A couple of weeks ago I reviewed a CD by Arden Kaywin, Quarter Life Crisis and loved it. I loved it so much I decided to ask for an interview. The fact that she lives in L.A. and I live outside Edinburgh, Scotland didn’t seem to be a problem until Blogcritics refused to fund the air-flight and accommodations — damn them! It would just have to be a telephone interview.
I arranged to chat with her at 9am (PST) on a Saturday — that’s 8 hours behind Scotland time (GMT) so that was a reasonable 5pm for me. I wasn’t sure what to expect — call an indie pop artist at 9am on a Saturday and I figured you were likely to find someone who was either sleeping it off or not yet sleeping. What I got was a fresh and lively young woman who was far more cool and collected than I felt. I had mixed-up the time I was supposed to call her and was late and I had the nagging feeling of being wrong-footed. Well that and I had never interviewed anyone before and had no idea what should come next. So I started with the promotional material that had come with her CD.
Originally from Miami, Arden had lived in New York for four years while attending the prestigious Manhattan School of Music. When I asked her about L.A., she said that she “had this luck of living in the three best cities” in the US, those being Miami, New York and L.A. “The weather is beautiful [in L.A.] and you’re a hop, skip, and a jump away from skiing, the ocean, or the desert. You can go anywhere.”
Comparing New York’s cultural depth to that of L.A., Arden believes that “if you scratch beneath the surface that is Hollywood there is a really great artistic community here.”
A classically trained opera singer, Arden has sung with Opera Theater St. Louis and San Francisco Opera; and before studying in Manhattan, she attended the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. So how does an opera singer living in the sophisticated urban rush of New York City and “in that world 100%” end up in L.A. writing and recording a pop album?
“I loved New York, too, and I never thought I would move to Los Angeles ever. I thought ‘I am a sophisticated New Yorker’ and then just by circumstances, family, and other things (my brother lives in L.A.), I ended up in Los Angeles and I love it! If you had told me when I was living in New York that I would end up in L.A. and loving it, I would have said you were crazy!
“I was doing this very different thing that I had spent my whole adolescence and my whole college life training for and it wasn’t making me happy. I was good at it and it was the kind of thing that if you’re good at and if you can do it professionally, then you do it. Never mind are you happy. It just dawned on me that I am almost 25 and there is so little time. If I’m not happy, what am I doing this for? What am I waiting for?
“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, then I ended up getting to collaborate with a film scorer and she and I wrote a few songs together and we recorded them. It was my first experience in a recording studio and I just loved it — this is what I’m going to do. I need to write and make an album and I left New York and came to L.A. and there you have Quarter Life Crisis. In a matter of two months, I did a complete 180. I moved cities, I changed careers, and I became single.”
Several songs on Quarter Life Crisis, including “Over You” and the single “Me with Me,” talk of her struggle to overcome lost love. The song “Numb” speaks of trying to survive the pain of a break-up.
“I was in a relationship for 6 years with a very wonderful person but it just wasn’t the right relationship. We had just broken up and all of that, in terms of changing careers and moving cities and all of that. This whole record was written during and after that time so it was all about sorting out my independence and being in a new city and figuring out what I want and feeling empowered and totally freaked out at the same time.”
Was she planning on touring the world?
Picture by Noah Abrams (www.noahabrams.com)
“Yeah, hopefully!” She laughed. “I would love that to happen, but I’m indie so I don’t have a huge label behind me. Which is funny because my music, in terms of genre, is not indie. When you think of indie music — which is sort of Alt/Punk — my music is 100% pop singer/songwriter mainstream. But as an artist, I am indie in the sense that I don’t have a record label.”
“Have you played any big shows yet?” I asked thinking that maybe I should have asked that first.
“Define ‘big’. Have I played Madison Square Garden? No. I have played the Avalon here in L.A., which was a couple thousand. So that was probably the biggest one.”
As an unsigned artist getting a gig at the Avalon, a paragon of the nightclub scene around Hollywood and Vine, is impressive.
“I haven’t really had that opportunity yet to get that kind of huge exposure that top 40 radio can give you, or doing a major tour, because those are the kinds of things that the record labels help with and get you started and break you. So most of the touring and things that I do are focused on that smaller scale. Just because of the nature of my status as an indie artist, I just don’t yet have the resources to go big like that.”
And what about fame? That all important celebrity status that so many talentless wannabes crave and that our cultural consciousness seems to revere above hard work and honest skill. How does someone with real talent and training feel about fame?
“I would love to have a career like Sheryl Crow or Alanis Morissette or some of these other women who are on their 10th album, still selling a million records each album and have some longevity. I don’t want to be a one hit wonder. I want to have a career. But I want to be able to have a life. I want to be known for what I do, obviously, but the idea of that mega-stardom is very overwhelming. I would love to be able to support my musicians and to sell a lot of records so that I can keep selling a lot of records.”
So what is in the immediate future for Arden? Make another album maybe, change her sound a little, experiment with the music?
“The direction I want to go in is just a little bit edgier, a little bit less piano-driven. I always write on piano but I think that I would like the arrangements to be a little more guitar-driven. I have a guitar player and he is really the staple in this band of great guys who play with me. A lot of the time I will write the chords and lyrics and then I’ll say ‘hey why don’t you just come over for a few hours’ and he will guitarize it. A lot times it changes the vibe and I want it to.
“Whereas on the last album I wrote the songs to be played on the piano, I was arranging piano parts, with some of my new songs I am writing them with the mind-set that this is really going to be played on guitar. It’s a process.
“You make something and you put it out there and you hope that people respond to it. And people definitely have been responding to it. So now it’s just a matter of getting the right kind of exposure in the right time at the right place.”