Getting To Know Arliston

Launching into a new era, South London duo Arliston shares the first track, ‘Monks Of Lindisfarne,’ from their upcoming album, ‘Disappointment Machine.’ Introducing Jack Ratcliffe (vocalist, instrumentalist) and George Hasbury (producer/instrumentalist), they dive into the intricacies of Jack’s ‘savage romantic encounter’ that entirely inspired the new record.

In the true British spirit, the conversation quickly addresses the temperamental on-and-off London climate. Jack calls everyone out: “I think we shift from complaining about the cold to complaining about the heat. You don’t really change in essence, but the thing that we’re complaining about changes.” George, based in Sussex, adds, “Unlike you, I like to go and find a river to swim in, but you’re not a cold water fan,” Jack replies, “Also not like a poo fan.”

Right off the bat, Jack and Goerge have a fun, banter-heavy chemistry. Before they found their way to each other, they both explained their passion for music. Jack starts us off: “I started playing the guitar around early teens. Suppose I’m being honest, as a way to get girls. And it just doesn’t work. I was that guy that everyone groans and eye rolls when there’s a house party and like, ‘Here comes Yolto with his guitar.’ I was in bands at university, and all were massively unsuccessful but fun. Then, I moved down to London and played with some people, eventually leading me to George.”

“And it was love,” George lovingly glances at Jack and adds: “I really weirdly knew that I wanted to play guitar since I was three. I asked my parents for a guitar. They didn’t give me a real one until I was 6. So then I took it on from when I was 6. But I’ve cursed them ever since for stealing those 3 years of development. I could have been so much more virtuosic if I had those extra 3 years under my belt,” he laughs. “I headed in that direction from a fairly young age. Then I moved to London for Goldsmiths and studied music there to do pop music.”

Jack studied Philosophy in Edinburgh and moved to London, “I don’t remember really having any set reasons other than everyone else seems to be doing it,” he says. It sounds like London was calling, and Jack has answered, to which he responds, “It was a chemical thing.”

While Geoge was teaching at a music school, through a mutual musician friend, he was asked to help out on Jack’s project by taking the production live. George elaborates: “I was brought in as someone to make it happen live, and then obviously you jam in the room where you’re playing live, and then it organically morphs into like, Oh, ‘that should be a song.’ We should carry on doing that. Then you embed yourself into a new project, and it was born out of that one. And then we never looked back.”

Spilling the tea on how the band name of Arliston, Jack prefaces, “It’s so culturous. It feels like a really fun little game. Oh, let’s make a band name. Two abstract words. But everything is taken.” George shares an example: “You could literally name two words, cabbage surprise, and there are four bands in Los Angeles.”

After about a year of stage name trial and error, things started to seem less hopeless; Jack says: “I was walking around Arlington Reservoir, which is a beautiful place near to where I grew up.  And I just thought, oh, Arlington, okay, that’s a nice word.” As it turned out, Alingsotn is a massive band in Texas. Not wanting to give up and changing a few letters around, Arliston was born.

Aliston incarnated the occasional sax player and more permanent drummer Sam and cellist Matt, and the band mostly consisted of Jack and George. As Jack portrays, their roles are set in place: “I think our responsibilities in the band are broadly down the middle. I’m lyrics. And if we’re lucky, a couple of very basic guitar ideas. Then, George, he’s more the music, the keys, and the production side.  But we will stick our oar into each other’s waters and piss the other one off with it.”

George responds: “My thing is I’ll stick my oar in and say, I’m not quite sure I understand that metaphor.  And then you’ll explain to me that it’s three layers deep.” Jack laughs, admittingly: “And then no one will really ever understand it, but that’s fine. I overcomplicate everything. We want people to have to work hard and study.”

Giving their two cents on the ultimate question, what comes first, music or lyrics, Jack quickly replies: “I used to think, in a very militant way, that the music should always come first. So that we’d do that, and then the music would sort of somehow inform, in a mystic way, the content of the song, what it was about.”

For the new album, ‘Disappointment Machine,’ the tables have turned by life getting in the way and broken heart inspiring like nothing else: “This whole album has been written in a totally different way where I had a bit of a savage romantic encounter. I just couldn’t stop myself from writing down on the notes app on my phone. If you’re almost reading out prose to music in the studio, suddenly, these unconscious melodies develop, and everything slots in a lot quicker than trying to do it the other way around,” Jack shares.

“We used to spend a month on a song, but for this album, we were writing like two a day. So we had like 30, 40, 50 songs to cut down to tend for the album,” George reveals. “But because there was such a glut of wonderful, juicy heartache. There was enough material there that we ended up writing in the same room, just bouncing off idea to idea really quick and just getting through them while the inspiration was there.”

