The Arusha Accord

author AP date 29/03/10

The Arusha Accord are an enigmatic band, or that's at least what I kept telling myself when I trotted into the tiny backstage area at the Hamptons bar in Southampton clutching a few notes which I scribbled in haste to act as a backbone for this interview. I simply did not know very much about this band despite praising their EP to the skies. Nearly an hour later I step out of the room thinking damn, that must have been one of the best interviews I've done, blown back by the band's comfortable self-indulgence - not in an irritating, self-satisfied way, but impressing me that this is a band that is immensely proud of their own music. I give you The Arusha Accord:

RF.net:Can we start with you guys introducing yourselves and saying what your roles in the band are?
Luke: I'm Luke and I play bass.

Mark: I'm Mark and I play drums.

James: I'm James and I play guitar.

Tom: I'm Tom and I play guitar.

RF.net: I've had a look around the Internet to try to find some information on you guys, but there seems to be this air of mystique around The Arusha Accord because, although you are mentioned often, nobody seems to know anything about the band; or maybe I'm just oblivious. So, tell me something about the band either way.
Luke: We're from Reading in the south of England. We've been going for five years. We've been a musical project for a long time.

Mark: My visa expires in a year.

Luke: Our drummer is also a transvestite.

Mark: Executive transvestite.

Luke: We are all 21 apart from our singer who's 45.

James: We have two singers. They're not 45...

RF.net: So how did it all come together?

James: Primary school.

Mark: Yeah, primary school. We've been playing together for a long, long time, minus the singers. It started as a musical project and the singers joined later on.

James: We've been writing and playing together for years, literally since we were eleven, and it just developed from there.

RF.net: That's pretty impressive. Did you think it would come this far?

Luke: The thing is, we're not a scene band in any way. We spent three years writing in a dark room away from anything. We have no influence from the UK metal scene or whatever. We've always just done our own thing, you know what I mean? We've not followed any trends or anything, so we had no thoughts of it becoming a career and no thoughts of it getting anywhere anyway. We've only just done it because we love to do it and we get a lot of enjoyment out of it, and those are the only reasons why we've ever played together. It's lovely that it's got to the stage it has, but it was never intended to be that way; we've just always done it for ourselves.

RF.net: I guess I should ask the obligatory question about where the band's name came from?
Luke: That's a good question. There was a question in Kerrang about that just last week.

RF.net: Oh, we'll just read the answer you gave them so you don't have to do it again...

James: We didn't come up with it though: it was Alan, one of our mates, who said "how about this name?" We didn't really understand the significance of it.

Luke: I can tell you exactly where it's from.

James: Yeah, we know where it's from now but we didn't at the time. We were like, "Arusha Accord, what's that?"

Luke: Well, that is quite important because we didn't want anything that suggested any kind of genre. At the time we didn't even know what genre we were ourselves. Basically the Arusha Accords (plural) were a series of peace treaties from an area of Africa, Tanzania, and they went wrong and lots of people were murdered.

Mark: It kind of backfired.

Luke: Yeah, so if you want to attach meaning to it, the peace treaty could represent the nice stuff...

Mark: ...and the genocide represents our...? (laughs)

RF.net: Yeah, I don't know what that says about your music...

Luke: Well, don't get too hung up on the name. More than anything else it's just meant to sound like something different. The Arusha Accords were a series of peace treaties; The Arusha Accord is nothing, it's just a play on that. We are The Arusha Accord.

RF.net: Okay. If I had to name some bands that have some measure of similarity with you guys, I'd go with SikTh and maybe A Textbook Tragedy, but I hear you don't like being compared to SikTh?
James: Textbook is probably more offensive.

Mark: Yeah, Textbook? What the fuck?

Luke: Yeah, that was such a misunderstanding. We're actually friends with SikTh and, the thing is, when we first came out into the public scene we were so different and so out-there, and then suddenly we just got slapped as a SikTh-esque rip-off band trying to benefit from the fact that they'd just recently broken up. Many of our early reviews were like, "oh, they're trying to thrive in the gap that SikTh left." It was such a bad misunderstanding of timing. It wasn't anything lik ethat at all. We love SikTh. We have such a huge amount of respect for them. But at no point have we ever set out to...

Mark: ...to rip them off.

