Sean Bonnette (Andrew Jackson Jihad) sang, played bass and guitar, Andrew Bryant and Justin Kinkel-Schuster (Water Liars) sang, Jeff Rosenstock (Bomb The Music Industry!) played sax, Mike Hugenuor (Shinobu, Hard Girls, Classics of Love) played guitar, Mike Oberlin (Treasure Fleet, Sass Dragons) played drums, Nate Lanthram (Troubled Hubble) played drums, Corey Wills (Inspector Owl) played guitar, Ben Grigg (Geronimo!) played trumpet, Ryan Scaccia (Rad Payoff) played bass.
Who produced the record? What input did that person have that changed the face of the record?
I built a studio and show space at my place here in Chicago (8amchicago.org). The record was recorded here. Many of the friends who played on the record provided input. Sean was living on our second floor for nine months during the writing and recording process. He’d come down to the studio often and help out with ideas and melodies. For the most part though, it’s my own beast.
Is there an overarching concept behind your new album that ties the record together?
Just trying to be positive. I guess with an emphasis on the trying. While I want to write songs forever and the biggest rush is finishing a record, I didn’t want to end up being a 50-year-old songwriter whose entire catalog is sad songs. I’ve figured out a way to get by for now. It’d be weird to hide that.
Have you begun playing these songs live and which songs have elicited the strongest reaction from your fans?
Yeah, definitely. Many of them have been played in different ways for a little while. We haven’t played the album arrangements for most of the loud ones yet though. For the record release show, we’re going to play the record from start to finish with the trumpet player, violinist and cellist (and band set up).
Folks seem to take to ‘The Independent’, ‘Bourbon in my Coffee’, and ‘Ten Years’ the most lately. ‘Anarchists on Foodstamps’ too I guess. I played the record from start to finish solo at a show recently. It’s a nice challenge to try to pull off some of the really loud songs by myself. I hope it doesn’t suck.
(Get the album as a pay-what-you-want download here: http://www.thegunshy.com/.)