Small Sins Pot Calls Kettle Black
Published Oct 28, 2010This is a pop album; it just may take some time to figure that out. Songwriter Thomas D'Arcy (back from a hiatus where he spent most of his time writing jingles for advertisements) masks much of this album beneath a haze of electronic keys and shifting melodies. But repeated listens unveil a tightly composed pop record that uses elements of electro and dance to further its cause. The title track begins with killer bass and screeching guitar lines, instantly cementing it as a winning opening track before D'Arcy's very comfortable voice enters. "Why Don't You Believe Me?" doesn't try to hide its pop origin. Todor Kobakov's keyboard arrangement is beautifully simplistic; it's a sunny melody that creates room for the synths to bounce around in the background, with D'Arcy sounding delighted to ask such a pointed question. Most will point to nightclub-worthy second track "Déjà Vu," featuring K-os, as the album's highlight ― its crunchy guitars and syncopated keys are quite hypnotic ― but "My Dear," with its melodious keys, punctuated drums and dreamy vocals, is the album's climax. Much like that song, Pot Calls Kettle Black grows the more it's spun, rewarding the listener with pure pop bliss.
It has been few years since your last release. How are you feeling about Pot Calls Kettle Black?
D'Arcy: I was kind of scared, at first. When I'm alone, I'm making music for me. But once I release it, it's for everyone else; I felt pretty good about what I've done. But once the release date started creeping closer I started worrying about what others would think, especially since our last record's reviews were so mediocre. I was just paranoid that maybe I didn't make the record I thought I did. When I'm working on my own, it's for me, so whatever makes me happy makes me happy. But at a certain point, it leaves the bedroom and that's when I start questioning things I've done a year ago. Luckily, the reaction has been great, so I'm feeling pretty good about it.
The lyrics are more personal on this record. Were you insecure about them going public?
A little bit; it's really important in art to find truth and display truth. If a song isn't about anything, it won't translate to people. You don't necessarily have to know what every song is about ― as long as it comes from an honest place inside of you people will pick up on it. But at the same time, it's like walking around without any pants on. There are things I'm talking about on the record that I wouldn't talk to people about in real life. I don't have friends I would confide in about these things, yet I'll put them on a song for everybody to hear. But if the music doesn't come from that real place, there's no point in it.
It sounds like that puts you in a tough position.
Yeah, because I'm not an open guy; I don't like to talk to people and discuss my problems with them. I think putting that kind of shit on friends' backs is an insult. I don't want to waste their time with my problems; they have their own. I haven't been that type of person to seek advice or comfort from people. Yet, like I said, I'll put it on an album and let thousands and thousands of people hear it, no problem. I can't understand why that's okay, but somehow it is, or it has to be.
What were you able to do on this album that you weren't able to in the past?
The first record was a pretty amateur recording, just learning to use ProTools for the first time, having limited gear and knowledge on making things sound how I intended them to. The second one, once there was some money, I was able to get some of that stuff. My home studio is okay and I learned to manipulate sounds the way I wanted to. The next step was to work with someone way more talented than me and with way more fun toys to play with. I got to work with John McIntire, who's the best engineer I can think of and somehow I get to work with him. And although I worked with him a bit in the past, this time was a whole recording experience from start to finish in the dream studio with my dream engineer going sonically to places that I'm not capable of going to. So, it has been a movement. The first one: amateur. The second one: figuring out how to do it myself. The third one: having someone who can do it way better than I can.
How long was the recording process?
Well, we demoed everything extensively and made very detailed blueprints of what the songs would become. We had a clear idea of what we wanted to achieve. When we went there, we didn't spend a lot of time ― the actual recording process was only a couple of weeks. We even left a couple days early because we were done. It almost became not really a creative experience; we just laid everything down on tape and told John the sound we were looking for and he would just get it. If you could put into words what you want, he can make it happen. And those detailed demos gave him a clear idea of what we wanted.
What is it about pop music that you love?
It's what I grew up with; I have the fondest memories of driving to the convenience store listening to CHUM 1050 [in Toronto]. I developed that appreciation for pop music early on, then I become a teenager and found lots of other types of music, but I never lost that love for pure pop sensibilities. Chubby Checker is amazing! And I don't think a lot of people respect that. I remember when I was 18, I had these friends starting bands and they said, "Oh, that Madonna song is so simple. I could write that in a second." It would always strike me with such force. Like, "No, you couldn't." It's hard to make something sound so easy and catchy. I love that pleasure of simplicity that's actually really complex. There are very few people who can just write pop songs that are good. It's funny how little appreciation there is when it hits Top 40 radio and some lady in the office is tapping along. It's this puzzle, but this simple one that's impossible to crack.
"My Dear" is a song that really stands out on the record. Explain how it came to be.
It's a grower, isn't it? "Pot Calls Kettle Black" was the first song I wrote and "My Dear" was the second for this album. I kind of didn't like "My Dear" at first ― there's not much to it; it's sort of a filler song. But I kept coming back to it over and over again. There are songs you write that instantly you think are great and will be a "hit." But then a month later I'm like, "Wow, I don't know what I was thinking. This is shit." And it can happen the opposite way, where a song you think is great stays great. But it's funny how opinions change. The opinion about "My Dear" was lukewarm at first, but it grew. It was always on the back burner. And we realized that it was always lurking and we had to do it. (Independent)