Interview with Arlie Carstens, Juno, June 2003

Juno were a band who (simply put) made independent Rock music. Yet for so many fans including me their music meant much more. They released two magnificent albums: This Is The Way It Goes And Goes in 1999 and A Future Lived In Past Tense in 2001. You can listen to both full albums at last.fm. Shortly before their breakup I had the chance to interview Arlie Carstens, the singer in 2003. He now resides in Los Angeles and is currently writing music for his new project Ghost Wars.

R.: I think, so far not many people here in Europe, especially in Germany are paying attention to Juno's music. Do you have a bigger "fanbase" in the U.S., or is Juno still the "little punk band"?

Arlie Carstens: I don’t really know. We probably have more listeners in the U.S. We’ve toured Europe twice. We’ve had great shows all over the continent and the UK. Given the kind of music we make, Juno doesn’t really fit in with much of the music made in the indie/punk/hardcore/ambient scenes. We sort of touch on all of those elements but Juno tends to sort of exist in a world of our own. Maybe we’re the “little punk band,” or maybe we’re not. We really have no idea.

R.: You just recently toured Japan. How did it come to that and how was the experience?

Arlie Carstens: I’d always wanted to tour Japan so I made it my personal mission to get us there. Fortunate for Juno, a few years ago we played in Denton, Texas with a Japanese noise-rock band named Aspera Bay. We liked Aspera Bay’s music and they liked ours. Shuko (bass) and Ari (Aspera Bay’s roadie, now the singer/guitarist in Blasstwolicks) kept in touch with me via email. We’d send each other packages of music, candy and funny little toys. We’d occasionally talk about trying to get Juno over to Japan. But it always seemed impossible. Then one day about a year ago I received an email from a promoter in Nagoya named Hiroshi. He asked if he could bring us over. I put Hiroshi in touch with Shuko and Ari. And then two larger promoters, Takuya (at the Stiff Slack label in Nagoya) and Katoman (at the dotlinecircle label in Tokyo) also became involved. We spent the next ten months working out the details. We played most of our shows with Ari’s band, Blasstwolicks, and his friends in the band, Balloons. Though getting it set up was difficult work, Japan was the best tour of our lives. Japan is full of very wonderful, kind people. The shows were amazing. The food was delicious. The country is beautiful and the culture is fascinating. And the bands are so good! Great bands!

R.: Juno's first record "This is the way it goes and goes.." is - if you want to label it that way kind of an epic Indie record. There are a lot of songs on it which had a playtime from 6 to 9 minutes. The second album "A Future Lived in Past Tense" was more worked-out, it had punk rock-influenced songs like "Covered with Hair" and again some wonderful epic songs like "The french Letter" on it. For me, it was a perfect album, with wonderful songs and lyrics that seem to be very close to life. Have you already started composing/recording the next album? What is the next step after these two wonderful albums?

Arlie Carstens: We’re trying to sort out what the next step will be. Since coming home from Japan we’ve been playing a lot of shows. It would be nice to be in a recording studio or touring right now, but songwriting has always been a very slow process for Juno. Many of our songs take an extended time to compose. We frequently write for three guitar players and often compose our parts in different tunings from one another. I make lots of field recordings and 4-track experiments. And then once we’re in the studio, we enjoy finding ways to add our friends and their strange instruments to our songs. I think the plan is to write songs for a 5-song EP, and then a new full-length. We’ve only recently begun working on new material.

R.: You aren't singing very traditional, your lyrics are more like you are telling a story. How do you write them? More over, how does Juno compose a song?

Arlie Carstens: You’re right, it is more like I’m telling stories. The standard way that most people write verses and choruses doesn’t really work within the context of Juno. We’re not writing conventional pop songs, country music, or emo-nursery rhymes. It’s more like we’re writing stories set to music… or music set to stories. The way our songs come out seems very natural to me. We don’t really try to write with any specific formula or audience in mind. It’s a difficult but very organic process, the songs become whatever they need to become. As far as lyrics are concerned, I’m as interested in writing fiction and non-fiction as I am in writing music,. I often write about real people and events. I want to ask questions about life, love, death, science, sex, religion and the universe. Through music I want to find answers… sometimes I find the right ones… sometimes the wrong ones. Like chapters in a novel, we hope to take listeners on a journey through many different lives, events, ideas, and sounds… Within an hour-long album, creating a world that starts here… ends there.
As for the music, I often write the lyrics first, and then usually myself, Gabe or Jason will come in with rough guitar parts. We’ll deconstruct that guitar part as it fits (or doesn’t) with the lyrics and then we’ll repair the guitar part, or tear it down, and then reconstruct it five times over again- adding additional guitars and bass, drums, piano, etc… whatever the music and the story seem to be asking for. It can be a very long but rewarding process. Usually fun. Sometimes frustrating.

