Interview: Leapling

words: Alex Wexelman

Dan Arnes is strikingly mature for someone who only recently celebrated his seventh birthday. The musician who records as Leapling is an affable mix of talkative, humble and self-deprecating while discussing the project he leads over the phone—so named because Arnes is a leap-year baby.  

While February 29 has only rolled around seven times in his life, Arnes has experienced 28 years, the last two of which he’s spent writing and recording his sophomore album, Suspended Animation

“When I was writing the songs for the record, I was listening to a lot of ‘70s power-pop stuff: Big Star, Bad Finger, The Soft Boys…that all filtered its way into the record,” Arnes said. 

Inspired by the likes of Jon Brion and Jim O’Rourke, Arnes challenged himself to compose string arrangements, which help add extra color the band’s upbeat, baroque-pop sound. Arnes went to Purchase College where he majored in studio production. While in school, he took two orchestration classes, which he admits to sleepwalking through, relearning much of the process through trial-and-error and YouTube tutorial videos. 

Suspended Animation was recorded live over three days with Arnes providing guitar, piano and vocals; Alejandro Salazar Dyer adding lively drums; and R.J Gordon melodious basslines. Arnes also produced and co-mixed the album. 

If the recording of the album was a natural process that came easy to Arnes, the process leading up to its release served as an anguishing enough foil. Trawling Arnes’ Twitter, I came across a tweet, which reads: “Many reasons this record wouldn't have happened (in this timeline and/or at all). So strange to have it be a thing.” 

One such reason, as previously mentioned, is that Arnes never intended to be in front of a microphone contended, instead, to simply work the controls as a studio engineer.

“Initially, I was interested in production so I just wrote songs just to have something to produce and then, as time went on, I became more and more into writing songs and learning how to do that trough trial and error,” Arnes said.  

When I ask Arnes about the aforementioned Tweet, he laughs in a way that implies that he wasn’t being entirely serious. His frustration, it seems, stems more from the way in which records are released in the oversaturated market of 2016. 

“I get very invested in making records and it just becomes a thing you think about every day and you plan and you look for artwork and you think about this and that and then it’s out and it’s a link you click on. It’s a very bizarre process,” Arnes explained. 

Describing his songwriting process, Arnes speaks reverently of the ineffable experience any creative person can relate to. 

“It just comes to me—it sounds so corny describing it—I don’t know where it comes from or why I do it, but I do it and I get a lot of fulfillment from it.” 

Songwriting, for Arnes, is subconscious. The songs on Suspended Animation were on his mind a long time and when it came time to write them down, they just spewed out of him. For the album, Arnes wrote quickly and didn’t overthink, recording voice memos on his phone over a few months and pairing the results down later to the 11 tracks that appear on tape. 

At the end of our conversation I ask Dan which achievement he’s most proud of as a musician and he mentions the time comedian Todd Barry told him he liked Leapling after one of their shows. But then, he rethinks and offers this earnest retraction: “Every time I work with a label who puts stress in really giving a shit, it’s always a highlight and it’s never lost on me the amount of faith and good will and trust that they put in you.” 

Suspended Animation, and album worth giving a shit about, is out now on Exploding in Sound.