Aaron Sarlo talks about his latest album & lessons learned as a MUSICIAN
by Kody Ford | The Idle Class | September 16, 2013
Aaron Sarlo has learned a thing or two. A seasoned veteran of the Little Rock music scene, he cut his teeth with bands like Techno-Squid Eats Parliament before setting out on this own. One of this more recent projects is Dangerous Idiots, who released their second album Frankenbastard earlier this year. They even recorded a live album at White Water Tavern in July and plan to release it this fall. The group describes their genre as “gulch rock” although it’s more rock and roll with hints of pop punk.
The Idle Class caught up with Aaron a while back to chat with him about music – the artistry and the business.
IC: What have you learned over the years as a musician for the artistic and business side of things?
AS: As a songwriter, I have learned that my songs turn out way better when I ground them in myself as much as I can. I don’t waste my time listening to trite, passionless slop, and I don’t pretend that my own music is so special as to be above that same metric when I write. For me, it’s very important that I “mean it” when I sing something. I try to put a little bit of myself into each of my songs. I have my own opinions about music, but I take people’s love of music very seriously. There is little in this world that is more repulsive to me than half-assed art. Republicans, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, then half-assed art.
Being that the “business” side of music is partly what made me walk away from it in 2000, I think the most valuable lesson I’ve learned since standing up in those ashes is ownership. Own all your rights, own all your merch, own your gear, own your van, own your success, own your mistakes, own it all. Don’t owe anybody anything in the music business.
One more thing about the “business” side of the music business: Make friends, not contacts.
IC: At what point in your life did you hear a song and think “That’s it! I’m gonna be a musician?”
AS: I didn’t. Just like every other music lover, I have my formative songs and albums. The album, New Gold Dream, by Simple Minds, is one example. Grace Cathedral Park by Red House Painters is another. But, there really wasn’t one song or album that made me say to myself, “That’s it, Aaron. You’re gonna be like those guys!” I detest idol worship. I feel that once you establish in your own mind that someone is better than you can ever be, you might as well quit trying. Fuck that. I’m proud of all the songs I’ve written; songwriting is a difficult thing for sure. So, whenever a band releases a record or song that makes my nips hard like space diamonds, I just remember: They write songs like them, I write songs like me.
IC: Is there a story behind the name Dangerous Idiots?
AS: The name The Dangerous Idiots came from a radio commercial. I was listening to Rachel Maddow’s radio show (she used to have one, and it kicked ass), and a commercial came on. I think it was a Freedom From Religion Foundation commercial, but I’m not sure. Anyway, the commercial was an old man trying to instill religious doctrine into his grandkids, and the tag line was “Let’s not turn our children into dangerous idiots.” I knew as soon as I heard that commercial that I had to name a band The Dangerous Idiots. This was around the same time that I was writing the songs that became the first record, and that whole record is a gigantic fuck you to the Bush assholes. It was a great fit.
IC: Tell me about writing and recording “Frankenbastard.”
AS: I wrote “Frankenbastard” in 2011. After the bassist and drummer quit The Idiots in 2010, I was just kinda sitting around with a bunch of songs and no band. And it takes time to get a band together. I was lucky enough to get Leewood Thomas onboard, and John Davies was jamming with us for awhile, and we kind of fleshed the tunes out a little. Then, suddenly, John had to move to Austin, TX, and the Idiots were back on the bench. It took a lot of time and patience not to let The Dangerous Idiots just evaporate, and it was in this interim that I formed Laundry for the Apocalypse with Adrian Brigman, largely out of frustration of not being able to get The Dangerous Idiots back onstage and play. I was chomping at the bit for people to hear the tunes that became “Frankenbastard,” but it took until February of this year before we finally re-launched.
