Songwriter Joseph Arthur keeps himself busy with RNDM
No one could ever accuse Joseph Arthur of being lazy. The Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter has his own successful solo thing going on, and that would be enough to keep most musicians busy. Not Arthur. He’s also a member of Fistful of Mercy, alongside Ben Harper and Dhani Harrison. And these days, he’s fronting RNDM, which features Pearl Jam’s Jeff Ament on bass and drummer Richard Stuverud, who’s a veteran of numerous acts, including the Fastbacks and Ament’s Three Fish.
Reached at a tour stop in Minneapolis, Arthur tells the Straight that he’s thrilled to be part of a power trio, and that, unlike some of his previous collaborative efforts, RNDM is neither merely a backing group nor a one-off. This is, he insists, a real band.
“It’s great to be in a rock ’n’ roll band, for me,” he says. “I love it. It’s very liberating. I mean, I’ve had moments along the way of trying to get that going, with Holding the Void, this band I put together with Pat Sansone who’s in Wilco now. That was over 10 years ago. We made kind of a rock ’n’ roll record. The Lonely Astronauts were rock ’n’ roll to a large degree. But this feels like something else again. Just playing with Jeff and Richard, it feels like coming into a fully formed situation in a way, because those guys have been playing together for 15 years or something like that. So, in a way, it’s kind of like being the new lead singer of Van Halen or something.”
He says that last part with a laugh, of course. Gary Cherone has never written a song as effortlessly cool as “Modern Times”, which kicks off RNDM’s debut album, Acts, with a fuzz-strafed guitar riff backed by a percolating bass line and a super-caffeinated shuffle beat. The trio slows things down for the harmony-laced jangle pop of “New Tracks” and the dirty-streets soul of “Williamsburg”, but picks it up again for the punkadelic thrasher “Throw You to the Pack” and “Look Out!”, which boasts some incendiary lead-guitar work.
Given the instant notoriety that comes with having a member of Pearl Jam in your band, to say nothing of Fistful of Mercy’s star power, you might think Arthur is wary of being pegged as “the supergroup guy”. He says, however, that he just plays well with others, some of whom happen to be famous. “If you do this stuff long enough, collaboration is just part of it,” he reasons. “You develop relationships, you get to know people. If you’re healthy artistically, or in life, you end up collaborating and getting involved with other things, and just sort of branching out into different opportunities. So that’s the way I look at it, really.”
Modest to a fault, Arthur says he doesn’t consider himself particularly prolific, although Redemption City, his double solo album from earlier this year, offers strong evidence to the contrary. “Andy Warhol used to say that he didn’t understand why songwriters didn’t write, like, 10 songs a day,” Arthur says. “And there is some truth to that. That’s a little bit much to ask, but I think there’s not much expected of people who write songs. Ten a year is considered a lot. And it really shouldn’t be considered a lot, man. You know what I mean?”
RNDM plays the Biltmore Cabaret on Monday (November 26).