My dad and I would spend a lot of time recording music when I was little. We jammed all the time. A lot of music that is dear to my heart these days comes from my mom, though – she was the one to play music in the house and sing along. My mom loves rock and pop music, with some funk thrown in there – songs by Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, James Brown, Yes, The Beatles, Beach Boys, Sly and the Family Stone, Mamas and the Papas and Aerosmith, among others, have very special meaning to me. My dad loves many styles of jazz, as well as folk and funk music. Miles Davis was goin’ on in the house a lot, for example. At an early age he also introduced me to music I would return to later, like MMW.
How did you start working with Billy Martin?
Billy is a close friend of producer Scott Harding, NY-based music producer who has always been like an uncle to me. My father and Scott hooked me up with Billy, and from then on, I was hooked. Billy’s method was absolutely perfect for me.
How did you end up in Antibalas?
I saw them play at a benefit one night when I was in high school, and I was blown away. Hooked! I had never heard of afrobeat. But it wasn’t until I got to college at NYU and saw the Fela musical – then I was completely mesmerized. I was in love with the music and I idolized the whole community surrounding Antibalas. At the time I maintained a YouTube channel with drumming videos, so I uploaded a video or two of myself playing along to Antibalas tunes. I messaged Stuart Bogie on Facebook, with a link to my video (which featured one of his songs, Beaten Metal). Stuart replied, and from that point on, we would meet weekly to talk about music. I also messaged keyboardist Victor Axelrod with a link to my video, and he gave me in-depth critique of what I was doing – he was basically giving me afrobeat-drumming lessons via Myspace. Between those two, I had enough material to practice and learn for years. Eventually, Antibalas needed a drummer. I knew all of their songs and I wore my dedication on my sleeve… so they called me!
How is working with Antibalas compared to Superhuman Happiness and EMEFE?
All of the groups I work with teach me something new every time we play. Working with EMEFE is very different than working with Superhuman Happiness or Antibalas. EMEFE is made up of my best friends and brothers. We are all at a similar stage of our lives – learning and evolving every single day. We experiment and search for things until they feel right. The guys in Antibalas have been playing afrobeat music for a very long time. They are so incredibly dedicated to the music, and their understanding of the music runs so deep. Working with them is a dream come true. Superhuman Happiness includes a few members of Antibalas, so it isn’t too far removed in that sense. Superhuman Happiness, though, is one of the most original groups I’ve ever been a part of. When I try to describe our music, I can’t put it into words – it’s just a feeling.
How did you get started with Superhuman Happiness?
Soon after I met Stuart Bogie, we began playing duo together in my basement pretty frequently. Before I knew it, he had booked a gig at Zebulon for us to play duo. When I showed up and set up at the gig, a few members of Superhuman Happiness were there, axes in hand. That was my first gig with Superhuman Happiness – from then on, the rest was history!
Why did you decide to start EMEFE?
I had just began studying at NYU and, thanks to my recent discovery of Fela Kuti and Antibalas, I was suddenly writing and demoing all this new music. I decided that I needed to play this music with other people! I assembled a group that included a few musicians I had just met at NYU and a few musicians that I knew growing up in NYC. Hearing them play my songs was such an amazing feeling – they took my music to a whole new level. After our first rehearsal, I booked a gig for two weeks afterwards. That gave us two weeks to learn all the tunes – and the rest was history.
What is your favorite venue to play?
Some NYC venues that stand out are Le Poisson Rouge and Southpaw (which is sadly about to close). Basically, any place that has a soundguy that has a stage monitors, a dance floor, and a soundman who is mentally prepared for an 11-piece band is fine by me.
When writing with each of these bands, describe the process, is it collaborative or do individual members write their own material? How does it vary between the variety of bands you play in?
With all of the groups I am involved with, most of the time an individual member will bring in an idea, finished or unfinished. In each group, there is usually a principal songwriter who guides the music a certain way. In EMEFE, I write a lot of the music, but the music gets fine-tuned by the whole band when we’re in the room together. In Superhuman Happiness, on the other hand, the music we write is guided by Stuart’s vision, since he wrote a lot of the group’s bed material.
In 5 years where do you see the music industry? 10 years?
Everybody has their own theory these days. I don’t really think anybody knows what the heck is going to happen. People love to theorize. I don’t plan on worrying about it. Human beings will NEVER get tired of hearing a band play a song live in front of them. That will never die away, no matter what happens. The internet is making music more and more available and accessible, which is where the biggest question marks lie for the future… but the live show will never die away.
Where do you see each of the projects you are currently involved in within the next 10 years?
New records are upon us! All of the groups I have been involved with in the past few years are getting ready to release statements to the world, in album form. EMEFE is about to go into the studio to record our first major release. Preparing the music has been a family affair all the way, and we cannot wait to spread that love to everybody in the world. Superhuman Happiness is on the verge of finishing a major release, as well, which features all the songs we’ve written as a group and played live for the past couple years. The music is literally like nothing you’ve ever heard before. Antibalas is getting ready to drop its new record later this year on Daptone Records, which we recorded a few months ago. Produced by the legendary Gabe Roth, this album is going to be an afrobeat classic – and I am grateful to be drumming on it. On top of that, there are some new projects brewing that I cannot even talk about yet – but I can promise that it will be funky. The next year or so is going to be an amazing rollercoaster ride – Six Flags style, though – this ain’t no Sesame Place!
You can check out Arntzen’s band, EMEFE, at the 92YTribeca on Friday, February 17 with Mokaad and Ms. Lady in support. You can also check out each of his projects at: