(originally published in Star News, additional Q&A below)
By Brian Tucker
Aligning garage rock with indie rock on Raleigh band Arson Daily’s EP What’s On Your Mind? made for lasting ear candy. The sound, led by Zach Dunham’s hazy vocals, drives the infectious, if not sometimes combustible, songs. The EP’s old-school vibe and solid song craft play a large part in the band’s frequent visits to Wilmington.
The trio performs with Sibilant Sounds and Howard Ivans at Bourgie Nights on Friday.
“We’ve been trying our best to play Wilmington as often as we can without overplaying the market. Every time we’ve been to Wilmington we’ve seen our crowd get bigger with both familiar and unfamiliar faces,” Dunham said before the band’s two shows at Hopscotch Music Festival in Raleigh. “It’s always beneficial for us to play outside of our hometown because it’s an opportunity to really test our ability to capture a new audience.”
Arson Daily – Dunham (vocals, guitar), Quincy Platt (bass), and Adam McLean (drums) began in the fall of 2014 during Dunham’s first semester at Appalachian State University. Dunham and Platt met through a mutual East Carolina University friend. After learning both would attend Appalachian they planned to form a band. They met Mclean, who didn’t know how to play drums yet, and liked his taste in music.
They didn’t know each other well but practiced in a friend’s basement crafting a sound complimenting Dunham’s coarse, melodic voice he says grew out of busking as a teenager in New Bern. They released a debut (then as a four member band) on Split Rail Records in 2016 and in 2017 released the What’s On Your Mind? EP and moved from Boone to Raleigh.
“I definitely believe that our style of music is better suited to fit the Raleigh scene than the Boone scene despite how amazing the Boone music scene is,” Dunham said. “Wilmington is slowly becoming a new home away from home and we hope we keep experiencing the same level of success there as we do in places like Raleigh and Boone.”
The somewhat wandering persona of their music definitely makes it engaging. It also doesn’t sound exactly like the present, more mid 60s meets early 2000s rock, and their two albums are disparate, illustrative of a band carving things out. “Hot Metal Fever” from their debut is a hip-shaking burner and its closest companion on the new EP might be the murky, one-two punch of “Last Call.” It echoes what Dunham said of the band’s beginnings in which the musicians shared similar influences but the direction of their sound was still coming together.
“Sometimes I still don’t think we have a solid grasp on the direction of our sound. We like so many different styles and genres of music that it’s easy for us to write songs in other genres even though it may not be our true intention to do so.”
That direction has served them well, fostering something that’s ragged yet polished, from tracks with swagger (“Last Call”) to those atmospheric (“Smooth Sailing”). Their “Train” echoes early-days Nirvana and “Tell Me” has 60s garage pop all over it. But while the dynamic of the trio lends creative simplicity and freedom, Dunham thinks it’s likely to evolve.
“Being a three-piece is great because we can share creative ideas and write parts pretty quickly without too many creative differences. We would like to eventually add a keyboard/synth player. Our newer songs are taking more of a psych-rock form, but we’re still too early in the songwriting process for us to say what the end goal is for the next album.”
Additional Q&A with Zach Dunham
Forming the band do you recall the goal in terms of what your sound would be?
Dunham: When we formed the band, we shared a lot of the same influences, but none of us really had a solid idea of the direction of the sound. Sometimes I still don’t think we have a solid grasp on the direction of our sound. We like so many different styles/genres of music that it’s easy for us to write songs in other genres even though it may not be our true intention to do so.
What about being a trio, makes it a good fit – less is more?
Dunham: When we formed Arson Daily, we were originally a four member group, but over time we started to feel as though our songwriting required a more minimalist approach – one that utilizes more space and dynamic. Being a three-piece is great because we can share creative ideas and write parts pretty quickly without too many creative differences.
On that note though, we would like to eventually add a keyboard/synth player. We’ve been discussing the idea for a long time now, but the right opportunity has never happened for us to add a member, but it’s definitely something we’re interested in doing.
Recording the EP, was it a raw, live-take approach to get that sound?
Dunham: What’s On Your Mind? was recorded with isolated tracks. There was no live-tracking on the EP. It took us about two full days to get all of the instrumental tracks completed and it took a couple of extra sessions to get all of the vocals done. The whole process opened our minds to the recording process and even changed our perception of songwriting in a way. When we write songs, we’re now thinking about post-production and layering in a way that we hadn’t been considering before.
“Los Muertos” is cool single.
Dunham: “Los Muertos” was originally supposed to be on the EP, but the song just wasn’t finished yet. We released it as a ‘single’, but really it’s just a B-side to the EP. We’re trying to shift gears away from the sound on “Los Muertos,” but we liked the song too much to leave it out. We’ve been playing it live for over a year so we just wanted to give people the chance to hear a recorded version.
For newer songs, where is the band exploring sonically?
Dunham: Our newer songs are taking more of a psych-rock form, but we’re still too early in the songwriting process for us to say what the end goal is for the next album.
You’re playing twice at Hopscotch. What does that exposure mean for the band?
Dunham: We feel very humbled by the opportunity to play two day parties for Hopscotch this year considering we’ve only been a small part of the Raleigh scene for a year now. We’ve got a headlining slot at The Pour House for their Saturday day party which is insane to us. Hopefully this means we’ll be able to get on other festival line ups in the near future. Definitely looking forward to seeing some new faces and making friends with some other Hopscotch performers.
Your voice has a lot of strength and character.
Dunham: My style of singing is sort of a product of busking in the streets as a teenager in New Bern NC. I would go out and perform acoustically in Bear Plaza with a bucket and just belt cover songs for hours. I was just trying to be heard, but I think it eventually turned into an aggressive style of vocal delivery. I’m still not sure if it’s good for my vocal chords – probably not – but for now it seems to be working.
“Smooth Sailing” is a smoldering track, almost spooky.
Dunham: It’s a somber tune about recovering from a break-up and beginning a pathway to recovery. It’s totally cheesy, but I think it’s something people can relate to. There’s always that pivotal moment where you wake up from being sad and realize that everything is going to work out how it’s supposed to and I suppose that feeling is what the song is trying to help convey. It was actually the first song we ever wrote as a band, but it didn’t work out initially. We revisited the song a couple of years later and completely rearranged it to make it sound more alternative.