The songs on “Frankenbastard” are very political. Even more pointed and anti-establishmentarian than on “DANGEROUS IDIOTS.” “Frankenbastard” is a little, pop-punk theme album. For example, I put sirens all over it. Not actual sirens, but bent notes, vocals, guitar notes… I think I’ve got them on all the songs, notes bending, taking us in and out of major chords, stuff like that. So, from start to finish it’s a theme record. And the theme is Hey, Everybody, Wake Up. It’s Almost Time To Start Killing Some Rich People. (Hence the sirens) From ‘You Don’t Know What We Would Do’: “We finally reached our exit, and we get extra credit for not slicing you into chum and tossing you overboard to a fife and a drum.” (By the way, that line came from a friend of mine in Boston who told me that a common mob tactic for disposing of a body is to cut it up “into chum,” and go out to sea and feed it to sharks. I never verified this, but it sounds right.
So, I wrote and arranged everything, and we took the tunes into Wolfman Studio, Jason Tedford’s place, to track them. It’s a pretty pared down record, and that’s what I wanted. I used to layer and layer when I recorded, got dozens of songs to show for that technique. But, a good song speaks for itself, no overdubbing required. That’s what I was trying to capture on those first two Dangerous Idiots records, and the Live one coming up on July 20.
IC: How’d you come up with the name for the album?
AS: It just bubbled instantly out of my brain one day when trying to come up with a gamer tag. Just like “The Dangerous Idiots,” I was shocked to find out that nobody thought of “Frankenbastard” first, as a name for anything. It’s awesome to hear my British friends say it. “Fronkenbastard.” I chuckle every time I hear that.
IC: You’re on [what label]. How did you get hooked up with them?
AS: Through a mutual friend, Chris O’Brien, of the excellent Irish band, The Riot Tapes. Luke Manning, one of the co-founders of the label, really liked the DANGEROUS IDIOTS record, which, coincidentally, Chris O’Brien mastered. After a few Skypes and some emails, we agreed to some great terms, and started working together. I really can’t say enough nice things about Luke. As far as A&R guys go, he’s as nice and genuine as Jody Stephens (A&R for Ardent Records), whom I remember fondly as being a super nice dude. It’s really rare in this business to be able to do business with genuinely nice people. I jump at the chance.
IC: What are some challenges you’ve overcome as a musician and how did they affect you?
AS: I used to be tethered to standard tunings, standard instrumentation. I had to turn my back completely on that crap, and I had to learn a whole new way to write songs. It showed me that I can write a song on any instrument, so long as I have a little time to learn it. It showed me the value of relying on your voice, and how to hone it into something that can convey an additional layer of emotion. It showed me that a song can be anything, any words, any instrumentation, as long as you mean it.
In addition, I’m a very private person, which might seem counter-intuitive because I am a performer. I’ve been sitting on a collection of acoustic songs (that I am recording for release later this year) that are very, very personal. Songs that I wrote as a purging of emotions, as a catharsis, really mournful stuff. I wasn’t going to release any of those, but then it occurred to me that sitting on those songs and not putting them out there isn’t really healing for me. It’s closer to hiding.
IC: What are your plans for the future as a musician for this band or other projects?
AS: The Dangerous Idiots will be alive for as long as I am alive. It’s my Grateful Dead. I built it from nothing, from a non-musical life as a bouncer at a bar, and I watched as it was almost ended twice. I’m so, so proud that The Dangerous Idiots exists, and I’m very lucky to have attracted such gifted musicians to play with me, despite the politics, despite the inflammatory lyrics.
Regarding other projects, Adrian Brigman and I are stirring the embers of Laundry with our good buddy, Bryan Baker. It’s starting off as a highly compelling amalgam of metal and juke joint/Zydeco. Tentatively, we’re calling it Duckstronaut.
And, as I mentioned, I’m working on an acoustic album. Even after all that, I’ve still got piles of demos and songs and riffs and lyrics. Some of it is stuff I was sorta collecting over the years, but much of it is written daily. If I get an autopsy, I expect somebody to find a tumor pressing on the songwriting lobe of my brain. I guess it evens out, being that I took eight years off from writing and performing, but I don’t think I’ll even want for songs or material.
As for the future… I plan on staying on the road, staying in the studio, moving forward as a songwriter and performer. I don’t want to be doing the same stuff I’m doing now in five years, ten years. My plan is just to keep going until I’m dead, which is a pretty solid plan if I do say so, myself.
Aaron can also be heard on Shoog Radio every Tuesday from 1-3:30 PM on KABF 88.3 in Little Rock.