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Ian St. Arnaud isn’t particularly interested in playing industry games.
“I’m not really concerned with chasing what the current sound is,” admits the 29-year-old singer-songwriter, who records and performs under his last name. “Maybe when I was in my first band we were looking for an easy entry point, something like The Lumineers or whatever was in vogue at the time, but when it comes down to it you just gotta do your thing.”
With the Edmonton-based St. Arnaud’s sophomore album Love and the Front Lawn, he’s doing exactly that, wrapping clever hooks in swaths of gently lilting melodies, acoustic guitars, trumpet and keyboards melting into a dream-like whole. It’s classic pop, drawing from a myriad of clear influences without sounding like obvious homage, going on its merry way regardless of trends. St. Arnaud notes that if there’s one artist who has influenced him in this regard it’s beloved iconoclast Jonathan Richman.
“Do you remember him from There’s Something About Mary with Ben Stiller? I never knew who he was until a year or two ago,” he confesses. “I was like, oh, that’s the guy. He’s had a 50-year-long career just making the music he wants to make. I think the trick is that he’s a really likable guy, he made the music he wanted to make and the audience found him and went, ‘Hey, I like this guy.’ I think that’s the goal.”
The musical goal endures, though St. Arnaud acknowledges his career choice demands more than just concentrating on that one aspect. Before the pandemic, he bounced around the country in between touring and recording, but during the last few uncertain years, he’s moved back home to Edmonton and learned how to make animated videos. He attributes the new skill set to a push from his animator brother, a YouTube creator living in Toronto with the nom de plume GingerPale.
“I was trying to convince him to make a music video for me for my single Catching Flies, and he said I should try it out myself,” he says. “So I went ahead and did it, drawing up a lonely bachelor frog, and while it’s a little choppy I think I’m pretty happy with it.”
While St. Arnaud is planning out his next steps he’s taken on another title, that of accountant. In an age where musicians can no longer assume they’ll be able to pay the bills through record sales or touring, it’s a smart move, one that allows him an economic cushion while still concentrating on his art. But don’t worry, reader. St. Arnaud might be choosing a careful route in a chaotic world, but he’ll always be taking care of the business that concerns him most: music.
“I think we’re in a fun spot,” he says. “It’s a gamble to be out there, but we’re also not really part of the pop mainstream, or what the pop mainstream has become. What’s nice about being relegated to indie rock is that there’s fewer barriers. There’s maybe a mean tastemaker on a review site somewhere, but there’s also a network and a community. We’re just kind of loose in the system, and there’s so many nice things that go along with that, including finding an audience that likes us for who we are.”
St. Arnaud with The Art Grey Duo
When: Sunday, May 15 at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Plaza Bowl, 10418 118 Ave.
Tickets: $15 to $18 from Eventbrite