A Graduation of Sorts: Peter Schrupp of Arms Akimbo on “Velleity”

In the three years since the debut of LA indie quartet Arms Akimbo, singer/guitarists Peter Schrupp and Christopher Kalil have put a lot of work into honing their two-pronged approach to songwriting. It’s part of what sparked the band’s latest project, which forms a complementary duo of its own.

Under Kalil’s direction, the band adapted their sophomore EP, The Wrong Kind of Dance Party, into twin music videos. Each centers on one of the two songwriters, showcasing their individual personalities and plenty of band chemistry alongside bassist Colin Boppell and drummer Matthew Sutton.

“Parachute” followed Schrupp in the lead-up to a big night out, while recently-released “Velleity” features Kalil on the comedown. From a water-splash wake-up on the floor of a moon bounce, he trudges home to bed in an endearing visual companion to the track’s sense of unfulfilled longing–the flip side of “Parachute”’s spirited push for tension to come to a head.

Filmed with a background cast of college friends on familiar house party sets, the videos also serve as tribute and farewell to the surroundings that shaped Arms Akimbo’s origins. In a conversation with The All Scene Eye, Schrupp unpacked the band’s changing approach to genre, the filming of “Velleity,” and the party playlist that gave the EP its name.

Is it strange in those more candid scenes pretending to party with your friends, or at least to be aware that you’re all being filmed hanging out?

I think we took to it okay just because we’d already been shooting all weekend. For some of them, it was a little different, but, you know, it wasn’t just the party and the shooting. Our DP was somebody we’ve been friends with for five or six years, our script supervisor was a friend a couple of us used to work with at a pre-music job, and we had art direction from other friends. So it was really just a big hangout sesh with a camera floating around, which is essentially, I think, more comical for them than for us. We were still in take-it-serious mode. It was nice to lighten up, in that sense.

And then, how do you know when the after party starts, right?

[laughs] Exactly, I don’t think we even got to do it; we had to go do the performance shots after that, so we missed out on a good opportunity. But that scene is almost a direct reincarnation of a party we had thrown to to get a lot of the–our EP is kind of laden with sounds of us hanging out with our friends. We just put a bunch of mics up and recorded a party, so I think this group of friends might be used to us documenting their time at our house.

You’re getting them into that reality TV mindset, right?

Exactly, starting early, Big Brother: Arms Akimbo edition.

Is it hard to play guitar in a bounce house?

It is so hard to not hit each other. I think I think Matt might have had the hardest time playing the single drum because he’s used to doing stuff with his feet, so you can see him bouncing and still hitting the kick pedal with his right foot and just smacking one drum.

I think it was hard to shoot. Our DP was bouncing all over the place, trying to hold a very expensive camera steady while we’re all, like, bashing him in the face with the heads of our guitars.

There are a lot of visual parallels between the two videos. The first starts with you getting out of bed, and the second one ends with Chris falling into bed, for example.

We’ve been leaning more heavily into the dichotomy of having having two of us, and we’ve also been leaning more heavily into, like, “alright, we’ve each got to kind of take on a persona at this point.” And so that was our first way to really visualize that, and we’re all super happy with how it came out. I know we’re all proud of Chris, because it’s an idea until it until it’s fully fleshed out, right?

How has that dichotomy worked for the two of you musically?

I think it’s something we discovered late in the game. At the beginning, it was all my music and him recording my music, and then we started realizing that if we have two songwriters, we have the opportunity to always be covering each other, always be checking each other, and always be building on it.

We’ve had this kind of beautiful thing happen a couple of times, the first being “Parachute” and “Velleity,” where we basically write sister songs on our own, and when it comes together, it’s like we’re writing about the same thing, or they like feel like they come from like the same energy. So we started building projects around that.

Now we’re writing songs where we’re both kind of talking about LA, or some of our upcoming music will be more conceptual in that sense. It’s funny, because you try to pigeonhole and be like, “one guy’s a Paul and one guy’s a John,” or like, “our bassist is our George,” or whatever, and it’s not really working that way for us. It’s a lot more conceptual and I think we’re leaning into having two guys write about the same thing, but having it come out differently.

Right, and not getting so hung up on the archetypes, just finding your own strengths.

Definitely, and you want to pull from other bands that do the same thing where they’ve never defined one person. They’re kind of hard to find, you know? You’re like, “I guess we’ve got to just make our own thing, because we don’t sound like Dr. Dog, or Local Natives, or whoever is doing that right now. We’ve got to figure out our own thing, and I think we’ve only benefited from that.

Has that dynamic changed as you’ve gone from being this college band into the next phase?

Yeah, we kind of wrapped it up with that EP. I think that was the cherry on top. It’s the end of the whole college phase, and that’s why it’s got all of our college friends. Not that we wouldn’t work with them and keep bringing them into new projects, but I think it’s a graduation of sorts. In terms of our music too, and taking that with us, because Colin is our youngest member, and he had just graduated that year.

