The First Ever Interview with Up-and-Coming Alt-Pop Project Arbor
Arbor is a hidden treasure of the alt-pop and alt-rock scene, sporting 39,000 monthly listeners. Their most popular single, Intuition, has almost 800,000 streams, but, other than that, not much is known about the project.
Arbor consists of four down-to-Earth, easy-to-talk-to 24-carat musicians: Noah Dockery as the lead vocalist, Tanner Brzygot as the bassist, Will Armstrong on the drums, and Cameron Morgan on the synths. Ahead of their first tour ever, the Always On A Mission Tour, I got the chance to sit down with the four of them, as well as their ingenious visual designer Spark Visuals.
Because you guys are so new and still relatively underground, I feel like a lot of people don’t really know your story. How did you all meet? What inspired the four of you to make music together?
Noah: “We all met in middle school. We kinda established a friendship with one another before anything. We found that friendship is, at least for us and how we met, [is] one of the more crucial parts of us eventually becoming a band, because… if the foundation is set and you’re really good friends first, before you do anything like that, it will help support the collective vision and overall intention with what you do as a group since you’ve already established that friendship and that relationship. I met Tanner in the process of trying out as the drummer of our first band.”
Tanner: “I, basically, was already in a group with a friend of ours in, like, 8th grade. And then I met Noah, and he came over, and he was… a pretty good drummer. We were just doing little covers in the basement every Friday. That kinda picked up… we were playing [live shows] when we were like 15, 16. Essentially we just jammed around through high school, until we all eventually graduated. I moved down here to Nashville to study Music Business at Belmont, and they all kinda followed down, and then COVID hit just as they moved here.
[When COVID hit], we kinda went underground and really rebranded everything that Noah and I had been playing during our high school careers… It kinda feels like we’re already a band that’s been a band for a while, but no one really knew until, like, deep-COVID… I even posted on Instagram: ‘What does everyone think if we released a song during COVID?’… then we released ‘Intuition’ and that really set the tone.”
Who do you take after in terms of your band’s sound? Who influenced your genre-bending pop?
Will: “It definitely changes over time. We all bring a lot of unique tastes to the table. Our influences are probably, mainly INXS, twenty one pilots, even David Bowie.”
Tanner: “I even studied this at Belmont, what makes a good song and everything… Even now, new stuff will come out and everyone [in the band] will have mixed opinions. A big thing for us is that we are big fans of music, and we want that to remain throughout our career. We just want to be fans of music.”
Noah: “For instance, the new Harry Styles record just came out a couple days ago and we’ve been listening to it non-stop. That, in and of itself, could have an influence on the way we perceive music or how our music is headed… We do pay attention to trends, but we don’t make [those] super important, or something that we follow to a ‘t’. We try to keep the listener in mind, and we want to make music that’s relatively catchy and easy to sing along to.”
Even for a band of your size, you guys have such a close relationship with your fans. How important is it, in your opinion, for a band to have interpersonal connections with their fanbase? How do you plan on continuing these connections in the future, if and when your fanbase becomes unwieldy?
Cameron: “Well, first, I’ll start it off by saying, I don’t think it’s an ‘if’, pretty much everyone here thinks it’s a ‘when’… I think it’s paramount, although it’s my opinion, but really it’s more a fact, that fans are the most important part. Your relationship with them is what’s gonna drive any sort of success. None of it’s going to matter if you don’t relate to whoever you’re trying to create music for.
In the future, when it does sort of become unwieldy, [we want] to more or less let them take control, and more or less just facilitate interactions. They will go off and create their own communities, and subcommunities, and we’ll let them handle it, because they are the driving force, and we are just there to sort of give them the umbrella.”
Noah: “Especially over the past couple years, I’ve noticed that much more now than back then, as we continue along our journey of becoming adults and becoming a band, it becomes obvious that this is much more than the sum of its parts. This [band] creates and facilitates a safe space and a creative space where people can just be themselves. As we continue to do what we do and we cultivate more fans, it becomes something where we can go hands off.”
What is your creative process like? Where do songs usually begin and end in that process? Who does the majority of the song-writing and instrumentation?
Noah: “Pretty much everything that you hear comes from me basically sitting at a computer, or an instrument, just fumbling around with chords or melodies or drones or bass loops. I’m a very contained and isolated creative. I always produce and write songs with a band in mind, because obviously you can’t create a drum beat that’s humanly impossible to play. I always try to keep that aspect in mind. I could simply just be in the shower, and I could hear a melody, and, because I’m feet away from my room, I can just jump into my DAW and recreate what I had. Once the vibe is established, I send a rough demo over Snapchat or the Google Drive over to the band to see if its something representative of us. As soon as the green light is given, I tend to delve deeper into that idea.
