Arc Iris frontwoman Jocie Adams hasn’t had a necessarily linear trajectory. In college, she studied physics as well as music, leading her to involvement with NASA. Despite working with some prestigious institutions, she gave up the space-science game and, instead, spent some time with indie folk band, The Low Anthem. In this group, Adams provided vocals, clarinet, organ and dulcimer for a considerable number of years, but officially departed in 2013 to pursue her own creative visions after being inspired to release a solo album in 2011, Bed of Notions.
But the collaborative spirit of a band is what Adams thrives on, and so she gathered an eclectic team of talented musicians to create her new experimental project Arc Iris that mixes jazz, folk, indie rock, cabaret, big band and other influences. Joining her in writing, recording and touring are Zach Tenorio Miller (piano), Robyn Ryczik (cello), Ray Belli (drums), Max Johnson (bass), Mike Irwin (trumpet), Nora Fox (flute) and, according to their Facebook page, “many more.”
Arc Iris released their eponymous debut album April 1, 2014 and are currently touring. Boxx contributor Lauren DeGroot caught up with Adams after their show in Vermont earlier this month and got straight down to business.
Lauren DeGroot: You embrace a ton of different musical styles on this album—Americana, cabaret, jazz—was this music that you listened to growing up?
Jocie Adams: I don’t know, I think I listened to different kinds of music. I don’t know what you would call our music, but I don’t think I listened to music like our music.
LD: Did you grow up in a very creative home?
JA: I mean, both my parents had pretty normal jobs. My mom and I would do projects and stuff like that, but it was pretty normal.
LD: Were there any musical influences early on in your life?
JA: Yeah, my mom played piano.
LD: Do you remember the first album you bought for yourself?
JA: No…probably something awful. I don’t know what it was though.
LD: What about the first concert you attended?
JA: Um, that would also be a no. I’m so sorry! I should make up answers for these.
LD: You studied both physics and music in college—can you remember the moment you decided to pick music?
JA: I think it was towards the end of school. I had a couple internships, one at Berkley and then I worked at Goddard for a while, and it just became clear to me that that wasn’t really the lifestyle I wanted. And I decided to focus on music instead.
LD: Was your family supportive of that?
JA: Yeah, definitely. They kind of let me do whatever I want, which is great.
LD: Can you give us some insight into your songwriting process? Is there a typical way that you begin or anything?
JA: No, every song is a little different and just kind of happens!
LD: Parts of this album seem quite cinematic—for example, “Honor of the Rainbows I” feels like part of a movie score to me. Is that territory you’d ever considered as a composer?
JA: Yeah, I would love to do that. That’s something I hope one day somebody approaches us and asks us to do. But you gotta find a good match. We would all love to do that.
LD: Do you have a personal favorite track off the album?
JA: I think it changes all the time. Right now I’ve been really excited about “Lost on Me” and “Honor Of The Rainbows I.”
LD: Your tour has just started. Do you prefer being in the studio to touring or vice versa?
JA: I think when you’re at home and you have time to write and be in the studio, you can’t wait to get out on the road, and when you’re out on the road you’re anxious to get home and write. I like them both.
LD: Can you talk about what inspired you to move on from The Low Anthem?
JA: I wanted to do my own thing. I had been doing some solo stuff for a couple years on the side and just wanted to get a little more creative and have a little more space for my own creative output. And unfortunately to do that I had to step away and go off on my own.
LD: I’ve noticed a lot of people refer to Arc Iris as your solo effort, but you said that you switched from going as Jocie Adams to Arc Iris for the purpose of being treated as a band. Do you prefer that dynamic?
JA: Definitely. I think it’s really important. I think it’s a really beautiful process, collaborating with people.
LD: How did the recording of the album Arc Iris compare to recording Bed of Notions?
JA: When I recorded Bed of Notions it was in my friend’s basement with, like, shitty microphones and a crappy tape machine. And when we recorded Arc Iris it was in a studio run by Dan Cardinal, who’s an incredible engineer, and me and Robin and the whole band were pretty much there to record it. We got to do everything live and so it was a major upgrade.
LD: You often cite Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and Grizzly Bear as influences. If you could have dinner with just one, who would you pick?
JA: Joni Mitchell. I saw her perform in Toronto last year. But Leonard Cohen would be amazing also. I think it’s just because Joni Mitchell’s a woman, but both of them have this like meditative, spiritual, but really intelligent and grounded attitude, which I think is kind of amazing considering they’ve been on the road all this time. Most people—our brains explode with being told we’re this or that, or get treated a certain way, but they both managed to avoid that, which is pretty special.
LD: What do you see for Arc Iris in the future?
JA: We’ve been writing a ballet, which has been even more of a collaborative process and is really exciting. We’ll hopefully get more music recorded sooner rather than later so we can keep putting it out there.
LD: Do you have any advice for our female readers who are thinking of careers in music?
JA: Make sure you work with other women! I think it’s really important. A lot of girls end up surrounding themselves exclusively with men and it will drive you crazy!