interview: Small Sins

The Small Sins of Thomas D'Arcy By Michael Powell

Thomas D'Arcy is the brains behind the electropop band Small Sins. For nearly a decade, he cut his teeth as the head of indie rock group The Carnations before launching into electronic music with the self-titled Small Sins release in 2006. His newest album, Mood Swings, was released in September by the electronic label Astralwerks. Based out of Toronto, Canada, D'Arcy and his band are currently touring through Canada and the western United States.
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MP: The melodies in your music fit perfectly with your vocals. What are challenges that you experience in molding electronic sounds with vocals?

T.D'A: In terms of the recording process, I find it much easier to fit in vocal melodies over electronic sounds. Most keyboard sounds and sequenced drums don't have much room sound on them as they are recorded directly or sampled as opposed to using a microphone. This means that the sounds take up very little room in the stereo spectrum. Usually when it is time to do the vocal tracks, I am working with a very clean canvas, thus I have lots of room for multiple harmonies and lots of layering without stepping on other parts too much.

How does the live performance of Small Sins differ from your album sound?

We've been trying to emulate one through the other. When we first started playing live, everything was like a full on rock band. A lot of the songs didn't really resemble the album at all, which disappointed some and pleased others. In this record, I was keeping the live show in mind a lot more and writing music that wouldn't have to undergo such massive overhaul in order to be effective in the show. Basically, the new record is a lot more rockin', and the new live show involves a lot more electro gadgetry. The two are starting to meet somewhere in the middle.

One of the reviews for your debut album said that you "sound like the Postal Service." How did Ben Gibbard's side project play a role in the molding of your own sound?

Not really much at all. I like the Postal Service stuff, but I don't think I was thinking about it while making this record or the one before. I understand that people need a reference point to talk to each other about music, and since both bands use semi-similar instrumentation, and we were both singing with mellow vibes, suddenly referencing one was the best way to describe the other. Personally though, to me, one doesn't really sound like the other at all.

Ben Gibbard also went from indie rock into electronic music, with a similar sound as a result. How do you feel about the comparison?

When I used to record demos years and years ago for The Carnations, they would have a bit of an electro vibe. Something about being alone and recording yourself with limited resources makes electronic recording a lot more convenient at home than indie rock. But then you get in a room with a band and a drummer and suddenly you want to rock out. Small Sins was about developing what all those demos sort of sounded like before a band could get hold of them. When I made the decision to work alone, this was the most natural progression that there could have been.

There was only a year between Mood Swings and your first album. Can fans expect you to remain prolific in the future?

I would say so. I have another EP coming out soon that will be available only at live shows which contains a lot more organic non-electronic sounds used for songs that are basically a lot more depressing than anything on Mood Swings. Also, I've been working on the third full record already. I hope to have it all finished by March depending on how much touring we do.

Have the audiences for Small Sins shows been different than those that came for The Carnations?

I guess there is a bit of overlap, but not too much.

With a gun on the cover and moody songs throughout the album, what is behind the concept of Mood Swings?

I had a lot of material for this record - maybe 40 songs or so. When it came time to cut down the list in to one concise album, I was looking for the best thirteen songs that would work together well in sequence. A lot of the songs that worked well together were about confrontation, anxiety and action. A loaded gun just worked so well as a metaphor for all of these things. While recording, I had no idea that there would be so many continuing themes throughout the record, but I guess there was just so much material to pick from that I was able to mold it thematically simply by picking the right tracks.

How did you become part of Astralwerks?

We knew they were coming to our showcase at CMJ 2005. It was to be our first show with the current lineup, but on the way down, we were turned away at the border. We were fingerprinted and told not to try again, but the show just felt like it was going to be important, so the next morning we tried again (which is a bit risky - we can't screw around with the possibility of never being able to come to the U.S. again, which has happened to a few other Canadian bands under similar circumstances). Somehow we got in, drove our asses off without stopping, got to New York, found a parking spot right outside the club, rushed our gear right on stage, had one cigarette and then performed. Thirty minutes later I was having my first conversation with the label - which went well to say the least.

Astralwerks is known for electronic superstars like Chemical Brothers and Basement Jaxx. Do you feel any pressure to measure up to them?

I don't really make music that sounds like either of those bands, so musically there is no pressure at all. I wouldn't mind selling as many records as them though.

What are your tour plans?

We start a U.S./Canadian tour on Nov. 18th in Halifax. We're basically doing one month long circle around the whole thing, working our way down the East Coast, across to the West, up the West coast to Vancouver and then across Canada on our way home to Toronto. After that, who knows. We haven't booked anything yet.

Thanks very much.

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