In April, internet pop powerhouse Arcuti spoke to us about his process, the future, and 24 hour days in the studio.
“I’ve been good, especially recently. I’ve been working on a lot of cool ass shit” says New Jersey genre-bender Arcuti at the start of our call. It’s the start of spring, the true birth of a new year following a productive, if isolated, previous twelve months. Statements like “I make shit that I want to hear – I think about it like I’m really conceited, I listen to my own music so much” are really more like self-fulfilling prophecies. It’s a tempting challenge to get through Arcuti’s entire discography – there are dozens of tracks on show, each blending with the next to form a world of struggling romance and drug-addled fatigue. It’s as if making things has become Arcuti’s backbone in an increasingly confusing world.
After “two and a half years” of self-published music Arcuti finds himself in a rare spot. His approach is, like many, to synthesise various inspirations, but more than most he wears those influences openly; “I’m heavily influenced by everything else. Take a very small aspect of exactly what they’re doing, seeing what my take on it could be. I’m very derivative in not that bad of a sense”. This acute focus on expanding found ideas blends well with a constant feel for the pulse of the underground, leading to tunes that tinge the overflowing energy of 2000s pop-punk with more modern genres. “I’ve been into hyperpop and digicore recently… drawing from their vocal melodies and deliveries and stuff and seeing what I can add to it” he says with reverence. Consistently, his appreciation for the scene’s newest wave is reinforced, like how his latest album “Me And My Last Brain Cell” “goes back to listening to an osquinn song and being like “this is fucking sick””. As with any rising artist there’s an awareness of mainstream compromises, but the passion shines through; “they’re gonna clean it up, they’re gonna commodify it, I think you can see it with Rico Nasty… they’re taking from that sound. I had a phase of making it, but I’m no blackwinterwells, they are just nuts. But it’s fun as shit to make, [and] it sounds awesome. The next evolution”.
Passion defines Arcuti’s presence. He cracks into laughter any time the immensity of his experiences becomes apparent, such as his first live show in New York City. “It was like this hole in the wall bar, they shut it down for the show, me and a few other local artists” he starts, before recalling having “the biggest crowd there” and a litany of “tequila shots”. Behind the streams and live performances is his basement studio, a space that through the last year became the centre of all existence; “I have my basement dude, a little soundproofed area, a focusrite, and my guitar. I have synthesisers on my computer, and drum samples. I don’t need anything else. I worked in a studio for mad long, I could’ve recorded there but I didn’t wanna; this is my safe space. I sleep a lot down here – it’s fucked up!” he relays with an audible grin. It’s that studio work that led to the frankly incredible drive Arcuti puts into his work. “[I] learned how to mix, fuckin busting my ass working for free, listening in on sessions. I had a family friend who owned one [and so] I dropped out of college for music. My mom was like “you know so and so’s son owns a studio right?. I was like – “no, I don’t know that”. I just got super lucky”. It’s reassuring to know that tunes like “average” and “Your Majesty”, songs that despite incredible polish and cheery overtones dig deep into fear and insecurity, are coming from a place safe enough to spark obsession.
More of Arcuti’s process is revealed in his history. “Guitar lessons… [at] 7” evolve into “writing at 16”. Blink182 and Motion City Soundtrack come up as key inspirations for the “Loser” EP released in 2020, as do close friends like Photon Tide and LEVEL$ (R.I.P) when discussing the roadblocks to collaboration. “I really wanna work with people, but I’m fuckin crazy. Every song I make I’m like this is my baby. Just getting out there, even asking people to collab… I would go in with the idea to make an open and be like “nah, nah, nah – I’ll finish it”. Every one of my songs is in one day from beat to mixing. Maybe on other days I’ll tweak more mixing stuff but almost all of them it’s one huge session, I’ll cook a beat or two and be like… “alright I want this done now”. To some degree this seems natural for someone who’s biggest critic is themselves – “I have joke songs that I’ve made that I put 100% in to – I listen to my own music a lot so if I half ass it I’m gonna have to fucking deal with it”.
The most striking comparison we stumble on is to video games. Where the world of MMOs becomes a grind, the ceaseless storm of new music is effortless, and where purpose is hard to see in artistry the games create structure. “Recently I’ve been into “Phantasy Star Online”. It’s this MMO from Japan, and it’s ruining my life!” spills out as half joke, half confession. “There was a time where I was putting in forty hour weeks in that game. MMOs dude! It’s like your second life. What’s cool with, [for example], “Fallout 4” is you can step back and come back whenever, with MMOs there’s constant content coming out I’m like, I don’t even want to play, but I have to play to keep up. Feels like a job, but a really rewarding job”. Hints at a deeper, more persevering motivation to Arcuti’s workflow are surprisingly found in another reality entirely.
Ultimately that motivation makes sense. As our call winds down thoughts of the future are dominated by long-term dreams. ““I make music and I throw it out there. If people find it they find it… I would love to be able to only make music, as a source of income – I would love that. I don’t want to do corny marketing stuff, even when I hit you guys up I feel imposing. I also don’t care about making a shit ton of money – my dream is to afford a studio apartment where I make music. I’ll be happy, I’ll be fine. I used to buy designer clothes and all that shit, everyone and their mom is a fashionista now… I’m just off of it. Luxury stuff, I don’t care for that shit anymore. Don’t let other people’s perception of you dictate what you’re gonna be doing”.
Some quotes have been shortened and/or combined with others for brevity and clarity. Alterations to quotes are presented in square brackets.
Watch Arcuti’s new music video “average” here.
– Jamie (⅓ @108MICS)