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As life continues to move online, rock music becomes more and more outmoded. Back in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, when all the teens had for entertainment was a three-channel TV and some well-thumbed Hardy Boys adventures, meeting up in a warehouse or barn to listen to local bands strum electric guitars was the height of entertainment.
Not anymore. Algorithms designed to serve up whatever content you need to maximize your dopamine rush at any given moment are updated and improved every day. You don’t have to buy a record or a concert ticket to watch TikTok or to stream the new Disney+ show. Hell, you don’t even have to get out of bed. Billie Eilish and Tyler the Creator live on your phone. Rock music, an unwieldy analog genre from a bygone era, is technically obsolete. Yet some of us can’t quite let go of our romantic fixation on beer-soaked floors and grumbling guitars. And, at least until we finally croak, there will always be bands willing to cater to our nostalgia.
Hopefully there will also be bands like the Ar-Kaics, who manage to do something new with an old sound, and who actually make psychedelic riffs oozing from crusty guitars as (or more) engaging than a four-minute compilation of amateur dermatologists popping enormous zits.
The Ar-Kaics twist through the decades without resorting to cheap nostalgia, touching on the jammy punk of late Clash, flirting with a bit of the Rolling Stones’ sass, and culminating in the pelvis-shattering sounds of Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis. All the surf rock revival bands that end up sounding like Tarantino temp-tracks wish they could write a song like the Ar-Kaics’ “Sick N’ Tired.” (You can find “Sick N’ Tired” on In This Time, an album they worked on with Wayne Gordon, who has a history working with the likes of Black Lips and King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard.)
They’re also great live. They recorded their Live in the Shit album at Hardywood Park Craft Brewery in their hometown of Richmond, Virginia. Well, home base at least. The band is somewhat spread across the Old Dominion these days, with only bassist Tim Abbondello still in the Richmond area. Jake Cregger (drummer) and Johnny Ward (guitar and vocals) live in Northern Virginia, and singer-guitarist Kevin Longendyke is in West Virginia, though he spends a lot of time in Leesburg, where he owns DIG! Records.
According to their label’s website, the Ar-Kaics move a lot of vinyl. Whatever your theories on vinyl’s impact on sound quality (skeptics welcome), this is definitely a band whose vibe benefits from a dash of pop-and-crackle.
Washington City Paper recently caught up with the Ar-Kaics, who are headlining a show at the Runaway on July 29, for a chat that ranged from the band’s semi-mysterious origins to their upcoming album, coming to a turntable near you in 2023. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Washington City Paper: The Ar-Kaics started up around 2012 in Richmond. Tell us about your origins. When did you realize you wanted to become a band?
The Ar-Kaics: We all started playing in various bands toward the end of the last century. Jake and Tim were in a high school band together somewhere in the vicinity of 1996 or ’97, but Kevin and Johnny have been at it since ’93. That’s about as much as we care to share from our humble beginnings. You’d need a pair of Nardwuar’s glasses to uncover more from that era.
WCP: The rock scene in 2012–2013 was super different from today’s rock scene. What is the most dramatic way that being a band has changed in the past 10 years?
KX: After the first decade playing in scrappy punk bands, each new decade is better than the last.
WCP: You mentioned in an interview with Richmond’s Style Weekly that the scene for Ar-Kaics-type music is big in Europe and in pockets of the U.S., like Austin, San Francisco, and L.A., but here in D.C. and Richmond the scene is a little anemic. Are there any exceptions to that rule? Or recommendations for great spots to see live rock music in D.C., NoVa, or Richmond?
KX: D.C. and Richmond both have exciting, vibrant underground music scenes thriving without the Ar-Kaics or Ar-Kaics-type music present. Of course we love getting out there and playing, but the world still turns.
WCP: In that same Style Weekly interview, Kevin credited his obsession with the psych and garage rock compilations Back from the Grave as his main inspiration for the band when it started. Can you tell us a little about these comps?
KX: Back from the Grave is a series of compilation albums of 1960s garage rock created and compiled by Tim Warren and released by Crypt Records. On a good day you can probably find them at Kevin’s shop [in Leesburg] … The idea is that they represent some of the first and best punk records, before there were punk records.
WCP: A number of online profiles describe the Ar-Kaics as “troglodyte” punk. That’s such an arcane, specific descriptor that I figure you guys must have come up with it yourselves. What makes you troglodytes?
KX: We were listening to a lot of The Troggs, which is the perfect name for a band that plays such perfect, primitive, pulsating rock music.
WCP: Live in the Shit was your first live album, correct? What about doing a live record appealed to you? (Live in the Shit was recorded in February 2020, just before pandemic lockdowns went into effect, but wasn’t released until June 2021.)
KX: Releasing Live in the Shit or doing a live record, for that matter, was an afterthought brought on by that stretch of time (not so long ago) when we couldn’t play out, or record new music, or even see much of each other. Live in the Shit was our way of remembering what it was like, and somehow keeping that likeness in a jar.
WCP: Live in the Shit introduced the world to “Outsider”—the Ar-Kaics first full-blown protest song, right? What inspired you to write it?
KX: Yeah, it’s about the war. Fully blown. Hate is a one-way street, any child comes down the wrong way.
WCP: When you say it’s about the war, which war are you referring to?
WCP: Your music is sought after by record collectors. Why do you think vinyl folks are more keen to listen to the Ar-Kaics on a record than on, say, Spotify or YouTube?
KX: Records have many virtues. There’s the tactile component and artful presentation, along with superior audio quality, but at the end of the day it’s really just a cool thing to have and hold and then eventually leave behind when it’s your turn to feed the worms.
WCP: Does the fact that many people listen on vinyl change the way you record and release music?
KX: Definitely! You gotta remember to flip them, so we’re always factoring that in for sequencing our albums. Especially now, for the new one, the songs are a little longer, so there’s some balancing you’ve got to take into account for overall flow and the material time constraints of the medium.
WCP: What’s next for the Ar-Kaics?
KX: We finished tracking our new album last weekend, after three years worth of delays and unforeseen failures. Look for it in 2023.
The Ar-Kaics are back in D.C. on July 29 to headline a show with Tuxedo Cats and the Barbed Wires with DJ Mars and Mad Squirrel, 9 p.m. at the Runaway, 3523 12th St. NE. $12.