Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Calvin Arsenia. I am a singer, songwriter, and performance artist and you will likely see me playing a harp.
You grew up in Kansas City and felt like an outlier in your small, suburban neighbourhood. How did you use music to cope and make sense of that situation and those feelings?
In the context of music, I so often felt that everything I thought made me different or made me feel like an outsider suddenly would vanish. So how do you see that feeling alive all the time? For me? I just never stopped singing. While shopping, while walking in the high school passing period. While on the toilet. Always singing.
How would you describe your musical style?
So much about music to me isn’t about style but it’s about feelings and emotion. Each element, each frequency has a different job to play and so many factors determine what is being communicated through each frequency like clarity and dynamic. Music comes from the environment. The sounds are created by what resources live around us. You won’t see me playing a coconut ukulele in Kansas City because we don’t have coconut trees. What did I have growing up through? Access to wealth, friends with guitars and pianos they didn’t know what to do with. A community where some are privileged to own multiple harps. My parents worked so hard for us to have the things my brothers and I grew up with… I had the church. I had acoustic instruments. I had choir and classical music. I didn’t have anyone to tell me I was mixing them together wrongly. I didn’t have anyone tell me that men don’t play harp. My musical style is me.
What led you to utilize the Celtic Harp? It’s a great instrument that not many musicians make use of.
When I began to produce my own shows and share my music for the first time I was 19. I was dreaming big about what my band should look like after having discovered Joanna Newsom, Björk, and Florence and the Machine, I was bound and determined to have a harpist on stage with me. Because of certain circumstances and mostly because I was not equipped to explain what I wanted a harpist to play, I decided to rent one myself and learn. Around this same time, I also took drum lessons. Obviously, I found one more fun than the other.
At 22, I moved to Edinburgh, Scotland, and thought I would never forgive myself if I didn’t take lessons from a Celtic harpist while I lived there. I took lessons from the harpist of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and at the time, I was her only student. She changed the course of my history and now thousands of other people’s as well.
Eventually, I’d like to spend more time with pedal harps as well, but I am quite happy playing Celtic harp as well.
You’ve recently released your sophomore album called Cantaloupe. What can audiences expect from the album?
Beautiful coming from damage. Reconciliation. A sexy bassoon solo. Pianos. Synthesizers. Seagulls. Screaming children. A latin dance club. Harps! Gongs. Cicadas. Puns -- o so many puns!
The lead single off of Cantaloupe is called “Headlights”. Tell us a little bit about that song.
Producer and composer J Ashley Miller hosted a private 24-hour ambient music festival at his house where all of his friends produced live music or DJ’d music from one stage for a whole day. It was gorgeous. During Ryan J Lee’s solo electric bass set, he invited me up to the stage to improvise over a loop he had made. This was at night. While I was cooing, Ashley was whispering words into the microphone from the sound booth and a car had pulled up into the driveway. He said something about headlights coming in and out and it got me thinking about… gosh… well, I guess a lot of things. But ultimately, the notion that I can’t let a romantic relationship be a factor in how I maintain my personal, physical, and emotional hygiene. I have to make dinner whether or not you’re going to come and eat it with me -- I still have to eat. Which requires going to the grocery store which requires having money and that requires working and that means maintaining a job and a house and laundry and all these facilities that have to continue in clockwork fashion regardless of if someone feels that they value my time on a particular night or not. AND at that very same time, I can’t help but want to be love struck, lovesick. I am addicted to the heartbreak so I try to cover that addiction up with real authentic relationships and socializing. Sometimes those things, too, get in the way of the (personal, physical, emotional) hygiene and we have to regroup and remember all the steps to just keep this body functioning. “Headlights” is about that.
The second single is your rendition of the Britney Spears song Toxic. What led to you covering that song?
Coming from a very religious background, it has been an interesting challenge to be more open about sexuality in a way that is very public. I also enjoy playing erotic music with a harp -- there is something very wrong and so, so right about it. As I said, I get swept away in the tumultuous hurricane of want and desire and I wanted to find a way to fit that into this record. Rather than reinventing the wheel, who has done this well in the past? Britney! She understands what it’s like to be scrutinized for people finding out that you, like almost every other human that has ever existed, enjoy sex. I was so afraid of that response initially, but now it just a way to get all those emotions out in a 4-minute meditation.
What was your experience like organizing and co-creating the Outlyre Harp Festival in Austria?
Oh, it was so lovely! Sabine James and I came up with the concept to put on a festival where harpists could get together and just play and jam and talk about the performance aspect rather than reciting the same piece of (albeit beautiful) music over and over again. We are currently looking for a new city to host our festival this coming year.
What can audiences expect from one of your live shows?
You can expect live roses, you can expect to laugh and to cry. You can expect to be uncomfortable. You can expect to feel royal.
What’s next for your career?
I would like to find a ring of places all around the world that are known for their legacy of beauty and just play in small highly curated spaces with music I compose for those specific rooms. That’s what is next.
What advice would you have for aspiring entertainers?
Be bold. Be you. Wave your freak flag. Teach us how much we should value you and bring everything you’ve got every single time. You are not entitled to be valued. That is a gift, not a right. -- a gift you must prepare to receive.
What’s life like outside of the studio for you?
For the last several years, I have been traveling so much. I really enjoy cooking and seeing art and conversing with friends. I like to make everything in my world just a bit better than the way I found it. Pretty simple I guess.
Let the readers know where to find you online.
@CalvinArsenia Tw, Facebook, Instagram, wherever you want me, I’m probably already there.