When I first linked up with Arthur before his June 21 show at Brookline Teen Center, he was clearly itching to be outside. While his bandmates shot hoops and earlybird attendees lounged by the stage, the Philly-based musician and I took a stroll around the block. As he explained, the long car trips required for a recent set of tours had left him feeling pretty fatigued. It felt fitting, too, that an artist who can mutate surges of manic, high-pitched vocals into lonesome, spacey synth balladry—all within the span of a 40-second song—would have a hard time sitting still all the time.
As we navigated the Brookline streets, Arthur and I discussed his debut album Woof Woof, which arrived last November, tour life as a rising artist, and the religious and canine themes that tend to reappear in his music. And after Lane, The Glue, and Change of Plans took the stage, he put on a show that somehow distilled his album’s nervous energy into rambunctious, frenetic, danceable bliss.
Boston Hassle: How are you today?
ARTHUR: I’m feeling real beat up, but I’m good. I’ve been sitting in a car so much recently.
BH: Where have you been touring recently?
ARTHUR: With my other band, Joy Again, we just toured everywhere. We went all the way out to California and then we came down through Texas, then we drove from Texas all the way home. It was like a month, so I’m just really sick and tired of sitting all the time. My fucking ass hurts, my back. My kidneys are mad at me.
BH: Your friends call you Con, right?
BH: Where does that name come from?
ARTHUR: My actual name is William Connell [Shea]. My middle name’s Connell. No one has ever called me William, so I don’t go by that. If people called me Will, that’d be weird. My cousin who plays drums in both of my bands, his name’s Will. And then the other guitar player in my other band is also named Will, but no one calls him Will. Well, some people call him Will, but… too many Wills. I know a thousand of them.
BH: It’s been about seven months since your debut album, Woof Woof, released. Have people’s reactions to it surprised you at all?
ARTHUR: I guess so, yeah. I’m always kind of surprised that there’s someone that has heard it pretty much anywhere I go. Like if I’m playing with my other band [Joy Again], someone will come up and be like, “Hey, I love that album, Woof Woof.” I forget about it sometimes and people are like, “That’s my favorite album that came out last year.” That’s such a crazy, weird-sounding thing.
It’s just cool that people can communicate with this weird thing that I made in my bedroom over a few months. People can relate to even some of the more intense themes and the lyrics, which is cool because you never really expect that. [When you’re] putting something out, you can’t really expect people to reciprocate feelings you get from it.
BH: What has touring the album been like?
ARTHUR: Pretty good. We haven’t done any really long tours. The longest tour we did was a two-week tour with Amen Dunes, which was a lot of fun. This project isn’t big enough to bring out a whole ton of people, but it brings out enough. And it’s always fun meeting the few people in every city that know the music, because enough people have heard it now.
BH: What else have you been up to since the album came out?
ARTHUR: Now I’m just working on the next one, talking to people that I want to work with on it.
BH: Did you learn anything enlightening from or about the people you opened for, Amen Dunes and Jenny Lewis?
ARTHUR: I definitely did because they’re older, so it just kind of feels like… I’m the last of seven [siblings], so I always grew up with people [older than me]. My sister’s like 40, so hanging out with them just feels like hanging out with older siblings. I always feel kind of weird because I’m the young guy. Jenny Lewis is 43, she’s two times as old as I am, and Damon is somewhere up there. But it’s fun sharing a stage with people that have been doing it for a long time and being this weirdo crazy young guy that seems way more beat-up than them all the time, even though they’re two times my age. [There was] a lot to learn. It’s mostly just the way you hold yourself. And I don’t feel that strange communicating with those kinds of people, just having a lot of friends that make music.
BH: How old are you?
ARTHUR: I’m 22. I turned 22 last November.
BH: Right around when the album came out.
ARTHUR: Yeah, right. I think the album came out right after that, I guess. Or before? I don’t remember. But I’m hoping that the next album will be out [around the] same time. I’m going to do at least one album every year, even if no one listens to it. I just got to be more efficient because my music is kind of how I rate myself and how I feel. If I’m not making music I usually just feel like trash, but [I feel better] as soon as I make a song, even if it sucks. I don’t even have to show it to anybody or do anything with it, as long as it’s there on my computer.
BH: Your singing on Woof Woof sounds pretty anxious, manic and isolated. And I mean that in the best way possible, because, like you said earlier, it’s very easy for people to relate to. Can you take me into your headspace at the time of its recording? What was that like?
