By Sam King
If you ask a fan of Fort Smith’s A+ Setup to describe the band, you’ll probably hear things along the line of “regular guys,” “sort of like Joy Division,” and “I can’t believe that much sound comes out of that amp,” –but that wouldn’t quite cover it.
For the past few years, A+ Setup have pounded out some of the most compelling rock and roll in our neck of the woods. Last year, they self-recorded and released the CD Language, a full-length markedly clean and clear in comparison to their roaring live show. It allows for a more careful study of the songs, which is nice (because frontman Benjamin Evans sometimes sings faster than this listener can think). TJ Deeter, editor of Little Rock’s The Localist, has gone on record several times to say that A+ Setup is one Arkansas’s best bands. Having shared the stage with them more than a few times myself, I’m inclined to agree.
Evans and guitarist Kyle Chandler were kind enough to answer some questions, in their self-effacing, grudgingly practical way.
FW: You guys self-recorded and produced your first album, and you’re gearing up to do another. Has anything changed in the writing and recording process since the first go-around?
Kyle: Um, we’re going to a studio next time.
Ben: It really comes down to the limitations of our recording equipment. Language was good, but there’s no denying the gap between that album and our live show. We just want to give recording live a shot to hear the difference and hopefully learn a bit more about making a record. The writing process remains as sporadic and frustrating as always.
FW: It’s hard going sometimes, being a band in these parts. You might not want for a lot of competition, but you might hurt for opportunities. You guys are a totally D.I.Y. entity: you book your own shows, and you release your own music. Would you say that is so by necessity, by choice, or is it a bit of both?
Ben: I’d say necessity for sure. Already having shows booked and only worrying about showing up and being good would be a dream.
Kyle: We just thought it would be cheaper and easier, but honestly we were way wrong. It just makes everything look and sound like it was cheaper and easier, when in fact the process takes longer and tends to piss you off more. We’re completely willing to bring in some people who know what the hell they’re doing.
FW: Your songs have a precision that demands a lot of vigilance on your respective parts. I feel like I would notice even a slight drag in tempo or a wrong note, but that seldom happens when I see you play. What attracts you to that kind of song? Is there an ideal state for the songs?
Kyle: Vigilance is a strong word, my friend. You don’t hear it when we make mistakes? Trust me, we do. The best bands out there are the ones whose members can end a song all at the same time. If your songs suck, at least people will say you’re a tight group.
Ben: We are one of the least professional bands out there as far as rehearsing is concerned. It’s not a source of pride. The songs are structured in a way to give amateurs the least amount of difficulty playing. We’re a bit better than amateurs now, but if given the opportunity to rehearse more, we would.
The ideal state for the song is originally my head. Sometimes the live version turns out much better.
FW: Ben, your songs’ lyrics, like the music, are surprisingly filled up per second, both in the physical amount of stuff that comes out of your mouth and the depth and breadth of what you’re singing about. I think of you as someone who is able to write convincingly about living in this area, though you’re hardly limited to that as a subject. There are plenty of historical, political, and cultural references (and just a genuine thoughtfulness in general) throughout Language. What gets you so far into the lyrics? Who are some influences in this regard?
Ben: The amount and speed of words in any given song usually stems from three things. Firstly, I don’t particularly enjoy the sound of my own voice, so I tend to avoid drawing out single notes. Secondly, being only two guitars and drums, the vocals serve as a much more necessary instrument than in other bands. Lastly I just enjoy seeing how much I can cram into a verse at a time.
Speech has always fascinated me. Accents, dialects, phrasing, and just the way people put words together in different ways. The art of speaking is still wide open. Lyrics, on the other hand, are bit more annoying. Sometimes they just come to you clearly and perfectly, usually while you’re doing something and can’t get to a piece of paper. Other times they don’t come at all and you have to sit for hours and force them out. [Regarding the lyrics] I am influenced more by movies, books, ideas, and history than I am other music. Music influences the music.
FW: You play plenty of shows around Arkansas. How does the type of show and the crowd response vary from town to town?
Kyle: Fort Smith has our first devoted fans, Little Rock is always up in the air, Tulsa is a breeding ground right now for us, and Fayetteville is the trusty sidekick to Fort Smith.
Ben: Don’t forget Hot Springs. It’s a shame that this area of the country doesn’t have a bigger entertainment industry. Or an entertainment industry. We wish that there was more opportunity for not-quite-mainstream bands around here. There are a lot of great original bands in this area making real, quality, forward thinking music that, unless they relocate, will never be able to see success and continue doing what they do. I used to hope that somehow something would just explode around here. I’m not holding my breath anymore.
FW: It’s pretty much impossible to avoid exposure via the internet, whether it’s your own website, Myspace, online reviews, or whatever. Almost all of it entails giving some piece of what you do away for free. How do you feel about unrestricted internet file sharing and digital rights management?
Kyle: Haven’t thought too much on the subject. Basically, even though we’d like to be able to make money on our work so we can continue it, at some point we’re going to die, and the only thing left over will be what we have created, so why not let that creation get to as many people as possible?
Ben: We have an album out, but there are still a lot of people who have never heard of us. If I meet anyone who’s ever downloaded our stuff for free I’m going to be grateful that someone took the time to check us out. Then I would beg them, on my knees and weeping, to buy a CD. But I know what it’s like to be broke, so it’s cool. Get the music however you can.