Luke: In fact, if anyone knows anything about music then they will realise that we're nothing like SikTh. It's only knobs who in fact compare us to SikTh.

RF.net: Knobs? We are reviewing this concert you know...

Mark: Knobs! (laughing)

Luke: I can understand because generally speaking we are in the same genre, but we did used to get slightly... I suppose offended by the fact that people would just say, "oh, you are like SikTh", but it's human nature to compare you to the nearest thing that you know.

James: It was probably the two frontmen as well, because they had two frontmen and we've got two frontmen.

Luke: Yeah, but who gives a fuck about singers...

Others: Don't say that!

Luke: In a way we should be flattered that we get compared to SikTh because they were a phenomenal outfit and it's a tragedy that they've broken up, but we are The Arusha Accord and we're just doing our own thing.

Mark: As for A Textbook Tragedy, we're not like them.

Luke: They really are hardcore influenced and we don't take any inspiration from them.

RF.net: But you did a split EP with them, didn't you?

James: Yeah. We like the stuff they do. They've got some wicked stuff going on. Their energy, when you see them live, is amazing. A good band to do a split with because it draws in two different crowds so they can appreciate each other's music.

RF.net: When I mentioned A Textbook Tragedy as similar I was actually thinking of the EP they released last year.

James: Yeah, it's really tech.

(vocalist Paul enters the room)

Paul: They're doing a metal version of "I'm on a boat" down there.

Luke: To be honest, more than any other band, the musicians in this band are inspired by Tool, which no one ever picks up on. And if you actually listen to our EP, it just sounds like Tool sped-up. Tool are primarily where we take our musical influence from. SikTh is fair enough and The Dillinger Escape Plan as well.

RF.net: I also read an interview with Luke as research and you said you don't really listen to metal. What kind of music do you listen to?
Luke: No, I hate metal to be honest. Ignoring the vocalists, because we have a thing in the band where the vocalists talk about the vocals and we talk about the music an n'er shall the two be mixed, we just listen to intelligent music.

Paul: Metal can be intelligent; I think that's insulting.

Luke: I don't think so. Metal metal is not intelligent music.

Paul: Really? What about things like Karnivool?

Luke: That's not metal.

Paul: That's definitely metal bracket.

Luke: Okay, maybe that was harsh. I'm not prejudiced against any music. It's just music that (clicks fingers)... music that inspires me, which is very little.

Mark: Like Holst.

Luke: Just put me clicking my fingers at this point. What was the question again?

RF.net: What bands do you listen to then?

Mark: Spice Girls.

Luke: Yeah, we listen to a lot of Spice Girls. We're being deadly serious, we do. We listen to it in the van all the time.

Paul: Classical.

Mark: We're thinly listened.

Luke: I know it sounds really gay but the most influence we get is from each other. I know it sounds really gay, but I sit in a room with these guys and we'll bounce ideas off each other and that's where the influence comes in. We do not poach things off other bands.

James: Well, probably subconsciously.

Mark: Any similarity to other bands is subconscious.

James: That's the thing. One of the most recent videos we've done has been really heavily slated for being too much like Architects, but we've been writing pretty much the same amount of time they have and didn't know that they existed for like three years or something. So everyone is coming out with this whole similarity thing again, saying "you sound like this band" and stuff, and it's like "yeah, we might sound similar but it's not..."

Mark: In some ways they are kind of similar, but it's not like grabbing a whole...

James: It's more that the video is a little bit similar and the recordings are Outhouse studios so it's a similar, like, preset mixing and mastering.

Mark: And it's the same people that did the video as well. I don't think it's a bad thing...

Luke: Have you listened to our EP at all, or have you just listened to the album?

RF.net: I reviewed it.

Luke: Oh yeah, you did! I put that on our website actually, your review. If you look on our Facebook, I put all the EP reviews there. You guys were really nice about us as well. Sometimes you read a review and it's written by someone who could never understand what it is we're actually trying to do, and that's fine.

Mark: Someone said that we sounded like Bury Tomorrow and Alexisonfire!

Luke: We're used to people being prejudiced and not understanding what we do. That's fine; we have no problem with it. We used to, but we don't anymore. If I remember rightly your one was quite...

RF.net: Well, it did have a lot of comparisons to SikTh.

Luke: (laughing) Sorry about that!

James: They probably took quite a lot of offence there to what you said...