We’re kind of done, we’ve moved on, and now our writing is taking that shape too, and that’s a new process for us. It’s both new ground, which is exciting, and then also a little more difficult, because you want to have definitive changes, and there are still tropes you hold onto. It’s exciting for us to think in a new way, at least. I think we’ll always be reflections of whatever our surroundings are, but our surroundings are different now.

I’ve heard the name The Wrong Kind of Dance Party comes from a playlist that you guys used at parties, and I’ve got to know: what was on that playlist?

I’m glad you ask. It’s funny, we were going through a lot of ideas for the name of the EP, and that was the one that seemed the most silly and the stupidest idea, but the more we said it, the more we were like, “this is actually how we feel, this is actually what this is, and we actually recorded the party,” like, “we’ve got to do it.”

Colin would always run the party playlist because he was better at knowing whatever the top 40 hits were. I would put quite an eclectic group of things on this playlist. You could get from “I want to dance with somebody,” to “Dance Dance” or “Sugar We’re Going Down,” and a lot of My Chem and Say Anything, so we were definitely in there in that glossy, emo, Taking Back Sunday whole thing.

And then you’d have the flip side of, like, the borderline between Indie and dance. LCD Soundsystem is a big one in there, and some Darwin Deez. Then a good amount of early 2000s hip hop like Baby Boy Da Prince or some vintage T.I. But I think the aim there is completely nostalgic. It’s that part of the night where everybody who was there to party leaves, and it’s just us and our friends being nostalgic, dancing on this coffee table that for some reason will not break even if we put 40 people on it.

You get to listen to the stuff that you know you and your friends like.

I think it effectively keeps the right crowd and kicks out everybody else in one fell swoop.

That begs the question what the right kind of dance party is.

Yeah, and maybe that’s the record we write in like 30 years.

[laughs] Maybe it’s the name of the retrospective, right?

Exactly, a remaster or something.

In other interviews, you’ve talked about how this EP was more about embracing the folk influence, and some of the pop and emo. What initiated that, and are there any other styles you’d like to more fully embrace going forward?

I think part two of that is just that we’ll address whatever we’re into whenever we’re into it. In a sense, we want you know we’re an indie band, so we’re going to try to play all these bouncy, singsong indie rock things all the time. There’s something about it where we definitely wrote those songs, and we’re excited about them, and we’re playing them live, and then ultimately we ended up cutting a bunch of songs. They can still exist, we just haven’t played them a long time.

We went through this transformation where we decided to drop some of those songs in our live set and start picking up some folk songs, and then we started to wear those folk songs a lot better. We were trying to be this whole indie thing, you know, sound like Hippo Campus or have all these bouncy choruses, and then we would like reject when press would write us up as an emo band just because we thought, I don’t know, you’re above–

It comes with connotations.

It does, but if you embrace those connotations, you realize this can totally be an influence and not an encompassing behavior. That’s that’s why we kind of consider “Velleity” and “Parachute” a culmination, and why we consider them sister songs, because me and Chris basically both had that breakthrough at the same time in our own way, and the other two guys got behind it right away and it just made us newly excited for the songs.

Going forward, I think we want to keep leaning into the folk, because we’re not done. We want to start developing some of that that pop aspect too and have really hooky courses. At least, I do. I like writing pop songs in a rock environment. And I don’t think we have a big thrasher song yet, so we’re going to need something heavy pretty soon here. I think we’re open to anything. It’s kind of, throw it at the wall, see what sticks at this point.

With emo, it’s been 10 years since the peak, like, we’re ready to bring it back around.

And I don’t think there’s a problem with that, and I think we used to. Once we got over that and saw–I don’t know, there can be acoustic songs that are emo, and that’s fun, you know?

One of my favorite Fall Out Boy songs is “It’s Not a Side Effect of the Cocaine, I am Thinking it Must Be Love,” which is this acoustic ballad kind of thing.

Yeah, and I really like that song “What a Catch, Donnie.” There’s nothing emo about that song at all, it’s a piano ballad.

One of the things this EP demonstrates about that indie space is that there’s a lot of room to poke around. You’ve got banjos on some of these songs, but then on “None of My Business,” there’s that electronic drum intro.

That’s kind of what I meant by leaning into some of the pop stuff that we hadn’t done yet. That song used to be a lot faster. Once we slowed it down, we realized that’s a pop song, you know what I mean? We wanted to lean into that, and I think there’s still plenty of room over there.

And then on the flip side like if you take “Rearrange” or “Cedar Point,” those songs are fully folk, and they all fit in the indie rock space. I think that’s part of the benefit of like–if we have more than one primary songwriter, I can be in a mood and I can create something, Chris can create something completely different, and somehow it still felt tethered.

