Punx is Goth: Arctic Flowers Talk About Lorde, Portlandia, and Recording Britney Spears
I recently caught Arctic Flowers play their record release show in Portland for their new LP, Weaver, out on Deranged Records (North America) and Sabotage Records (Europe). The last time I saw them live was at a weekday matinee show in a vegan straightedge loft in Brooklyn, which was frankly one of the top ten most awkward DIY shows I had ever seen. This experience was entirely different though; the band at the top of their game in their hometown, supported by Criminal Code and the fantastic Bellicose Minds.
Their new songs build on their anarcho-punk/peace-punk foundation, while sometimes going down a more poppy road than previous output. Arctic Flowers are still all goth all the time for sure, true to their dreary Pacific Northwest home. You can stream the new album in its entirety below, as well as hear a stellar mix tape from Arctic Flowers vocalist Alex.
In this interview, conducted at a table outside of The Know (a great punk bar where the record release show happened), we speak about music in Portland, jumping through stages while playing the guitar, Lorde, Nirvana, and writing a hit song. Arctic Flowers is Stan on guitar, Lee on bass, Cliff on drums, and Alex on vocals.
NOISEY: If you could assassinate one living person, who would it be?
Cliff: Lee's Dad!
Lee: You know, with the NSA shit, I would probably say something different than what I'm going to say. I just don't feel comfortable answering that question.
Alex: I'm still really mad at Michael Vick. He's a chump. I'd kill him. Anybody else want anybody to die? Nobody?
Lee: The makers of Portlandia, I think they should have been assassinated well before that was created. There won't be people coming to my house to take me away to prison for saying that.
Other than Portlandia, what do you guys think about Portland and gigs and the scene out here?
Alex: Portland's great.
Stan: Yeah, I like Portland.
Lee: It rules. I feel really lucky to live here.
Have you guys all relocated to here? Are you from here?
Lee: All relocated.
Why did that happen do you think?
Alex: It's an easy life in Portland.
Stan: It's really laid back. It' cheaper. If you're into punk, there's a huge punk scene. I see punks walking down the street that I don't even fucking know. Like that you've never even seen at a show, from out in the suburbs or something. It's everywhere. And there's more people moving here all the time. It's a good community.
Lee: There are a lot of punks our age and there are a lot of parks. It's easy to live and work in the same neighborhood. Lots of reasons.
Alex: What are the good bands here?
Alex: I love Bellicose Minds.
Stan: Old City.
Alex: The Estranged and Warcry. I really like Bi-Marks a lot.
Do you guys practice at Blackwater [a multipurpose punk warehouse that Alex co-runs in Portland]? Do you think having a bunch of bands all practicing in one space does anything? Does it change what you guys do in any way?
Alex: I don't think it would affect our music in the end.
Stan: I think it's cool to have the bands all together as a community. You'll take breaks and see everybody and hang out. We practice next to Lebenden Toten.
Lee: And Warcry, and Hellshock, and The Estranged. That's pretty cool.
Is it all punk people practicing there?
Stan: Pretty much right?
Alex: I would say there are some bands that aren't punk, but they are affiliated with our friends in a loose way, at least. There's garage and some metal and thrash-y stuff. But at the end of the day, everybody knows each other, so it's definitely a safer place to like, forget to lock the door for a second, you know?
Stan: If there's a guitar in the parking lot someone will grab it for you and say, hey, is this somebody's guitar? Everyone looks out for each other.
Where did you guys record your new record, Weaver? What was the writing process like?
Stan: I recorded it in my studio, Buzz or Howl. It was pretty long, I guess. Like what, a year? Then we recorded the music and finished vocals up for a few months.
Q: Do you guys write the music together?
Lee: We do a couple different things. I think the composition from the intro of a song to the end of a song can take months, all the little nuances. I think we've drilled down pretty hard on some songs for a long period of time until we're really happy with it. The song "Byzantine" I think we spent two or three months finding that.
Stan: Other songs will happen right away.
Alex: Same with lyrics. Some songs are instant, some songs take me months.
What do you sing about?
Alex: I sing about all kinds of stuff, mostly my personal life and personal views on the world.The darkness inside of me, and inside of every one of you. That was good. I should write that down.
Stan, how long have you been recording bands for? How long have you had your studio that you're at now?
Stan: Fifteen or sixteen years, and three years at this studio. It's been a studio since the 80's, and then I took it over.
What have been some of the most memorable sessions for you?
Lee: Britney Spears? That did happen.
Stan: There's a thing called Portland Mutant Party that a guy Johnny does. His label's called Johnny Cat Records. It's a 7 inch comp, but every band comes in and records the same day. They invite people. He gets kegs, booze, it's a party in the studio and it gets pretty insane.
Alex: Last time I went to that party, we recorded "We Are The World" with like thirty people.
Stan: Thirty drunk people screaming "We Are The World."
Have any of you guys ever been seriously injured at a show before?
Stan: I've had my head split open. I've also fallen through the stage. In my old hardcore band, I did a jump and both feet went through the stage and broke it. It was in California. The venue was called PCH or something like that, it was with Lysol or something. My old band was Deathreat. I was stuck for a few minutes, but I got out and cut up my leg.
Did you keep playing?
That rules. What are you guys listening to these days?
Lee: I recently just discovered this band called Crystal Castles that I like a lot. I'm listening to more electronic music. I listen to a lot of The Cure and Depeche Mode.
Cliff, what are you listening to these days?
Cliff: You don't want to know.
[The rest of Arctic Flowers chanting]: Tell us, tell us, tell us!
Cliff: I've been listening to a lot of Status Quo, which is like a UK rock band. This year I really fell in love with the Lorde album. Awesome pop.
Song of the Year. She won it.
Cliff: I didn't know that. I'm not really up on the gossip about it, I just have it.
Stan: Didn't she jam with Nirvana?
Cliff: I jammed with Nirvana too!
Lee: We all love Duran Duran.
Alex: We're all Duran fans.
If you wanted to accomplish something as a band and if you had to put that into words, what would that be?
Lee: Go to Europe. And release two more records that are better than our other records. And one day I want to be able to play in the dark. I'm working on that.
Cliff: I really want to some day have projected behind us on a screen, like, illuminated drums and then fucking sparkles that come out when you hit them.
Stan: Not suck.
Alex: Figure out how to not suck. Wear more party dresses on stage.
Stan: I'd like to write one of those songs that you remember forever. You know, from a certain band, you're like, yep, “Nervous Breakdown,” Black Flag, whatever. It'd be awesome to have a song like that.
Alex: Someday. One nugget of shit will rise to the top.