An Interview with Danny Arakaki

(Poster art by D. Norsen)

Danny Arakaki, of Garcia Peoples, recently released a total stunner of a solo album on Ryley Walker’s Husky Pants Records, and it goes by the name Tumble in Shade.

The LP reveals just how wide of a range Arakaki possesses as a musician, songwriter and as a music lover. Across the record’s seven tracks, the Brooklyn-based guitarist jams with an absolute dream team of heady New York artists that he’s both friends with and a fan of, including Weak Signal’s Mike Bones, Tower Recordings’ Helen Rush and our favorite wizard of percussion, Ryan Jewell. The zones that the group confidently traverses through on the record include everything from astral roots-rock to kaleidoscopic prog ballads. Arakaki’s infectious melodies surge to life thanks to the band’s diverse range of densely layered sounds.

Live, the group reaches the same eclectic and free spirit that exists on the record. Despite their full size and deep range of styles and sounds, they jam out as a tight and yet also fluid unit. They sound capable of heading into a variety of directions or vibes mid-flight, but they always steer the ship to a common and grounded goal. Catching their debut performance at the Tumble in Shade release show at Union Pool recently was a revelatory experience. I hope there will be more gigs to follow in the near future!

The Danny Arakaki Band at Union Pool Brooklyn, 1/21/23

I spoke with Danny a few days before the record release show about the band and the new album. Check it out:

Record Crates United: What was the impetus for embarking on your solo project?

Danny Arakaki: I’ve been writing a lot, and through the years I just collected all these songs that didn’t really fit for Garcia Peoples, or what we were trying for at the time with the records we were working on. So I just amassed a cache of songs and was like, it’d be cool to get all my friends in on it from New York and come up with something new.

RCU: Oh cool, I was gonna ask if the songs existed before the idea of doing the solo project came about or if they were made specifically for the album.

DA: They existed before; like the first song I ever wrote pretty much is on there.

RCU: Oh wow, which one was that?

DA: It’s “Somewhere Else.”

RCU: Oh cool, I love that one. I’m curious about what you think makes a song feel right for a GP record and what doesn’t?

DA: Just when I play it for them and how they react. Or if we’re in the room and it’s not really hitting, and I’m like, ‘I don’t wanna subject to you anymore of this if it’s not hitting you,” which is totally fine for me and actually cool. Because it’s more collaborative. You know?

RCU: How did you base the selection of the other musicians involved and how much involvement did they have with the actual songwriting and recording process?

DA: Yeah, so I pretty much just came up with the bones of the songs. Then I went into the studio at Black Dirt with Ryan [Jewell] and Mike [Bones], and I was like, ‘I know I want to play on a record with them too’. Throughout the years, we became really close friends, so it was great to have that as something to build off of. Then Black Dirt Studio shut down, and I wasn’t sure if I was gonna be able to do anything with it after we did all the beds and stuff for the tracks. Then my friend Rob Smith, the drummer from Rhyton, told me about this engineer who was recording out of Gary’s Electric, which is the studio for Mexican Summer. It was pretty affordable. So then I started asking people who I just see out at shows, and I knew I wanted violin on it. I just was hearing all these things in my head, but as far as like, “play this or play that”, I didn’t really do that with them.

The way that it worked was like they’d come in, I’d say like three different parts and be like, ‘which one works more?’ I had to hear it recorded and then be like, ‘okay, yeah, this is it’. Then they’d do another take, like all the way through of that, in that vein, you know?

RCU: Right, yeah. If you had a chance, what other artists would you like to work with in a similar capacity?

DA: Probably a bunch of other friends. I love Ryan Sawyer’s drumming, and I love, Brad Truax. He was in bands in Brooklyn, and he plays for Interpol now. He was also a close friend.

It’s funny, I was just talking to my girlfriend about this. She plays guitar too, and she was playing live with me for the last two shows I did. She’s old buds with all of them too, so we were like, ‘what would the next band be for the next album?’ and we made a list yesterday. It was actually Ryan, Brad and Leslie [Stein] and a couple similar people, Jef Brown and Dan Iead. I love playing with people all the time. I try to jam with people as much as possible.

RCU: I like that there’s some freedom with GP, and that that you can take time to go jam with other folks or focus on your individual projects. Like, I know Tom is off playing with Chris Forsyth a lot lately.

