Interview with Ian Arden
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
I was a shy kid. My mom is Moroccan and so she would take me to these big family gatherings filled with loud cousins, aunts and uncles.
I couldn't handle it. I wasn't really a big talker. And so my mom decided to get me a plastic toy harmonica. I was to go out and play with the other kids, and if I decided I had had enough, I would blow on the harmonica and she would come and get me.
I always had a hard time talking about my feelings, and so I grew up playing blues harmonica along to records after a long day.
Little Walter remains the undisputed king of the blues harp, though I find Paul Butterfield came quite close. I will never stop learning from them.
If I wasn't playing music I would probably be a history professor. I remember falling in love with the CBC series "Canada: A People's History." I love the ambitiousness of the explorers who came to settle this country. Of course none of their explorations would have been possible without the indigenous peoples of this great land.
We are all standing on their shoulders and upon their achievements.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
Like so many of her generation, my mom was deeply moved by the plight of Southeast Asian victims of war and genocide.
France sent many Moroccans to meet their doom in Vietnam. But many Moroccans came home with a broadened cultural horizon.
My mom learned from these people, and passed their teachings onto me. Buddhism in the Zen tradition, Theravada tradition and Tibetan tradition were all used to help me with my night terrors and mental health issues.
I always wear a Buddhist "mala" bracelet on my wrist. I don't have a harmonica with me, but I still feel like my mother is with me everywhere I go. If something is ever too much to bear, her presence makes everything feel a little lighter.
I've slowly become the "rock" in my group of friends, which is something of a surprise to even myself.
I wake up every morning at around 5 am. I meditate, exercise and make myself a soup or another dish my mother taught me to make.
I have friends all over the world, and I act as their unpaid therapist. It's quite an honour.
My father was a diplomat, and I feel his influence in me as I mediate conflicts with people from all over the globe.
It feels so good to be connected with people, and my album "Songs for Rebecca" is a perfect encapsulation of who I am when I'm not making music.
My friends can always count on me, and I know I can always count on them. This album is a reflection of the bond between me and my friends.
It's so touching when people reach out on Instagram and tell me how when they listen to "Songs for Rebecca," they feel less alone.
I have a fan in Prince Edward Island. She's 12, and she feels shy going to school, especially after being away for so long during lockdown.
But she tells me that when she wears the Songs for Rebecca Longsleeve to school, she feels a little bit less afraid about being judged by her peers.
That means more to me than she could ever possibly know.
How long have you been making music?
Since I can remember. When I would stammer as a toddler, I would feel really embarrassed and only communicate through my harmonica.
My father never wanted me to cry, and so I learned to bury my emotions. To this day, my speaking voice can still sound kind of emotionless. Many who are close to me are stunned at how emotive the singing is.
That goes back to my childhood, when I would hold back tears as my father forced me to recite lyrics to English songs in their entirety. I had a heavy french accent. Combine that with a stammer, and my future wasn't exactly bright.
All the pain I felt from being a defective human, from being a shame and a burden to my family, I could channel into my recitation of these lyrics.
When I listen to "Songs for Rebecca," I can still hear that little boy who just wanted to make his papa proud. It's a pretty powerful experience to say the least.
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
I'm a Toronto boy. It influenced me so much. I remember when I was a kid I used to hang around the Much Music building. I didn't care how cold it was or whether or not it was raining.
It was like another planet. Much Music was always on.
I remember watching the music videos for "Man I Used to Be" and "Crabbuckit" by K-OS and just feeling like I was lighter than air.
Toronto is a great place for live music. I remember seeing John Mayer in 2013. I saved up all my money to get the best seat I possibly could.
John smiled with delight at me when he saw me pumping my fist and singing along to every word of his song "Born and Raised."
For me the songs that most epitomize my childhood in Toronto are "Pieces" by Sum 41 and "Breath" by Swollen Members feat. Nelly Furtado.
The first song I ever wrote was written to the melody of the chorus of "Breath." The line in that song that still blows me away is "It's wonderful, the underworld. Beautiful minds, trying to keep it independent in recruitable times."
