Small Sins are a five piece from Toronto. They play electronic pop music, heavy on keyboards, with a touch of acoustic guitar, piano, and banjo. Although I planned on interviewing the entire band for KUPS 90.1 FM, I was able to catch up with just the band’s lead, Thomas D’Arcy.
Bygone Bureau: So the rest of the band is outside fixing a tire…
Thomas D’Arcy: Yep, changing a flat.
It’s unfortunate, but a good adventure story, right?
Well, you know, every time that we’ve been sitting in the van for a certain number of hours and something comes up that isn’t loading gear or waiting around for a show, then it’s kind of exciting. We get to feel like men. We’re gonna’ be loosening bolts.
That’s a pretty masculine activity.
It really is. I gotta’ say that I feel a little disappointed that I’m not a part of that right now. I know that they’re probably crowded around a tire, probably filming it to prove that they’ve done it.
Well, maybe next time you could slash a tire on the way out.
Mood Swings is the second full-length from Small Sins, but you were a solo project on your first album after being a member of the Carnations. Now you’re a full band after getting together a touring group. What made you decide to keep the full band?
The second record is actually still kind of like a solo record. The first one was very much about having something to prove. I wanted to make a record alone because I had been in various band situations for such a long time and I was just sort of frustrated with the politics of being in a band with three other people to answer to.
The first one was proving that I could make a record on my own, and it felt like I did. So it wasn’t about proving that anymore. At the same time, I didn’t want to go into a studio with five guys and, you know, talk about it. So the second record is not really a band record, but I did kind of co-write certain songs with certain members of the band, and certain members played on certain things and they’re sort of peppered here and there–as well as musicians who aren’t even in the band–and tried to make a record a little more like how the live band ended up.
The first record was really mellow and the five of us get together and just want to rock live. So the second record is in-between the two. It’s easier to rock live with it. The songs are more upbeat and exciting, and I sort of use the higher parts of my voice, which is more fun live. At the same time there are songs on the record that are completely me. I’m trying to find a balance between the two.
There’s a major theme of guns on this record. What’s that about?
This is after a couple years of recording various stuff. After all the time had gone by, here are the 40 or 50 songs I could potentially put on the record. What do you do? I knew I wanted it to be a pop record, so I dumped some of the more depressing, slower stuff. Then there was this theme of confrontation. Like, some songs are about when your friends want to fight people and how retarded that is. Just these running themes of conflict and the concept of the loaded weapon was a good metaphor for that over and over again.
Out of all these songs let’s pick the six that have gun references in them as well as six other pop songs and there we go. Let’s put it out.
Do you have influences that made you incorporate sad lyrics with danceable songs? How did you get that formula?
Usually when I’m writing music I’m alone, and when I’m alone I’m not that happy I guess. Life is up and down. You have your happy times with your friends and then you have your sad, alone times. You can’t really have one without the other. It just so happens that most of my music making takes place in that not happy time. So I guess they just don’t end up being fun. But that’s just the nature of it. I chose to make music alone and try to be that solo guy. Part of that is being alone and lonely while doing it. It’s just a necessary evil.
There’s a major electronic sound in your record, but you also incorporate the organic, like acoustic guitars, piano, the banjo. Was that a result of the full band’s influence?
Not really. I think the first record was the same thing – trying to mix the two sounds. I’m a Libra. You know, it’s about balance. There’s guys out there that go full-on electronic and get really nerdy about it and they’re better at it than I could ever be. There are also guys out there who are full on acoustic who are also way better at their thing than I could ever be. I feel like where I can excel is combining the two somehow and coming up with my own thing.
Maybe I should ask Kevin [Hilliard] about this, but he’s the professional hand clapper of your group? Do you know where he learned his handclapping skills?
We’ve heard his dad clap and it’s amazing.
Yeah. It’s loud. It’s a good, solid, lots of low frequencies clap.
Well, I listened to some of his songs on his MySpace page to hear the variation of his… talent.
Did he have his Christmas songs?
No, he didn’t. He had “The Clap,” “Do It Again,” and “Let’s Go.”
Okay. I don’t know why he doesn’t. The Christmas season is coming up soon and I can try to cover it right now, but it won’t be the same.
(claps the rhythm to Jingle Bells)
That’s pretty good.
Done. It’s a hit. I know he has a version of it, and his clap blows my clap away. It’s amazing.
What are you listening to right now? Anything that’s been influencing you or anything you enjoy?
We’ve been listening a lot to Fujiya and Miyagi. We played with the Thrills a few days ago and now I have all their stupid songs stuck in my head. So I need to listen to that. I need to track down a copy just so I can listen to it and not have to think about it anymore. For the most part, in the van, we usually listen to podcasts and books on tape and stuff. We don’t really listen to that much music.
What books are you listening to?
David Sedaris short stories, sometimes we listen to Henry Rollins talking, and the NPR news podcast every day.
How long have you been on tour?
We’ve been doing shows for the past month and the half in the States and Canada.
How has your U.S. reception been? Is it any different from Canada?
It’s been alright. It’s not really about one country to the other, but more about one city to another. There are cities in Canada where we can pack the place and places where nobody cares who we are. It’s been the same in the States where we’ll show up in one place and it’ll be amazing and then the next place and it’ll empty. It’s been completely random.
I feel like Seattle will probably be empty tonight. We do a prediction of how many people will show up at each show. From day to day we’ll guess in hundreds of people or like my guess today – nine. Nine people are going to be there tonight.
But whatever. We gotta’ do something between there and there.
Small Sins’s latest release, Mood Swings, is out now on Astralwerks.