Tanner: “Oftentimes we have 100s of old untouched demos. We are a band that makes things and doesn’t finish them sometimes. Losing Myself To You is a great example of a song we came back to. We had that song in, probably, 2018 or 2019 is when we wrote the first demo version. So far, none of our songs have been touched by anyone except us 4.”
Noah: “It’s a hard question to answer, when it comes to whether or not a song is complete. I never truly feel like a song is completely done, or finished, or ready to release out in the world, because I’m such a perfectionist when it comes to writing or mixing or anything of that nature… You kinda have to be content with the fact that a song is… strong enough to be released out into the world.”
How much work went into the Always On A Mission Tour? What was the process like for a small, local project to start up a tour in the post-pandemic world?
Tanner: “We see a big band, and say ‘that’s really cool, how can we do that?’ as a really small band with no budget and just us 4. This is our first time… well, we’ve only ever played in Cincinnati and Dayton, one time. Getting off the ground is not easy at all, and we don’t have a van, so we’re taking multiple cars. We are helped by some amazing crew members that are basically just fans that we’ve connected with. As far as booking, with venues reopening, that was another obstacle because every state and venue has different COVID rules. I had to, essentially, reach out to venues and local bands, because we’ve never played these places, or even been to these cities. I had to hit these places up and hit local bands up, and, next thing you know, we have 8 dates on the books. Noah and I saw Tame Impala recently, on tour, and the lighting was just insane… we invested in a lighting rig and I had to learn how to program those lights… We don’t make a dime, nobody does. We’re founded on passion. This tour was a dream, and we said ‘We’re gonna make it happen one way or another.’”
Cam: “Any sane person would have stopped a long time ago.”
Tanner: “This is us going all in. This is the first public declaration of that.”
Is Arbor on a label? If not, what would it take to sign Arbor?
Tanner: “It’s just us 4. I got my degree in Music Business. Shoutout Belmont… That experience took us from one level to the next. I learned so much about how to operate everything overall. With this team that we’ve been put together, with 0 budget, I seriously think that we have everything that we need to do it ourselves for a long time. We’re just doing our thing, even the music releasing is just us.”
*I also got a chance to chat with Spark Visuals, the incredibly talented visual designer for Arbor’s artwork.*
What got you into visual design? What was your starting point?
Spark: “I don’t know. I, kind of, got into it because I was seeing it in concert videos, and I thought it seemed really cool.”
What lead you to the decisions you made when it comes to the graphic design of Arbor’s tour and music?
Spark: “Early on, when I was working on All I Think About Is You, they sent through the artwork and told me to go off and figure something out. I kinda just tried to match the feel of what I was seeing and hearing. As we moved toward the newer singles and the upcoming music and tour, we started hanging out more and having a lot more discussions around the meaning behind things and building this underlying narrative behind it all. I have a huge document somewhere with all the story and the different elements.”
How much influence did you have over the Always On A Mission artwork and the upcoming EP’s artwork? Did the band have a vision in mind or did they let you take the reigns?
Spark: “They kinda had a vague idea of what they wanted. For the upcoming release, they have chosen an image that they saw some other artist had made, and they bought that image, and we’re using that as a starting point. They have quite a bit of influence, but, for the most part, with the recent singles, and especially the tour, that’s been pretty much entirely me, and I’ve been basing that around the discussions we’ve had or where we want the tour to sit within the story.”
Arbor has been obviously gearing up for an underlying story/ARG with this upcoming EP. Knowing how influential you were in the solving of the Twenty One Pilots LOC ARG, how much influence did you have over the creative design and the mechanics of this new ARG?
Spark: “The original ARG that was gonna be done was actually… there’s another song that they haven’t released and it didn’t end up making the EP… we made kind of an ARG based around that. I have a full website and code and everything set up for that, but I don’t think that will ever see the light of day. That’s the closest we have to an ARG at this point. There isn’t one currently in development. The hope is that after the tour and the EP, more people will be engaged, and we can start thinking up some kind of ARG.”
From your standpoint in relation to the band, what are you most excited for in the future?
Spark: “I think, in the immediate future, we have been working on a lot for the tour. We planned out a whole custom stage setup with fancy lighting fixtures and whatever. They’ve got the All I Think About Is You TV as well, which they can display things on. It’ll be cool getting to make use of that… I think I’m just excited to see what happens with the EP, and how well it gets received. I think that will determine what can happen in the future.”
