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Arc in Round is one of those rare projects slowly seeping its way into the underground consciousness. Philadelphia’s Arc in Round (formerly Relay) has been churning away for five years, tooling around with atmospheric walls of sound thanks to frontman and studio savant Jeff Zeigler. With the name change came the addition of a “visceral level of chaos/noise” Zeigler said, while singer Mikele Edwards notes the different style of drumming. Listening to the Arc in Round sound is like a geological breakdown, characterizing and distinguishing noise layer by layer. Zeigler’s studio know-how has garnered him credits on more than 20 albums as either producer or engineer, including Kurt Vile‘s Childish Prodigy and Lymbyc System‘s Shutter Release. However, Zeigler now wants to focus on Arc in Round’s creative direction. With a new EP due out in Novemeber and a tour and full-length to follow, Edwards and Zeigler stole time from a frightening schedule to answer some questions.
It’s been about a year since the name change. I know it couldn’t have been easy considering Relay was a major fixture in the Philly scene, so how are people responding to Arc in Round?
JEFF ZEIGLER: There was some head scratching at first when we changed our name (especially when the new name is seemingly nonsensical, I suppose) but, like with any band name, all it takes is time and a musical representation of the name to have an impact and the name molds itself around the band. There were some issues with rights to the name Relay that seemed as if they were going to get worse, and we felt as if we were essentially a different band at that point anyway, so the name change seemed pretty logical. So far response to the band itself has been really positive for us.
The name change came about because of too many bands using same name, but where did Arc in Round come from?
JEFF ZEIGLER: Arc In Round is the name of a song by the band Disco Inferno. We’re fans of the band and the song, and wanted to pay homage to a group and an aesthetic that never seemed to properly get it’s due. And I like the sound and imagery of the name.
When Relay’s debut Still Point of Turning came out in 2006, your signature textured sound could have fooled people into believing that Relay was some hidden treasure from early 90s London scene. How did you get to the point where you essentially mastered the shoegaze sound?
JEFF ZEIGLER: Well, we were just doing what we liked and never really approached our songs or sound with the intention of being particularly shoegazey, even if that was the end result, and one of our many influences. There are some obvious similarities in the use of delay and vocal levels, but we were trying to approach it a bit more angularly at times and just sort of did what we felt like. I can honestly say a lot of it came from not totally knowing what we were doing and fishing around for different things and ending up with results that may have veered from what we had intended. Mikele and I are both big Stereolab and Swirlies fans, moreso than say, Ride and the like, so if it sounds all that 90’s London Shoegaze it wasn’t necessarily intentional!
MIKELE EDWARDS: Right, we rarely, if ever, make a conscious effort to sound like any particular genre or scene. It just happens that we share a similar aesthetic to shoegaze bands – and like Jeff mentioned, we’re both bigger fans of bands like Stereolab, Swirlies, My Bloody Valentine than Jesus & Mary Chain, Ride. And these are influences that we shared from our high school/college years when we didn’t know each other.
The music since the name change seems more defined, but in a chaotic way, if that makes any sense. Was there any intention towards crafting even heavier layers on top of even sweeter pop sounds?
JEFF ZEIGLER: I think we’ve made a conscious decision to add a bit more of an improvised, sort of visceral level of chaos/noise at times in order to counter the more tight and refined elements and maintain some contrast.
MIKELE EDWARDS: The newer songs also differ from the Relay songs in that some of them began as a simple keyboard line instead of a guitar chord progression. In a way, this lends itself to adding more elements to fill out the song and driving the song in a more rhythmic sense than say, with heavy, layered guitars. I think this can also be attributed to the different styles of the drummers we used with the Arc In Round material.
I was at the show at Johnny Brenda’s in Philly on Aug. 27. The band Busses opened for you guys and were absolutely stunning. Then I find out from their parents that you engineered the album. What kind of work did you do on the album and how did you get involved with them?
JEFF ZEIGLER: We did a lot of the basic tracking and some of the overdubs at Uniform [Studios], and then they did some additional layering at their rehearsal space. And then we fine-tuned and mixed at my place. Dave [Brett] from Busses actually used to sing in Mikele’s old band, South Congress, and we’ve known each other for a long time. They’re really talented guys and it was a really fun record to work on. And they are truly great live.
MIKELE EDWARDS: Dave and I played together for a few years – Busses are one of my favorite Philly bands to see live right now.
Your studio work is in high demand, having produced Kurt Vile, Lymbyc Systym, War on Drugs among others. Do you find it to be a double-edged sword taking on these projects, and not having enough time for your own? How do you fit it all in?
JEFF ZEIGLER: Definitely! I don’t fit it all in very well to be honest. It’s very hard to devote proper time to my own band when I’m working on other projects, but it’s vital to my happiness that I have that creative outlet and feel like things are moving forward. Properly dividing my time between the two has always been difficult. There’s a good chance that I may take a bit of time off from outside projects when our new records are out in order to focus solely on making music.
