by Laura Kazdan
Norwegian Arms and Laser Background kicked off their house show residency at Dreamcastle in September (Friday the 14th). They have been living and playing shows at house venues in different neighborhoods every week and will continue to do so until October 5th. The first show was in South Philly, though all compass designations are getting their due.
“The goal was to force us to be out of our environment,” Andy Molholt of Laser Background says. “Because I’ve never lived in South Philly before. I’ve lived in Philly for five years and I’ve never lived here.”
Norwegian Arms is Brendan Mulvihill’s band; it started as a solo recording project that never preformed, but has since evolved into a duo and now a trio in the midst performing every weekend for essentially a month. Mulholt also performs in Norwegian Arms playing keyboard, but Laser Background is his songwriting project. The two have been collaborating on music on and off since they were nineteen, they even went on their first tour together for a band they shared songwriting credits on. It is a lovely counterpart that they are now venturing out on their own solo projects and yet at the same time delving further into their home city together for this experiment.
The idea for the residency originated with Molholt, and with Mulvihill’s help they came up with a few rules and brought it to fruition. “Some people have suggested it’s like a scene awareness thing,” Mulvihill says. “Some people don’t know about these house show venues or haven’t necessarily spent time in another neighborhood.”
While they were talking, one of Dreamcastle’s residents asked if they were going to use their drum kit. An opening band, Circadian Rhythms, was already planning on lending theirs, so he packed the house kit up and moved it out of the way. It’s that sort of community spirit that they expressed a desire for their residency to highlight. One or both of them knew someone living at or had previously played at all of the venues, the exception being the closing venue of their mini-tour where they both used to live together.
The first rule of their house show residency is that they actually reside in each house for a couple of days prior to the show. “The first night we went to Wal-Mart at one in the morning and got a tent,” Mulvihill explains, “we wanted to do couch forts but we weren’t sure what the resources at the house were going to be in terms of couch fort building materials.”
“I still think we can just go to a thrift store–”
“Yeah and like get sheets,”
“I was thinking we could ask just to buy the cushions,” Molholt muses “though they probably wouldn’t let us.”
They agree that the first house has been a learning experience. Molholt has decided to take off work for the two days prior to each show from now on because he felt too much like he was just sleeping at Dreamcastle rather than really participating in the community. “It’s nice to feel connected to the house a little bit more than if you were to just show up and play a show,” he adds.
Another rule the bands must follow limits their food and drug intake to a single substance each. For the Dreamcastle show those were pizza and weed. No word on what the homecoming show’s combo will be, you’ll have to go and ask them.
The final rule is that they each must write a new song during their time at each house. Molholt was sitting in the tent tinkering with a little keyboard and a guitar a couple of hours before the show, but they both improvised new songs in front of a live audience that night. That is certainly not the standard songwriting environment but both new songs went over great.
“I kind of like the idea of setting up weird rules for yourself and weird challenges because it will change the output of what you’re doing,” Molholt says.
The challenge definitely created something that was born from the specific time and place they were in and probably would never have been created under any other circumstances. “Somehow through the haze of the evening I still remember both” Molholt tells me later that week. The songs may (or may not) make it on to a split EP later this year.
It is a refreshing change of pace for both the bands and the musical community to have projects that push the boundaries of an audience’s expectations. “It gets stagnant. ‘Oh there’s another band playing another stupid thing,’” Molholt says“It’s kinda cool to do weird shit like this, I just wanna do something kinda different.” Mulvihill echos the sentiment, summing the whole project up: “So basically it’s just an experiment with DIY shows and house venues and incorporating elements of house residencies and having fun and doing something kinda weird just because it’s fun to do weird stuff.”
You can find Laser Background at http://laserbackground.bandcamp.com/ and Norwegian Arms at http://norwegianarms.bandcamp.com/. You can catch their homecoming residency October 5th at The Ox.