The line "it's wonderful the underworld" is almost a perfect palindrome of rhyme. The words "it's" and "the" are almost mirrors of each other, and the same is true of the words "wonderful" and "underworld."
"Beautiful minds" rhymes perfectly with "recruitable times," and "trying to keep it independent" is rhythmically hypnotic. The mouth becomes a drum set.
I absorbed those sounds early. Toronto still sounds like those songs to me.
Tell me about your most memorable shows, if you haven’t played live what is your vision for a live show?
I've had so many great live shows. I can't wait to play these songs live. I want the live show to be a singalong.
I can play standing up or sitting down. But I love the idea of me performing on a stool with an acoustic guitar and performing to an audience that knows these songs.
These songs rely a lot on backing vocals, and so I would love to perform shows that are essentially sing-alongs.
Want to see me play live? Feel free to subscribe to me on my socials to stay up to date on all the latest news.
What is your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
Horseshoe Tavern. Their showcase Mondays were my first paid gigs in Toronto. I will always be grateful to them.
I would love to play at C'est What. My hero Jeff Buckley played a legendary show there and I would consider it a dream come true.
I love the movie Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. It perfectly captures the magic of being a young person in Toronto. For that reason I would be beyond thrilled to perform at Lee's Palace.
And of course, I'm a Stevie Ray Vaughan fanatic. To perform at the El Mocambo would be like entering the kingdom of heaven.
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
I love Wild Rivers. They're one of Canada's top bands. There's a singer from Toronto called Amber J and she would definitely be on the bill.
JW Jones is Canada's greatest blues guitarist and so he would be on the bill too.
I'm getting excited. I want to make this show a reality now!
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into making music and some advice that you would give to your younger self?
My advice would be to listen to as much music as you possibly can.
From the time I was 8 to the time I was 18, I must have listened to over 10,000 albums. I would come home from school, put on about 3 or four albums while I did my homework and then listen to another album while falling asleep.
I was obsessed with music.
Eventually it just gets inside of you.
The next step is realizing that musicians are really mean to each other, and to recognize that there will never be a day where everyone unanimously praises you.
You need to keep your cards close to your chest. If someone infers that you want to be praised and loved for your music, you can be sure they will try to use that to tear you down.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
"Moon Spirit" literally wrote itself. I remember playing that song for my girlfriend and her being really moved by it.
I'm really happy my friend Johnny Rouge was able to sing that song with me on the recording.
If you're a fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender and want to relive the magic of the season one finale, then I would be honoured if you streamed my song "Moon Spirit."
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
"Nadia" is the fan favourite. I love performing it because even if you've never heard it before, by the time that second chorus rolls around you're singing along just like everybody else.
People have told me the song is almost too catchy. They can't get it out of their heads. I hope there's no class action lawsuit on the horizon!
What is your creative process, and what inspires you to write your music?
Leonard Cohen famously said "you don't write the songs anyhow."
Your own intentions have nothing to do with it. I remember hearing a Leonard Cohen recording called "Be for Real." At the end of it he says "thanks for the song Mr. Night."
I always believed he was referring to the forces outside of his control.
I then learned "Be for Real" is a cover, and the original is by Frederick Knight. Leonard was thanking "Mr. Knight," the songwriter.
But then again, that serves as a powerful metaphor. Do any of us truly write our own songs?
Do you have messages that you like to get across in your music, if so please tell me about them?
I’m someone who wants to escape reality on a daily basis.
I want people to think about their childhood fantasies where they were superheroes, and how the music they listened to made them feel like they could accomplish anything.
Let my music do that for you.
If you need a friend who will never judge you, I would be honoured to be that friend. Just stream my music and let the songs take you away.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
I want to spotlight the music video for my song "Nadia."
It's truly a remarkable piece of art. Nicole Farrugia, the same woman on the cover art, stars in this video. As someone who grew up seeing way too many music videos, I can confidently say this video is premium grade.
Your readers are really going to enjoy it.
How can your fans best keep up to date with you, any socials you want people to check out?
Please follow me on instagram @ianardensongs and subscribe to my Youtube channel. You can subscribe to my mailing list. Who knows, you just might get some free merch or a free vinyl while supplies last.