Aimée Argote is in Austin, at least through today. The Chatham County-based songwriter behind the longstanding, alternately tender and raging Des Ark is there working on the followup to 2011’s Don’t Rock the Boat, Sink the Fucker. The LP, due out in the fall, gives a home to some of Argote’s quieter songs: to that end, she’s splitting her recording time between collaborative stints in a Texas home studio and solo work with noted Carrboro producer Brian Paulson, whose credits include Wilco, Slint and Beck. We caught up with Argote to ask about her new direction.
INDY: I was reading that you’re going sadder this time around. Can you tell me about that direction?
AIMÉE ARGOTE: Sadder as in sad-quieter: I have a million quiet songs that I don’t know what to do with, really, so my idea had always been to do half-loud, half-quiet, since that’s how the tours are. And then these sad songs kept building up, and I didn’t have a place to put them, because my band lives all over the U.S.
I just write them alone in my house, and they just keep happening. I have no place to put them, so I thought it would be really good and fun to make a record that was just quiet songs. There’s a lot of instrumentation happening, so they’re not the quietest songs in the entire world, but they have just been a little bit more solo tour vibe.
I’m glad you made that distinction, too—quieter, versus sad—because there’s some pretty sad-angry on Don’t Rock the Boat. So is that rough-and-tumble element going to be totally absent, or just dialed down?
We’ve got two different guys we’re working with. One is kind of more of a rock drummer and one helps create more atmospheres and stuff, so there’ll be drums and a couple of guitar licks, but for the most part it’s not 100-watt Marshall as loud as it’ll go. What I wanted to do was provide a platform to tour in a different way. I’ve been on tour for more than half of my life.
There’s a super-stark difference where it’s either me by myself, completely by myself, or full-on rock band, and you need a van and you need a PA and you have to play indoors. I wanted to kind of create a record that would give us an excuse to play around with how we go on tour and how many people can come, and maybe we can take a Honda Civic instead of an Econoline. Maybe we can play at a venue but also play in someone’s living room, and it would work that way, too.
I’ve been booking shows my whole life, so I got a booking agent. I’m really excited about this person who can help put us in different environments, where we sort of have to think on our feet: Is this a tour where we want rock band, or is this a tour where we want solo or is this a tour where we want the lush, pretty thing? All of us are really excited to work with a booking agent to be able to manipulate how Des Ark is going to present itself on that tour.
The recording itself—what did you record with Brian Paulson up here?
The initial idea was to just do it at [Brian Paulson’s] house because that’s where he’s doing his recording now. And the initial idea was it would just be me and him hanging out, hit record and see what happens. We got maybe four or five songs sort of happening and I realized what was happening for me was I was sitting in a room with headphones and I’d record a track and be like, “OK, now what?” There wasn’t a lot of direction, and I suffer pretty severely from art brain—you know, talking yourself out of everything and second guessing every move—and it was just really hard. I have made songs where you’re recording layer by layer, but I’ve only ever done that for three songs at a time. Recording an entire record that way was too ambitious on my part.
I have these friends in Austin who we just went on tour with. They all live in a house together and there’s this home recording studio. They’ve all recorded their own records and play in each other’s bands. Rhe bass player for Des Ark lives in New Orleans. So it made sense: If I can get down to Austin, then our bass player can come down from New Orleans. I’d be in a house full of people who play every instrument. They’re like me, they pick up something and they figure out how to play it, so I felt like it would be a really cool marriage of these really beautiful and clear sounding Paulson sounds with a more lo-fi home recording setup. We’re building off what we did there, and I didn’t get all the songs tracked with Paulson so I’m building on what I did with Paulson and creating new stuff here.
The guitar player’s project is called Heartscape Landbreak, and I went on tour with him [Taylor Holenbeck]. He plays in the Appleseed Cast, so that’s how I know him. Then Jordan [Geiger], his roommate who actually has the recording studio, his project is called Hospital Ships. He used to play with Shearwater and a band called Minus Story. They’ve all been playing music for a really long time and they all have made lots of different kinds of records. I think that’s what I wanted; just some really awesome creative power to fall back on that’s not mine. I’ve never really done that before, so that’s exciting. I always play all the guitar tracks, so it’s been really interesting to be like “you should play that guitar. I could play it but it’s yours, you should do it better.”