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Untied States Interview with Colin Arnstein

Interview Conducted on January 19, 2010

by Dimitris Dairis

United StatesUpon the release of their upcoming album "Instant Everything, Constant Nothing", Untied States, gave an interview on Unrated Magazine about the band itself, their sound and influences and their future plans. Colin Arnstein was interviewed, and gave us a clear and honest picture of the band and their conceptions.

Dimitris Dairis: First of all, when was the band formed and how the name "Untied States" came into consideration? What does this name mean to you?

Colin Arnstein: Although Skip (Engelbrecht) and I had been playing together since teenager-dom, we officially formed Untied States in 2003 and did our first EP "Bird of the Blood Feather" as a duo, recording it essentially in my bedroom at the time. As far as the name Untied States, it came about when I happened to look at this odd sixties Styrofoam space helmet that I always jokingly put on at my job at the time. I just read it as Untied States and loved the notion that you could reverse some letters in something so ingrained in your head, and it would have such a different meaning. In that same way, I think it's a good descriptor for what we aim to achieve musically, you know, play with the expected forms a bit and hope to make something novel with the results. It also points to our attempts to be separated-ahem, 'Untied' from a particular musical categorization or narrow box. The name is definitely not a political statement, as one might assume; we leave politics well enough alone.

Dimitris: Concerning your sound, would you consider Untied States as an Art-Rock band or as an Experimental group? What kind of influences were you exposed to?

Colin: It's funny because both of these terms always get thrown around with us and although we take it as a complement, to think that our music would entail some pre-conceived notion of trying to really make high artistic statements, and to some degree, sure it's true that we do seek out some odd paths to get where we're going, we are really trying to just write songs that go to new places musically. We always aim to make songs that people can't say they've heard a song that sounds quite like that, and that's what the groups we admire sought out or continue to seek themselves. All of us have our own individual influences but I think we were all inspired by people who forged new ground and held uniqueness as their main drive. s for myself, I was exposed early to the expected- Beatles, Kinks, Velvet Underground, Beach Boys etc. and then grew heavily into punk, Sonic Youth, Clash, Nirvana then later, a good bit of classical stuff. I always took to the songs that had odd arrangements but weren't fussy about it, you know, it came naturally. Johnny Cash's songs often changed key on every verse, Brian Wilson jumped all over the place but you never noticed, it just played out naturally and beautifully. I think a lot of what I would consider "experimentation" was all over what we consider "pop" music from the 60's and 70's and then later with punk and post-punk stuff. We strive for that, and you know, I think we're getting better as we keep writing. I know that none of us listen too much to what you would consider true "experimental" music; we all like strong melodies and rhythms. I think these labels are used on us because we do a lot of experimentation more in terms of arrangement, but when it's all said and done, we just aim for unique sounds, melodies, rhythms.

Dimitris: Is the atmosphere created through your songs reflecting your inner feelings? Does the band aim to express something deeper by the combination of different elements on your music? What is different from your previous works, concerning your sound?

Colin: I think it has to-if you're emotionally detached from it, it will likely not be a natural listen, which some people dig but not us. Yes, a lot of our stuff is pretty personal when it comes to subject matter, but I think the feelings expressed are pretty universal. I don't tend to write lyrically as an observer, more often it's as a participator. As far as depth goes, we do blend some elements that might not seemingly "go together ," but I think that's our way of trying to express unique and personal expressions. This new album is a bit different from past ones in that it has less of those forays into the wilder soundscapes that we used to get into and tries to instead place them squarely in the midst of, for lack of a better word, "pop" songs. It's more direct, less obtuse, but travels out there and always tries to bring it back to earth.

Dimitris: What do you think that Untied States have to offer to a listener that is exposed to your music? What are those things that differ from other bands? Why should someone listen to your music?

Colin: I think we have something new to say- or at least new ways of saying the old things. You cannot escape your influences but we think you need to try. I can like a fun record that does exactly what you expect, but the music that sticks to me the most is when groups take risks and seek out unexplored territories. We generally don't like music that sounds like something that's already happened, you know, I'll just go and listen to the originals. The original groups took a chance in what they we're doing. We always hope we do that, to take some leaps and I think people should give us an ear because that's what we're aiming for.

Dimitris: Concerning society and its perceptions, what would you like to point out as a member of a band? Do your conceptions or thoughts on society have an impact on your songs?

Colin: Yes, this record is reflection on society (at least the one we're familiar with ) and at the heart of it, it speaks to the fact that with every convenience that comes our way comes a sort of cheapening of things.you know, diminishing returns. "Instant Everything, Constant Nothing" is the only way I can describe what I see around me. In a world where I can instantly get my hands on everything, do anything immediately; things tend to lose their flavor, and quite fast. Every song on the record deals with perceived notions of "realities" I see and the emptiness that lies right below the surface when you can just get a glimpse at something and not actually take part. You know, wars on TV, notions of celebrity, the ability to know things about strangers, all these things culture holds dear today are, in my opinion, pretty thin. Where others might see a blending of cultures, I see a blandening of culture. Things need to be difficult. I kind of think humans have surpassed the ability to keep up with our own creations. Many of us, including myself certainly, often live in false worlds and the record is a nod to that notion.This is not negative though, just an observation, on the positive side, the songs on the record for the most part seek to redeem themselves of that and see that it's all illusion and that real experience will always prevail.

Dimitris: Are there any tour plans in the near future? Is the idea of a world tour included in your plans?

Colin: We're in the midst of booking a US tour, hopefully April and we'll see how it looks after that. We have always enjoyed touring and look to expanding to new places, as far as we can go with it. Working with Distile records has already gotten us in the ears of people in Europe and the UK and we want to obviously build on that by touring in these places.

Dimitris: Do you have anything to comment on the recent incidents that took place in Haiti ? In what ways such incidents affect you as a band member and as a person as well?

Colin: Well, all I can say is that it is the sort of devastation beyond what most of us can personally fathom, which kind of puts it in the realm of the unreal and I don't like being able to casually "swallow" or come to grips with such news. Honestly, I feel, as I'm sure many else do, a sense of guilt that I can go on with my relatively meaningless, empty existence and idly watch on television. What do you do? You do what you can and give money and pray it somehow ultimately results in change for the better. Again though, in the end, you see that humanity is overall good, when real crisis hits, people from everywhere do genuinely come together, and that's refreshing.

Dimitris: Is there anything more that you would like to add?

Colin: I've already said too much.

Thank you very much Colin, and best of luck to Unrated States.