Interview conducted by @KralTunes
Max Lewis and Mirza Ramic make up ARMS AND SLEEPERS, the electronic dynamic duo of chill, hip-hop, ambient, post rock, and atmospheric jams (and whatever other categories you think you can lump them into). Since their inception in 2006 (including a near 2 year hiatus), the group has amassed a discography of over 18 different releases. Dedicated might not be a strong enough term to describe their prolific careers up to this point. Albums such as ‘Black Paris 86‘ and ‘Matador’ are beloved by both fans and critics alike for their masterful blending of subtle electronics, hip hop beats and the overall eerie yet beautiful ambiance each album exhibits.
Not only did the band just recently release their newest full length album, ‘Swim Team’, this past fall, they are in the middle of a new Kickstarter campaign that, if successfully funded, will see the release of a flood, a swarm (a gaggle, if you will) of new material throughout 2015.
Currently preparing for a short European tour later this month, Mizra Ramic was kind enough to take the time and answer my rambling questions about the band’s recording process, what fans are in store for at a live performance, and what the future holds for the duo. Luckily, we also got to tackle hard pressing issues such as being stranded in the middle of nowhere and critiquing the Presidents comedic skills.
KralTunes: The name ARMS AND SLEEPERS is an interesting choice. How did you come up with that?
Mirza Ramic: It was definitely a random thought which then gained different meaning for each of us and for others. For me, BitCandy (www.bitcandy.com) best described the meaning: “It represents the ever-present violence fetish of the powerful (‘arms’) and the shameful apathy of those who quietly ignore it (‘the sleepers’).”
KT: Lets go about this question Alex Trabeck-syle. (I will play Alex Trabeck, and you are the Jeopardy contestants. As I walk by each podium, I ask you where your from and to reveal some tidbit about yourself..Give me an interesting factoid about each band member that was currently unknown before today).
MR: Arms and Sleepers is just 2 people. Max Lewis (who was unavailable for this interview) and I started the band in 2006 – maybe an interesting factoid about us is that we didn’t really (or rather at all) like each other in high school. We became friends in college which is when we started playing music together. KT: I have had similar experiences with people from high school. Isn’t it weird how that can happen?
KT: How did you guys come together as a group? Have you been playing together for a while?
MR: Building on the previous answer, we knew each other in high school but started to be friends in college when we discovered we had similar music interests and aspirations. We played in various bands together until we decided to go on our own in 2006. We’ve been focused on Arms and Sleepers ever since.
KT: I read that your live shows offer the audience a ‘cinematic experience’. Can you go into more detail about how you pull this off?
MR: Since our first show, we’ve used visuals that are synced to the live set. We try to put a lot of care into what kind of videos are projected on the screen when performing live, and over the years this has become an important component of the live experience. We tend to use videos from other artists that we’ve collaborated with in the past but also some of our own video work.
KT: Looking through your discography, you two have been quite prolific throughout the years. One could assume that making new music come easy for you two. Is this true, or is the process long and difficult? How do you come up with your ideas? Inspirations?
MR: Definitely not true – creating music is an incredibly difficult process for us, and to make something that we think is worth sharing with others takes incredible amounts of energy out of us. We tend to be very self-critical, so there is a lot of frustration involved when it comes to writing and recording new music. Inspiration comes from many different places – people, cities, personal experiences, literature, films, music. It’s always unpredictable and we never know when our motivation to create something will result in a piece of music that is actually good. It’s a hit or a miss, with a whole lot of misses.
KT: Do you create music other than ambient/trip-hop, or is this the only game in town for you two?
MR: I think “ambient/trip-hop” is a term that was assigned to our music by others – we don’t think of our music as such, and over our 9-year existence and about 18 releases, we’ve had music ranging from electronic to modern-classical to instrumental hip hop. If you take a release such as ‘Nostalgia For The Absolute’ and compare it to our most recent release ‘Swim Team’, it’ll be pretty obvious that those two albums have pretty much nothing in common other than the fact that we created them. We tend to be all over the place when it comes to making music because we get bored easily with one style – this has been great for us because we feel free to explore any direction we want, but sometimes confusing for our listeners because they never know what to expect. KT: Part of the reason I gravitated to your music is this variation that you speak of. I know when I first heard Black Paris 86 years ago, I was blown away by the rapid shifts in sound and expert musicianship. I still feel like this may be your best release yet, although I have to give Swim Team more time to sink in.
KT: Going into making a new record, is there a set plan or goal before entering the studio, or do you let the creativity flow before deciding on a direction?
MR: Lately we’ve been trying to have more of a set plan before embarking on creating a new album. We’ve been very conscious about trying to make a consistent album that has a particular sound and feel to it from start to finish. We’ve struggled with this in the past so it’s been a bit of a challenge for us, but with the most recent album ‘Swim Team’, we were petty happy with how it turned out.
