The brother/sister duo, Jocelyn Arndt, made of up 19 year-old Jocelyn and 18 year-old Chris Arndt, infuse a sense of classic rock and blues into every single track on their debut EP Strangers In Fairyland. With an eclectic sound that is far beyond their years, their debut takes listeners on an exploration of sounds, from the emotional blues-tinged vocals of the ever emotive Jocelyn to the howling riffs of the electric guitar that Chris effortlessly weaves beneath each melody. It’s a musical journey that showcases their individual talents, yet cohesively comes together to form a thematic album about self discovery and fearlessly facing reality.
When they came to the stage of Hotel Indigo in Nashville it was clear that these Harvard University students felt more at home performing than anywhere else. Lead by Jocelyn, who tackles lead vocals and piano, their set was filled with cuts from their debut EP as well as covers that were painted in a brand new light. Jocelyn’s voice was booming enough to quiet the room, commanding attention from the very first note that lifted to the rafters. With influences that range from Beyonce to Janis Joplin, she brings little bits and pieces of those big, attention grabbing voices to every song she sings. Her haunting and intuitive sense of the when to completely let go vocally is the mark of a gifted young talent that understands performing, and has no fear of pouring herself into each note.
One of the highlights of the evening was her ethereal version of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.” A song that is typically done with a jaunty rhythmic quality, Jocelyn and Chris paired it down and allowed it to be an emotionally gripping experience that ripped your heart out. She danced around the melody with her big voice, heightening the sense of pain and desperation, bringing a whole new personality to the familiar track. It was their huge mix of rock and blues that made listeners take a step back, the howling vocals of their original song Cinderella, about struggling with the reality of not always getting that happy ending, wrapped the set up on an unforgettable note. When the room went quiet you realized that you were left wanting more, due mostly to the talented that graced the stage, and their dynamic ability to connect to their audience.
Before their set, I had the chance to sit down and chat with Jocelyn and Chris Arndt to talk about their debut EP, their biggest inspirations, and just geek out on music. Check out the interview below to learn more about this burgeoning new duo.
So to start, what inspired you to start playing music?
JA: I use to take dance lessons, when I was in kindergarten, and I remember asking my mom if I could take Piano instead. And she was like, “not yet, just focus on dance for a while.” It wasn’t until about 4th grade that I started taking piano and he started taking guitar.
CA: Yeah, I was in 3rd grade.
JA: And then we started practicing and started a band in high school called The Dependents. We started writing our own stuff and it just kind of…
CA: Snowballed from there.
What artists would you say have influenced you individually?
CA: That’s totally different for both of us! For me it’s all of the great Blues and Rock players. For me in-particular it’s Stevie Ray Vaughan, Mark Knopfler and Kenny Wayne Shepherd that are my three biggest influences as far as guitar playing and songwriting are concerned.
JA: And I like really big voices. Like the kind of voice you can listen to for just three seconds and know exactly who it is. Aretha Franklin to Beyonce, Janis Joplin and Grace Potter. Pat Benatar…
So it sounds like one of you is very much influenced by vocals and the other by the instrumentation. How would you say that affects your songwriting? What is that process like for both of you?
CA: It’s actually totally different from song to song. There are some songs where I will have written the entire thing, but Jocelyn has some lyrics that fit perfectly. Then it just comes together right away. Then there are songs that Jocelyn has completely written and I put in a bridge or something. Most of the time I focus more on the chord structure and the song structure as a whole. Jocelyn focuses more on the melody and the lyrics. And we end up putting them together, there’s definitely no set order.
JA: I think it works out pretty 50/50. I’ll come up with something or he’ll come up with something, but we always work together to fill in the pieces.
The new album, “Strangers in Fairyland” came out in October. I feel like there’s a theme that sort of surrounds the Fairyland aspect of it. When you sat down to pick the songs for this album, what was your direction? Was there any kind of theme involved?
JA: It was pretty tough because we had songs that didn’t make the cut. We wanted to go for a group that was tied together with that Blues/Rock feel. That’s really a big undercurrent in our music. You know, we’ve got some songs that are just weird and out there, but we picked the ones for this project with that blues/rock undertone sound in mind. There’s also kind of lyrical theme, like exploring… stories that you hear and how they don’t really work out in real life. We went for the blues thing first, but it just kind of worked out with the theme.
Is the blues sound what you guys are really labeling yourself as or is that what came out in the writing for this album?
CA: It is yet to be decided. When we write a song, we don’t actually take what our sound is into account, we just try and write the song and make it as good as it can be. One of the problems, and it’s also a good thing, that we ran into when we started working with our producer, David, was we’d bring all these songs to the table and they’d all be pretty eclectic. It would be hard to pick them because you’re wondering what goes together? But then people listen to it and you find that everyone has a different favorite song…
JA: For a while, people would say, “what kind of music do you do?” and that was always hard to define. We finally settled on Indie Blues Rock as our official working term. And I think that just goes back to those influences, that 70’s guitar sound with the big voice.