R.: Not many know that you had an accident while snowboarding a time ago where you broke your neck and had to go through countless surgeries. Have you recovered fully yet from that?

Arlie Carstens: Given the nature of the injury (as well as the many injuries I had before I broke my neck) I’ll never really be fully recovered. I’ve got titanium plates behind my throat, fusing my cervical spine. But I can walk, sing, skateboard, write, play music, feed myself, shower and make sweet love… so, in general I suppose I’m doing well enough. I have chronic pain and will most likely need to have additional surgeries as I go through life. But I’m very fortunate to be walking. I could very easily have been paralyzed from my chin to my feet. My life could be much different right now.

R.: I know that more than one time you stated Punk Rock as an influence to your music. But what are the other musical influences? What are your actual and all time favourite records/bands?

Arlie Carstens:
  • Talk Talk- Spirit of Eden, The Laughing Stock
  • Lungfish- Rainbows From Atoms, Indivisible, Necrophones, The Unanimous Hour, et al.
  • Mark Hollis- eponymous
  • Bad Brains- Rock For Light, ROIR Sessions
  • Elvis Costello- Too albums many to list, everything!
  • Rites Of Spring- eponymous
  • One Last Wish- eponymous
  • Happy-Go-Licky- eponymous
  • Soulside- Less Deep Inside Keeps Becoming More To Become Nothing, Trigger, Hot Body Gram
  • Minor Threat- Out of Step
  • Beyond Possession- Is Beyond Possession
  • Red House Painters- Ocean Beaches
  • Afghan Whigs- Up In It, Gentlemen
  • Mark Lanagen- Winding Sheet, Whiskey For The Holy Ghost
  • David Bowie- Space Oddity, Sound + Vision
  • Idaho- Hearts of Palm, Three Sheets To The Wind
  • Iggy and The Stooges- Funhouse
  • Jeff Buckley- Grace
  • Radio Birdman- Radios Appear
  • Shudder To Think- Ten Spot, Funeral At The Movies
  • The Clash- London Calling, Sandinista
  • Nina Simone- The Essential Nina Simone
  • Husker Du- Flip Your Wig, Zen Arcade
  • Nice Strong Arm- Stress City
  • Cat Power- Moon Pix
  • Prefab Sprout- Swoon, Two Wheels Good
  • Slint- Spiderland
  • Come- Eleven:Eleven
  • Chavez- Ride The Fader, Gone Glimmering
  • Squirrelbait- Scag Heaven
  • Quincy Jones- (in his capacity as a conductor)
  • Charlie Parker- anything I can get my hands on
  • Fugazi- *(everything): Particularly Steady Diet of Nothing, and 13 Songs, End Hits
  • Joy Division- Closer, Substance
  • Descendents- Milo Goes To College
R.: We already talked about a forthcoming tour in Germany. Will it be a headliner tour, or could you also imagine touring with a band like "...and you will know us by the Trail of Dead" as a Co-Headliner?

Arlie: We’ve toured through Germany twice, both times headlining small venues. But you’re right, doing it with another band would be fun. It’d be nice to play with our friends in …Trail of Dead, Les Savy Fav, or Ted Leo & The Pharmacists. Maybe doing it with Arab Strap, or Mogwai would be a good time. I’m not exactly sure when we’ll be back in Europe, most likely soon after we finish our next recording. That would be nice.

A few months after the interview Juno announced their split up on their official website. Given that, some of the questions seem futile seen from today. I never had the chance to ask what happened to the material they already had been working on for the new record before breaking up. It would be interesting to do another interview. I will try to do that. Make sure and stop by this website. Supposedly a documentary about Juno will someday be released.

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