Josh Arnoudse and Raky Sastri have chosen to go the two-member route with Massachusetts-spawned You Won’t, but you’d never know that based on their records. Forget the stripped-raw minimalist route favoured by the likes of the White Stripes, Black Keys, and Kills—the band’s established itself as an act to watch by embracing more than drums and guitar.
Popping up on the duo’s essential new release, Revolutionaries, is a laundry list of instruments that includes electric bagpipes, singing saw, and the not-just-for-kids whirly tube. Incorporating those instruments and more into the live shows of You Won’t is a challenge, which is to say Sastri earns his money on the back end.
Things can be just as tricky in the studio, however. When he’s reached in Los Angeles during tour rehearsals, Arnoudse notes that ambition isn’t something the band lacks when the tape’s rolling. That’s evident on tracks like “Untitled 1”, with its Scottish-Highlands-meet-the-Middle-East bagpipes, and the badlands heartbreaker “Trampoline”, where a keening singing saw is front and centre.
Combine such adventurism with a serious perfectionist streak, and there were days when the You Won’t members found themselves feeling lost during the creation of Revolutionaries.
“There was a lot at stake, because Raky and I have chosen mutually to focus on this project for the last five years,” Arnoudse says, on his cell from L.A. “It’s been five years of our lives, to the exclusion of pretty much anything else. That’s a scary choice when you don’t know how things are going to work out, especially when we’d get stuck making the new record, or when we weren’t sure that we were going to finish it.”
And then there was the perfectionism problem. In hindsight, there was no need to fix what You Won’t was doing; the band’s first record, Skeptic Goodbye, offered a skewed take on junkyard Americana and stomping folk that led to appearances everywhere from NPR and the New York Times to Last Call With Carson Daly. That didn’t stop Arnoudse and Sastri from pushing themselves.
The first thing that hits you on Revolutionaries is that You Won’t has become willing to rip it up, the guitars practically buzzing on revolution rockers like “Can’t Go Wrong”, and the chorus made for road trips on “1-4-5”.
“It was a step forward for us artistically and creatively,” Arnoudse offers. “We wanted to feel like we weren’t repeating ourselves. And a lot of times what was hard was figuring out how to get the sounds we wanted. This record has a lot more electric guitar, for example, than the first one, and it’s harder to record electric guitar. It also has more of Raky’s full drum kit—most of the percussion on the first record was played on makeshift stuff. There’s still that element, but most of it is now Raky playing actual drums. He is the drummer, after all.”
The two musicians were friends long before they became bandmates, first meeting in theatre productions in school. Adulthood brought more than one failed endeavour, including a brief period making films that no one ever saw. With Revolutionaries they’ve made one of the best records of the year—if great lyrics are important to you, they don’t come any better than highlights like “With all the wisdom of a 22-year-old” and “She said I grew up with the feeling I’d be hanging from the ceiling by the time I hit the age of 25.”
If you like unlikely success stories that not even those involved saw coming, all the better.
“We really put all of our eggs in one basket,” Arnoudse says. “A lot of people are in multiple bands and have a million things going on. For whatever reason, Raky and I are pretty single-minded when it comes to making something. We’ve done lots of projects, but this is the first one we’ve done that’s found an outside audience. It’s been gratifying to know we’ve finally reached people on some level. It’s changed the calculus a little bit to where this is now more than our little art project.”
You Won’t plays the Cobalt on Sunday (June 26).