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On the Rise: A Call to ARMS

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Todd Goldstein has made some sweet music in his bedroom. Trust me when I say that sounds a lot dirtier than it's intended to. The indie rocker, arguably best known for his work with the band Harlem Shakes, was messing around with his guitar in his bedroom for a bit (that too isn't a sex reference -- promise) and that ultimately led to the formation of a new one-man band called ARMS. The "group's" debut Kids Aflame had been released in the UK for a bit, but just made its way to the states via Gigantic Music. This labor of love from the Brooklyn musician is quite impressive it even features the ukulele on a song -- top that. I spoke with the rising star about his previous band, making the album, and touring with ARMS, but unfortunately not anything about He-Man sidekick Man-at-Arms.

How long did Harlem Shakes sideline ARMS?

I played in Harlem Shakes for nearly four years - from January 2006 up until recently. At the moment, Harlem Shakes are on an indefinite, amicable hiatus as we all pursue our individual projects. It's a bittersweet situation as [the band] has been my life for such a long time, but I'm quite happy to finally be able to focus on ARMS in a way that I've never gotten to before. Now, it's ARMS all the time, and the experience is as scary, exhilarating, and creatively rewarding as I could have hoped. We're in the process of auditioning drummers right now. Know anyone good?

Sorry, I can barely play the triangle. Would you say your music is more represented by ARMS than Shakes?

Definitely ARMS. While i was intimately involved in the creative process of Harlem Shakes, I was one member of a discrete, five-minded unit, and so my ideas always got built upon by other peoples' ideas. The product was always the result of five very different people working very hard on something all at once, and, more often than not, it came out great and made us happy. ARMS is me, alone in my room, agonizing over songwriting for hours upon days upon months until something comes out, and then bringing it -- more or less completed -- to whichever musicians I'm working with at the time. It's intensely personal music, and requires endless amounts of work and thought on my part. Now, I'm trying to put together a real band for the first time in nearly five years.

How long have you been working on the ARMS record?

I spent about three years on Kids Aflame, start to finish. The oldest song is 'Ana Martha,' which I wrote when I first got to New York City in 2004. The newest is 'Fall,' which I wrote on tour with Harlem Shakes in 2007. I played most of the instruments, recorded them with one microphone, and then spent a lot of time in a darkened room with my headphones on, tinkering in protools until I came up with a sound I could live with. In the end, the record ended up being a scrapbook of my strange, confusing first few years here: heavily fictionalized, mediated, and digested. If you take all of the weird stories on the album about kids catching on fire and falling out of windows and slaughterhouses and all that, pull the camera out to the most abstract level, and then zoom back in, you'd probably come up with something like where I was at mentally circa 2005.

How'd the record release come about? The album was released in the UK already.

I'd been writing songs forever, since i was 12 or 13, and tried a million different styles but not really feeling suited to any of them. Once I moved to New York and got all sad, music started making sense to me in a different way. The music slowed down internally, the melodies got sadder, the tone got a bit more atmospheric. I recorded a little demo record and sent it out to anyone who would listen. Anyone who added me on my MySpace anyone who emailed me about the music, literally anyone got a free ARMS CD in the mail. After a while, the songs started showing up on blogs, and I suddenly had 250 emails in my inbox asking for the EP. Soon enough a British label called Melodic emailed me asking if they could put out my record. Overjoyed, I said 'yes.' Then I started playing with Harlem Shakes, and ARMS had to be put on the back burner for the next few years. It's funny that Kids Aflame was begun so many years ago and is just now getting a real US release. S--t is old!

Does ARMS stand for anything?

Nope. I recently changed it to all caps, though, because I liked how making it all capitals puts the focus on the sound and look of the word itself versus "Arms," which just seems like your talking about someone's extremities.

True that. Many of the songs are deep but upbeat at the same time - is that done on purpose?

Definitely. I've got these poles to my listening habits -- I'm obsessed with pop songs, and nothing gives me shivers more than a tightly written, energetic piece of perfect pop but I've also got a very depressive, f--ked up streak, and I like listening to music that takes its time, messes with sound and reality, [and] takes you somewhere imaginary. With the songs on Kids Aflame, I tried to find a balance between that craft-focused pop thing and the 'deeper,' darker/slower music that I keep closest to my heart. Low, red-house painters, Galaxie 500, My Bloody Valentine, Magnetic Fields, old echo-y country music... in the end, I wanted to strike that happy/sad emotional tone that characterizes my all-time favorite pop bands. The next record, which I'm deep in the midst of writing, will be much further off the slow/weird deep-end.

I have to ask what's up with Brooklyn? Why are today's hottest acts coming from that borough?

Isn't more like "this decade's" hottest acts coming from Brooklyn? It feels like forever that Brooklyn's been the place that creative, popular bands come from. I guess it has something to do with the cheaper (than Manhattan) rents, and the sort of cultural/geographical drift that happens over time, where the artists move in and attract other artists, who in turn attract other artists and create a culture of creativity, and so forth. for me, I live in Brooklyn because I love New York, but can't quite picture myself living amid the hustle and bustle. I live on a quiet, tree-lined street, in an apartment owned by the deli-owner across the street. I can relax, collect my thoughts, work peacefully and live in a real neighborhood and then go three subway stops and experience the rush and romance of New York City. It's a pretty sweet deal, and not surprising that other people find it inspiring.

Lastly, What's the best song you never wrote?

Lately, I've been sort of kicking myself for not writing Grizzly Bear's "Two Weeks." Too perfect -- you crafty bastards! I'm going to cover it just so I can make myself feel a little better.

For more, visit http://www.myspace.com/armsongs

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