Jocelyn & Chris Arndt are a sibling duo with a flair for bluesy rock. A unique sibling pair, they’ve had their fair share of quarrels, but are “best friends” and have no problems tossing around weird musical ideas, even if it’s at one in the morning. And on top of that, they’ve been able to find the delicate balance between academics at Harvard and their musical passion.
We chatted with Chris about all this, along with the time he spent working with G. Love and Gov’t Mule’s Danny Louis.
Modern Vinyl: You’re both bringing back a classic ’70s rock sound for a new generation. What made you pursue that route?
Chris Arndt: We’ve always listened to a lot of different kinds of music. When Jocelyn and I were little, we had a room in our house called the Library. It was filled half with books and half with CDs. We used to take turns going in there and picking out random CDs to listen to all day long! Our parents were also a huge part of our love for music — they made sure music was pretty much constantly playing in our house.
Then, when we started learning instruments, we really found our favorite sounds. As a guitarist, I gravitated towards blues and rock of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s while Jocelyn was more into contemporary indie, pop and alt rock. I think our sound is sort of a mashup of all of those different influences, with a bit of everything else we listened to growing up. I don’t know if we ever made an active decision to pursue a particular sound. We just sort of write songs and try to make them as good as we can, and they come out with a bit of that classic ’70s sound. We both love that music, so we’re really happy with the direction our music is taking.
MV: What are some of the best and worst things about being in a band with your sibling?
CA: Working with each other is really what makes this whole thing possible. There is definitely the odd night where we want to kill each other, as there is with every set of siblings ever, but most of the time it’s really just awesome. We’ve always been best friends, and we know each other so well that working together is second nature. There’s never any fear of judgement when we come up with a weird musical idea or anything like that. If it’s one in the morning and I’ve got some idea that I’m afraid will slip away if I don’t develop it, I can go wake Jocelyn up and we’ll work on it and figure it out because her room is right next to mine. We both bring different skills to the table — Jocelyn usually writes the lyrics and melody, and I’m more into the underlying musical arrangement — so together, we make a pretty awesome team. There are so many reasons that Jocelyn is the perfect musical partner that I really couldn’t imagine working with anyone else.
MV: “Edges” was released back in March, where you worked with some pretty impressive names, like G. Love. What was it like working with him?
CA: It was incredible! We also got to work with Danny Louis from Gov’t Mule. Both of those guys were absolutely amazing. You never really know what it’s going to be like, making music with someone like that — imagine working with one of your professional idols. We were both pretty nervous going in, but they were both such nice people, and they genuinely cared about the end result. When we recorded with Danny, he came into the studio for a full day, from early in the morning [to] late into the night, and he made sure we took a lot of time getting each track just right. G. Love was the same way. We booked him for an hour, but he wanted to stay longer and keep doing takes. Neither of them were just there for the paycheck. They really liked the music, and that meant the world to my sister and me.
MV: To go off that, why did you decide to feature him on the album?
CA: Our music definitely has a bit of a retro blues-rock sort of feel, so we knew from the start that a Hammond B3 would be perfect for the sound. That’s why we went after Danny. When it comes to [the] Hammond organ, there’s not really anyone better. With G. Love, it was a pretty similar situation. We really wanted to put some blues harmonica on “Hot,” because we thought it would match the feel of the song. We’d heard a lot of G.’s recordings, and we absolutely loved all his work, and then we went to see him live and it was pretty much a done deal. We couldn’t imagine anyone else playing that part — he makes the harmonica do stuff that I didn’t know was possible! He was the perfect player. And on top of that, he’s G. Love, which was like an awesome bonus!
MV: You announced a few weeks ago that you’re starting to work on some new material. What are some of the inspirations for your new material?
CA: In a nutshell, everything! We’re inspired by everything around us: people, places, everything from television shows to news stories and books we’re reading. And, of course, we’re also inspired by what’s going on in our own lives; what we’re thinking and feeling. So I guess the new material is a mishmash of all of those elements; it’s a little sassy, a little dramatic, and it takes a turn for sad every now and then, too. When Jocelyn and I are writing, we try our hardest not to limit ourselves in any way, and that goes especially for sources of inspiration. A song can come out of anything. We know that firsthand…we’ve got a song called “Dry Cereal.” So we never want to count anything out.
MV: Both of you are at Harvard, balancing music and school. Why did you decide on Harvard?
