Joseph Arthur and R.E.M.'s Peter Buck break down the latest track from their collaborative debut album
Next month, Peter Buck of R.E.M. and singer-songwriter Joseph Arthur will release their debut album as the duo Arthur Buck. Though longtime friends, seeds for the 11-track effort were sown during a recent chance meeting in Mexico. The self-titled collection was later finished at Type Foundry Studio in Portland, Oregon. Arthur handled the production while Tchad Blake (U2, Pearl Jam) took on mixing duties.
“It was all new songs, and it was spontaneous,” Buck said of his and Arthur’s “magical” off-the-cuff creative process in a statement. “And the great thing about working that way was that it didn’t have to be anything in particular. It was liberated from any expectation. It was free.”
Ahead of the record’s June 15th release, Consequence of Sound is premiering “American Century”, a track that reflects on America’s role as a global power. “So long to the American century/ So long to the American dream,” goes the chorus. Come for the political thoughts, but stay for the nifty, swaggering breakdown at the halfway point.
For a deeper look at “American Century”, both Arthur and Buck detailed some of the motivations and influences that led to the track’s creation.
Arthur on the Tempo of an Album:
Peter had the title and the riff so I was actually intimidated to write it because it seemed like he had the whole concept complete in his mind. Also I find it easier to write more personal songs rather than political so I convinced myself that we didn’t need it on the record. But once Tchad sent me all the mixes I realized that the back half of the record was a little too mid tempo and had the last minute inspiration to dive into it. It was the last song we worked on for the record.
For me it was as much about the tempo as anything else. The other reason this song finally got finished is once I knew the record needed it for tempo I became less precious about it. Nothing kills art like trying to make something perfect. Suddenly I was up against a deadline and then it just flowed. Tchad also had a whale of a time mixing it for whatever reason. (I think a record tells you it’s done when things become more difficult.)
Arthur on Lyrical Messages:
Along with things Peter sent me I had my friend Julie P send me some talking points. And then I sorta wrote it like refrigerator magnet poetry or a sorta conceptual version of David Bowie’s cut up method. Once I put the character of the song in the East Village of NYC (St. Marks Church), the lights went down and the movie started flickering into life. I find writing easier when I can see something to convey or when I’m chasing a picture.
I can’t remember what he [Tchad] said but it was a challenge for him. He saw it through he said because he thought the lyrical framework or message was important to include in the overall theme of the record. Like it gave the whole thing a time and a place and a historical reference.
Arthur on Prince:
Morgan James sang the background vocals in the chorus which gives it a unique and welcome charge. When it was done Peter told me it reminded him of a Prince song which I never once thought of while working on it but now I hear it that way. Unconsciously Prince inspired.
Buck on Essays about America’s World Role:
Sometime in the post World War Two era, an essay called “The American Century” was written. Its basic idea was that with America having the moral, financial and military might, that the USA would lead and enlighten the world. I had to read it in junior high when Nixon was President. It sounded like bullshit to me then. In the last ten years another essay was written called “Farewell To The American Century”. Its basic view was that the USA had reneged on all the post-war promise, and was no longer an international leader. Looking around today, I can’t help but agree. I had the chords and riffs, and gave Joe a lot of political lyrics for the song. He immediately changed them for the better, approaching the ideas from a more spiritual level.
Buck on Rock and Roll Tropes:
Factoid number two: the guitar riff that begins the song and reoccurs in the middle is a twist on an old rock and roll trope. Iterations of that riff have been used in numerous Motown songs, “Paperback Writer”, “Pleasant Valley Sunday”, and several Jefferson Airplane songs. It’s kind of an American riff for an American subject.