Small Sins' big ideas

By: David Lacalamita

Small Sins' big ideas

Jun. 29, 2011

I find myself asking Thomas D'Arcy - the lead singer and driving force behind Toronto band Small Sins - questions that, when still in my head, seemed good, but fall immediately flat as soon as they reach the real person that is Thomas D'Arcy. I ask about intentions, wanting the inside scoop on his creative process; I ask about the comments he made on his blog about the stress of promoting music; I ask what his aspirations for the band are. I ask him questions to get an idea of what it's like to make music for a living, to tour New York City (where he was when I talked to him way back in April), and to have a pretty substantial following, if his MySpace page's 576 000 plays is any indication of popularity. Alas, it seems that there is no easy way to grasp this idea; music is what a musician must create, and that's that.

"I haven't known any other way," he says. "I've been writing songs for more years of my life than I haven't and making music and being in bands for more years of my life than I haven't and it's kind of difficult to imagine it any other way at this point. So, I dunno. It's just what I do."

D'Arcy is a musician with no pretension. He's found a receptive audience for his music and makes it with enthusiasm. There's no sense of arrogance, no feeling that he really wants people to come away with anything in particular from his music. He just makes music the way he hears it.

This is not uncommon from reading and conducting various interviews with a number of different artists. There seems to be a divide between bands whose meaning is intentionally ambiguous and bands that operate under specific ideological criteria, that "have something to say," so to speak. D'Arcy feels that Small Sins lands soundly in the former camp, and feels that this freedom of interpretation is important to maintain.

"I know what the songs mean to me, but you know, in the past I found it was kind of beneficial to not reveal what I wanted the songs to be about or what I was going through in my life to write those songs, and people have always attached their own meaning to things, and those meanings were always a lot more cultured. If they wanted it to be a breakup record, it could be a breakup record, and if they didn't, they wanted it to be a love record, they could interpret it that way too. Whatever they chose to take away was what I wanted them to take."

Even on their MySpace, Small Sins lists "Music" as their only influence.

One would assume that this lack of commitment to any particular genre or "ideology" would lead to the creation of music that is quite stylistically diverse. This is true of Small Sins, which falls very loosely into the "synth rock" category but often breaks the mold completely. D'Arcy himself commented on this characteristic of his music in a post on the Small Sins website.

"What is the Small Sins sound?" he asks in the entry. "Turns out it's a lot of things. For a song like 'Deja Vu' to be on the same record as a song like 'Everything You Need' is kind of crazy. It's all over the place genre-wise, and makes me harder to classify."

Earlier in the same post, D'Arcy described some of the challenges with this in an industry where easily-classified bands tend to be more successful.

"And I guess that's been one of my struggles as a musician. Bands that do well are bands that are easy to market. Press needs to be able to classify you so they can write about you. They have to be able to say what you sound like. And for fans to introduce you to other fans, they need to be able to talk about you in the same way. They need to classify what you are in order to be able to have that conversation with a friend."

When asked about this particular post, however, D'Arcy was quick to dismiss it.

"When people read my little blog things, at times I think they're too honest. I like to show the negative as much as the positive...Most bands just don't want to expose anything bad that's ever happened to them it's all about promoting themselves and looking good and creating the illusion that they're more popular than they are in an attempt to become that thing, to actually be popular or whatever. And so I write a couple of negative things on my blog and suddenly people kinda take it as, ‘Oh, shit. Things aren't going well, they're about to break up,' or something you know? But they're the same struggles that all bands go through and I just wanted that blog to be really honest. I didn't think people would care much about it if I wasn't telling the truth."

Fair enough, but what about the truth in the statement, "Bands that do well are bands that are easy to market?" Perhaps it's not necessarily their marketability, but their self-awareness that makes them more successful. Do audiences respond better to a band that knows what kind of a response it wants from them, or do they prefer figuring out the meaning themselves? Is music that is without intent just idle experimentation, or does this allow it to become many different things for many different people?

Clearly, there are pros and cons to both approaches. If "art" is any object of consideration that elicits an emotional reaction, then perhaps allowing people to create their own meaning creates a more authentic artistic experience. Or maybe none of it matters at all. Because while we discuss it, bands like Small Sins will be figuring it out by making records. And so, it seems, is D'Arcy's only real aspiration for the band.

"We're gonna keep putting out records," he says. "We're gonna keep touring... And hopefully every record is a little better than the next one."



Video: “Everything You Need" by Small Sins

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