ADAM ARCURAGI: On the Horizon

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Whether it’s by word of mouth, an obscure blog posting or just by the will of the Fates, stumbling upon a new name and sound that holds fast never ceases to raise neck hairs. Because once you pass the instance of disbelief upon spinning a new record-that refusal to commit oneself-and enter that moment of whirling satisfaction, a bond is made. The disc finds itself on the tip of the tongue; it’s your recommendation to friends, thus making yourself another link in the chain. Adam Arcuragi’s self-titled release last year had that quality, and he’s back in the studio ready to follow-up.

Whether it’s by word of mouth, an obscure blog posting or just by the will of the Fates, stumbling upon a new name and sound that holds fast never ceases to raise neck hairs. Because once you pass the instance of disbelief upon spinning a new record-that refusal to commit oneself-and enter that moment of whirling satisfaction, a bond is made. The disc finds itself on the tip of the tongue; it’s your recommendation to friends, thus making yourself another link in the chain. Adam Arcuragi’s self-titled release last year had that quality, and he’s back in the studio ready to follow-up.

Arcuragi is a working songwriter-building a garden in his free time (“my tomatoes are always fantastic”), as well as making a living so he can tour and record. It isn’t always easy to juggle both worlds he recalls, “I feel like a crazy person when I have to call my own phone to leave myself a singing don’t-forget-this-idea message. Someone caught me once at an old job standing in the maintenance access way, singing into my phone a series of grunts, ‘duh nuh nuh nuh nuh wwwooooaaaaaooowww.’ It was very embarrassing.”

A wordsmith to the marrow (he’s won awards for his verse and playwrighting), Philadelphia-based Arcuragi harbors a penchant for keeping his lyrics serenely abstract in his narratives. He delivers with reassured vocals that wisp like clouds over the tree line and build to burst with the fierce delight of an afternoon thunderstorm. Arcuragi’s songwriting theorems adhere to some simple physics and natural law, “[I] want to be a conduit, like a straw…something practical.” It’s a good image for any songwriter to ponder on, especially those who struggle to capture the essence of the present-and universal resonance-which Arcuragi admits he battles with in his creative process.

“That moment when an idea comes a calling is never one I can predict or even understand. I’ve got some idea of how to get myself into that place, but for me, it’s somewhat like waiting for a train. I know the paths it has come by in the past, but all I can do is be ready and wait. That said, it is mostly [in] very boring settings, like when I’m standing in front of a pot of soup.”

Arcuragi has already bottled a couple of those ideas and tracked them for his upcoming release (not yet titled, “I am thinking something…I Am Become Joy. A bit too clever and uncomfortable on the tongue, but something that gives a similar feeling”). “Go Ahead” is a tender-aching ballad, and “Real Thing” bobs and stomps with upbeat acoustics and banjo. When discussing this new project and where it’s going, Arcuragi divulges, “lots of human voices. Just a whole bunch. Equal temperament needs all the help it can get in making sound do special things. So the more voices and less fretted instruments the better.”

He recognizes the power of the human voice (a seemingly fleeting ability today). Whether or not it is in perfect-pitch harmony with the person in the next seat doesn’t matter, but what’s paramount is the kind of emotion and raw energy a room of singing people creates-the stuff that tightens the back of the throat. “I’m pretty much chasing that shiver,” he says, referring to a quote by Robert Graves, a British poet. A good sonic reference point for him are the treasures found in old recordings, for instance, the Goodbye, Babylon gospel collection from the early half of last century.

This ushers back in the image Arcuragi subscribes to: a piece of piping or conduit. Because of this unabashed and candid approach, his songs don’t sound filtered or overwrought, but honest. They approach you and extend a strong handshake, offer a simple hello and a good look into the eyes-which reflect and also reveal movements under the surface, where an artist’s process can be found and appreciated.

One gets the sense he’s swept away at times when writing: “It is really hard to have to sit down and try to recall that momentary thought and half look at it like a painting and half sift through it like a pile of laundry. Most of it is really bad in the beginning. So the big challenge with that way is…editing, for lack of a better term.

“If I’m riding my bike or just not thinking that much about things…and just a line or two, or maybe an idea what to say, will sprout. And then I’ll take some time to put all the little bits that go together…together.”


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