If the term “indie rock” makes you think of shoegazing litanies that hold little to no keyboard interest, run, don’t walk, and pick up Arms Forest by the Hard Lessons. It ranges from Weezer-gets-a-Hammond power pop on “See You Again” to Janis Joplin blue-eyed soul on “Talk It Over” to the buzzing synth bass and robo- Autotuned vocals of “Roma Termini” — a track that hits a hitherto unimagined golden mean between Goldfrapp and Cake. Through all the stylistic swings, Arms Forest maintains an unmistakable sonic identity, thanks to two things: Detroit newlyweds Augie and Korin Visocchi’s endless supply of indelible hooks, and Korin’s atmospheric and always-just-right keyboarding. Here are highlights from our conversation with Korin about what has become our favorite indie album of 2009. For much more, listen to the raw audio file of this interview by clicking here.
What was your earliest exposure to keyboards?
The Hammond organ at my grandparents’ house. It was a spinet with a little built-in Leslie by your knees. I just pushed buttons. I just liked the way it sounded — it was the first time I experienced a volume pedal and I remember that being really key. As a ten-year-old I could play “Amazing Grace” or “Jingle Bells,” then all of a sudden I was playing songs like Michael Jackson’s “P.Y.T.,” teaching myself radio songs on organ or piano. In a county across Michigan, a young boy my same age — my husband who I hadn’t met yet — was playing Nirvana on his first instrument, the mandolin. Augie grew up in a house with Italian folk musicians; I came from a family of singers. So we were growing up in similar ways, but on different instruments.
Name some early songwriting influences.
Just to touch on growing up with a barbershop quartet in my family, I love interesting harmonies. I love interesting “tags.” For example, instead of just playing A, G, E, I might throw in a F# minor to add a little spice, but sing over it more traditionally. I also love old country music — Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn. Whereas my husband probably has 400 guitar riffs in his back pocket just waiting to be put into a song, so we’re a little bit different. He writes with his instrument first and I write with my voice first.
What live gear do you take onstage?
I play two Alesis Micron synths. One, which I play with my left hand, runs through an 8 X 10 Ampeg SVT bass amp, so I’m playing really heavy bass onstage. I run the other through a Fender Twin. The live configuration is me, Augie, and our drummer, Ryan. The biggest compliment I’ve ever heard is that we sound like way more than three people. On the album, I also want to credit a fantastic organ player — pretty much the B-3 guy in Detroit — Bobby Emmett.
Does the industrial character of your native Detroit affect its music? Your music?
Definitely — the idea of factories, of pistons going up and down, the giant collapsing buildings that are our skyline. It affects your brain. Both Augie’s parents worked at General Motors. My dad works in industrial plumbing and when there’s no industry, nobody needs plumbing. We both have parents who came home dirty and tired.