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Tim Arnold - Interview

  by Eoghan Lyng

published: 25 / 10 / 2023

Tim Arnold - Interview

Tim Arnold is a man of creative thought and spontaneity. Within twelve hours of our interview, Arnold has composed a strangely beautiful tribute to Sinead O' Connor, whose death coincides with this zoom call. "As a performer, she was very inspirational," he tells me, adding that there are very few artists who speak as freely as she did during her lifetime. Arnold cuts an unassuming figure on the screen. Free from the makeup, regalia and personas that makes up his stage repertoire, Arnold is as candid as I had hoped he would be, but he's even funnier than I expected him to be. He counts 10cc drummer Kevin Godley as a friend ("We had long phone conversations when I was making Super Connected. He opened my imagination”), and worked with Iggy Pop on Pop’s film ‘Blood Orange’. Arnold's discussing Super Connected, his twenty-sixth album, a work that has been garnering positive notices across England and beyond. To this writer's ears, it's his finest work, and certainly stands as his most detailed. He's surprised when I tell him I hear Paul McCartney's influence on the work. "I've usually been more John Lennon," he says, pointing to a portrait of the Beatle behind him. "I love McCartney, but if my albums that came before this are much more Lennon in style [laughs]. Musically, I do think McCartney is a genius, but to me, Lennon’s genius went beyond the music." A work of tremendous time and commitment (at seven years, Super Connected has a gestation period that rivals that of James Joyce's Ulysses), Arnold unwittingly came to understand the concept of his new album when he'd finished it. "I received an autism diagnosis," Arnold admits, "suddenly, after researching mental conditions and disorders for the songs, I found out that I was autistic. I mean, it's ironic; Beckettian, really!" His childhood, he admits, was unique.: "My mother's gay, so I grew up with two mums." As a child of the 1980s, he recognises that the political landscape - changing from the community to the individual - didn't celebrate diversity, but if there's any bitterness, it doesn't come up in the interview. "I don't remember thinking it was strange to be a child with two mums," he says. "I just remember being loved.” Super Connected can be viewed as pop's last truly prog grasp; a work that stands out among the swaggering electro tinted anthems that serenade the summer radios. It's a work of restraint, fire, introspection and possibility. "I'm massively into [prog titan] Peter Gabriel, especially the So album”. Track 4, 'The Touch Of A Screen', as its title might suggest, takes aim at the devices that lie in our pockets. 'The Complete Solution', a more polemical track, bristles with a fury that could only stem from a place of genuine honesty. And then there's 'A Commercial Break' featuring actors Stephen Fry and Kate Alderton, which caused complications for the album’s release. “Recording a parody of an advert was meant as a joke." The corporations didn't see the funny side, and Arnold was told the album would not be accepted on Apple Music. In an open letter to Apple, Arnold stated he was "perplexed and concerned" that one track should lead to the exclusion of the entire album. "Kevin Godley was so supportive," Arnold says. "You know Kevin: he feels very strongly about being able to express yourself freely. He was one of the first people to co-sign my letter. Support grew, with Peter Tatchell and Ricky Wilson from Kaiser Chiefs, also signing." Arnold and Godley worked together on 'Soho Is', a film they co-directed celebrating London’s Soho. Arnold admires Godley's work. "'Cry' was a massive influence on me. Musically and visually" Arnold says. "'And 10cc's ‘I'm Not In Love' was Number One in the charts when I was born”. The parody advert ‘A Commercial Break’ serves as something of a rapier-sharp joke, bringing listeners out of the world of the album, and into the mania of their hectic schedules. More interestingly, the track includes a fictional headset called an "iHead" – a central feature in the (as yet to be released), feature film of Super Connected. The interactive device was never intended as anything other than a witty comment on technology. "The track was a spoof about a company advertising a headset. It was a complete coincidence that Apple announced their own headset a few weeks after the album release." Ultimately, Arnold's fight to secure distribution with Apple had more to do with miscommunication than some semi-Orwellian conspiracy ("The communications were emails, and not done face to face"), but the songwriter is still cautious of the communication technology that is building around us. I ask him about his favourite lyric from the album ("You can have my soul for free, so you can sell it back to me.."). “We give our personal information to digital services for nothing, and then those services sell the information to 3rd party advertisers who nudge us into buying things that are curated to our personal taste every day in the digital space”. He cites a quote from computer scientist Jaron Lanier (that appears in the album artwork), as a key influence of Super Connected: “We cannot have a society, in which, if two people wish to communicate, the only way that can happen is if it's financed by a third person who wishes to manipulate them”. More happily, he is living in the present, considering his future now that his diagnosis has been confirmed. "I’ve never been able to fill out forms," he says. "It was always something I felt ashamed of asking others to help me with. But now I understand my brain just works differently". Researching psychoses and spectrums for the album, he saw more of himself in the characters he was writing about, which led him on his journey. "I have an autistic fixation when it comes to writing and recording," he explains. "It's like a jigsaw…I won't sleep until I've found all the pieces." Surprisingly, Arnold doesn’t count David Bowie among his musical influences, an artist that even Iggy Pop compared him to. He concedes that his decision to write as different characters is fairly "Bowiesque", but says “The makeup I’m wearing on the cover of Super Connected isn’t a nod to Bowie. It’s a tribute to my friend and collaborator Lindsay Kemp, who died when I was finishing the album”. "Many of Bowie’s visual styles came from Lindsay” Arnold states. Arnold should know - he was the last person to collaborate with Kemp, an honour he holds with visible pride. “We became good friends”. Arnold takes a moment to champion Stephen Fry, who inspired his song ‘What Love Would Want’. "I wrote 'What Love Would Want' after watching Stephen give a speech about the Catholic Church’s condemnation of gay people. It stirred me. These were issues I felt angry about, but wrote the song from the perspective of a child, growing up with a gay mother." His latest reviews are among the best of his career, noting that an album criticising the changes the industry is going through has sparked conversations in that industry. On performing live he says "I'd like nothing more than to play in Ireland," he tells me. "I loved Planxty growing up, and one of the first concerts I went to was Christy Moore." Like many things in life, it was happenstance that brought him to the Irish balladeer, but it makes sense considering Arnold's penchant "for some of the folkier stuff in Jethro Tull's catalogue and a lifelong love for Celtic mythology." Ireland, he feels, is “the land of poetry and music", and says his memories of watching Clannad at his first concert are some of his fondest. "I play most of the instruments on Super Connected but the album is a collaboration" he continues, “Jonathan Noyce (Jethro Tull bass player) created the synth soundscapes and played bass on some of the tracks. Virtuoso Jonathan Hill played all the string parts and I was lucky to have three extraordinary drummers” (Hugo Degenhardt, Alexy Guerer and Josh Macintosh). Considering that he was only formally diagnosed with autism in 2022, Arnold says he’s unsure where the journey of self-discovery will take him. But if Super Connected is anything to judge by, then my guess is that the next project will be anything but boring. Photograph by Ian G. Reid

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Tim Arnold - Interview

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Acclaimed solo artist Tim Arnold talks to Eoghan Lyng about his recent diagnosis of autism, and his new album 'Super Connected', which seven years in the making, reflects critically on technology.

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