Ari Roar – moniker of Texan singer-songwriter Caleb Campbell– sees the release of his debut album, Calm Down, which is out now on Bella Union!
With intuitive powers of clarity and concision to the fore, Calm Down is an album that draws on 1960s pop and modern DIY heroes for a set of lovingly languid, lo-fi miniatures. Depths of detail and lived experience bustle beneath effortlessly melodic surfaces; sure signs of a writer in confident command of his pitch.
With a tight run-time of 28 minutes and few of its 15 songs breaching the two-minute mark, Calm Down is not an album that overstates its case. ‘Called In’ merges the influences of garage-pop and Grandaddy in its plaintive plea to “stay alert”, while the brightly summery ‘Windowsill’ and literal shaggy-dog tale ‘Lost and Found’ show an easy lightness of narrative touch and mood control.
Elsewhere, Ari makes weightless work of variously playful, psychedelic material, navigating his songs with expressive ease even when he’s documenting difficulties navigating high-school hallways on ‘Don’t Have a Fit’. ‘Off and On’ is luminous, ‘Implode’sweetly chugging. ‘Sock Drawer’ recounts an inner voyage with a gently psychedelic touch, before the playful strut of ‘Choke’ and buoyant release of ‘Lucky One’ offer precision-judged notes of climactic uplift.
For Ari, Calm Down is a milestone in a journey that began in Dallas, Texas, where he started songwriting on his family’s “super-old, out-of-tune piano” as a child. Early inspirations included Grandaddy’s Under the Western Freeway and Radiohead’s OK Computer; his first concert experience was The Doobie Brothers, with his parents. But it was a gorgeous solo performance by Jason Schwartzman in the teen comedy Slackersthat inspired Ari to start writing songs with lyrics at 14: “I remember being mesmerized by it… and I went into my room and started trying to write something similar. After that I just never stopped.”
True, the route to Calm Down wasn’t without self-doubt, as he admits: “The daily life of high school didn’t yield that much in the way of good content. I would hear the songs written by my heroes and they would be so rich with experience. I felt phony trying to write that way back then because I hadn’t experienced all that much.”
Yet experience found Ari. As a kid he struggled with panic attacks, though learning what they were later helped him to take control of them; at 18, he had an operation for scoliosis that left him bedbound for months. “I had to relearn to walk and pretty much everything else,” he recalls: “It was a rough recovery.”
He began writing on the guitar rather than piano post-surgery, reasoning that he “had something more interesting to write about”. Valuable life lessons were learnt on some variably rough day jobs, though he pursued his real vocation on the move. After time in Denton, he moved to a garage in Dallas and then to his uncle’s pool house in Miami Beach, where he recorded his early EPs with help on drums from celebrity admirer McKenzie Smith, of Midlake fame. Later, relocation to Seattle spawned the radiant and lived-in songs of Calm Down, where Ari’s growing assurance spurred him to play most of the instruments himself; the odd timpani or Wurlitzer contribution came from his producer, Hunter Davidsohn, in whose New York studio Business District Recording the album was tracked.
When Ari reached out to Hunter, common ground was found in a telling mix of classic and modern influences. The duo bonded over a shared affection for The Beatles and The Zombies, influences channelled beautifully into Calm Down’s cool moods and warm melodies. More recent influences include Deerhunter, Beach House and the Frankie Cosmos album Next Thing, which Davidsohn produced to perfection. “Just really simple and strong sounds,” notes Ari. “Short and to-the-point songs. Great for repeat listens.”