Arborea is a musical duo from Maine, formed in the summer of 2005 by wife and husband Shanti Curran and Buck Curran. Since 2007 they’ve toured extensively throughout the US, UK, and Europe, curated two various artists compilations; We are All One, In the Sun: A Tribute to Robbie Basho and Leaves of Life, and released several full length albums including their latest Red Planet which made Rolling Stone ‘Best Under-the-Radar Albums of 2011′, Top Vinyl Pick in Mojo Magazine, and Editors Top Pick in Guitar Player Magazine. Portland Mercury writer Ned Lannamann recently described their music…”If you could take a shiver and slow it down so that it lasted for 50 minutes, you’d have Red Planet, the fourth album from Arborea. It’s folk music that runs through your veins ice cold, but in a way that’s so compelling and irresistible you can’t help be moved by it. Red Planet is released by Portland label Strange Attractors Audio House, but Arborea actually hail from a spot much closer to the other Portland; the husband-and-wife duo of Shanti and Buck Curran live in Maine, a state of rugged beauty, endless forests, summertime bugs the size of hummingbirds, and a cold and rocky coastline. Shanti’s voice rises above sparse instrumental backing like a cool fog, and while the pair has earned comparisons to acts like Pentangle and Alela Diane, to me Arborea sounds utterly unique and entirely captivating.”
TDOA: We really like the twanginess and dissonance in the first track on Red Planet, The Fossil Sea. What was that intended to convey?
Buck: The Fossil Sea is an improvisation meant to set the atmosphere for Red Planet. The sustaining notes and overtones of the wood and steel of the guitar conjuring it’s own music. We like to use the banjo in that way too.
TDOA: I hesitate to use the term “indie darling,” but it seems apt in this case. What do you think of the critical swoon over Arborea? Buck- We work incredibly hard and have toured non-stop since the end of 2006. We put everything we have mentally and physically into the music and performances and getting positive feedback definitely affirms that we are on the right path.
Shanti: I think it’s important to recognize that critical success doesn’t necessarily mean we win the popularity contest. I think it’s wonderful that we’ve had virtually no bad reviews of our music and I often joke that we are ‘straight A’ students’, but we’ve had to work incredibly hard booking most shows ourselves and traveling almost non-stop since 2006. We’ve done all of the recording of our albums at home on a very limited budget and we’ve done 90 percent of the artwork and videos as well. What I’m trying to say is that we don’t have a team of people working for us who believe in what we do or who think they can make money off of us- we have some good and solid friends who love us but we’re basically lone wolves. I’m definitely not complaining. I think we’ve done this long enough to be able to appreciate the benefits of being in control of our artistic vision. I like going to bed at night knowing that we have the power to shape our future as we see fit.
TDOA: I think the name Arborea is really apt – vocally, the sound is really ethereal and natural. Was that intentional, or has it just worked out that way?
Buck: The name was chosen to represent infinite possibilities. We are very aware of history and society, nature and the universe. Our music is the primary vehicle for our creativity, but we there’s also our writing, photography, and video making. We bring all these elements together when we create our music.
Shanti: The name Arborea seems to have an open ended quality to it- It feels like it could change with the wind and water and seasons.
TDOA: On the vocals, what influences that style most?
Shanti: When I first started singing, I was highly aware of the physical feeling of moving air over my vocal chords and I naturally sought the path of least resistance. I’ve kept that philosophy and always sought to sing within my capabilities. I never push my vocals or try to go places that cause discomfort or strain. I have a pretty wide range but I’ve mostly stayed in the upper registers except in songs like Spain or our version of This Little Light and I’m certainly into the idea of exploring more, but for now my inspiration for my vocals has been the visualization of water flowing or of seeds blowing in the wind- I look for the channel or the stream and try to become a part of that, to dance and twirl effortlessly but only WITHIN the current. I also pay close attention to my emotions when singing, nothing bugs me more than to hear a song with heartfelt words and tear inducing melodies but then the singer feels nothing and sings as if they are dead inside. My soul can immediately tell the difference and I’m sure everyone else can too. You have to feel the blues even if it’s not the blues you’re singing!
TDOA: I think that it’s clear that there’s the influence of nature on the sound, both the instruments and the vocals – what does that come from?
Shanti: I think people are coming to an understanding or realization or discovery perhaps that there is way more to our universe than what we can see and hear and taste and touch. I’m talking resonance man! What I mean is that I think that music and nature are the same thing, or they resonate with the human soul on the same frequencies. They are after all made from the same base material, wood and flesh and air and sunlight and water…sprinkled with a bit of human intention.
Buck: A lot of the music is created in the Maine wilderness or by the Ocean. When we take the time to get away from the mad rush of modern society…a lot of ideas, visual and musical, seem to come very rapidly. Hikes along the Maine Coast or in the woods, or staying at our family cabin…these are the places and times that are so very important for us. Nature is an extremely busy place itself, though it’s buzzing on a completely different plane of existence from that of towns and cities. It’s so nice to be able to tap into a separate stream of existence.
TDOA: The instruments you guys play are very unique – can you tell us about the ban-jammer and other instruments that you use?
Buck: The ban-jammer is a banjo mountain dulcimer hybrid. Shanti fingerpicks the instrument and also plays it with the Ebow. It’s a very unique instrument and can sound like many different things. With the Ebow it can sound like a flute, and fingerpicked it has the qualities of a Japanese Koto. Shanti also has a harmonium that was made in India. The harmonium has an amazing sound with it’s volume, all the drones, and it’s enigmatic waves of sound. We do some very ethereal and experimental improvisations with the harmonium and electric guitar. I also made two of the acoustic guitars we play. They were designed to be played in alternate tunings and to be super responsive and very resonate.
Shanti: The ban-jammer is a hybrid instrument, a cross between a mountain dulcimer and a banjo. It has the scale of a mountain dulcimer and is play across your lap, but the head of a banjo, so it’s much louder and had a twang to it that a mountain dulcimer doesn’t have. I also play the harmonium- an organ type drone that is used in classical Indian music and I also play the banjo, ukelele and acoustic and classical guitar.
TDOA: How has the band evolved from Wayfaring Summer to Red Planet?
Shanti: I look at Wayfaring Summer as a raw and unpolished stone that was found along the path, sparkling in the sunlight in all it’s earnest innocence. Red Planet is that very same stone, worn over and polished smooth from loss and heartache and bitter disappointments and then buffed to a golden glow from risk and adventure and soulful joy and universal resonance.
Buck: Arborea has evolved in so many ways since those first improvisations in the summer of 2005 that led to the recording and release of Wayfaring Summer. Our music is often created in two different ways…one take improvisations or through a crafting process. We are always striving to create and after nearly 7 years of doing this together, our musical skills and the intuitive musical communication between us have only gained strength.
TDOA: Husband-and-wife musical duos are relatively rare – how does that dynamic work? Surely it has its ups and downs?
Shanti: If no growth or change could occur without friction then I’d say that working together has allowed us to really grow and change. United we get to experience so much more than an average couple who lives together but works separately and has different interests and hobbies. We experience an abundance of the good and the bad and we have so much at stake, not just our careers and our artistic passions but we also have two children and a whole life that we’ve worked hard to build together. It has value and tremendous worth but it takes allot of communication and compromise- maybe that’s why it’s rare?
Buck: Being together as a couple for over a decade and working together on Arborea, we really have the advantage of developing and crafting something over time…something that is not very common in this world. I can definitely say that at the end of the day, sometimes that hour or so on stage can be the most amazing and blissful place in the Universe to be.
For information about Arborea visit their website or check them out via Facebook.