Interview: Arrows to Fire

Austin-based duo Arrows to Fire (John Joyo and Chris LaVigne, who hails from France originally) first met in 2016 at a medical devices conference, and bonded over their shared love of music. Soon enough, they entered into a collaboration that would be Arrows to Fire. Releasing albums in 2017 and 2018, they have spent 2021 releasing a series of singles, with only more to come.

While sonically rooted in American alternative rock, the group doesn’t hold to any rules when creating music, as the diverse sounds of their most recent singles can attest. As they ready their next single, the duo were kind enough to answers some questions about their recent releases, writing during a pandemic, and the importance of music to gear head culture.

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Indy Review: When you both entered the biotech space, did you ever imagine that you would be moonlighting as rock n’ rollers in your futures?

Arrows to Fire: Both of us had been musicians in various capacities throughout our lives. No matter what else we were doing, we never stopped being musicians, even though it took a back seat while pursuing other things. Neither of us are your typical medical/biotech types, which I think is mostly a good thing. I think it is a surprise to both of us that our music has come as far as it has, but we are both the kind of people that throw ourselves into the things we choose to spend our time on. It’s in our DNA. 

IR: Your latest singles are all really interesting and very diverse, even down to the single art. “A Million Miles Away” sounds closest to the tracks on your 2018 album Here We Go, while “Supersonic” almost sounds like it’s from the 70’s, while “Crocodile” reminds me of some of the quirkier tracks from the 50’s and 60’s. Can you discuss the writing process for these new songs, and what’s led to the expansion of your sound?

AtF: I love this question. These latest singles represent a huge shift in the way we are working and writing new songs. All of these songs were written and recorded during the COVID pandemic. Chris and I started getting together during the pandemic over at his house and messing around with some new songs and ended up being finished songs. As far as the process goes, Christophe usually sends me tons of songs either rough or relatively polished and asks if I like them. Sometimes I explain to him a vibe for a song that would be fun to do and he shares ideas. The ones that resonate with me, I start working on a melody and lyrics. Then, we work together to finalize the shape, feel, and vibe. During the pandemic, Chris taught himself how to use ProTools, and how to do all of the recording stuff we usually work with a sound engineer to do. Honestly, he got so good so fast, it blew my mind! Being able to do all of this in a space where we are 100% comfortable has had a huge effect on our music. Also, it has only been Chris and I getting together to do the whole project except mixing and mastering. So, no rehearsals, no band members, nothing external. This really has an impact. We’re not trying to be anything other than two guys who are just having fun and writing whatever we feel like. Also, not putting together an album is a bit liberating. When you’re just doing one song at a time and you don’t have to think about how they fit together on an album, it allows you to take songs wherever you want without any constraints! We have a wide variety of music we both like, so we’re really enjoying this new approach. Hopefully people like the variety!

IR: When putting together a whole album, versus releasing singles, how much do you think about its cohesiveness in sound and feel?

AtF: Speaking for myself, I do think about cohesiveness a lot. I worry that someone will listen to “Supersonic” and love it, then listen to a song like “Crocodile”, which is SO different, and be disappointed or feel like we’re not genuine because we’re not living and breathing a certain style/genre. That conversation happens in my head, but, I really dig the freedom of not worrying too much about cohesiveness. Removing any rules or constraints has made each individual song better in my strong opinion. A long time ago, when Chris and I first started writing music together he said something like, “there is no right or wrong, only what you choose to do”. I don’t miss doing a whole album. In the current business of music, I’m not sure that albums are necessary or even the right thing to do anymore. People are downloading or streaming single songs, so why not just put it out that way? 

IR: How has the pandemic changed your writing/recording of music? 

AtF: The pandemic has had a massive impact. For us, no more expensive recording studios with fancy equipment and sound engineers. We’re recording at Chris’ house. I am singing into a 20+ year old Shure SM58, not in an isolation booth or anything. It’s real. It’s fun. It’s great. It’s like going back to our roots! Chris is doing all of the recording in ProTools. He does a first mix and then we send it to Tim Palmer to give it a professional mix (he’s damn good!). This is all done digitally, so we can do all of this without leaving Chris’ house. Tim sends it to be mastered when finished, and voila! We’re loving this new setup. It’s so easy. Very little stress or pomp and circumstance. It’s like going back to the old days of playing in a garage. 

IR: While it sounds like you both bonded over some similar 90’s alternative rock bands, I was wondering if there were individual influences you each brought to the table and introduced to each other. Were there any French artists that have inspired you, Chris?

AtF (John): Even though we like some of the same music, I would say that there is a lot of music that we listen to that the other doesn’t. Some of my biggest influences that I listen to a lot but I don’t think Chris listened to a lot are Soundgarden, Band of Horses, The Sonics, Weezer & The Strokes. I listen to a very wide range of music from alt and Indy rock to gangster rap to garage to folky Americana and many others. It’s fun to share this with Chris when I get the opportunity. Usually it’s like, “hey, what about a kick drum line like the one in that QOTSA song…” and he doesn’t know what I’m talking about, so he checks it out. The circle expands…

AtF (Chris): Growing up in France, it’s certainly had an influence on me but to be very honest, the bands I was listening were for 90% from UK or the US. Few French references I would list are Telephone, Trust and les infideles.

IR: I was told that “Supersonic” was inspired by Harley Davidson. Are you both bikers? And do you think rock music plays an important part in biker culture?

AtF: We both ride motorcycles, but I wouldn’t call us bikers. I’m more of a hot-rod guy. Pre-1964 cars are a huge passion of mine. I also like vintage Harley’s. I spend many hours day dreaming about Harley flatheads, knuckleheads, panheads, and even some shovelheads. I love them. So, as a gear head, YES, music plays a massively important part in gear head culture. I even know people that build bikes and hot rods for a living that feel like the soul of the car or bike will be influenced by the kind of music you listen to while building it! People gather around music at their events. Those into vintage cars/bikes often listen to music from the era of cars/bikes they love.  I really do hope the Harley crowd finds “Supersonic” and loves it. It was inspired by a 74 cubic inch Harley big-twin powered bike. Basically a great old bike that, when you’re riding it, makes you feel invincible. If you have ever had a hot rod/bike that you love, you know the feeling.

IR: What are your plans for the rest of 2021? If touring becomes possible again, do you think you’ll be playing live at some point?

AtF: For 2021, we plan to continue to release one single a month. We may release an EP at the end of the summer, but one song a month is for sure. As sad as it is to say, I don’t think we’ll be playing live during 2021. I hope I’m wrong, but in Austin, TX, where we live, I’m just not getting the feeling that the city is going to support events/ official gatherings this year. This pandemic has been so rough for musicians and venue owners. I just hope that everyone has taken advantage of the time and the emotions to write some new music that will help get things kicked off when the live music world fully opens back up.

IR:  If you could make one lasting impact or change to popular music as it is now, what would it be?

AtF: Tough question! Even though we have all of these wonderful tools to help musicians get their music out there and to promote it, I think it is harder than ever for musicians to make a living. The number of plays on most streaming platforms your song must have to make any meaningful money is insane! In some areas of my life, I do believe that it’s good for people to fail if they don’t make the cut so that they know it’s time to figure out something else. It’s different with music. I think the bar is too high. I have seen some of the best musicians/songwriters give up because they didn’t have that lucky break and weren’t making it. I think of all the songs people have inside of them, and it’s unfortunate that there are so many that we’ll never hear because of the realities of the music business and the demands of life. I wish there was a change I could make so that musicians had an easier way to make a living without having to sacrifice so much.

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Take a listen to a few of the group’s most recent singles here!

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