Talk a little about your relationship with Kurt Vile. How did you guys meet and come to work together?
JEFF ZEIGLER: Kurt and I both lived in Boston in the late 90’s, and though we didn’t know each other then, we discovered we had some mutual friends and influences after we both moved to Philly and eventually met. He was a fan of the Relay stuff, and we were both big Swirlies and Sonic Youth fans, and in to gnarly guitar sounds, so it seemed logical for us to work together.
It must help when people find out you produced his work (Kim Gordon even said she listens to it “too much”). Have any opportunities come along because of the success of those albums you two worked on?
JEFF ZEIGLER: Well, to clarify, most of the work Kurt had done up until Childish Prodigy was home-recorded, though I would help him with edits and some sound tweakage at times. We did the majority of Childish Prodigy here, and have done a bit of the tracking for the follow up here too. A few records have come my way from working on Kurt’s stuff, but usually people are coming to me because they’re aware of a broader number of records that I’ve worked on, which is cool too.
The Kim Gordon comment was interesting for two reasons: 1. It’s fucking awesome, right?; 2. I hear a lot of Arc in Round/Relay songs (“Said Astray” for one) and think they could fit quite easily into different era Sonic Youth. Especially with Mikele Edwards and you switching on lead vocals. She has a gorgeous voice.
MIKELE EDWARDS: Thanks.
Don’t you also do live sound engineering? Who have you done that for?
JEFF ZEIGLER: I’ve done touring sound for Frightened Rabbit, The Twilight Sad, Pattern is Movement and Kurt Vile, among others. I also do house sound at Johnny Brenda’s from time to time…
Back to Arc in Round, there are a lot of major underground sounds in your music. “Spirit” is a masterpiece of production, a real contribution to the science of shoegaze and dreampop craft. Where do your influences lie?
JEFF ZEIGLER: Thanks for the kind words. “Spirit” is based on a melody that Mikele came up with, which we fleshed out over the course of recording. I’d say that one in particular was pretty heavily indebted to the machine logic of bands like Camberwell Now (Charles Hayward of This Heat‘s post TH project). Other than that I don’t really know. I may have Mikele field this one…
MIKELE EDWARDS: Around the time when I wrote the basic keyboard melody of “Spirit,” we were listening to a lot of Camberwell Now. Their songs have a way of alternating between heavy, rhythmic parts and catchy, melodic parts. I think that juxtaposition influenced the feeling of “Spirit” for me. And once we got the structure down for this song (first came the verse and chorus keyboard parts), everything else came very naturally.
Do you get time to listen to new music? If so, what has your attention at the moment?
JEFF ZEIGLER: Off the top of my head: Micachu and the Shapes, Tuneyards, Violens, Atlas Sound, Daily Life, Frog Eyes, Fabulous Diamonds, Grouper, Nightlands, Pattern is Movement, War on Drugs and the new Grooms record I’ve been working. That’s a short quick list. There’s a ton of good new music out there.
If you could choose one band to produce in the studio, one band to collaborate with on an album, and one band to engineer their live show, who would they be?
JEFF ZEIGLER: Hmmm…I have no idea! Most of the bands I tend to love already do a great production job on their own and my role is to help facilitate that and not get in the way, and hopefully amplify a band’s strengths and broaden them a bit. I’d really rather just be a fly on the wall of some Can and This Heat sessions, and maybe Bark Psychosis and Talk Talk? Maybe the sessions for Joy Division‘s Closer. I dunno, the list could be endless. I’m generally more interested in helping someone else’s vision rather than imposing much of my own, although I’ll gladly offer suggestions and try to keep things on track and help create the right atmosphere. I tend to like a fair amount of seemingly-obsessive bands that already have their own aesthetic in place. I’d rather watch them work and learn about their process than try to produce them in my own way. In terms of collaboration, I’d say maybe Broadcast?
I saw Brooklyn’s A Place to Bury Strangers in Rittenhouse Square Park and was literally blown away. It actually hurt. It was a supersonic experience. Despite the volume and the three-piece setup, there are some philosophical similarities there. What do you think of their brand of noise rock?
JEFF ZEIGLER: I like what they do, though I don’t think there are many songwriting similarities. The most logical tie-in to me seems to be the shared appreciation of blasts of noises and textured sound.
*Drink Up Buttercup* opened up that show and also blew me away. Lead singer James Harvey looks like Zach Galafianakis but sounds like Spencer Krugg. Any ties to these fellas or any thoughts?
JEFF ZEIGLER: I’ve mixed them at Johnny Brenda’s a few times and always enjoyed them live.
What’s up next for Arc in Round and yourself?
JEFF ZEIGLER: We’ll be releasing our first EP of new material in November and will be touring in support of that, with a full length LP to follow. We’re also currently working on new material and trying to refine our live show. I personally am working on the new Grooms record, some War on Drugs and Bloodfeathers material, an EP for Ports of Call and a variety of other projects, including Pink Skull‘s new record. It’s going to be a busy fall…
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