A Q&A with Aaron Sarlo of duckstronaut
by Shayne Gray | The Arkansas Times | January 29, 2015
With a name like Duckstronaut your brain may not want to take this band seriously but when you sink your ears into their debut album, “Tabanid Camisade,” you’ll quickly get over it. This Little Rock four-piece has the rhythmic attack of The Talking Heads, hooks and dynamics reminiscent of The Pixies, and the biting wit and humor of Primus or Frank Zappa. The album plays like a lingering dreamscape in a post-apocalyptic world. They have originality and honesty. All this in an ether-soaked, drug toxic oblivion of numbness that teeters on the brink of being too scary (Have you ever just almost fallen out of your chair and then caught yourself at the last minute? It’s like that). This debut album may be one of the most original statements I’ve heard from anywhere around these parts. The band features Aaron Sarlo on vocals, guitar and dulcimer, Bryan Baker on drums, Matt Rakes on bass and Adrian Brigman on washboard, sound effects, and samples called Soundywhositz™.
Full disclosure: I’ve been friends with Aaron since about 1991 when I worked at Vino’s and first saw him in a band called The Lemmings. We eventually founded Techno-Squid Eats Parliament in 1992. I remember the first time at his house in Little Rock when I saw the same dulcimer he now plays in Duckstronaut on his bed in his room along with a mandolin and an acoustic guitar. It’s weird that Aaron has never actually played dulcimer in any of his bands until now. It’s something you should witness live because it’s so original, surreal, and beautiful. I believe it’s the only time I’ve seen a dulcimer played in a full on alternative rock band other than maybe Bobby Bare, Jr. Their album release party is this Saturday, Jan. 31 at the White Water Tavern with Collin vs. Adam and Sea Nanners.
Here’s my Q&A with Sarlo:
Please tell us a little bit about Duckstronaut.
Duckstronaut is a showcase for Adrian Brigman, whose electric washboard is mesmerizing, Matt Rakes, a ridiculously talented bass player, and Bryan Baker, a juggernaut of drumming. I am on there, as well, but this project has definitely become a stage for those three dudes’ immense talent. I am very proud to be playing with them. When I was mixing with Jason Tedford (of Wolfman Recording Studios), I kept saying, “In this section, turn the guitars down, and turn the other guys up, up, up. This isn’t a guitar album.” And, it’s not. Tabanid Camisade may have originated from my songs and demos, but I really like to let my bandmates play what they want in the rehearsal room, and while we’re writing and assembling songs. It would be arrogant of me to impose my vision of their instruments on them, so I don’t. As a result, this record far surpasses my hopes and expectations for it.
What in the world does the album title “Tabanid Camisade” mean?
It’s a little nod to our friend, T.C. Edwards. We were throwing around titles with his initials, and Bryan suggested “Tabanid Camisade.” (I had to look those words up.) Tabanid is a horse fly. Camisade is a type of shirt worn by a soldier who plans to attack at dawn. When I pictured a teeny horse fly in an adorable, little shirt, about to go fight a revolution, I was on board. And, if you can, please include the album cover art by Kat Murray. She did an awesome job with a design, using an idea also suggested by Bryan.
I love a lot of the lyrics on this album. Would you like to elaborate on your writing approach?
The lyrics reflect my anger with a world without a savior, and my anger at being forced to be a leader because there is no savior. “Please Be The One” is, indeed, a focal point for this theme. One line, actually. I keep singing “Please be The One,” over and over again. Then, at the end, I specifically use the phrase, “I just want to climb up in your arms again.” I deliberately chose “climb” as my verb because it suggests comparative smallness, as though I want to climb into the arms of a parent. You can’t “climb” into the arms of someone/something smaller than you. This parent is a God, any god, that I want to simply exist!
Savior is a warning to a duplicitous person, as is Minds. Maybe not a “person,” per se, but an entity. I usually reserve my hatreds for corporations, and Minds is aimed at an entity who thinks the world is theirs to destroy. There are lots of allusions to fighting in these songs, and the whole album is a sort of generalized treatise on the emotional tolls of standing up and fighting for one’s own beliefs. It’s angry and some of the instrumentation (particularly at the end of I Remember When) borders on genuinely frightening, beautiful, but frightening.
I am currently writing a slew of lyrics for different songs and projects, and the Duckstronaut record is kind of a generalized template for this. I get very specific in some of the newer songs I’m writing, but on this record I wanted to be very general in tone.
You juggle a lot of music projects and co-host KABF’s Shoog Radio. Are there any projects you’d like to mention at this time?
The Dangerous Idiots is the busiest band and the project with the longest reach. I have approximately six albums of material scheduled for release in 2015, spread amongst several different projects. Many of these songs came about from a period of intensive songwriting for me. I had periods of time where I’d write two or three songs per day. I still have tons of songs left and ideas still pour out of me. I plan on recording and releasing most of them, and I’ll do it with The Dangerous Idiots, as Aaron Sarlo, and with Duckstronaut and Weedhorse, or whatever. I’m also hosting the 2015 Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase Finals on Friday, March 6 on behalf of KABF’s Shoog Radio.
What about the electric dulcimer on the Duckstronaut record?
I got that instrument many years ago, and it just sat in my closet until my wife said, “Why don’t you get that out and play it in one of your bands?” I really, really like writing and playing outside my comfort zone. So, I had a pick-up put in it, and I run it through my amp and it sounds like a liquid dream. I get tons of compliments about it. Will Boyd told me after a Duckstronaut Vino’s show, “Y’all sounded great, but that thing…” [points to the dulcimer] …”is beautiful.”
I’ve always wondered what originally lead you to becoming a musician. Would you like to touch on that?
It was forced on me when my elementary school band teacher tested the whole school’s student body for good candidates for their band program. They (and I) discovered, in front of the whole school, that I had perfect pitch. They gave me a French Horn and told me I was in band. I hated it and played shitty just so they’d drop me, which they did. Years later, I got a guitar, taught myself, and started writing songs. I released my first album when I was 16, “Phische.”