ARTHUR: I was drinking like 15 cups of coffee and staying up till 6 in the morning and smoking two packs of cigarettes [every day]. Just very lonely. I moved back from a warehouse that I lived in with my friend Kieran who’s in my band and started living with my parents again, which was cool. It was good and bad because I had all the time in the world and I could save money. Well, actually, I didn’t have any money. I was completely broke. I spent all the money I would get from little advances for the album on cigarettes and frivolous stuff. [I was] working pretty much all the time, kind of isolating myself from other people. And my parents live in the woods, so it was just me and the sound of the woods. I could play drums till 11 p.m. every night and no one cared.
I would try to do a song every day. I had a bunch of songs—probably a lot of them are lost—but I just decided [the songs on the album] were the ones that made the most sense. They’re all kind of half-finished, half-not-finished, which is cool. They’re weird, skeleton-type songs. I listen to them and I’m like, “I could have done this,” but at the same time I like how a lot of it’s kind of sparse.
BH: A few of the songs on the album have religious themes, like God and the devil. In an interview with Dazed, you mentioned that you were in Catholic school as a kid. Do you think your time there influenced that lyrical preoccupation?
ARTHUR: Definitely, yeah. I had this immense guilt and fear that is still built into me, ever since I was little. One day I was like, “Well, what if none of this is true?” I was like 7, and then I was obsessed with death for months and I couldn’t get it out of my head. I was just terrified.
I think about that stuff a lot. I’m not a religious person, but I think it’s like… like in the song “God,” it’s a song about the extent people will go to to serve someone, the sacrifices people make to serve someone else.
BH: I know you’re also into video games and they inspire your music. If Woof Woof was a video game, what would it be like?
ARTHUR: I always wanted it to be like a point-and-click adventure game where you start in a dark room. That’s not really… it’s a little bit more exciting than that. Definitely a lot of dogs and dangerous people. The dogs are talking to you—maybe you need to search for assistance from these dogs that are sprinkled about this dark, grassy field that goes on forever. And all there is are houses that are just really boring, one-room houses.
BH: Speaking of dogs, you seem to like singing about dogs and ghosts for both Arthur and Joy Again. What do you find appealing about putting these little characters into your songs?
ARTHUR: I think the world… not me interacting with the world, but the world interacting with me, even without knowing I exist. I think about how beautiful dogs are, these weird creatures that can’t speak but they see everything. The characters are the darker facets of your identity because you can be anyone in your music. The music isn’t me, it’s Arthur. It’s not me. I like to make characters to bring myself out of it, so the music speaks for itself and it doesn’t have this glam, glossy person in front.
BH: It’s egoless.
ARTHUR: Yeah, it is, because I don’t really have an ego anymore. I took too much acid when I was younger. And now I can’t really comprehend… like I look in the mirror and I can’t even see myself. I mean I do, but it doesn’t look like me. It’s like a man looking out of a window and seeing everything else.
BH: That’s what you see in the mirror?
ARTHUR: Yeah, and I feel like a dog a lot of the time, too.
BH: What’s making music in Philly like? It seems like you have a lot of really creative people around like Richard Phillip Smith, who filmed your music videos for Woof Woof, Jake Lazovick aka Sitcom and, of course, your bandmates.
ARTHUR: I think making music in Philly is great. I love Philadelphia because it’s not too flashy. A lot of people think it’s the best place for music, but I kind of keep to myself. It’s just nice to have a lot of friends there. If I need a video, I can call Duck, which is what I call Rich. It’s nice as I’m getting older. When I was younger, I was a little too available. I feel like I played a show with every band [in Philly]. I don’t know if anyone really liked us, but now it’s just the same as making music anywhere else. You just gotta make your own space. You gotta put the pictures on your wall that you like, you gotta play the guitar that you like.
BH: What’s next for Arthur? Is there anything you’d like to share about your next body of work?
ARTHUR: I want it to be real different. I love making pop music, and it’s still definitely going to be pop music, but recently I’ve had an obsession with songs that are droning and long. I don’t think I could do that to its full capacity and make it sound right, like I couldn’t make this long, droning, industrial rock song that doesn’t sound like pop music, but I want to go into the next album pretending like I could.
BH: Are there any artists making that kind of music that you’re particularly into right now?
ARTHUR: I like this Japanese band, Les Rallizes Denudes. I like them a lot recently. I wouldn’t say I’m a huge, huge fan. They’re kind of my favorite band right now, but I don’t really listen to that much music. But I like that, and mostly a lot of old music. I like Can, I’ve always liked Can.
BH: Well, I appreciate it. That’s about it for me. Thanks!
Woof Woof is out now on PLZ Make It Ruins. Joy Again’s new EP, Piano, is out on Honeymoon.
Photo’s by the author.