I notice that with songwriting, men and women tend to write a little bit differently. Do you each have different things that inspire you or do you often find yourself on the same page?
JA: It turns out to be pretty cohesive.
CA: Yeah, I honestly never really thought about inspirations while writing. I just sit down and something comes out that sounds cool or it doesn’t. Then I change it around until I think it does sound cool. I guess I’ve never had severe emotional trauma or anything (laughs), or broken up with my girlfriend and felt like I needed to play a song. It’s not really how I write, I guess.
JA: I’m definitely the basket-case in the songwriting relationship (laughs). I’ll come in and say “I just felt so sad, I had to write these lyrics” and Chris will rock it up a little bit. And we don’t take each other too seriously… so that helps (laughs).
You just started on this East Coast tour, performing is obviously a huge part of your lives as musicians. What shows have you been to that have really influenced you?
CA: For me, the best show I’ve ever been to is 100% Grace Potter and the Nocturnals.
JA: And I didn’t get to go to that one, I was so sad!
CA: I was going into senior year in high school and she had just gone off to college. And it was a free concert…
JA: They were texting me pictures the whole time.
CA: We were like 40 feet away at the New York City fair. It was just… hands down I’ve never seen anything like that before. From that moment on I totally… I always loved performing but I usually just kind of stood there and rocked back and forth. That definitely inspired me to go all out on stage. That was a turning point for me.
JA: When we saw Brad Paisley, I feel like that was one, too.
CA: Yes! he was really great. He’s an amazing guitarist.
JA: I wish I had gone to Grace Potter’s show, she’s like my idol… but I did see Maroon 5 and Train, twice in a row (laughs). I was such a fangirl. Who else? Ingrid Michaelson. It was really small and we were just a few feet from the stage.
CA: Yeah, it was crazy, as big as she is now.
JA: She did a cover of Britney Spears’ “Toxic” and it was amazing.
CA: That was really cool.
JA: Then Florence and the Machines, They’re so trippy in the best way possible. She’s like such a Nymph, she comes out in this dress that looks like it’s made of very stylish curtains and she’s like, “Everybody hug the person next to you!” It’s awesome.
What do you want your audience to walk away with when they leave your show? What is it that you want them to think about?
JA: I just want them to know how much we care about our music. To come away knowing that we really feel it when we play. Maybe that sounds cliche but I pour myself out there, whip my hair back and forth, you know!
CA: One of the cool things, which is starting to go away now, since we’ve always been so young is that people underestimate us. I love the feeling of pouring as much energy in to it as possible and when I can see that the audience is surprised that we can actually play real music. Seeing that reaction, there’s nothing like the feeling when the audience gets into your music. It’s so great. That’s definitely what I love about performing and what I like to see.
Where have been some of your favorite places that you’ve played?
CA: We just started this tour, so we haven’t played too many places. But we played in Cleveland last night…
JA: This place called The Brothers Lounge. It’s a really cool wine bar and I was really impressed because they put little pamphlets on the table that told people it was a performance environment and to be respectful. I thought that was really cool.
CA: We played a Wednesday night and it was zero degrees out, and the place was packed! That was awesome.
JA: We’re excited to play here (at Hotel Indigo) as well. I love the room and they’ve always been so good to us.
When you come to Nashville, what are some places you love to go? Or places you’d love to explore?
JA: I just feel like I want to walk around. Just get lost and explore the city.
CA: Yeah, I’d definitely want to see the strip at night. We haven’t done that yet. I saw it for 20 minutes because I had to get something from CVS. It wasn’t enough.
JA: Yeah, we got to go to Guitar Center, and it was really cool. It’s different from the ones we have in New York. Like we saw the posters on their walls. Like Taylor Swift or Brad Paisley.
CA: We’re from Upstate and we play New York maybe once a month and it’s awesome. It’s also like 8 and a half million people. And here there’s like 600,000 people and everyone loves music. So you walk down the main drag and everywhere has a band playing on every floor, like a new person every hour. I just did not have enough time to soak that in.
JA: We might have to go to one of those shops where they sell Cowboy boots. ‘Cause I’ve never done that before. I’ve heard it’s quite the investment, so I’ll just have to window shop for now (laughs).
Here’s a fun question, if you were out on the town and you could put one or two songs on the Jukebox to rock out to with your friends, what would those songs be?
JA: Bohemian Rhapsody. Like in Waynes World? We would do that exact same thing. AND…
CA: Wow… do we both get two?
Yes, of course!
JA: I’m gonna say These Boots Were Made For Walking by Nancy Sinatra. I think that would be fun to dress up and dance to. Your turn..
CA: Man this is a tough. I’m gonna have to go with, probably, My Baby Shot Me Down by Nancy Sinatra. That could just be because she already mentioned her and I’m thinking of that right now. And I’m gonna go with Freebird as the last one!
Huge thanks to Jocelyn and Chris Arndt for hanging out with me and showering Nashville with their talent. Be sure to check out their debut EP “Strangers in Fairyland” out now! Let me know what you think of their music in the comments below or by tweeting me @JukeboxMixtape!