Q&A: Arms and Sleepers

In my early days as a record collector, I was flipping through the used vinyl bins at the record store, when a certain gatefold sleeve caught my eye, its cover a cracked blue sky with a flock of silhouetted birds.   That album was Black Paris 86 by Arms and Sleepers, a name I had maybe heard once or twice before.  I decided to give it a shot, and the electronic duo of Mirza Ramic and Max Lewis has been a favorite of mine ever since.

A few short years later, I found myself organizing an Arms and Sleepers show in the back of an auction house / thrift store, a show which was both as sketchy as it sounds and also a great success.  Before his set, Mirza took a moment to speak frankly to the audience, about togetherness and love, sentiments that Arms and Sleepers are determined to spread all over the world.  Then he invited the crowd to completely surround him as he lit that little thrift store up.

Since then the duo has been busy, releasing Life is Everywhere last year, and returning quickly with their forthcoming followup, Find the Right Place.  On these last two albums they’ve brought numerous other artists into the fold, enlisting rappers and singers, and working closely with Victor Ferreira (Sun Glitters), who directed their latest video for “It Was Us.”  Watch the video, and read our Q&A with Mirza below.

 

Slow Breathing Circuit: Last time we talked you had left your longtime home of Boston for Chicago, and were frequently traveling abroad as well.  Can you briefly talk about all these places and the progression of where you and Max have lived?

Mirza Ramic: Since then, I’ve been moving around a lot—mostly in Europe—and touring whenever possible. I was in Austin, TX, Madrid, Spain and Riga, Latvia. I’m back in Boston a few months each year, and at the moment I’m in Brno, Czech Republic, which is our base for European tours. Max has not moved so much, he’s been based out of Philadelphia, PA for a few years now as he is doing a PhD there.

For me, music is what I do for a living so I am lucky to be able to choose where I want to spend my time. I’m trying to take advantage of this moment of my life—the freedom to move as I please—as much as possible. So I pick locations where I have friends or know someone, or where I have visited before on tour and had thought to myself, “yeah, I could live here.” It’s certainly a strange lifestyle, but it works for me, at least for now.  So yeah, it’s a bit of a confusing thing, but basically Max has been studio-only since 2014, but AAS has always been and will always be the two of us in terms of writing music and making decisions.

Can you give a thesis statement of sorts for Find the Right Place? What’s different this time around compared to Life is Everywhere or even Swim Team?

The new album Find The Right Place definitely has a more aggressive vibe from the previous two records. I think this is because FTRP is a culmination of the last 3-4 years of doing music full-time, touring a lot, and seeing the great heights and the abysmal lows of being in an underground band. I have always said that I feel extremely lucky to be able to do what I do, but choosing music as a profession has also come with lots of crazy sacrifices and lots of bullshit. The last few years have been both rewarding and frustrating, and all of those confusing ups and downs were, in a way, expressed on this new record (musically, and visually through the album artwork). Overall, FTRP to me is about the underground culture, about leaving a legacy, about solitude, and also about letting off steam.

How did the featured vocalists help shape the album? You’ve been letting in more outside collaborators on the last two albums.

Yes, the previous album Life is Everywhere and this new album both have more collaborations, in particular more rappers. We’ve always loved hip-hop as an avenue of storytelling and reflection on social realities, it’s just that neither one of us can rap or sing, so we needed to look elsewhere in order to have this component expressed in our music. The latest collaborations were really great for us, both in terms of musical fit and lyrical content. Some we pursued ourselves, like Amber Ryann and Infidelix, others like Steffaloo were recommended to us by our co-producer, Victor Ferreira of Sun Glitters.  I think the vocalists added an even more aggressive side to our new album, and lyrically they touch on topics which are important and personal to us but which we can’t express through rapping or singing ’cause we suck at that.

Can you talk a little more about your friendship and work with Victor Ferreira?

I consider Victor one of my best friends at this point, even after less than three years of knowing him. We work very closely together, on music and some other projects, such as DXFXWXU Collective (a creative umbrella for all sorts of works of art), which will really come to life this year. We’ve both had crazy ups and downs in the music industry, so it’s been nice to have someone that can relate closely to the good and the bad. Besides our friendship, I am also really grateful to have Victor as our co-producer and mixer. He is very much like a third member of AAS – his contributions are incredibly important to what we are trying to achieve creatively, and it’s hard to imagine ever putting out another AAS record without him being involved. Victor is just a really creative guy. He was born to do artistic stuff, whether it’s through music, videos, graphics, comics, or whatever – he has fascinating ideas in all those realms. And unlike so many people in the music world, including us, he is great with deadlines – which is awesome.

 

Find the Right Place is out April 13 through Pelagic Records.  Pre-order here.

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