2 bands, 2 albums from Aaron Sarlo
by Sean Clancy | November 2, 2021
For the past five years, Little Rock singer-songwriter Aaron Sarlo has been occupied with life as a stay-at-home dad to his son, Magnus. Releasing music and performing stand-up comedy, his other artistic outlet, were tucked away for a while as Sarlo focused his efforts on his little boy.
“When Sarah and I learned we were pregnant, I thought long and hard about how I wanted to proceed forward,” he says in an email. “We had been married for 13 years before having our first child, and, at 43, I had the wisdom to know that being a dad would be something that I would both need and want to do full time.”
With Magnus now in school, Sarlo, co-founder of ’90s power pop outfit Techno-Squid Eats Parliament, is back to making music in typically full-on fashion, releasing albums from two of his bands Friday on his Legitimate Businessman Records.
“PG-13 Cash Grab” is the debut from Kid City, the trio that features Sarlo on guitar and vocals, bassist Matt Rakes and drummer Olivia Glusica. The six-song record is a collection of fiercely catchy alternative rock, fueled by Rakes’ Les Claypool-inspired bass attack.
Sarlo’s other trio, Dangerous Idiots, rounded out by bassist Jake Rutherford and drummer Greg Olmstead, is back with “Mentor or Tormentor,” the band’s third album and a blistering batch of eight pop-punk tracks that highlight Sarlo’s quirky sense of humor — just check the rollicking earworm “Rob Zombee’s Halloween 2.”
The album also has the Idiots’ version of “Rock and Roll Tonight,” a song by Little Rock band Booyah! Dad; the banger “Sad Today,” whose upbeat, snappy melody counteracts its title and the crunchy, mostly instrumental “Frock Cop.”
In this interview, which has been edited for clarity and length, we spoke with Sarlo about his time off, the new albums and “Seven Chinese Brothers.”
You’re back with these two releases, but what’s it been like over the past five years? Were you making music that whole time or did you just step back entirely?
On the dad side, it’s been amazing. On the music side, it’s been maddening. I’ve got one of those brains that just doesn’t shut off no matter what. I’m having constant music ideas that I jot down on my phone. So I’ve got this backlog of completed songs, half-songs and riffs that is five years deep. A lot of it is on dulcimer. For me, I get into a project all the way. I wear it around like a suit, I’m completely devoted to it.
[When I became] a dad, I decided to be completely devoted to our son. Sarah and I didn’t know if we were going to have kids and then he came along. I thought, music’s not going anywhere, I’m going to do this.
When did the songs on these two albums come about?
When we found out we were pregnant, I took all of my projects to Jason Tedford’s Wolfman Studios, and we tracked every song. I had bass and drums and guitar tracks in the can because I knew I’d be taking months if not years off. These two sessions were tracked in 2018 and 2019.
Has being a dad changed your songwriting?
As far as my approach, I wouldn’t say it’s been tempered by fatherhood. That sounds like your claws aren’t sharp anymore, but it’s definitely been influenced for sure. I still write about things that make me happy, but I’ve found that worrying about if the song is exactly how I think it should be is not really front and center in my mind. I’m a little more forgiving of myself, I guess.
Matt Rakes’ bass really stands out on a lot of “PG-13 Cash Grab.” How did his playing affect the songs?
It’s great. He was in my old band, Duckstronaut. I’m never afraid to bring a new element into something I’m doing musically. What he’s doing is so complex, I could play simpler riffs and focus more on singing. When this great, genius musician wants to play with you, you jump right in.
You said “Frock Cop” on “Mentor or Tormentor” dates to 1997, when you lived in Boston and were in a band called Slept. I have to smile when the riff to R.E.M.’s “Seven Chinese Brothers” briefly pops up in the song. What’s the story on that?
I put it in there and it made [Slept bassist] Chris O’Brien laugh so I left it. I like making people laugh. I may be playing it kind of off, but that’s how I remember it.
After five years, how does it feel to finally have some new music out in the world?
I’m on the edge of my seat. I’m excited to get these done and released so I can focus on all the stuff I’ve been writing. I’ve got a second Dangerous Idiots thing, an EP. I’m just filled with song ideas that I want to get out.