THERE is something magical, nostalgic and evocative about Familiar Stranger…
the contrast-titled track from ARCAVES. I learn more about the song and, when detecting shades of the 1990s, ask whether the band are big fans of that decade. They talk to me about their film-worthy coming-together and how a broken-down car in Sweden was, perhaps indirectly, responsible for their birth. I get an insight into those early days and how they have progressed as a unit; learn about the cool-sounding neologism behind their moniker and the type of sounds and genres they are inspired by.
The Southend-on-Sea band talk to me about their forthcoming album – and the flavour of songs we can expect – and what their next single will be; the album that means the most to each member and how important the local media, including BBC Introducing Essex, is to their success, development and growing fan numbers.
Hi gang, how are you? How have your weeks been?
Good, thank you! We’ve been busy.
This week has been about rehearsal and getting in the studio with our producer, Aviv Cohen. We’re still buzzing about our single launch at The Crowndale last Friday. It was a great night!
For those new to your work, can you introduce yourself, please?
We’re ARCAVES: a ‘Dirty-Pop’ band from Southend-on-Sea.
We are Billy Wright (Vocals/Guitar), Bekile (Vocals); Dan Brock (Drums/Vocals), Dom Nyarambi (Bass) and Lewis Olley (Keys).
Nice to meet you!
I understand, as the story goes, in the back of a broken-down car in Sweden (in 2014). What was the run-up to that adventure? Was there a moment when you thought ‘bugger this’ and decided music and togetherness beat being stranded in a pine forest?
I (Billy) was on tour in Sweden with our original bassist, Stu Dew and we were travelling to the final show after a frankly disastrous (but fun) four-date tour. We were doing it all independently so the tour manager was also the promoter and (also) the driver!
The car that we were travelling in died in this creepy, freezing cold pine forest just outside of an old silver mining town. We had run out of money two days before so we had to sell the broken car to the pick-up truck guy. This, after about five hours of being stranded with no phones.
I think that was the moment that I thought “If we can get through this then we should just try and be on the road as much as possible and see where it takes us“.
There’s that saying, right? If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
Was there a particular reason for the name ‘ARCAVES’?
We made it up! It started as a bit of a tribute to ‘Arcades’ – a nod to the arcades on Southend’s seafront.
But, once we said ‘ARCAVES’, we knew we’d stumbled upon a nice-sounding neologism – and we couldn’t move on from it. So we stuck with it.
You guys are working on a new album. Will there be any more singles coming to promote that?
Absolutely, we’re very much a singles band.
We’ve just released Familiar Stranger and we’re looking at releasing a remix-E.P of that song.
Then, next up, is Don’t You Love the Rain – which is a bit of a different sound for us.
Familiar Stranger is your most-recent single. What is the inspiration behind that track?
We wrote it with our friend, Ayanna Adannay, and it’s been a hell of a journey since then.
Lyrically, it’s about the realisation that every relationship has a lifespan and you can’t recreate the initial buzz once it’s over.
When we came to produce it with Aviv, we made a point of steering away from the Dance sound of our previous singles (Out Of The Blue and Man Enough) and recorded a lot of guitars. The ‘90s references really came to life when we got the vocals down.
What kind of themes and songs can we expect to see on the record?
Every time we write a song we’re just focused on making it a Pop banger. We’ll make it an album full of singles. Theme-wise, each song has its own narrative.
ARCAVES are from Southend-on-Sea. What is the scene like there and is there quite a lot of great music bubbling around Essex? Over the last couple of years, you have supported Nothing but Thieves and had your music appear alongside Kings of Leon. What has been the highlight for each of you, so far?
We’re really proud of being from Southend and Essex. There are so many great bands around here – from Holler for Mary to Courts; Lydia Kitto, Monster Florence and Youth Club.
We all know one another and everyone has been relentlessly working on their art for years.
Nothing But Thieves are smashing it and it’s awesome to see. Southend has this distance from London so it’s not as reactive. People hone their craft and stick to their guns. You can hear that in the music.