CA: Our decision to attend Harvard was based on a lot of different things. Firstly, it’s the kind of place where everyone is passionate about something. You can strike up a conversation anywhere on campus and meet someone who has these huge goals and is completely committed to making their dreams become reality. That kind of passion all around you is inspiring, and with our love for music, we feel like we fit that very well. It’s a place where you can do anything you want to, as long as you work incredibly hard at it. There are no limits.
Secondly, the music scene in Cambridge and Boston was also a part of our decision. It’s a great area for live music, especially in the rock/blues/alt/indie genres, which is right in our wheelhouse. It’s also pretty close to upstate New York, which is where our management team is based, so it made it possible for us to travel home on weekends and even during the week, when necessary, to do stuff. Along the same lines, we’re only a few hours from New York City, which is really important because we’re there so often it’s insane. I feel like during the summer we make the trip on an almost weekly basis. Finally, we both wanted to be at the same school, so we could write songs and coordinate music stuff without too much extra effort. When we weighed all the options, Harvard just seemed like the right call.
MV: How do you find the delicate balance of keeping your academics on top while juggling a growing music career?
CA: It gets pretty busy at times, but I don’t think we’d have it any other way. Music is the priority. We love it, and we’re trying to make it into a career, so we know that at some point down the line we’ll probably have to take a break from school for a while to really get the most out of it. That said, we really love both parts of our lives, so while we can still pursue both, we’re definitely going to! Music is our passion, and it provides an awesome way to relieve the stress of college and give us the opportunity to get away from it all. It feels pretty crazy when you start studying for your 9 a.m. final on the bus back from NYC at 1 a.m. the night before the test, but it’s totally worth it in the long run. We’re truly blessed to have these opportunities, and we do our best not to compromise that.
MV: What advice would you give other musicians who are also trying to balance academics with a career in music?
Maintaining some order in your life is pretty important just to keep you sane. And also know that there will be times when you’ve got to sacrifice a bit of one for the other. We’ve had to skip some school days for gigs, and I probably would’ve done a little better on that final if I didn’t have a show at Dr. Oz’s Health Corps Gala in the City the night before, but I have no problem with that because the show was worth it. For my sister and I, music always comes first — try to figure out what comes first for you, and just go at it with everything you’ve got.
MV: We’re approaching the mid-year point. What have been some of your favorite releases that came out this year?
CA: There have been so many great releases this year. This is a tough one…I think, like pretty much everyone else I know, I love the Avett Brother’s single “Ain’t No Man,” and I am pretty much salivating over the release of the whole album. I think the award for most pleasantly surprising would definitely go to Ray LaMontagne. I’ve always been a huge fan, and while Ouroboros was completely unexpected, after the initial shock, I really liked it a lot. I think it’s one of the most emotive pieces of music I’ve heard in a long time. It’s also pretty refreshing to see albums like that — I feel like the past few decades have brought a huge focus on singles and individual songs, which is great, but creating a themed album which is intended to be a single piece of art became lost for a while. I hope Ouroboros is evidence of the album’s comeback!
As a blues guitarist, I feel like I’d be insane not to put Blues of Desperation on the list. Yet again, Bonamassa completely kills it, and I’m super happy to see how well he’s done on the radio! He’s always been a legendary performer, and it’s nice to see that being reflected in chart position. I could go on and on forever. 2016 has been a stellar year for new music, and I hope the trend continues. As a group of aspiring songwriters and musicians that really mesh with retro, blues-rock kind of music, it’s incredibly exciting for us to see the industry moving back in that direction a little bit. We’ve already had a pretty large amount of radio success with Edges, including a #17 position on the jamband chart and a single hitting #137 on the AAA chart, and the music we’ve been hearing this year is making us ever more hopeful. And we listen to anything, so honestly it’s tough for us to come up with a list of favorite new releases. New, interesting music is always good for our world. On the pop side of things, Meghan Trainor’s new album is pretty dope, too. We’re down to listen to pretty much any genre, as long as it’s got some emotion and soul in it.
MV: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
CA: Thank you for having us! It’s really wonderful to have the opportunity to do interviews like this — we love connecting with the audience more than anything, and every chance we get to do that is amazing! For the readers, if you’re interested in our music, check it out! We’re on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. You can also check out our website, where there’s a link to our Bandcamp page with all of our goodies and swag. Our album is also available on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon Music and all the other major music forums. Thanks for reading!
Jocelyn and Chris will be hitting the road for a few dates this summer across Vermont, New York, Maine, Massachusetts and Wisconsin. Their latest album, “Edges” is available now.