Small Sins Tickets
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Thomas D'Arcy marches to the beat of his own drum machine. That's what D'Arcy -- the solo mastermind behind Small Sins (formerly known as The Ladies And Gentlemen) discovered after spending the better chunk of a decade in bands percolating around the indie-rock scene of his Toronto hometown. By Christmas 2004, D'Arcy found his band broken up and himself in the midst of a "mid-twenties crisis." "I was really questioning what I was doing with my life," D'Arcy says. "Why am I in this band I don't love? Why am I not making music that I do love? I was thinking back to how things used to be, when it was pure spirit and fun. Music had become work, yet I still felt like I should be getting to work on something." And get to work he did. D'Arcy retreated alone to the basement of his childhood home: armed with little more than a Roland 707 drum machine, a clutch of vintage Moog keyboards, and a sixteen-track recorder, he was determined to create sounds that reflected the passion that led him to music in the first place. After nearly a year of woodshedding, D'Arcy fulfilled his goal, emerging with Small Sins. A masterpiece of heartfelt electro chamber-pop, Small Sins bubbles with gorgeously layered harmonies, synth gurgles, and hook-filled tales of love lost and found as honest and bracing as the Canadian winter. Despite its intensely personal nature, Small Sins became D'Arcy's most well-received musical venture yet. Boompa Records, a Vancouver-based independent label, initially released Small Sins to critical acclaim across Canada in September 2005. The buzz became even more prevalent after Boompa Records' label showcase at Austin's SxSW music festival, where Small Sins (a.k.a. The Ladies and Gentlemen) were one of their showcasing artists. Astralwerks then signed D'Arcy under the Small Sins moniker in 2005 for the rest of the world. And with success came the comparisons. Critics found parallels in Small Sins sound to the melancholy atmospherics of the Magnetic Fields, the widescreen man-machine pop of Grandaddy, and the superstar electronica-indie hybridists the Postal Service. While complimentary, D'Arcy finds such assessments largely coincidental. "Those are the obvious comparisons that are very easy to draw, as those bands use keyboards and drum machines, too," D'Arcy explains. "Grandaddy have a cool balance of electro and organic sounds, but I don't really think my music sounds like them; I didn't even hear the Postal Service album until I was almost done with the record. Actually, the last couple years I've had dissatisfaction with modern music in general. I haven't appreciated too many new bands these days. There are some standouts -- Yankee Hotel Foxtrot by Wilco and the first three records by Spoon are amazing--but other than that, I've stopped paying attention to what other people are doing." Instead, D'Arcy's been listening to old punk rock like the Ramones and Buzzcocks and even older iconoclasts Neil Young. "Neil Young is totally punk rock," D'Arcy says. "There's something going on there that you can't describe. Maybe every vocal part isn't nailed, maybe the production is shitty; still, there's something in it that's so special and organic you can't put your finger on, that can't be reproduced. That's been an influence on this record: if something isn't recorded or played perfectly, if it works for the song, I kept it in." This handcrafted approach keeps Small Sins' electronic-based music from the robotic. "I tried hard to make everything sound human," D'Arcy says. "You might not be able to tell if something is a loop, but knowing that I played it all the way through by hand, maybe there's some sort of feel in there coming through." A human touch as well comes out in the literary, minimalist songwriting captured on Small Sins, which documents the ins, outs, ups, downs and betrayals of D'Arcy's mid-twenties crisis: via his near-whispered vocals and delicate yet complex instrumentation, D'Arcy spins evocative, simple tales of little junkie girls and the boy-men that love them, the challenging confessional subject matter belied by insistent pop hooks. "Stay," the album's first single, couples its drum-machine pulse and disembodied synth lines with a dark but maddeningly infectious chorus: "You can stay if you want to/But you can't sleep in my bed." D'Arcy doesn't rely entirely on electronic sonics for emotional color, however: he strips away much of the circuitry on the largely acoustic, fragile "At Least You Feel Something" before it simmers anew into a haunting, affecting space-rock ballad. The journey to Small Sins began when D'Arcy was born in the UK's Isle of Guernsey in 1979, an island in the English Channel with a rich history. His family immigrated two years later to Toronto, Canada, where D'Arcy's music career began in earnest as he reached high-school age during the grunge era. "I'm young enough so that I liked the Breeders before I knew who the Pixies were," D'Arcy laughs. "And when all your friends and your older brother were starting bands, you started a band, too." D'Arcy named and conceived of his first band, Pseudonym, in 1994 -- even before he'd bought a bass guitar to play. Pseudonym evolved into D'Arcy's next band, the Carnations, in 1996. But by 2004 D'Arcy was burnt out by the band dynamic, and found himself preferring his homemade demos to the studio recordings made by the band. "I found that a lot of the music I was making at home was changing in a way I didn't like once it got converted by the band," D'Arcy explains. "I wanted to make music that was true to what I was inspired to do on my own. I made a rule that when I wrote songs, I recorded every part myself. As well, I pledged to write no more meaningless pop songs--the words had to mean something to me." In that personal, intimate way, Small Sins were born. Since finishing the album, however, D'Arcy has put together a live unit featuring keyboardist Todor Kobakov, drummer Brent Follett, and keyboardist/handclapper Kevin Hilliard ("How can you not have fun listening to handclaps?" D'Arcy notes). Guitarist Steve Kreklo, meanwhile, is D'Arcy's former bandmate in the Carnations, which brings it all back home. "Steve taught me to play bass," D'Arcy explains, "and we wrote our first songs together." Kreklo is in fact one of the few outside musicians on Small Sins, contributing the guitar solo on "At Least You Feel Something" (as well, engineer Simon Head is responsible for the backwards guitar figures on "Threw It All Away," while the lap-steel drones on "She's The Source" are courtesy Jamie Robertson). Small Sins live show has evolved into a different beast from D'Arcy's more nuanced solo recordings: onstage, the band wears all white costumes and memorably amps up the material with more volume and thrust, edging Small Sins back to D'Arcy's more band-oriented roots. This contrast between band and project makes it hard to place Small Sins in Canada's thriving, diverse indie universe of bands and artists like The Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Peaches, Feist, and Metric. D'Arcy sees Small Sins as operating somewhere between the lines of the current mega-hype. "Those bands have actually been around for a while--I think I saw the Arcade Fire three years ago at a club that holds like just under 100 people," D'Arcy says. "Those bands are doing really well right now, they're making a lot of great music, but I don't feel any connection to them. I don't think I'm part of their community; I probably won't have a guest spot on the next Broken Social Scene record like everybody else. But the community is small enough is that I know most of the guys. Canada really is like a small town: there has to be some sort of connection as to why all these bands emerged from the same scene. We are all from the same 'hood, so there has to be something in the air here." Read more on Last.fm. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply.