Change is a guaranteed part of life. We evolve in every way imaginable and are only left with fossils of our former selves. ARK’s debut, Songs in the Key of i, is very much like an old photograph – capturing a moment in time and giving us an idea of one man’s journey to the present. Since its recording, a lot has changed for Ark Calkins’ musical identity. ARK has grown from the solo-project of a futurist singer-songwriter, to a four-piece jungle jazz collective. I wrote Ark, inquiring about the EP and the development of his music and live performance. Enjoy.
The cassette release show for Songs in the Key of i is this Friday, June 19, at Spacebar. If you’d like to hear ARK’s progression for yourself, I suggest you listen to minimalistic sounds on Songs in the Key of i, then come hear them expanded into the stratosphere at the show. Fellow Orlando acts, Waitress and Common Man, will be preforming too. Preview them below the interview.
M: When I’ve see you play live, I’m hit with a large ethereal wave. But, ‘Songs in the Key of i’ feels more contained and concentrated. Was this a planned change? If so, what brought it on?
A: That’s really rad to hear. I definitely go for a more ethereal vibe when I play live, so I’m happy it translates. It’s funny you that you ask if this was a planned change, because I actually wrote and recorded these songs back in 2012. They were my first foray into song writing, before I had even conceptualized my 2014 “loop” set.
M: How did recording the EP directly onto an iPad alter the process? What was easier? What was more difficult?
A: Recording to the iPad was essentially my way of diving into the world of recording and composition. Before that, I had no experience with any recording software or hardware, and was trying to teach myself the basics. It was surprisingly dynamic, though. I was able to move the iPad anywhere it needed to be to have the mic pick up the best audio. So it was sometimes easier, and sometimes painstakingly difficult to find the perfect spot to pick up any tonality at all.
M: Where were the songs recorded, and did this location impact the making of the EP?
A: The songs were mostly recorded in the living room and bedroom of my house on Shine Ave, right next to Mills/50. This gave me lots of flexibility. Studios kind of eek me out, so I prefer to work with producers who work via home (I made a trip to Phoenix, Arizona recently to work on an upcoming release with a producer who uses this method). The only issues I ran into were making sure my roommates didn’t mind me taking up common spaces and making lots of weird sounds over and over until it was right, haha.
M: You’ve expanded your live performance to include other musicians. Does the line-up change from performance to performance? Who do you play with?
A: I’m so happy with the people who’ve decided to share their talents with me. The line-up is currently pretty solid. I don’t anticipate it changing, at least in terms of who’s playing instruments. I’m including some friends in the next installation for June 19th who will control the lighting personally, with floodlights. So I guess that’s a line-up change, haha.
We have Dave Hanson on synth (Adam & the Plastic, Goodrich & the Die Tryin’s, The Plush Monsters, Sterling Schroeder & the Chosen Ones), Katy Bradford on bass, Bob Hellmuth on 2nd guitar (Day Joy, Sterling Schroeder & the Chosen Ones, Grovewanderer), and Erin Butler on drums. Our lighting performers will be Jahfre Colbert and Alex Halenda.
M: Have these additions made playing live any different for you?
A: Live performances, for me, are the real reward for focusing on music. I really love the push and pull of energy that happens when music is live. When I was solo, I had to put out a lot of energy to match what would be happening in the room. That, or I had to give more energy out if it wasn’t being given from a crowd. With a band, I’m able to share that energy with others. This is far less draining for me, and is way more enjoyable. It’s a whole different beast.
M: Even from just reading the title, you can tell that ‘Songs in the Key of i’ is a personal EP. How does playing this material with other people change its meaning?
A: The entire EP is a journey of self-discovery, and self-realization. Of course, the inspiration was my own personal journey; I feel like I was sleepwalking through my life until about 2011. But I like to leave things open to interpretation. I enjoy art that’s applicable to anyone’s life. So just as much as this is mine, it’s yours. And theirs. Playing it with other people only reinforces and strengthens that purpose.
M: Lastly, what do you think the Orlando music community needs to grow?
A: I’ve been playing music in Orlando since 2008. Some people have been making music here since 2001. The community comes and goes. It’s been bigger, and it’s certainly been smaller. What we’re seeing currently is a new generation of Orlandoans making music. To grow, we have to collaborate: different line-ups at shows, genre-bending, investment in the community, going to shows, and creating new things when everything feels stale.
No small feat, but we have to shed that ego and not take ourselves too seriously, while at the same time taking our craft seriously. I don’t know if that makes sense, but there’s a delicate balance to it. Orlando is rad, and I dig the vibes that people are putting out now. We’re always doing big things. We just have to keep putting the work in to help each other grow.
A huge thanks to Ark for taking the time to talking to me. And thank you for taking the time to read our discussion.