We try not to play locally too much. So, our headline show at Chinnery’s the other month was a highlight for us! We had an awesome lighting show and it felt like everything came together for us.
BBC Introducing Essex dubbed you their ‘Sound of 2017’. Was it quite an honour receiving that accolade? How important are the local media in regards your music and work-rate?
We’re so grateful for how supportive BBC Introducing Essex have been to us. They’re tirelessly putting out new music and they always like what we release – Ollie WB is a brilliant presenter, too.
It’s important to us to have local support. Although, sometimes it feels like a lot of pressure but I think, when you start writing songs or music with a certain person in mind, you lose something in the song. So, we try not to think about what people will think of our music when we’re writing it. We judge it based on whether we like it and if we enjoy playing it.
There’s five of us and we’re all from completely different musical backgrounds. Lewis, Dan and Dom are massive ‘Jazzheads’ and Bekile is really influenced by Soul/Trap music. I love Nick Cave and Tom Waits. You can hear that in the music.
You guys, like me, has a bit of a passion for 1990s music. Are there any particular tracks/albums from the decade that have inspired your sound? I do not, forgive me, discover too many mixed-race, mixed-gender bands – it is quite rare to find. Do you think bands are too homogenised in today?
The ‘90s produced some incredible music. I mean, girl bands are often (unfairly) dismissed as being pastiche, and yet, you had All Saints – who had some incredibly-written, classic songs.
I think it was a purer time for Pop music and a golden age for music in general.
The final form of the group was never intentional. We’ve all known each other, in some capacity, for years. That’s why it works. We all know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. To make a band work, everyone has to be on the same page.
There are daily sacrifices (to trying) to make a career out of being a musician – from unprioritised relationships to not having much of a social life outside of music.
Of course, there are much harder jobs out there!
There is sometimes a uniform sound when you turn on the radio. But, that’s why it’s important to have independent radio stations like FUBAR Radio playing whatever they want. Although the pool is a lot smaller, there is a lot more opportunity for less ‘conventional’ bands to get exposure.
I know ARCAVES are curating the first Oxjam Southend festival. How are plans going for that?
It’s certainly keeping us busy! It’s a great opportunity for us to get involved with a charity we believe in – as well as getting some bands from the Southend music scene involved!
Southend is a brilliant city for live music so we’re doing our best to do it justice.
What will you bring to the festival in terms of artists and sounds?
We’re still very much at the ‘production-and-programming stage’ but will keep you posted!
If you each had to select the one album that has meant the most to you; which would they be and why?
Bekile: Erykah Badu – Baduizm.
It made me fall in love with Neo-Soul and my favourite band, The Roots, features on it. I loved that collaboration.
Billy: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Push the Sky Away.
This album defines Nick’s songwriting for me. The way he builds a story in a song is unlike anyone else.
I’m getting a tattoo of Push the Sky Away, soon. I want Jubilee Street played at my funeral.
Dan: Toto – Past to Present (1977-1990).
This was the first album that I listened; purely for the drum performance. Jeff Porcaro is a huge influence on my drumming.
Dom: Jimmy Dludlu – Afrocentric.
The fusion of Jazz and African elements made me appreciate how music can be made to relate to culture – and can have a play on your senses reminding you of certain sounds, smells and feelings you had forgotten about.
Lewis: Chick Corea Elektric Band – Eye of the Beholder.
I listened to the whole album every night before sleeping while I was at secondary school – it took my mind off all the homework that I hadn’t done.
What advice would you give to any new artists starting out right now?
Write a lot; create continuously.
Collaborate with other artists (media; music; anything) and don’t let people’s opinions get you down.
It’s a journey and nothing worth having comes quickly.
Finally, and for being good sports, you can each name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).
Bekile: Suspect OTB – FBG (FlamBoyant G)
Billy: Big Grams – Goldmine Junkie
Dom: Thundercat – Them Changes
Dan: John Mayer – I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You) (Live at the Nokia Theatre)
Lewis: Mehliana (Brad Mehldau and Mark Guiliana) – Hungry Ghost