KT: Tell us more about your current KICKSTARTER campaign? I see that you intend to release a boatload of unheard material over the course of the next year. Is this material that you have been sitting on for a while, or all new content? What kind of content can fans expect to hear?
MR: This is our 2nd Kickstarter campaign we’ve done (the last one was in 2010) and we’ve managed to raise almost $7,000 with a few weeks left to go. We have a lot of new material that we want to release and share with our listeners, but of course being a small group, finding the funds to do so can be difficult. The material we’re looking to release is fairly new, with some ideas floating around since 2013. There are two EPs and a remix album for ‘Swim Team’ that we’d like to release this year if we can reach our funding goal of $10,000, and a brand new full-length album to be released in 2016 if we can reach $15,000. Some of the new material is sonically on the same page as our most recent album ‘Swim Team’, other material is a bit reminiscent of our older releases such as ‘From The Inland Sea’, and yet other material is like nothing else we’ve done before. So it’s all over the place, as our music usually tends to be. There are a couple of short audio clips and videos of the new music on our Kickstarter page, as well as info about new releases and available rewards: http://bit.ly/AAS_Kickstarter.
KT: I see you have a short European tour coming up. How do you pick some of these tours spots? Some of the stops do not seem like typical tour destinations.
MR: The booking decision-making tends to be quite simple: if there is someone interested in bringing Arms and Sleepers to his/her city and can make it happen logistically and financially, then we’re game. Arms and Sleepers is now just me performing live, with Max only in the studio, so figuring out travel logistics is a bit easier. I tend to be pretty flexible as to where I travel to perform, so whether it’s Belarus or Wales, I’m happy to go there if the various show details make sense. Arms and Sleepers has been touring and playing live since 2006, so I’m pretty accustomed to all kinds of places and situations.
KT: What do some crazy kids like yourselves do on your down time?
MR: Max is pretty busy with academics – he’s finishing his Master’s degree and starting his PhD in philosophy soon so a lot of his time is spent on reading, thinking, and writing. He’s also constantly working on new music and enjoys watching movies. I just finished my Master’s so I’m focusing on music full-time at the moment, but also have deep interests in education and political science. I also tend to watch a lot of movies and as of late, for some reason, a lot of NBA. KT: Super genius musicians!! Excellent
Now for the serious stuff:
KT: Two sisters from Oklahoma and Nebraska missing for nearly two weeks in Michigan survived on Girl Scout cookies and melting snow while stuck in their snow-crippled SUV. If you were stranded from civilization for 2 weeks, could you survive on Girl Scout cookies and snow? What would you need to make the situation as bearable as possible (but only 2 things)?
MR: Girl Scout cookies are great so I think I’d be able to manage that. In terms of two things to make the situation as bearable as possible, I’d say a good book and some super warm clothes. KT: Personally, I couldn’t deal with Girl Scout cookies non stop. Give me some bottles of Seltzer Water (Cranberry Lime if possible) and Great Grains Cranberry Almond Crunch cereal.
KT: Finally, rank these jokes made by President Obama at the recent White House Correspondents Dinner, from worst to best.
Talking about his Gray Hairs: “I look so old John Boehner’s already invited Netanyahu to speak at my funeral.”
MR: I like this one – probably my favorite of the three. KT: That’s my top pick as well.
The 2016 GOP Field: “The Koch brothers think they need to spend a billion dollars to get folks to like one of these people,” Obama said of the potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates. “I raised a lot … but my middle name is Hussein.”
MR: Pretty good, I suppose. KT: Pretty good, almost as good as the first.
The “Bucket” List: Obama said he’s asked, ” ‘Do you have a bucket list?’ I say, well I have something that rhymes with bucket.”
MR: Also pretty good, but the first one is still my favorite. KT: A big fat ‘MEH’ for me. Overall, a decent effort. Normally, I would say “Don’t quit your day job”, but since that won’t be available after 2016, I’ll refrain.
Catch Arms And Sleepers on tour in Europe this month:
May 23 Abstrasension Festival (More Club) Saint Petersburg, Russian Federation
May 24 Muzeon Park Moscow, Russian Federation
May 27 Huligan Bar Minsk, Belarus
May 29 whoneedslyrics?! Festival (British Rock Stars) Bratislava, Slovakia
May 30 Kvlt BP Budapest, Hungary
Jun 02 Sugar Factory Amsterdam, Netherlands
Jun 03 Geertruida Haarlem, Netherlands
Jun 04 Bar Rossi Zurich, Switzerland Tickets
Jun 05 Private Show Duisburg, Germany
Jun 06 Neuadd Ogwen Bethesda, United Kingdom
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