Mark: "Those fucking knobs!"

Paul: The first point of contact has gotta' be SikTh.

Luke: We've covered that already.

Paul: Oh, I'm late in the room!

Luke: To be honest though, we're friendly with SikTh. We talk to all of them.

RF.net: Was it Pin from SikTh who was singing your praises all the time?

Luke: Yeah, if you don't believe us, you can ask them!

RF.net: Right. So when you write music, do you have a calculator next to you, or are you like Meshuggah?
James: Nah, a phone book.

Luke: Do you mean like...

RF.net: Do you intentionally want to make it as technical as possible?

Luke: A lot of people ask that. We feel it.

James: It just comes out.

Luke: A lot of people say that: "do you write a list of numbers and then just fill in the notes?" Truthfully: no. I think when I was about 16 I broke out of 4/4. To me 4/4 is the same as any other time signature. All Western music is just 4/4, just a standard "it's in 4/4". No one even thinks about it. I broke out of that when I was 16, so to me it's the same as any other time signature; they're all the same. We're not conditioned in any way to writing in 4/4 anymore, so whatever I write just happens to be in wacky time signatures. Most people sit down and write and it will just automatically be in 4/4 without even thinking about it, whereas we are so conditioned not to do that. So in answer to your question: no.

Tom: It's not forced, it's all felt.

Luke: In no way do we try and make it wacky. It's just how it comes out. It's a common misconception. There are bands out there that I feel when you listen to it, they have forced themselves to be technical, but I hope that we don't come across like that.

RF.net: No, I was just curious. Obviously it's the kind of music that must be pretty hard to play live, so I was wondering, do you stand there with your tongue between your lips when you're performing?

Mark: That's about it, yeah.

Tom: See the pictures!

James: We move around a lot, we've got a lot of energy.

RF.net: Do you often make mistakes whilst playing?

James: We're normally pretty fucking good!

Luke: We're getting better. We've played like, I don't know, it must be well over 150 shows.

Tom: Over two years.

James: A lot, so we're always still improving. I mean obviously when you play music like this you do make mistakes sometimes. The thing that's probably taken the most time to learn is how to get out of the habit of making mistakes, because if he (points to Mark) drops a stick and is trying to get a stick out, we have to just go by what he's doing to get back into it and that's the hardest thing.

Mark: It still occasionally happens.

Tom: Minifest was the best, when you [ed. Luke] popped the string out and did a little dance.

James: Instead of re-stringing I saw him conducting Mark on the drums.

Luke: I wrenched two strings out of my bass and was just like, "fuck it." But to be honest, when we first started gigging we hadn't given any thought to performance. We were just trying to play the music as cleanly and correctly as possible, but you soon realise that that's just part of it and you need to put on a show as well. I like to think now we can actually do both. Actually, I think we've got to the level now where we can actually play it more or less perfectly and put on a show as well, and that's really difficult.

Paul: I think since I got the wireless it's helped. Me and Alex haven't got the cables to worry about. That was always the big issue for going mental. Now I can do anything I want.

RF.net: The guitarists don't play with wireless?

James: No, it sucks the tone. I'm waiting for that Line 6 baby to come out.

Tom: Yeah, Line 6, give us some free shit!

Luke: You've got to bear in mind that every song consists of about 160 bars, each one of a different time signature, and it's obviously all built on drums. So if Mark makes a mistake the whole thing topples down. If he plays one bar of the wrong length, then the whole thing goes out of sync and that is horrific to try and work out where he is.

Tom: We've only done that once.

James: That was "Nightmares of the Ocean" at Luton.

Mark: I dropped a stick or something and went to pick up another one, and there wasn't anything there. It doesn't happen that much.

RF.net: No pressure on Mark then.

Mark: Not at all!

Luke: Adding to that, before we do shows we have to do three weeks solid practice. It starts with drums and bass.

James: Even for one show. We're not a typical touring band who just get in a van, play a show, get drunk, and play another show.

Luke: Yeah, shows are stressful for us because we can't get drunk before. There's such a massive margin for error.

Paul: I'm wasted!

Mark: It's all about preparation and energy drinks.

Luke: It's three weeks practicing every day just to get to the level that people would expect from us. It's difficult. Hopefully you'll see later the level of musicianship and intensity which does just come through practice. That's why we don't do one-off shows. There's no point in doing three weeks practice for one show.