Jack looks for comfort in the inspiring agony: “How satisfying that you can transmute heartbreak into an album. I think there’s something so beautiful about sharing your experience with others. While it’s no comparison, I’ve just finished reading a book called Man’s Search for Meaning. It’s about this psychologist who survived the concentration camps in World War II. His philosophy is so pure – finding the opportunity in suffering.

Unpacking the details of a situation that wrote the entirety of the new Arliston album, Jack gets vulnerable: “It was an encounter where I realized that she was interested in me last year, and I didn’t reciprocate, but then I was interested in her, and then she had a fledgling relationship going. We had one awkward night together, but then it didn’t work out, and for some reason, I don’t know why, I just became obsessed with her, in a way that I wasn’t familiar with. It was tricky to deal with that. And so I had these several drafts of long, rambling messages that I was going send her. And I cut it down and down and down from like an eight-page manifesto to a reasonable-sized text message.”

George interrupts: “It’s the unrequited love thing that cuts through it all, and just your mind runs wild.” Jack nods, “I think because I never got to know her properly, she always maintained a state of perfection. She was completely uninterfered by reality. She was never really human for me. So that intensified it because she could occupy this angelic, perfect space.”

The first public interpretation of Jack’s heartbreak ordeal is the first single, ‘Monks of Lindisfarne,’ he details: “I think that one was written fairly early on in the process of writing, and oddly, when we wrote those 37 songs, it really did form a kind of narrative arc of emotions the five stages of grief, from acceptance, and rationalizations. This was one of the early ones. I even talk about the rambling drafts of messages in the first verse of Monk of Lindisfarne.”

A quote from the British series, the Peep Show inspires the creative concept of ‘Monks of Lindisfarne’: “I think one of the two main characters, one of them falls in love with the other one’s girlfriend, and he says, I’m going to tell her that I love her, that’s the honourable thing to do, and the other one replies, an honourable man would have become a monk in Lindisfarne, or chopped his nuts off,” Jack explains.

George paints a picture of Jack’s state when writing for this album: “Because it was written as it was happening in tandem with reality and as his brain chemistry was coming back to normal, there is a trajectory throughout the album that comes to a resolution at the end. So we get the five stages of grief and hopefully a vaguely optimistic feel at the end.”

As the conversation progresses into the visual conceptualisation brainstormed for ‘Disappointment Machine,’ Jack and George turn the camera and present a spectacular draft of a stop frame clay animation they’re working on: “I’ll show you something. This might be strange. We’re not weird. We’re going to do a stop-frame clay animation for one of the songs. We’ve got this little toy greenhouse. It has actually been really fun to literally play and arrange everything.  Look at all these ridiculous bits of tack that come with it,” they both excitingly point to little clay creations.

George lists what needs to be done: “We’ve still got to make all the little characters that are going to be. So we’re gonna make a tiny little clay Jack, and he’s going to act out the song because he couldn’t bear to be in front of the camera actually baring his soul. So we’re gonna have to make him out of clay and do Wallace and Gromit style (stop motion technique). This will be for the third single.”

Jack reveals: “It’s good to finally not be so close to something and see your work through a lens you’re not intimately familiar with. It’s lovely to see a finished product you’ve never seen before and watch it through from beginning to end like an audience member.”

Discussing the sad sentiments of Arliston’s discography, the discussion moves to what soundtrack they would be a good fit for. George starts pondering: “Our music is so sad, in general, not all the time. The movie would be absolutely tragic. We’ve gotten into string arrangements and stuff for this album, which has been super rewarding hearing that come together.”

A dream opportunity of a new James Bon movie comes up, and Jack and George both light up, loving the idea. Jack says: “I like James Bond. We’ll definitely take that. In fact, there’s a song in the album with the lyric, ‘I wasn’t James Bond, I wasn’t James Dean. Yeah, I was Mr. Fucking Bean’. The reality is we’ll probably get synced up to a remake of a Twilight film”, everyone bursts out laughing, all claiming Team Edwrd all the way.

After getting to know Jack and George, the creative brains behind Arliston, the only question remains: Who is the disappointment machine? Jack looks down and admits: “That’s referring to me. It felt very bodily rather than mental. This machine provided all these chemicals and hormones I didn’t want. You have to very, very carefully deal with the radioactive material and bury it underground until it loses its potency,” George looks at Jack and states again: “In short, he is the disappointment machine,” out early next year.

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Words: Karolina Kramplova