We almost didn’t put “None of My Business” on that record because it was an older song. It was one of the ones we were going to drop, but once we slowed it down, put in the electronic drums, and tried out some heavier reverb, it didn’t lose the pop song structure.

What kind of guitars do you play?

I play a Fano JM 6 standard that I very much like. Colin plays a Mustang bass. Chris plays a white American strat that he replaced the pickguard on so it’d be gold. I don’t know drum kits, unfortunately.

What about pedals?

One of the big ones for Chris is his Reverberation Machine. He used that on the intro of “Cedar Point,” and I don’t think anything else in the world could have created that sound. I think we’re still on the ever-search for the right gear. My go to overdrive is my OCD; I use it all the time. I use the Hall Of Fame reverb. I think Chris has a big sky or a blue sky, something from Strymon. I use a Rainbow Machine a lot too for just random noise, and that’s probably my weirdest guy.

You say you’re on the hunt. What for?

It takes a lot of work to find your perfect rig, you know? Chris is often dissatisfied with his distortion. A setting can get bumped on your amp, or a room will just sound different that day, and I think that’s just the tug of war.

There’s things that you can control and things that you can’t control.

Totally, yeah. I think I’m still looking for something octave-wise for my guitar. I used to use a POG, and the attack was a little too slow for me.

If you could tour with any artist, who would you choose?

There’s a lot of different directions, right? You can match your bill with somebody, and play with somebody like Hippo Campus, who’d be a good, fair match for us genre-wise. I think we would really love to get to the point where we can do the friend tour and bring like all the bands that we’re good friends with. You know, bands like King Shelter, derek ted, and Field Medic. But that’s just a prediction for down the road.

More an eventuality than a hypothetical.

Exactly, and then I think I think the other thing is you could totally break that whole thing where you match a band and tour with a rapper. I think that’d be a lot of fun for us. I think with the Internet now, everybody’s a lot more open to different genres, so I think we would all love that.

Who would be the rapper?

If they’re not done, I’d like to play with Tribe. I think the other guys would give you a lot of different answers.

Now that you guys have released this EP and put out these two companion videos, Is there any sense of what’s next?

We’re working on new stuff. I think we’re at a point where it’s like, we’re young, and we’re constantly inspired, so we need to strike while the iron is hot. Even if that that ends up getting released later, we’re working on new stuff, and I think some of the themes that we’re like looking to tackle a lot are, like I told you, the new environment; we want to talk about LA.

We have an opportunity to be a little more tongue in cheek than we thought initially. When you play indie rock music, you don’t think you can make too many comments, but I think we’re going to get silly with it.

Where do you practice and record?

For recording, we’ve been doing all of our releases with our buddy Steven Gomez. He used to play in a pop punk band called The Summer Set, and now he’s this really prolific pop producer, so we get to be his rock band, which is fun. He gets to bring a lot of that pop element to some of our dustier songs.

In terms of practice, we just moved across town. We used to have a house where we could practice, and now we’re just doing practice spaces. But we live together, so all our writing and a lot of our stuff comes from the ground up. Like, acoustically, or with a loop pedal, and then it’ll get brought organically to the rest of the band.

Are there any songwriters in particular who inspire the way you write when you’re going for that that poppier style?

It’s actually funny, I think that stuff comes pretty natural to me. I always get self-conscious about it; I’ll bring it to Chris and be like, “is this too cheesy?” because that poppier stuff, I think it’s easier to write that way. When I’m going for something more indie or something heavier or folkier is when I need to listen to other musicians and find find my zone. But I’m pretty malleable. I think Chris is too.

We’re always heavily influenced by the last thing we listened to. Colin and I spent this whole year being super into Charly Bliss, and I’m not going to sound like her, you know? She’s got, like, the most unique voice ever. So if I try to write a song that sounds like Charly Bliss, I’m going to miss by a mile, and then it’ll sound like us.

I don’t know about you, but with Charly Bliss, I always do that thing alone in my car where I go for the high register and then, you know, sink back into my real voice.

Totally, it’s like, I’ll write it there, and then we’ve got to find where it actually works. But I think that’s been my approach as of late: listen to the stuff you want to listen to, and if something inspires you, try to sound like them. Halfway through the writing process, I’m at a completely different tempo than I started at, and I’m in a completely different genre than I tried. I missed, and I’m way happier because of it.

I think the reason some of that poppier stuff is so universally appealing is because it’s right there, just below the surface, kind of intrinsic.

Exactly, yeah. I think you know a lot of melodies that you start to make your own variables on. It’s like, if you listen to, I don’t know, Irish folk music or something like that, you’re like, “well, we don’t do that, that’s something I can play with.” That’s when you have to be pulling a little more directly. A little less inherent.

Is that a hint we could be hearing some fiddling coming up?

Yeah, yeah, just keep your eyes open for harps. [laughs] I don’t know. We’ll see–I’m open to it.


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