Paul: Me and Alex don't practice as much, but we have practiced at home on our own.

Luke: Alex turned up for one practice before this tour.

Paul: He's come to one this year.

Luke: For every thousand practices the drums and bass have, Alex comes to one. (laughing)

Tom: That's probably about right.

RF.net: You released a new album last year, "The Echo Verses". Tell me a little bit about that.
James: How long have you got?

Luke: What angle do you want?

Mark: Positive? Shall we go positive on this?

Tom: We are really happy with the album. There's one or two, or three... there's a few songs on there that were made to be more accessible.

Paul: That's taken away a bit from what we aimed to achieve from the start. But vocally it's so much more friendly for us to write to, so I'm happy.

Tom: Yeah, I think it did give the singers more scope to write some stuff that wasn't ridiculous and I think they've done an awesome job. And I think in a sense it has gained us some more fans from being that slight bit more... not commercial, but it just wasn't us.

Paul: We wanted a ladder to lead into our actual real music. Things like "Dead to Me"... as a single, it's perfect; it's got a chorus, it flows well as a single, but it's not where we exist in terms of our writing. We're a progressive band and it's not a progressive song.

Luke: The fairest way to put it is for the album... do you know what manifesto means?

RF.net: Yep.

Luke: Do you actually? Or mandate or whatever. We had a different mandate for the album. I don't know, I don't want to be offensive... I mean he [ed. Mark] doesn't know what mandate means and he's English.

Mark: Mandible? Mango? I know what a mango is.

Tom: Yeah, a mandate is a fruit. Man-date.

Mark: What's a man?

Luke: When we wrote the EP we were free from any kind of influence except from ourselves. The EP was almost exactly what we wanted to do. When we wrote the album there were other pressures: the pressure of the scene, the pressure of we might want to do this as a career therefore we need to attract more fans. There was just more pressure when we were writing the album. I am phenomenally proud of the album, I really am.

Tom: I think our next one is actually going to be our career defining album.

Luke: Yeah, I think so. What we did on the album was we sacrificed parts of ourselves. We didn't even sacrifice much of ourselves, but we sacrificed parts of ourselves and went down a slightly different direction from the EP. It was a much more commercial direction and what we realised very quickly is actually what we sacrificed. Although it was a tiny amount, it was way too much and we have to stay true to ourselves, and although the music that is ours is wacky as fuck, we just have to do it because it's what we're about.

James: You'll have to excuse me because I have to go and warm up for Terekai. [ed. James is stepping in for Terekai tonight].

Luke: Yeah, that's cool man. Just to finish off: we have taken a step back and we're just going to go down the wacky, crazy-ass route that the EP was because that's where our heart was.

Tom: And take as long as we want about writing it as well. You [ed. Luke] put yourself on a timescale for that because you booked the studio for recording.

Luke: Yeah we did. It was a very stressful time. All things considered we're very happy abou the way it turned out, but we learned a lot from that. We learned a lot about ourselves and where we want to go with music, and I think what we realised is that we don't want to go down the commercial route. We don't want to write music that will make money and be successful in the short term. We just want to carry on doing what we do, and if people like it then that's awesome, and if they don't like it, then fuck off.

RF.net: You have four songs from the EP that you included on the album.
Luke: Three, and one that's completely changed.

RF.net: I was going to say, because that was a bit of a concept going on there right? So how did you incorporate songs that had a unifying concept into "The Echo Verses"?

Luke: It wasn't too much of a unifying concept, but the title track "Nightmares of the Ocean" was more of a concept song itself, and the EP is called "Nightmares of the Ocean". The other three songs we did include aren't really concept songs.

Paul: We weren't sure about the idea of putting them on the album because other people have done it before and they've been slain, but it's a case of... we wanted the majority of the listeners to hear those songs as well. We didn't want to put out new songs. Those songs deserved to be put on an album.

Luke: They deserved to be listened to. Obviously an EP is an EP and you're not going to get as much publicity from an EP as you would from an album, and we wanted them to be listened to. Ironically we much prefer the versions on the EP.

Paul: I don't know, I prefer the production on the album, and regardless of what people say, I think the vocals were better, because we really rushed and did all the vocals in one day on the EP. It took three or four days on the album, and we had a lot more time to play around with bits and just get it exactly how we wanted to. For the EP I'd never been in a studio before, so recording that was very new to me at the time.