DA: Yeah, there’s no jealousy or ego within the band like that in that way, you know? We all support each other in music, especially like, Pat’s putting a couple things out. I think one on Amish Records, and another one on Drag City, I think. Yeah. It’s, crazy, and Andy’s working on a record. Caesar’s been working on songs, too. It’s nuts. Everyone’s so talented. They’re like, that’s great band to be in.

RCU: Yeah it seems like a good launching pad for all kinds of projects. I mean, I think bands should be like families, and everyone can have their own separate circle of friends they can work and branch off into different projects with, like how you see with bands like the Dead or Fairport Convention.

Going back to something you were touching on before, the palette of sounds you’re working with here is far more diverse than most of the GP records. I was wondering, like, was that something you were seeking to expand in this project? Are there any different instruments, modes, or styles that you haven’t incorporated into your music yet that you still want to?

DA: Yeah, definitely. For the last GP’s record, we collaborated with Matt Sweeney and he played all over that album, and then we got Dan Iead to play pedal steel, and I just wanted more of that sound after doing Dodging Dues. It feels great in the studio when you’re playing with different people and they’re bringing their own thing in. I was like, ‘how can I maximize this? I guess I’ll ask everybody, you know?’

RCU: Oh absolutely. It’s very cohesive and it just flows. It also doesn’t sound like a GP record, though, but you can tell that it definitely shares DNA with those albums. It’s like you’re hearing the musical ensembles you hint at through your melodies and guitar solos. Like we’re hearing what you might have truly had in mind for these songs.

DA: Right, yeah, definitely. I had more time to figure that kind of thing out than when we’re doing GP Records. It’s funny that you say it sounds so cohesive, which I think it does at the end result. I love the record, the way the record plays and I was thinking that’s like an upside to doing a solo record. It’s just like, even if you’re writing different styles of songs, I don’t have to share the writing as much. It’s more like players coming in. So I figured it’ll all be cohesive in that way just because of that, you know?

RCU: Oh for sure. I think that definitely comes through. Out of curiosity, how long was the recording process for the album?

DA: We started in 2019, in the summer. Then I think we recorded the basic tracks in two or three weekends, within a two or three month span, I think. Then, well, everything went to hell, and the studio shut down. Then I think I did about three or four more weekends of overdubs and singing and mixing, this was like ’20, ’21, ’22, I forget, ’22 I think. Yeah. I don’t remember the years [laughs].

RCU: Who can? What is time? [laughs] Were there any particular artists that may have inspired any of the sounds or the vibes on the record?

DA: I’m not too sure. Most of the stuff that I was thinking was like, ‘oh, this would be perfect for this musician to play on. So yeah, you could say like, Weak Signal, or you can say Office Culture, like everybody who played on it, their bands. They could have influenced the way I was thinking after doing the basic tracking.

RCU: Right, that makes sense. So I appreciate how much you focus on songs over jams on this album, and as a result, I think the record shows off more of your excellent song craft. So I’m curious, in your opinion, what makes a great song great?

DA: For me? I’m guilty of doing the opposite. It’s like I want for it to be as simple as possible and have it to have the least amount of chords as possible, but with a vibe to it the whole time. I’d say that’d be the perfect song. Also, I like short songs and a lot of these are pretty short. You know, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, maybe a little bridge in there.

RCU: Some of ’em could probably jam out a bit if you wanted to, but I do like how tight and concise these songs are.

DA: Yeah. I think we may stretch some parts out for the show on Saturday. You can always do that with the song.

RCU: What plans do you have next for your solo ventures? Any touring plans to speak of?

DA: I don’t have any solo touring plans right now, but I’ve been writing another record and I almost jumped the gun and went to the recording studio like late December. It was too crazy, too hectic with this show and then go do the GP shows and stuff, so I was like, I gotta give it time. I’m ready to, though, I have enough songs to start on the second record, which I think I will do within the following months.

Big thanks to Danny for taking the time to chat with me! Please follow Danny on Instagram @Daa_echo and @Garcia.Peoples on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Click here to order your copy of Tumble In Shade today on vinyl, CD or digital.


Published by Record Crates United

Keith Hadad, the creator and manager of RCU, has been a contributing writer to Elmore Magazine and and maintains a regular column, “Keith Hadad’s Choice,” in Blicker magazine. His writing has also appeared in the Smithsonian Folkways' Guest Blog and the Optical Sounds Fanzine. Also, please check out the blog's super-active Instagram account, @recordcratesunited for daily blurb-styled music reviews.

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