The first time I saw the Absent Arch, they were playing in trumpet player Brian Voerding's apartment above a record store in Minneapolis, slugging beers and trading off songs with their friends, fellow folk band Spirits of the Red City. It was an accident that I ended up in Voerding's living room at all, but the second the band started to play, I was mesmerized. Despite the fact that several instruments should have been drowning one another out, the band was amazingly balanced, and the words that were sometimes sung, sometimes shouted by lead singer Will Markwardt were crystal-clear.
Maybe it was the free beer at the party, or the fact that I love stumbling onto happy accidents, but the memory of that early summer night crammed onto a couch in Voerding's living room listening to their lush, enchanting folk music has stayed vivid in my mind ever since.
When the Absent Arch CD showed up in my mailbox a few months later, I was skeptical that the album would capture the same energy and spontaneity of their living-room performance. Surprisingly, it does; the songs are played with a loose flexibility and a building momentum, and even though some of the songs follow more typical pop structures, the disc maintains a decidedly organic feel throughout.
"We did all of the tracking on our own in our basement, over a period of eight months," Markwardt explains over a round of beers at the CC Club. "We have a lot of pretty decent recording equipment—"
"And a really bad room," interjects Voerding. "It balances everything out."
"So the good recording equipment captured the sound of the crappy basement," laughs drummer Anthony Poretti.
"That was always the intent," says Voerding. "We never wanted to have a big, clean sound. We wanted to have a sound like it was recorded in the basement. Even back to our first days, that's something we've loved."
The Absent Arch wasn't always a folk band. Voerding and Markwardt met each other through a mutual friend while attending Hamline University in St. Paul in 2002, and soon afterward they found viola player Jonathan Waldo and formed a trio. "We found Waldo because he hung up these really nerdy music signs in the music department that said, 'I love synthesizers. I really want to play in a band. Call me,'" laughs Voerding. "With those little tear-off things. Like, 'Call my dorm room.'"
With a synthesizer, a trumpet, and a viola, the three started experimenting with songs and sounds under the name Crown in the Clouds. "It wasn't ever serious," Voerding insists. "We just got drunk on Saturdays and recorded a bunch of stuff in the basement."
The group played off and on over the years but didn't really start considering themselves a serious band until they added Poretti on drums and started playing some of Markwardt's more traditional singer-songwriter compositions. By the time they officially formed as the Absent Arch in 2007, Markwardt says, he already had over a dozen songs for the band to work with. The lineup was just finalized earlier this year with the addition of upright bass player Joe Wojtysiak.
In keeping with the band's habit of playing basements and living rooms at least as often as traditional venues, the songs on their full-length debut, Keep Calm and Carry On, evoke musicians who have evolved by playing live and who prefer entertaining people over perfecting their sound in the recording studio. The instruments commingle naturally, with backing vocals yelled out in unison on some of the more boisterous choruses. In short, it's the work of band members who enjoy playing together, and their enthusiasm is evident in their recordings.
So with their lineup solidified and a promising debut full-length under their belt, what's next for this up-and-coming band?
"A lot of writing. A lot of playing. Learning how to play with an upright bass," says Voerding. He pauses, smirking. "And recording six records this winter."
"Six records this winter?" groans Poretti.
"All under different monikers," adds Markwardt.
Voerding nods. "We've gotta make the moneys."
"Yeah, and we can't saturate the name," says Markwardt. "So we have to come up with different names."
Waldo pipes up: "We could just switch out the vowel names at the beginning, you know. We'll do the Ubsent Urch next."
"That sounds dirty in some way that I can't even describe," says Markwardt.
"Yeah," Voerding agrees, looking down at his beer. "Awkward."
THE ABSENT ARCH play a CD-release show with A Paper Cup Band, the Glad Version, and the Chord & the Fawn on FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 21, at the TRIPLE ROCK SOCIAL CLUB; 612.333.7499