Luke: A big factor was actually time. It takes us years. Our favorite songs are ones that have taken years to develop. Like whisky, we get better with age. The songs do anyway, not us.

Tom: We're terrible now, we used to be amazing. Oh dear.

Luke: If we were to fill an album it would have taken us literally another six months to actually get enough material and it just felt like the right time to do an album.

RF.net: You also switched label some time ago from Basick to Wolf at Your Door. What happened with that? I gather from James [ed. from Basick] that you guys are still friends...
Paul: Oh, we love Basick.

Luke: Massively.

Paul: We do, because the only reason we left is that we were in search of a worldwide distribution deal and we didn't get that. We had a lot of different labels come to us in that time to offer us deals and they all fell through. I think a lot of it is to do with the financial climate. Earache came forward and Listenable Records.

Luke: We got a contract from Listenable Records.

Paul: We had five months of negotiations.

Luke: Credit crunch.

Paul: They couldn't afford to pay us two grand [ed. £2000] in advance, therefore they didn't give us the contract.

Luke: It was naivety. We thought on the album we'd be on a major. We've got to bear in mind that we're all really naive. We're doing this for the first time. We're all quite young, except I've said that you're [ed. Paul] 45 already.

Paul: Shut up man, I'm 25!

Tom: 75?

RF.net: What are you guys planning now for the future?
James: An amazing album.

Luke: We are writing another album.

Mark: Hip-hop.

Luke: As I mentioned earlier, we've left the let's get big now feeling. We've gone back to ourselves, and whenever the next album is finished, it will be finished. It might be five years, it might be ten years, it might be twenty... it won't be twenty.

Paul: I think we'll have an album ready in two or three years.

Tom: The point is there is no time constraint.

Luke: We're leaving the scene and the pressure behind. We just want to go back and do what we love amongst ourselves. As long as it takes.

RF.net: And you don't know in advance what it will sound like...

Luke: That's what we want to get rid of: deadlines, all of that. They mean nothing to The Arusha Accord. We are a musical project.

Paul: We've accepted that we are a cult band that doesn't have to be in the public eye constantly like You Me At Six or...

RF.net: Bring Me The Horizon?

Mark: Yeah, exactly.

Paul: We're not a fashion band.

Tom: And because of that we're hopefully going to be remembered in ten years time.

Paul: We don't apologise for what we are.

Luke: And we're very proud of what we are and don't want to sacrifice any of that for any kind of commercial gain. What we want to achieve is musical acclaim. We want to be pioneering. We want to do something different. Obviously long term fame by sticking to our guns would be awesome, but short term fame by selling out means nothing, and we feel like we touched on that with the album and it's just not us. So, to answer your question, we're going to take quite a lot of time out and be quite reclusive in terms of gigging. We'll do the occasional thing but we're going to focus on writing for a long time. This is not a five minute flash in the pan, we are not doing this while we are young. This is us, it's part of our lives. We'll be doing this forever. All I can tell you is that the album will come.

Paul: Until my pacemaker runs out.

RF.net: Yeah, at 45 you're getting on a bit.

Paul: I should be married with a mortgage by now.

Luke: It's quality not quantity; we'll never settle for second best, that's the thing. So deadlines mean nothing. We tried to work with deadlines once before and it almost killed us.

Paul: Killed you. I was fine man. I should never have given up work to do this. I had plenty of time free.

Luke: Any real creative person will tell you that you cannot be creative under pressure, especially with our level of music. The two can't go together. Like, you'd end up committing suicide... which is what I nearly did. So put that in... (Luke has to leave) Tell them everything I said was bullshit!

Mark: Yeah, we love Bring Me The Horizon.

RF.net: Going to start your own clothing label then?

Tom: We are actually supporting my friend's label King Noir. They are an awesome brand.

RF.net: Any last words?
Mark: Have I got any last words? Not me personally?

RF.net: It's gonna go that badly...

Paul: Have we got any famous last words?

RF.net: Probably why should people check out The Arusha Accord?

Paul: We're something different. We're actually different.

Mark: You hear something new each time you play it.

Tom: So many layers.

James: Because we're badass motherfuckers! (returns from warming up)

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