*The band weighed in on their relationship with Spark as well.*
What is it like working with Spark? How has his influence and expertise helped you guys expand your horizons?
Cam: “Spark is a funny story. I met him in Minecraft celebrating a Minecraft birthday party with a bunch of people in the twenty one pilots community. That’s how you meet people nowadays… Spark is literally on the other side of the world, which is cool… He’s a super funny dude, and I could just tell he’s a smart guy… I learned that he makes fan videos for twenty one pilots songs. I thought that was really cool… Come to find out that Spark wanted to be his own, sort of, person, creating things that were his. So it worked out well.”
Tanner: “At this point, Spark has branded us with his own mark… He’s a part of our team. I exaggerate in saying he’s the 5th band member. He’s obviously a friend, but he’s also brought ideas to our music, as well as our image. He’s really changed that for us overall, and we’ll forever be indebted to him, and we’ve told him that. Arbor at this point is really a collaboration with him.”
Cam: “When Arbor was being introduced to him, Arbor was still very very small, relative to where we are now. Being able to find people who have the same amount of passion for music in general as we do is a huge driving point for who we work with or collaborate with; they need to have the same passion and drive for what we’re doing. He has that mindset, and everyone on [the] Always On A Mission [tour] has that same mindset.”
Noah: “Spark is such a creative guru when it comes to visuals… Each time we’ve released or announced anything, he’s always continually pushed the envelope to make his visual product better than the last one was. We like people that think progressively and push themselves to be better.”
Each member individually: What is your favorite song you’ve ever released with Arbor?
Tanner: “Currently, Losing Myself To You. The base verse, playing that song overall, is such a fun time for me.”
Cam: “All I Think About Is You. The time it was released was very pivotal for us, and the time it came out was when people started listening to Intuition. It was the first time we experienced releasing a song with a community behind it.
Will: (Referring to Noah): “I’ll, uh, steal yours and do Far Away. It is one of the most energetic [of our] songs on the drums.”
Noah: “Yea, my favorite song has to be Far Away simply because of the fact that, from when I had written the songs, all the way up to the song was released, and then post-release, being able to listen to that song was a different sentiment. I went ‘Wow, that song came out of me.’ It’s crazy because the lyrical content and the integrity of those are so universal. It’s crazy to accept the fact that people leaving your life is the reality.”
Does the Arbor fanbase have a name? Do you want to assign the Arbor fanbase a name?
Cam: “The Arbor fanbase does not have a name.”
Tanner: “They have to name themselves and we would have to approve it, by some sorta, maybe a committee, or a fighting match… currently we just, kinda, call them by their individual names.”
What are you most excited for for the future of Arbor?
Will: “I’m the youngest in the band, I always have been, and… that’s how age works. I’m two school years behind them, but I just had my last semester of college. I am a sophomore college dropout… We always talk about our growth during the pandemic. We can’t wait for it to be fully, fully over.”
Tanner: “I’m most excited for touring. We’ve never toured, and Always On A Mission will be our first tour ever. All the stuff we have ready for the shows is very exciting overall.”
Cam: “Where I see us in a year, I always try to look back to where we were a year ago. And that seems like a different lifetime, we were doing so many different things and leading different lives. We don’t know what’s going to happen in the next year, but if it’s anything like the past 365 days, it’ll be insane.”
Any last messages for Arbor fans eagerly awaiting the EP?
Tanner: “Come to the Always On A Mission Tour, if you’re able… if you’re not able, there will always be future Always On A Mission parts, in various locations. On that tour, and other future tours, the music will definitely be available on sale. If you can’t get to any of these shows, we will definitely be releasing music very very soon. We have plans for some stuff in the next 3-ish months, not a release, but some very important plans. Always On A Mission Tour is currently available, all unheard music.”
Noah: “Come to a show. The reason we’re taking so long is because we always have the fan and the listener in mind, and we won’t fall short in giving them what they truly deserve. We’re not gonna stop until we have achieved that.”
Arbor is (obviously) very excited for the launch of the Always On A Mission Tour. As they say, their closeknit relationship with their fan base and their love and passion for all things music is what got them to this point.
The Always On A Mission Tour:
May 24 // Morgantown KY
May 27 // Fitchburg WI
May 28 // Grand Rapid MI
May 29 // Lakewood OH
May 31 // Columbus OH
June 3 // Cincinnati OH
June 4 // Nashville TN
Tickets available on arborband.com